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Minister maps way to appraisal

The national guidelines for good practice in teacher training should be the building blocks for a system of teacher appraisal, the Education Minister told an international conference in Glasgow this week.

Raymond Robertson, addressing the 21st annual conference of the Association for Teacher Education in Europe at Jordanhill, gave every indication that he intends to press on with appraisal as a central plank in the Government's drive to raise school and teacher performance.

"Teachers have a responsibility to maintain, improve and extend their professional competence," Mr Robertson said. "The starting point for drawing up personal development plans must be a dialogue between teachers and their line managers based on appraisal of classroom performance, the needs of the school and teachers' own views on career development."

The Minister added that "the competences which have been identified for the beginning teacher can, and should, be the template for the experienced professional to monitor their own performance and be objectively appraised.

"In Scotland I feel we may be approaching the time to consider building a more formal framework so that the three phases of initial training, probation or induction and in-service are better integrated."

The competences which the Scottish Office laid down for trainee teachers are commonplace and uncontroversial in the colleges but are less well known in schools. They set out four areas in which new teachers are expected to demonstrate their skills - the subject and content of teaching, the classroom, the wider school and professional attitudes.

Ivor Sutherland, registrar of the General Teaching Council, says these specify a model of good practice which is not prescriptive or mechanistic. "It does not tie teachers down: the model is flexible, interpretable and extends beyond behaviour to values, ideas and philosophy. So it's not about technocratic, step-by-step learning."

Mr Robertson, who had to face the embarrassing unravelling of his mentor policy aimed at increasing the amount of teacher training done in schools, returned to the theme in his speech. He made it clear that he was not enamoured of the English approach which has divorced teacher training from higher education. In contrast to right-wing critiques of teacher training south of the border, he commended the performance of the colleges who all scored well in last year's quality assessment carried out by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council.

Mr Robertson said he remained convinced that schools should be given more weight and recognition in the training of teachers. But he stressed he was not attracted "to some simplistic apprenticeship model of how to learn to teach. " It was important, however, that "access to academic knowledge is adequately complemented by exposure to the craft knowledge and application of teachers".

A General Teaching Council working party has been considering how collaboration between schools, teacher training institutions and local authorities could be improved, and its interim report is due in October.

A system for improved collaboration was outlined to the Jordanhill conference by Professor Gordon Kirk, principal of Moray House who is also vice-convener of the GTC. He called for a limit to the number of schools used for training placement at any one time: his institution spread students over 800 schools which made it extremely difficult to maintain quality.

Professor Kirk acknowledged that this might prove controversial, laying him open to the charge of favouring designated "training schools." But, he told The TESS later, rotational arrangements could answer any fears over the creation of elite schools.

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