There is not much in common between the dysfunctional Simpsons and a Labour-leaning think tank, it might be supposed. Not necessarily so. Researchers tell us that the "extreme caricatures" of teachers in The Simpsons could provide examples for aspiring teachers of how not to teach (p3), while the latest pronouncement from the Institute for Public Policy Research this week argues for a massive expansion of in-service training south of the border. Continuing professional development is the unifying theme, of course.
Six months ago, we carried a story which declared: "It's the teachers, stupid". This, in essence, was the conclusion of an influential report from the global consultancy firm, McKinsey (co-written by Sir Michael Barber, a major figure behind Labour's school reforms in England over the past decade). It argued that raising the status and quality of teachers must be at the heart of any attempt to create a world-class education system.
Since devolution, Scottish ministers have invested many millions in teachers' professional development. Although CPD budgets are becoming an easy target for cost-cutting councils, there has been progress: no longer is CPD equated with sending teachers on external courses, many of questionable quality. It is now very school-oriented and classroom-based, a trend endorsed in the IPPR report. There is plenty of evidence that this is an effective way of building teachers' professionalism and raising school standards.
In Finland, which has perhaps the most successful schools in the world, teachers have an afternoon a week to plan, teach, and evaluate. Non-contact time, if used well, ought to provide these opportunities. The thrust ought to be about teachers seizing control of their own development, which can only be to the good. Perhaps, in the future, The Simpsons caricature will be seen as just that, a relic from times which have passed.