Donaldson ignites masters debate

29th April 2011 at 01:00
Review author says CPD is `downright insulting' as Scottish teachers fall behind

Scottish teachers, once deemed the best-educated, are now lagging behind their counterparts in other countries where all entrants are required to have a masters, says the author of the Donaldson review into initial teacher education.

Graham Donaldson, former senior chief inspector of education, has called for a long, hard look at whether Scotland, too, should make teaching a masters-level profession.

The test, he told the annual conference of the Scottish Teacher Education Committee in Stirling last week, should be the impact on children's learning.

A lot of teachers' continuing professional development was not sufficiently challenging and some was "downright insulting", said Professor Donaldson, who is now attached to Glasgow University following the completion of his review and retirement from HMIE.

Continuing professional development should be at masters' level, he insisted. "We should be looking long and hard at how we ensure that the nature of CPD is genuinely academically robust." He welcomed the move away from "getting people in a room and talking to them" - that format for CPD dissipated quite quickly, he said.

But he was sceptical and suspicious of the general notion of "sharing good practice". It was important not just to copy what someone else was doing, but to look at the external stimulus for why they were doing it; otherwise teachers were just "sharing conservatism". This was the basis for his proposal to create hub schools for initial teacher education that would promote reflective inquiry, he said.

Professor Donaldson's recommendation that every teacher, from the point of entering teacher training, should open a "masters account" that recognised professional development undertaken throughout their career, would have a number of benefits, he argued. From a psychological point of view, it would make teachers think they were already embarked on a masters, but it would also encourage the view that future CPD should be at that level.

Tony Finn, chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, warned that Scotland should be careful not to recreate the situation in England where some universities offered a masters in teaching and learning for students immediately upon graduation.

"They don't know enough about teaching and learning to reflect in sufficient detail about it," he said.

Tara Fenwick, who joined Stirling University's Institute of Education last year from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said only one university in Canada required a masters degree for entry to teaching.

"Professionals (in Canada) tend to view coming to a masters degree as an important oasis mid-career to explore. Teachers need to be thinking, `when will I do my masters?' rather than `he's making me do it and who will pay for it?'

"In Canada, it's not paid for but it is an expectation," she said.


Research by Gillian Robinson of Edinburgh University found that continuing professional development failed to encourage teachers to consider "why" they were doing what they were doing and overemphasised "doing stuff" or activity-led CPD. Her study into the professional learning journey of nine teachers embarking

on the chartered teachers programme found that it was only when they embarked on masters-level study that they started to become more critically aware of why they were doing certain things in their professional practice.

Dr Robinson used the analogy of a doctor prescribing a particular drug to a patient because he knew it would have a specific effect on their pancreas or blood. That awareness was lacking even in experienced teachers, she suggested. Too many teachers were still "living in this myth that it is simple - you do formative assessment, traffic lights, and that will sort it".

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