Scotland eyes Singapore in 'radical' overhaul of teaching career paths

23rd June 2017 at 00:01
Scottish government's rethink on school governance aims to improve opportunities for career progression

Scotland is poised to import a model from Singapore’s education system, as part of “radical” plans to make teaching more attractive by dramatically increasing career-progression opportunities.

The Scottish government also believes that this approach – in which teachers can choose from and move between three distinct career paths – could form an essential part of plans to devolve more power to schools.

But the broader plans, contained in long-awaited recommendations on school governance, are being criticised as too vague, and pointless without extra funding.

Opportunities for career progression for teachers in Scotland have shrunk over many years with the demise of posts such as assistant headteacher and chartered teacher. Principal subject teachers are also becoming increasingly rare, as most local authorities now prefer broader faculties.

The Education Governance: Next Steps paper states: “The lack of promoted posts in Scottish teaching, particularly in the primary sector, arguably does not enhance the idea of teaching as a profession with strong career-progression routes.”

The government wants to give schools more power to hire staff and design curricula, but fears the current lack of career paths is “a barrier to innovation and to building the necessary confidence required if schools are genuinely to lead the [education] system”. Teaching careers in Scotland follow a largely linear path from the classroom to a dwindling number of leadership roles. Amid the current headteacher recruitment crisis, one commonly cited factor is a dearth of promotable posts that could act as stepping stones.

The government is “keen to learn from a range of international examples which support career progression”, the paper says.

It outlines the “three distinct career routes” in Singapore, which encompass 17 different jobs:

  • The “teaching track” targets those who want to stay in the classroom;
  • The “leadership track” rises to senior posts in school and the education authority;
  • The “senior specialist track” is for those keen to “break new ground” in areas such as curriculum design, testing, educational research and educational psychology.

Singapore topped the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) results last December, as Scotland’s performance dipped.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, was wary of some of the mooted governance reforms, but welcomed the prospect of more career routes.

“With nearly 60 per cent of teachers remaining at the top of the pay scale for the bulk of their working lives, new career pathways beyond that point, with appropriate remuneration, are crucial,” he said.

Local authorities body Cosla has attacked the plans to devolve more power to headteachers instead of prioritising staff recruitment and curriculum design.

School Leaders Scotland general secretary Jim Thewliss warned that, while he backed many of the proposed reforms, the timescale was “ambitious”.

Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said the governance plans would require extra money, as they “cannot be delivered by moving the existing resource around”.

This is an edited version of an article in the 23 June edition of Tes Scotland. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. Tes Scotland magazine is available at all good newsagents

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