Doctor, look at hub teaching schools please

28th January 2011 at 00:00

However you look at it, the Donaldson review is a positive exploration of the issues regarding training and developing teachers. With 50 recommendations, it is an achievement after years of complaining about current provision. The grumblers, and I am one of them, must now put down their sabres and consider the way ahead.

Second-guessing how it might all unfold, as Donaldson's rhetoric is translated into reality, is a fool's game. However, there are interesting - and some might say, radical - recommendations.

One of these proposals is for the setting up of specialist "hub teaching schools" modelled on teaching hospitals. Donaldson's vision is that these institutions will guarantee the quality of student teacher placements, link universities and teachers through research and produce resources for sharing by other schools. It is an exciting prospect and the plan for specialist schools centre stage is daring. What are the problems?

Major teaching hospitals are shown to have costs which are greater than would be expected from hospitals of a similar size. Some costs are direct, but there are indirect costs which are more difficult to estimate. An added component is the complexity of the curricula and variety in delivery in Scotland's four medical schools. This means that exercises to assess the cost of educating doctors must take account of the fact that there cannot be a like-for-like-comparison.

Also, non-teaching district general hospitals often feel that they are the Cinderella service because they don't have the resources or the authority to offer what the teaching hospitals do. All of these factors need to be considered when implementing the Donaldson report.

So who will go to the ball? How will specialist "hub teaching schools" be selected? Schools in rural Scotland might well fear that their distance from university towns will count against their active involvement. It would be a mistake, for instance, if all the specialist "hub teaching schools" were to be situated in the central belt. Areas like Highland and Moray have much to offer, with Aberdeen at one end of the geographical location and the developing University of the Highlands and Islands at the other. Whoever makes decisions about this must aim for first-class provision.

The proposals are based on Curriculum for Excellence and on the idea that teachers are "co-creators" of the curriculum. In reality, if teachers are "co-creating" the curriculum, you will find different curricula in schools throughout Scotland. Diversity possibly matters less in medical schools since doctors have a myriad of specialisms to choose from. We want our classroom practitioners to combine excellent pedagogy with the best possible subject knowledge. Can we do that if everyone is inventing the Curriculum for Excellence wheel?

Donaldson also touches on the importance of interpersonal skills in the teaching profession. I resonate with the editor's comments last week when he described teachers as human beings who "can inspire their pupils". Teacher empathy with their pupils is the strongest possible indicator for positive behaviour in the classroom, higher attainment, increased self- esteem and better attendance.

William Arthur Ward talks about how, "the good teacher explains, the superior teacher demonstrates and the great teacher inspires."

Pupils repeatedly cite inspiring teachers as a major factor in how they learn and enjoy their time in the classroom. We need to find the trigger that fires it and take account of it in teacher training, before it is reduced to the soulless conviction of a recorded telephone message.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology in Forres Academy.

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