Room for improvement

Jim Wilson on some key issues for continuing professional development

One of the positive outcomes of the Sutherland report, which looked at the future of teacher education, is the endorsement of lifelong learning for teachers.

Sir Stewart Sutherland, principal of Edinburgh University, indicates that while the role of teachers is more widely recognised in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK, there is still much to be done to improve provision.

The report stops short of recommending that all teachers undertake a minimum amount of accredited learning at regular intervals throughout their careers to maintain professional registration. But its advocacy of individual records of staff development and accreditation of all staff development work may well be a first step towards such a requirement.

The past two years have seen the reorganisation not only of local government but also of the way in which "continuing professional development (CPD)" in education is financed and managed. As well as smaller councils, we have had devolved school management and the end of specific grants, both of which have made a significant impact on staff development.

The key issues of continuing professional development from the perspective of a higher-education institution such as Northern College, which aims to provide wide access to postgraduate CPD programmers through distance learning, are:

* Recruitment: There has been a significant reduction in the commissioning of training programmers by some local authorities. But strong interest continues in specific areas such as special needs and guidance, which are linked to career opportunities.

The transfer of CPD funds from authorities to schools has not been matched by levels of uptake within schools. Individual teachers are increasingly financing themselves.

Award-bearing courses generate much less interest from secondary teachers than primary except in special educational needs and guidance.

* Range of provision: Special needs remain the largest award-bearing area, but there has been steady growth in management, information technology, guidance and specific learning difficulties. Interest in primary science and health education is slowing down.

A new BA degree programme in early childhood studies has been developed to meet needs arising from the Government's early education initiative.

* Access and delivery: Access to CPD programmes by distance learning continues to grow and, with it, access to a wide range of awards. As paper-based distance learning gives way to IT, new skills are being developed by tutors for use on-line and for managing groups at a distance. But many teachers still find IT delivery difficult.

* Accreditation: There is little evidence of education authorities seeking to accredit their own staff development programmers. Schools have the chance to set up a credit framework for in-school curriculum development but uptake is slow. Using accredited prior learning to gain advanced entry to award-bearing programmes is also under-exploited.

Although all higher education institutions subscribe to the SCOTCAT credit transfer programme, there is confusion and a lack of convergence in the structuring of courses and credit ratings.

* Funding: The end of the specific grant has reduced the amount of professional development provision. The funding mechanism used by the funding council is inflexible and does not meet the requirements of HE to respond to teachers' needs.

At Northern College, our experience shows that the structure and provision of accredited CPD programmers should be urgently considered at the highest levels.

Jim Wilson is vice-principal of Northern College

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