Ask the weans about the best way to deliver a better lesson

6th May 2005 at 01:00
Elizabeth Buie reports on the challenges ahead for continuing professional development

One of Scotland's leading educationists has told a national conference on continuing professional development that the time has come to ditch the "Postman Pat" model of delivering CPD by passing on a package wrapped up in curriculum guidelines.

Brian Boyd of Strathclyde University was also critical of the cascade model -where one teacher from a school goes on a course and is then expected to pass on what they learn to others. This had always been more of "a trickle", Professor Boyd said.

The Curriculum for Excellence, which he helped design, was "a promissory note to teachers" that said: "We trust you to be innovative and creative, to take risks and try things out. We don't need any longer to rely on centralised guidelines as a crutch."

Professor Boyd said the challenge was how to make 35 hours of continuing professional development something that is positive rather than a burden on teachers.

He suggested, too, that some units of CPD should be delivered on a cluster-wide basis rather than to individual schools and that they should be undertaken by support staff, educational psychologists and social workers.

Recalling one of his earliest postings, to a junior secondary in Port Glasgow, he noted that to allow staff to prepare for the raising of the school-leaving age (Rosla) it had merely closed early on three Tuesday afternoons. He also criticised the "five-year plans" sent out by the former Strathclyde Regional Council, which told teachers what they needed to do and know, as ultimately disempowering. "That is why a lot of people in the profession became disillusioned. If you want young people to be thinking people, you have got to have thinking teachers," he said.

He called for a shift in practice so that it was the norm for teachers to observe other lessons rather than seeing that as a threatening experience.

"One of the reasons I still like doing observational lessons is because I have not yet seen a student from whom I have not learnt something. If that is true of the least experienced members of the profession, how true is it of the more experienced?"

Professor Boyd went on to ask: "There are some teachers who never have difficulties with classroom management and some who never have problems.

Why not have coaching within the staff?"

While there was still room for the external viewpoint, schools should be looking at the people within who could work with colleagues. He quoted recent research by Professor Carol Fitzgibbon of Durham University, which found that the "teacher effect" is three times greater than the "school effect".

"It is the quality of learning and teaching that is the key to the quality of any school. If you have better teachers you will have better schools," he said.

Warning that frameworks of standards could become a strait-jacket if applied too rigidly, Professor Boyd argued that schools should be promoting debate and welcoming contention.

"If we want to know whether CPD is having an impact, we need to listen to the learners - we have to ask the weans."

Leader 22

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