Chance to turn ship of training around

22nd April 2005 at 01:00
We need to set a new agenda of teacher preparation and development, says Cathy Macaslan

For some time, the concept of professional development as a continuum has been a well-used phrase and perhaps has become one which we all think we understand and of which we share a common understanding.

Continuing professional development is often referred to as the activity which teachers undertake as part of the requirements of the teachers' national agreement and, in the past, it tended to be synonymous with the one-day inservice training course, the certificate or diploma course or suchlike.

For many years we have used the shorthand CPD. I am reasonably confident that we all share a common understanding of what we mean by one part of that phrase, "professional development". I am less confident that we share similar conceptions of "continuing".

Continuing from what? When talking with headteachers and local authority directorates, I get the sense that CPD is something which is a "McCrone issue", and somehow mostly applies to teachers who are well into their careers, or at least beyond the probation period.

The induction programme for new teachers has embedded the concept of CPD as central to the development of the new teacher, and its undertaking is regarded as central to developing the evidence base for the award of full registration. This is an extremely powerful model which will undoubtedly make a significant difference to the way in which future generations of teachers will operate. It will also make a significant difference to the concept of "professional".

If one were to ask "what is the most valuable resource in a local authority or a school?", the answer would depend on the perspectives and position of the respondent. Given the expected high proportion of outflow and inflow of teachers from our schools, we must recognise and value the potential of those entering our profession and clearly see them as the medium and long-term future of education.

They should be viewed not only as individuals but also as a mass of new teachers who have the potential to make significant and sustained change in our schools by dint of their own characteristics and nature, and also because of their sheer numbers.

Local authorities and whole schools have the potential to effect significant change by having sufficient numbers of the right people in the right places at the right time, and with appropriate attitudes, values, skills and knowledge which will feed the local and national development agendas.

The next decade is crucial to the production and nurturing of future generations of teachers. We need to set a new agenda of teacher preparation and development which will meet the challenges ahead.

The reality is that learning to teach is a lifelong process. It takes time.

It takes ongoing support and development to sustain teachers over their careers. The profession itself must take responsibility to provide the conditions in which new teachers can thrive. In short, teachers themselves must engage with the responsibility for the health of their profession, with the continuum of teacher development not only of him or herself as an individual but that of new teachers as well. New teachers are not just those starting in their induction posts. They are those individuals who have chosen to join the profession and have started their careers in university teacher education programmes. Therefore, continuing professional development is a concept which starts at that stage, and not just at the start of the induction year.

For too long, we have all considered initial teacher education, the programmes and courses at university, as a separate process and developmental stage which belongs to the institutions alone and not to the profession as a whole. But the profession has a responsibility to these students in the same way that it has a responsibility to those who enter the induction year.

For too long, the curriculum of initial teacher education has been interpreted and delivered by the training institutions with some reference to the needs of local authorities and schools. Local authorities and schools have generally not forced the partnership beyond this level of engagement, seeing their major responsibilities as being to the teachers and pupils in their schools. While this is absolutely understandable, it is increasingly an outdated model.

There is now a need for them to engage with the universities and take joint responsibility for shaping their future teachers, rather than accept a "one size fits all" model, a model which fits the latter part of the 20th century rather than addresses future and more localised needs.

Recent calls for different models of initial teacher education are too late. There is a tendency to demand new models to fit current and emerging situations and models in schools. The process which can produce teachers for new models of curriculum and structures can take up to six years.

A BEd programme involves two years to plan comfortably and progress through university and General Teaching Council procedures which are necessary for changed or new programmes, and four years to progress students through to graduation and into the induction year.

In the case of courses leading to postgraduate diplomas in education, again there are two years of process and one year of delivery. Meanwhile, the world will have moved on. Universities are not sufficiently funded to commit such resources year after year to even begin to have an ever-evolving model of teacher preparation. Therefore, we now need to consider how the continuum of professional development should be for the 21st century. Last century's model will not do.

Cathy Macaslan is head of the school of education at Aberdeen University.

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