Economy must not drive our reforms

10th September 2010 at 01:00

The weeks, months, years ahead will see decisions taken on spending which will influence the nature and quality of education for generations. The responsibility on those involved in those decisions is huge. The risk is that the onus on making savings will lead to a climate characterised by defensiveness, obduracy and damage limitation. That would be very wrong.

The imperatives for improvement have not gone away. All involved need to be creative, flexible and clear about what will have the greatest impact on learning. Curriculum for Excellence is about improving the quality of learning and raising standards. Finding engaging and connected ways of allowing as many young people as possible to achieve the depth of learning embedded in its "experiences and outcomes" remains the test of success.

The quality of our teachers and their willingness to innovate will be critical to that success. The Review of Teacher Education in Scotland (RTES), which I am undertaking, is looking at the part teacher education should play in supporting the professional learning which will be needed for our teachers.

Scotland is not alone in reviewing its approach to teacher education; countries across the world have recognised its importance. This includes looking at who is recruited to the profession, the level of qualifications, the support provided at different stages of a teacher's career, and ways of motivating the profession to make use of opportunities that are available.

In Scotland, we have a chance to look at all these issues in the round and create a clear, coherent career journey for teachers.

Over the past six months, I have met groups and individuals from schools, local authorities, universities, national and community bodies and business to seek their views on teacher education, and the changes that would make a difference to pupil outcomes. We have had an excellent response to our call for evidence and nearly 2,500 teachers have completed our online questionnaire. A review of the research on teacher education has been completed and will be published in October.

The issues raised can be divided into two areas: those arising from historical legacies, current policy and restricted finances; and those which look at what would improve teaching in future. The review's remit covers both these aspects and must look to address the short-term issues while building a system of teacher education that will meet our needs well into the 21st century.

In the first group, the issues centre on teachers' readiness for Curriculum for Excellence; the nature and effectiveness of different forms of professional development; the balance in professional learning between what is to be taught and how; perceived issues about the literacy and numeracy skills of some entrants to the profession, and the number of teachers who cannot find a permanent job after probation.

The second set of issues was more wide-ranging and included: the relationships between universities, local authorities and schools, including the content and length of initial teacher education courses and where the balance of responsibility for developing the student teacher should lie; coherence in development of the skills, competences and responsibilities of teachers across a career; the contribution of professional review and development; the make-up of the profession itself; and the development opportunities and support open to teachers not in permanent jobs who wish to maintain or refresh their knowledge and skills.

The initial evidence-gathering phase of the review is coming to a close. Through the discussions we have had, we have isolated a number of issues that, if addressed, would significantly improve the learning and development of teachers and, ultimately, the learning of our young people.

Over the next few months, I will be looking at possible solutions. Together with my team, I will explore the issues raised here with participants at the Scottish Learning Festival, both through a spotlight session and through smaller workshop discussions. I will meet virtually with a number of young people from around the globe to discuss what qualities a teacher should have. The current online workshop on the Scottish Government's Engage for Education website asks the same question.

On the review's own website, we will be posting an issue of the week and asking for views and possible ways forward. This follows on from the question of the week that ran through spring 2010.

Question-of-the-week responses have highlighted the importance of mentoring in developing not only student teachers and probationers, but supporting colleagues as well. The need for a balance between the role of the university and the school in student placements was stressed by a number of people, and I agree that greater clarity around this is needed. The need for teachers to be able to work in partnership with other professionals, in social work and health care, was raised. The idea of a teacher as part of a wider team which educates and supports young people has been highlighted by several individuals and organisations.

The more people who engage with the discussions, the more likely it is that we will arrive at recommendations which are well judged, imaginative and credible. We must not be afraid of being ambitious. Our financial climate will inform our thinking, but it is vital that it does not drive solutions which must stand the test of time. I hope that as many people as possible will grasp this opportunity and engage with the review.

Graham Donaldson's Spotlight session at the Scottish Learning Festival, SECC Glasgow, is on September 22, 1.30pm

Graham Donaldson is the former head of the inspectorate and chairs the teacher education review.

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