As in Scotland, so too in England and the United States: how we educate our teachers is top of the agenda. The white paper published in England this week (p8) places teacher quality at the heart of the battle for enhanced school performance. A study by the national US teacher accreditation council says the same high expectations must be placed on teachers as on pupils. The Teach First agency says its high-flying graduates boost school performance. And consultants McKinsey have just reported that nothing improves standards more than the quality of teachers. Not since Robin Williams leapt on a desk has there been such public approbation for the cause of quality teaching.
Like much else in comparisons between countries, however, the devil lies not just in the detail but in the culture, as top-ranking countries demonstrate. South Korea recruits teachers from the top 5 per cent of graduates, while Finland sources them from the top 10 per cent. By contrast, the English white paper tells us that only 2 per cent of graduates obtaining first class honours degrees from the venerable Russell Group of universities go on to train to become teachers within six months of graduating. A challenge indeed.
One idea gaining ground, as reflected in England and the US, is that there should be "teaching schools" to give aspiring teachers the equivalent of clinical experience in medical schools. Diversity of routes into teacher training is to be welcomed, but there is more to it than that. Teachers have to be bright but empathetic, patient but enthusiastic, practical but creative, imaginative but organised, confident but not complacent, inspirational but grounded. At present, there is no consensus on how or where these qualities should be developed. What is clear, however, is that teaching is more than a "craft".
Neil Munro, editor of the year (business and professional magazine).