Follow my leader - it works for us

24th June 2005 at 01:00
Welcome to the world of teaching. I did a double take a few nights ago as I was listening to television while reading and signing yet more pupil reports. A new initiative in schools in England was soon to be launched. Schools would open from 8am until 6pm with millions of pounds being made available to allow them to run breakfast and after school clubs and activities.

It is reassuring to know that English Ministers continue to look north of the border for new and successful initiatives. We have been running a breakfast club and after school clubs for years, as have many schools across Scotland, the only difference being that these clubs must pay their way to survive.

Another initiative England would do well to emulate is the excellent scheme for probationer teachers which has been running in Scotland for the past three years.

My family is about to launch its fourth generation teacher into the classroom in August. I can't even begin to imagine how ill-prepared her great grand-father was to teach his class of 52 pupils in Coatbridge, armed with chalk in one hand and a tawse in the other. The limited advice given to him on day one was to belt the biggest boy in the class and he would have no more problems.

In the next generation, her grandmother walked into a classroom in Ayrshire as an uncertificated teacher in the 1950s before going on to become one of the famous "matury birds", held in disdain and awe in equal measure by secondary school students.

When my turn came in the late 1960s, I was handed a slim book entitled Are the Pencils Sharpened? and pointed towards my first primary class. There were 43 children in a room crammed with desks and chairs and just enough room to allow a nervous teacher to circulate. Limited curriculum advice was available and every evening was spent making workcards to quench the children's seemingly endless thirst for knowledge.

What then of our new young teacher in 2005?

A friend of hers who trained in Carlisle has simply been turned out into the market place to find her first teaching post, if she is lucky enough to find one.

Meanwhile, teachers beginning their careers in Scotland reap all the benefits of the teacher induction scheme: a guaranteed post for one year, time built in for induction and ongoing professional development, and a support network provided by the school and education authority.

She returned from her induction visit to Dumfries and Galloway filled with excitement and anticipation. Along with other probationers, she met senior members of the education service who outlined the extensive programme for the year: the series of one- and two-day core professional activities, twilight courses and substantial support provided within her school.

These carefully build on experience gained in school and include opportunities to learn about behaviour management, child protection, inclusion, children's rights, outdoor education, motivating boys and health promotion.

She then visited her school, where she was made welcome. She saw her classroom and the children she would be teaching in August. The probationer support network and the in-school programme for next year were already planned and explained to her. The programme covers every aspect of school life.

She will have opportunities to observe others teach across the 3-18 curriculum, meet key members of parent bodies and the community, learn about management and leadership and, crucially, have opportunities to reflect on her own teaching.

By any standards, this is an excellent introduction to teaching, reflecting strong commitment by the school and education authority to developing the potential of new teachers.

As we head towards the summer break, I feel genuinely heartened by hearing about her induction experience and what lies ahead for her.

If this excellent experience is repeated across Scotland, we should have a teaching force well prepared to meet the challenges of A Curriculum for Excellence.

Oh, and I couldn't end without mentioning the birth of another granddaughter, Emily Nicole, to our youngest daughter. Who knows, she may be among the fifth generation of teachers in the family.

The future looks good, but roll on the summer holidays.

Sheilah Jackson is headteacher of Queensferry Primary in Edinburghwww.queensferry-pri.edin.sch.ukIf you have any comments, email

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