Effect and efficiency beyond the finish line

21st May 2004 at 01:00
Scotland's national co-ordinator for CPD regards teaching standards as a staging point, not an end in themselves, as Neil Munro reports

Nurturing leadership - in teachers as well as management - is what Scotland's newest educational "tsar" believes should be the key emphasis of continuing professional development.

Margaret Alcorn, who has moved from Edinburgh City Council, where she had responsibility for CPD, to take up the new post of national co-ordinator for CPD, has few illusions about the challenges facing her as she encourages best practice to spread around the country. At least she does not have to start with a clean sheet. The four pillars of initial teacher education, the standard for full registration, chartered teacher status and the standard for headship are in place.

"I see my role very much as supporting the programmes that fill the gaps between these," Ms Alcorn says.

She also underlines the need to move beyond the standard for headship and not regard it as an end point. "We need to look at the requirements of headteachers who have been in post for a while, helping them to broaden their outlook, to develop potential in others, to take a strategic view, to consider wider policy areas and things of that kind."

Ms Alcorn's long experience of staff development tells her that there is considerable work to be done. "I hope my new responsibilities will allow us to develop a Scotland-wide approach to CPD which will be more integrated and consistent.

"At the moment, a lot of education authorities are developing similar practices , reinventing the wheel very often, when they could be working more closely together."

The importance attached to CPD is widely shared. The objective is to create a well-equipped and well-motivated profession, says Douglas Weir of Strathclyde University's education faculty.

"Some of that is achieved by recruitment to initial teacher education," he says. "More is achieved through teacher induction. Most is achieved by the quality and extent of teachers' CPD."

Professor Weir continues: "The most problematic area for meeting teachers'

expectations is the quality of support. There has been less of a culture of collegiality in our schools than might be desired. Hopefully, the flatter structures of school management and the chartered teacher programme will address this.

"Perhaps we should be giving thought to whether we can persuade the profession that every teacher needs a mentor, not just the probationer teacher."

Ms Alcorn hopes teachers will also welcome opportunities to widen their horizons, which is where she believes leadership comes in.

Leadership is not confined to those in management positions, she argues.

"If we want to create learning communities and improve performance for staff and pupils alike, we need to develop leadership in all its guises, not just for heads. Without that, we would struggle."

Chartered teachers will be a focus for leadership in the classroom, and Ms Alcorn will be monitoring how that programme develops, expressing "slight disappointment" at the uptake of 6,500 to date.

"Anecdotally, a lot of people seem to be standing back waiting to see how it develops," she says.

There is still resentment around about teachers having to pay for it, in contrast to the standard for headship, which is free."

"I don't believe this is an appropriate comparison," she says. "You have to apply for the SFH and there is no financial reward, as there is for chartered teachers."

By the summer, Ms Alcorn points out, the first tranche of teachers to have completed 12 modules will emerge from the scrutiny of the General Teaching Council for Scotland's accreditation of prior learning process (a total of 200 are currently taking that route). This gives full recognition to teachers' previous experience and learning, allowing them to set it against the chartered teacher standard and progress more quickly. They will then go straight to the top of the chartered teacher scale, having earned potentially an additional pound;6,000.

Ms Alcorn takes the same view of chartered teachers as she does of headteachers: their status is not an end point. "Through CPD, we must ensure that they remain fresh and retain the impetus to be the excellent teachers that their status as chartered teachers is intended to recognise."

This emphasis will be a strong theme running through Ms Alcorn's time in post. "We need to maintain the momentum of the 35 hours of CPD so that it provides exciting, energising programmes for teachers," she says. "It shouldn't be just a matter of going on a course and then back into school."

She has in mind secondments, research activity, collaborative working and teachers becoming "reflective practitioners".

"It's important that the 35 hours doesn't become stale, with teachers ticking a lot of boxes and saying 'I've done my 35 hours and now I'll go back to do what I've always done'. The experience has to be genuinely developmental and energising, providing teachers with new insights into their practice, and I hope I can make a contribution to that."

It remains to be seen whether the right balance will be struck between CPD which benefits the teacher and that which benefits the authorities, the former interested in his or her effectiveness, the latter in efficiency.

Perchance the two will become related.

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