Call for 'tight timescales' in leading the way for teachers

26th October 2012 at 01:00
Advisory group pushes to keep up momentum on training reforms

The group set up to recommend how the Donaldson report on teacher education will be implemented is expected to call for "tight timescales" and a fixed-term national implementation board to oversee the process.

The report by the National Partnership Group (NPG), due to be published within the next two to three weeks, is expected to follow closely Graham Donaldson's main recommendations in Teaching Scotland's Future.

The NPG submitted its report in early September to education secretary Michael Russell and his response was expected to be made public last month. However, it is not now expected until early November and there are no guarantees that he will accept its advice in full.

Glenn Rodger, co-chair of the NPG and president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said this week: "With all our recommendations, we feel we need to keep the momentum going, as this agenda is very important. Very tight timescales have been put to all our recommendations."

He told a Holyrood conference, Teacher Education: Reinvigorating 21st- century professionalism (originally planned as a forum for discussing the NPG report): "Graham (Donaldson) started his work two years ago. Two years down the line, we don't want there to be another two or three years for implementation. We need to look at partnership models and sharing practice and all the time drive things forward."

Mr Rodger had expected to speak on each of the NPG's recommendations, but said his "hands were tied", given the time slippage.

Nonetheless, he said: "We quickly came to the conclusion that if we tied the debate around a redistribution (of resources) model, the whole thing would get snared up for years and years."

The Scottish government's remit for the NPG, which represents a partnership of universities, local authorities, schools, individual professionals and national organisations, was to "establish the new and strengthened partnership working to support delivery of effective teacher education and professional development in every school in Scotland".

Implementation of its recommendations would have to be monitored to provide a "clearer understanding of whether there are resource barriers we need to take forward and challenge", said Mr Rodger.

"I am not convinced there are, but I want that to be demonstrated. I think there is a lot of resource out there. It is about how we do things differently a lot of the time, rather than just throwing resources at them."

However, Ian Smith, professor of education and former dean at the University of the West of Scotland, came close to calling for university teacher education funding to be transferred to schools, as in England.

He predicted that if school staff were to be given an enhanced role in teacher education - doing more assessment of student teachers' classroom performance, while universities focus more on research - then additional resources would be required by schools which were "hard-pressed with resource cuts and implementing Curriculum for Excellence".

"We will never break through into collaborative partnership unless there is a much enhanced role for school staff, and if we just sidestep that and walk away from it because someone says there's a resource barrier, we won't get anywhere," he said.

Professor Smith called for "hard discussions" on resources: "I think the funding that is provided to the universities to underpin initial teacher education programmes has to be discussed in a transparent way to connect it with partnership."

Downside of teachers' learning communities

Professional learning communities (PLCs) of teachers - hailed as an effective form of continuing professional development - can have their downsides, according to a leading expert in the field.

Tara Fenwick (pictured), professor of professional education at the University of Stirling, told the Holyrood conference on teacher education that PLCs sometimes prevented innovation. "They neutralise individuals who are not on the same page as everyone else," she said.

Dr Ian Wall, chair of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education advisory group which reported earlier this year, said teacher networks tended to be confined to a single discipline and did little inter-disciplinary work.

Nick Hood, a Fife physics teacher currently on secondment as a teaching fellow at the Moray House Institute of Education, told the conference that CPD programmes - from initial teacher education onwards - were "notoriously poor in quality".

Teachers had, therefore, been doing CPD themselves by setting up groups to share good practice.

There were 900 physics teachers in Scotland and 800 were signed up to his physics network, he said, with 20 or 30 ideas being shared a day and TeachMeet events being organised regularly.

Graham Donaldson said that in his previous role as senior chief inspector of HMIE, he had seen "outstanding practice in pockets" but it was not always shared more widely. Teachers were, however, gradually harnessing ICT to help share good practice.

Too hit and miss

Graham Donaldson told the conference a new teacher's experience was still dictated too much by chance.

"We need to get our ducks in a row so that we get things aligned; universities, schools and so on need to have a common sense of purpose," he said.

The aspirations of Curriculum for Excellence could not be realised without implementation of his own report and the McCormac report, Advancing Professionalism in Teaching, he stressed.

"We can use the labels of Curriculum for Excellence, but if we have not embraced the agenda - particularly my report - the potential of transformation of teaching won't happen."

Original headline: Call for `tight timescales' in leading the way for teachers

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