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Old values in a new world

Anthony Seldon, high-profile master of Wellington College in England, wrote in The Spectator in August 2012: "I am not remotely troubled by employing someone who doesn't have a teaching qualification" and "the best training of teachers is done on the job". These sentiments are echoed in the decision not to require teachers in academies and free schools in England to have qualified status. But is this a retrograde dilution of teachers' hard-won professional status? Or a pragmatic response to a belief that modern education needs flexibility?

The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) was created in 1965. It was the first professional, regulatory body for teachers in the UK and one of the first in the world. Its formation reflected widespread concern that large numbers of unqualified teachers were teaching in Scottish schools as the post-war "baby boomers" placed huge demands on the school system.

Since then, the commitment in Scotland to having well-qualified teachers has been strengthened by the introduction of explicit standards for registration and continuing professional development. However, the ultimate test of teacher professionalism can only be the extent to which it serves young people.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development recently published a report that traced the effects of globalisation on education. It describes changes in economies, societies and global relationships partly driven by unprecedented technological innovation. Broader, deeper and faster connections across countries are leading both to greater interdependence and to competition.

Education must lie at the heart of our response to these challenges. Curriculum for Excellence seeks just that. It rightly envisages schools and teachers exercising much greater direct control of the curriculum. Real and sustained change requires the active engagement of those who will put that reform into practice.

In Teaching Scotland's Future, I argued that high-quality teachers are essential to our future. We need to recruit the right people and ensure that they develop throughout their careers. That level of extended professionalism is embedded in the new GTCS standards. Only improved partnership between schools, local authorities and universities will secure this.

The values and skills that characterise Scotland's teaching profession remain fundamental. But it is also important to recognise that things are not set in stone. If different approaches benefit students, the education system must seek these out. The challenge is to blend flexibility with a strong, collegiate teaching profession. That powerful combination would create the conditions for sustained improvement. It would render pointless any argument that education requires a malleable, less-regulated workforce.

Graham Donaldson is a professor of education at the University of Glasgow and author of the review Teaching Scotland's Future.

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