The freedom to do more paperwork?

12th December 2014 at 00:00
Expert questions the `liberating' nature of Professional Update

Professional Update could be perceived as "less of an opportunity and more of an imposition" as the initiative risks piling yet more work on to Scotland's under-pressure teachers, according to a leading academic.

Although the scheme was intended to give freedom to staff, they "may not experience the process as liberating", Walter Humes of the University of Stirling has said.

Since August, all registered teachers in Scotland have been required to take part in Professional Update. They must show evidence of how they are adding to their knowledge, skills and practice, with their efforts signed off every five years.

In an article for the Scottish Educational Review, Professor Humes writes: "It already seems that the framework runs the risk of becoming quite bureaucratic, despite the intention that teachers should feel that they `own' the process and can take control of their own career development."

Professional Update was dubiously dubbed an "MOT for teachers" by some when the idea emerged in 2010. However, the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) - which runs the scheme - appears largely to have allayed such worries, with most teachers involved in pilot schemes responding positively. Evaluations did reveal, however, that teachers remained concerned about the demands on their time.

Professor Humes writes: "For members of the policy elite, particularly senior GTCS staff who have been closely involved in the process, the arrangements may seem straightforward. For busy teachers, still preoccupied with implementing Curriculum for Excellence and getting to grips with the new exams, it may seem less of an opportunity and more of an imposition."

He adds that the compulsory nature of Professional Update is problematic: although the intention is to give greater freedom to teachers, he says, "conscripts may not experience the process as liberating".

Professor Humes goes on to say that Professional Update is a "heavily monitored system" that involves the GTCS, schools and local authorities, while teachers themselves must gather evidence that they have met various requirements.

He writes: "The GTCS will have a central role in this bureaucratic process - rather ironically at a time when the Scottish government has set up a working group aimed at tackling excessive bureaucracy."

He also points out that fellow University of Stirling academics Cate Watson and Alison Fox recently described Professional Update as "a form of control, in which insidious power relations.are disguised as a means to self-actualisation".

Professor Humes expects several years to elapse before it is clear whether Professional Update represents "a genuine step forward" or simply "another set of expectations from above".

A spokesman for the GTCS said the organisation "welcomed feedback and comment on Professional Update".

He added: "It is an evolving process aimed at supporting teachers to develop their professional learning. This, ultimately, will benefit children and young people in our schools and other learners beyond the school system.

"We have worked hard to ensure that this is not a bureaucratic exercise and that it is something that is adding real value to teaching practice."

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, which is running a series of events to provide information about the scheme, said: "There are many questions and concerns regarding Professional Update and therefore it is important that there is clarity on what is actually required.

"It is clear that this is not a resource-free initiative and, without support and investment from local authorities, it will not be successfully delivered."

Professional Update should give "more autonomy to teachers with regard to their professional learning", not add to their workload, Mr Flanagan said.

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