Be the very best you can

22nd September 2000 at 01:00
Continuing professional development has undergone a radical transformation, say Bill Thomson and Myra Pearson

ONE size fits all. Any colour you like provided it's black. Business processes have left ideas like that long behind. If you are buying a car these days you can buy one off the shelf or you can say what you want and it will be delievered to your specification.

Behind that apparently simple response to the customer there are of course sophisticated systems that allow engines and body parts to be interchanged between models of the same range and indeed between different ranges offered by the company. But the outcome is simple - customers usually get what they say they want.

In business management that is described as systems engineering. A company reorganises its internal processes to meet the needs of its customers.

That kind of systems re-engineering has been quietly going on over the past 10 years in arrangements for continuing professional development. The benchmark for providers such as universities is to offer a service that is geared to meeting the CPD needs of their customers, whether individuals, schools or local authorities.

Increasingly these customers are looking for the formal recognition of professional development. Systems of workplace assessment have been devised that help clarify goals and targets and provide structure, as well as focusing on professional reflection and providing individuals and institutions with useful feedback.

At the same time there is growing recognition of the disparate range of situations in which professional development can and does take place. There is a place, and a demand, for formal taught courses, both short and long: if there are specialists with expert knowledge that can be communicated in that way, it makes sense to use them. In the past that would usually have meant attending a course in a college of education or university, following a syllabus devised by a group of academics and assessed by them.

Most of these courses have now been developed to place a greater emphasis on linking theory and practice and are complemented by programmes designed to meet the needs and priorities of specific local authorities or schools.

A good example of this new approach is the postgraduate certificate in primary mathematics designed and delivered jointly by Glasgow City Council and Strathclye University. Another is the postgraduate certificate in primary science for teachers in South Lanarkshire and Glasgow, again designed and delivered in partnership with the university. Both of these, and others too, lead to postgraduate awards that have currency across Scotland and beyond.

The possibility of designng customised programmes of professional development that have national and international recognition has been made possible by the development of the Scottish Credit Accumulation and Transfer (Scotcat) framework. This has provided a model for similar developments in other parts of the world but more significantly for Scottish teachers has allowed training providers to make highly flexible arrangements to support and recognise individual achievement.

A significant example of the potential of this framework is the programme in management in education developed by Strathclyde University. In this there is a common core of compulsory modules together with a series of optional modules that can be customised to suit the particular context of an individual local authority. The options allow the specific policies and practices of the authority to become the focus of the module. All of these, both core and options, can be delivered in locations and at times that suit the authority and its teachers.

Much professional development also happens more or less informally in the day-to-day business of the school: setting up and running a working group to establish a change of emphasis in the curriculum, meeting colleagues to discuss how to handle a new writing scheme, working out an approach to helping a pupil with specific learning difficulties - these involve a process of information gathering, analysis, implementation and reflection.

The skills, knowledge and understanding that teachers acquire in this process of work-based learning are exactly those required for the recognition of a high level of professional performance. These are also the qualities that universities seek to promote and are expert in assessing. The challenge now is how best to use the knowledge and insights gained in order to produce practical approaches to promoting these forms of learning more consciously and systematically.

Approaches to the assessment of the higher levels of professional skill and understanding that teachers have been developing, a growing requirement in professions across the board, should likewise be designed to be practical and non-bureaucratic.

The faculty of education at Strathclyde has been at the leading edge in Scotland in devising processes of professional development that are practical and popular with teachers and their employers and which allow the demonstration of high standards of achievement.

The flexibility and responsiveness of the frameworks it uses provide a model for development into the 21st century.

CPD feature,

ScotlandPlus 6-9

Bill Thomson and Myra Pearson are directors of the professional development unit, Strathclyde University.

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