UNION leaders are baffled by Scottish Executive plans to create a new category of "expert" teacher.
Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, last weekend announced moves to strengthen continuing professional development (CPD) but mystified the Educational Institute of Scotland's biannual education conference by revealing competency levels for an "expert" teacher.
A new CPD framework will also set out the standards that are to be imposed for entry to the profession and headship.
Mr Galbraith said the standard for the expert teacher would be "the competences and levels of performance which could be generally expected of a highly competent, experienced teacher".
It will focus on "learning and teaching with a heavy emphasis on practical means of raising teachers' skills in and around the classroom". Specialisms such as guidance, leadership and management, and learning support will complement the standard.
Mr Galbraith said other professions had such markers and it was time teaching had a similar structure. His department will shortly invite bids to promote the standard and its associated development programme. He assured the EIS that classroom teachers will be involved.
The minister added that there was no suggestion of any link to pay and conditions of service. "It's not a salary or promotion structure," Mr Galbraith said.
EIS leaders were left confused. Sonia Kordiak, vice-convener of the union's education committee, said: "I do not know what he means." Ronnie Smith, the institute's general secretary, said Mr Galbraith's intention was "unclear", while Graham Dane, an executive council member, remained uncertain about the difference between an expert and a qualified probationer.
On a wider front, Danny McDonald, a Dundee secondary teacher, warned Mr Galbraith that further professional development was difficult when school development plans were already "chock full" with existing Government initiatives.
It would also be impossible without additional supply teachers. Staff tutors in Dundee had been hauled out of college to provide cover when secondary teachers were on Higher Still courses, Mr McDonald pointed out.
Mr Galbraith replied that 1,000 extra teachers were coming into the system, along with classroom assistants. But he warned against any hope of substantial extra cash, although spending was 8 per cent up this year, and there was " no crisis in local government finances".
He continued: "Finance, time and supply cover are significant issues. But if the will is there innovative ways can be found round all these issues. I have suggested that schools do not attach enough importance to continuing professional development."
Mr Smith said teachers would welcome any entitlement to professional development but few would be assured about the resources to back the delivery when they were "more weighed down by workload burdens than at any time".
Ms Kordiak said Mr Galbraith could not achieve his aims within existing resources when teachers were allocated about pound;120 each a year for training, the cost of a one-day course. It was up to schools to decide how to spend their budget. "If every teacher wanted to take up their allocation, it would not be enough," she said.
Elizabeth Vann, a Glasgow primary assistant head, said: "If you put down counselling, the minimum is a three-day course and that means others cannot get a day course. Where is the money coming from - or is it all to be in twilight classes?"
Mr Galbraith is establishing a CPD strategy committee in January, chaired by Peter Peacock, his deputy, which will assess bids for the expert teacher standard. It will also consider a national staff college for teachers to increase the status of the initiative.
The college could pilot new professional development programmes, develop quality assurance mechanisms and devise multidisciplinary courses. 'Where is the money coming from - or is it all to be in twilight classes?'