Donaldson ponders past, present and future of teacher education

14th January 2011 at 00:00
Teacher education review makes far-reaching recommendations, posing challenges for schools, local authorities and universities. Elizabeth Buie analyses its findings

Graham Donaldson makes 50 recommendations in his long-awaited review of teacher education, Teaching: Scotland's Future.

His proposals are based on Curriculum for Excellence and on the concept of teachers as "co-creators" of the curriculum, which the review acknowledges places demands on the quality of teaching and leadership at all stages.

Warning of the need to prepare pupils to meet the increasingly fast pace of change in the world, he says: "Simply advocating more time in the classroom as a means of preparing teachers for their role is therefore not the answer to creating better teachers."

Some of his proposals come as no surprise, such as the need for greater partnership working to heal what the review describes as a "fractured" system of teacher education.

Richard Edwards, chair of the Scottish Teacher Education Committee, is not alone in expressing relief that Mr Donaldson has focused on teacher quality rather than going down the "apprenticeship" route, in which teaching is regarded only as a skill best learnt on the job and which is favoured by English Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Nor will anyone who has heard Mr Donaldson speak in his previous role as senior chief inspector of education be surprised that he wants to see an improved system of continuing professional development and for teachers to embrace a culture of "extended professionalism".

Many of those who gave evidence to his review raked over the coals of the poor literacy and numeracy skills of some entrants to the profession, while there were accounts of schools being ill-equipped to mentor student teachers and probationers.

There was speculation that Mr Donaldson would recommend an extension of the one-year postgraduate diploma to 18 months or two years. In the event, he chose not to, partly because, in the current financial climate, the extra costs of a university education might put off good candidates.

He has therefore sought to merge the induction year with the PGDE or BEd, hoping to create a more seamless two-year or five-year early phase of teacher education, with scope to cram more learning into the summer break between university and probation.

Donaldson's proposal for specialist "hub teaching schools", modelled on teaching hospitals, is tried and tested in other countries. His vision is that they will guarantee the quality of student placement, link universities and teachers through action research, and create a bank of resources for other schools to tap into.

But his recommendations come at a price. The initial reaction from School Leaders Scotland and the Educational Institute of Scotland suggests that, although supportive of its aims, they are concerned that the resources - financial and human - may not be available.

Professor Edwards acknowledges that all sectors in Scottish education will face financial challenges, but warns: "We must not use that as a way of saying we can't change and can only do the best we can within the resources."

Anthony Finn, chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, said: "There is no doubt that the report offers challenges, and some of its recommendations will be difficult to develop and also to sustain in the current economic climate.

"If, however, we accept the central message that improving the quality of teaching and leadership in schools is central to the realisation of our aspirations for Scotland's young people, we need to work together to find suitable ways forward."

Messages for the student teacher

Selection procedures will be more rigorous, competitive and consistent, if the Donaldson proposals are implemented.

The report states: "We need to broaden the base of selection to involve local authorities and schools as more equal partners and to include more consistent attention to interpersonal skills. Equally, the difficulties with literacy and numeracy displayed by some newly qualified teachers need to be addressed at entry and during the course."

The review wants to see candidates for teaching undertake diagnostic assessment of their competence in literacy and numeracy - Dundee University was a forerunner in numeracy screening (TESS, September 10, 2010). The threshold for entry should allow for weaknesses to be addressed by the student during the course, but a more demanding level should be set as a prerequisite for competence to teach.

Although Scotland has not permitted employment-based, school-based or assessment-only routes into teaching to date - Teach First, a largely classroom-based model for high-flyers has thrived in England - a greater diversity of ways to enter teaching is recommended as a means of broadening the base of the profession.

Conscious that not all schools offer a good placement or probationary experience, he proposes the creation of "hub teaching schools" - an idea which may not find favour with teaching unions.

One of the greatest difficulties, Donaldson says, is the "quart into pint pot" problem of trying to cram too much information into students over too short a time, particularly on primary courses.

His answer is to devote all available time to relevant tasks and study, together with absolute clarity about priorities for the initial and subsequent stages of a teacher's education, and about who does what and when.

Messages on CPD

Continuing professional development presents the biggest challenge for teacher education, warns the report. "Although there has been an improving picture over the past decade, much current provision is more haphazard than the formal arrangements and these encouraging developments might suggest," Mr Donaldson comments.

Professional review and development is "at best patchy" and is not fulfilling its intentions, he finds.

To meet the need to set clear expectations about professional growth, allied to a more consistently effective system of PRD, he recommends that the GTCS develop a new "Standard for Active Registration". This would be used to signal the kind of enhanced professionalism which should "characterise an experienced professional and which could also form part of any system of reaccreditation".

At headteacher level, he calls for the creation of a scheme for national leaders of education to allow experienced heads to make a national contribution beyond the confines of their school.

And a virtual college of school leadership - along similar lines to that run by the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland - should be developed to improve leadership capacity at all levels.

All teachers should have access to a new system of online profiling, which would integrate progress from their entry to teaching through all phases of CPD.

Messages for universities

New approaches to concurrent degree programmes have the potential to offer graduates opportunities far wider and deeper study. The report therefore proposes the replacement of the traditional BEd because it is too specific in its emphasis on the craft of teaching and not enough deep learning.

Combining a primary teaching qualification with degree-level subject content, such as a modern European language, can, says the report, strengthen knowledge and skills for teaching and, if necessary, for other forms of employment.

The report identifies various core areas for teacher education, in addition to subject and pedagogical knowledge and skills:

- underachievement, including the potential effects of social disadvantage;

- the essential skills of literacy and numeracy;

- additional support needs, particularly dyslexia and autistic spectrum disorders;

- more effective assessment;

- managing challenging behaviour.

These will require a "radical reappraisal of present courses and of the guidelines provided by GTCS", says the report.

The problem of reconciling demand with available time is at its most acute in the one-year primary PGDE. But combining initial teacher education and induction as a single phase could yield more usable time for study, allow the development of new, differently-sequenced and paced approaches to the development of teachers' attributes, knowledge and skills, the report states. More study time might become available through more creative use of time outwith university terms. University educators should also be given a greater role than currently in the development and delivery of induction schemes.

Messages for schools and local authorities

Student teachers should be entitled to greater consistency in the quality of their school placements, the review declares; 23 per cent report variable or poor experiences.

HMIE should evaluate the quality of mentoring and assessment arrangements for students and newly-qualified teachers as well as of CPD in general and GTCS should apply stronger quality assurance to the effectiveness of education partnerships.

Donaldson recognises the tensions between schools and universities in assessing students on placement: the most common complaint from schools was, after rating a student unsatisfactory, they were over-ruled by university processes.

His report recommends that assessments should be carried out by specially- trained, experienced teachers, appointed jointly by local authorities and universities.

Local authorities are taken to task for the quality of some of the CPD they offer to probationers. Mr Donaldson calls for mentors to be selected more carefully and trained specifically for this role; he also calls for new teachers to have access to both a mentor and supporter, stressing that the roles should be kept separate.

Better focus: main recommendations

- more rigorous selection of students for initial teacher education, possibly through a national assessments predominantly in a school;

- initial teacher education and induction to be planned as one overall experience, offering masters credits, and delivered through universitylocal authority partnerships;

- phasing out the traditional BEd degree and replacing it with concurrent degrees;

- new and strengthened models of partnership among universities, local authorities, schools and individual teachers, to be accredited by GTCS

- student teachers to be assessed by suitably trained school staff while on placement;

- university-based educators to be reaccredited by GTCS and undertake an agreed programme of CPD each year;

- university-based teacher educators to have a role in the development and delivery of induction schemes;

- better selection and training of mentors;

- roles of mentors and supporters of new teachers to be separated to remove current tensions when roles are combined;

- a new Standard for Active Registration to ensure experienced teachers continue to refresh their knowledge and skills;

- chartered teacher status to be awarded on evidence of improved teaching skills and significant impact on learning of pupils and colleagues; local authorities to have greater control on entry numbers;

- creation of scheme for national leaders of education so that high- performing heads can contribute to system-level leadership of education.

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