University education faculties need a guiding hand to improve teacher quality, says Hirek Kwiatkowski
As ministers set up a strategy group on continuing professional development and undertake a review of initial teacher education, there is little attention to a fundamental change in teacher education - its location in university faculties of education.
The establishment of the new faculties, due to be completed this year when Northern College is finally absorbed within the university environment, is taking place without any apparent strategic view of their role.
The result is, I believe, a genuine threat to the faculties of education and the contribution they might make to the development of educational and curriculum policy for the Scottish Parliament.
Lack of direction from the "centre" has its benefits: universities do not want government meddling or interference in the objectivity of research. But the dangers can be seen in England where a few faculties have emerged as strong in providing new teachers and research output. However, in many other institutions, the result of the lack of strategic direction has been negative and demoralising as they are marginalised by the Teacher Training Agency and OFSTED.
Now, the growing academic and political criticisms of the relevance of educational research bring further dangers, and will be enough to legitimise decisions by those who influence its funding. If the education faculties leave themselves open to the charge of research appearing irrelevant, their research agendas may be questioned. If the immediately perceived benefit to our community is not apparent, their purpose and role may be challenged.
The threat of restricting funding to educational research in order to transfer funds to initial teacher education, or establishing "second-tier" faculties to produce new teachers, must be strategies those in power might consider.
It is in the interests of the university faculties to initiate thinking on their role in educational, professional and curriculum development.
There needs to be a new relationship with the Scottish Executive Education Department and the HMI in particular. There is growing acceptance that we have a curriculum driven more by a political agenda than by one with a philosophical and epistemological context. This represents a negative assessment of the contribution to curriculum development by the previous colleges of education, only partly explained by a shortage of resources for research and reflection.
Th education faculties now have the opportunity to fill the gap resulting from the limitation of the HMI's role in policy and curriculum development by developing a more strategic partnership with local authorities, the General Teaching Council, and teachers' professional groups.
But a challenge to current practice would not be without risk. There should be no repeat of the very minor role given to higher education in a key development such as Higher Still. In any review of teacher education, the way forward should emerge from a much more informed and robust debate between its providers and the accrediting body, the GTC, as well as with local authorities.
Similarly, the research agenda in relation to educational and associated social, moral and economic issues should be an area in which the new faculties play a strong role. There is no shortage of such matters: inclusion, deprivation, literacy and numeracy, curriculum relevance - all these need more thorough enquiry to focus agendas for action.
Therefore should not government and other educational partners work along with the education faculties and those areas of the universities with cognate strengths? Such a systematic approach to understanding key issues would be enhanced by the academic autonomy of the faculties and the objective enquiry and investigation these can provide.
We in the education faculties will have to gain the confidence that is a necessary precursor to such involvement in Scotland's agenda. That may require a greater commitment to share and participate co-operatively in enquiry which focuses on research for wider educational and social benefit, so that the faculties become the source to which those who need answers will naturally turn.
With our new Parliament, now is surely the moment to commit to such a strategic view.
If we do not, then the potential resource for educational developments will have been squandered.
More ominously, the split between"first" and"second tier" faculties that have been pointed to here will materialise.
Failing to seize the opportunity is not acceptable. Let us hope that Henry McLeish will take account of his recent role in enterprise and lifelong learning and instigate the discussions and actions to which our universities and their education faculties should respond positively, creatively - and swiftly.
Dr Hirek Kwiatkowski, head of the department of curriculum studies in Glasgow University faculty of education, will become dean of the faculty later this year.