Glitches in the system could stall Update

4th July 2014 at 01:00
Teachers welcome scheme, but fear time and money will run short

concerns are still dogging the new Professional Update for teachers, despite a report finding that the majority of staff taking part in a pilot backed the scheme.

The process - previously dubbed "an MOT for teachers" - will be introduced across Scotland next month. It aims to encourage staff to add to their knowledge and skills and reflect on their practice. But concerns remain about the time it will take up as schools struggle to get to grips with curriculum changes, and a small minority of staff still fear the exercise will be used to "control teachers".

The EIS teaching union has also underlined concerns about a lack of funding for the professional development that teachers would be required to complete and record in a portfolio of evidence showing its impact. There are worries, too, that supply teachers may not have access to the training opportunities needed to complete their portfolios, which will be signed off every five years.

Larry Flanagan, the union's general secretary, said that workload pressure on teachers was already immense. "The EIS is clear that CPD has to be accommodated within the working week, not in addition to it," he said. "That needs to be recognised for Professional Update to succeed."

Despite these concerns, a survey of 359 participants in the second-phase pilot by the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) found that the majority reported positive changes in their practice. According to the GTCS report, there has been a distinct shift in approach since the first phase of the pilot, with teachers now tending to prefer collaborating with each other rather than attending courses or events.

"The most significant change appeared to be that professional learning was far more focused, reflective and planned for, and stronger links to the standards were noted," it says.

One respondent explained: "I am quite excited as to the prospects ahead for me as I now feel much more engaged and feel I can develop myself as a teacher in so many ways."

Another had felt it was the wrong time to introduce Professional Update in light of the ongoing curricular upheaval, but found the scheme "not as arduous" as they had expected.

Time and other priorities, however, have been the biggest hindrance to implementation and some teachers are still not confident about how to gather evidence that shows impact.

"As well as planning, implementing, assessing and creating resources for the new Nationals, there is not enough time in the day for any kind of meaningful reflection andor discussion about the professional standards," one respondent said.

Another said that Professional Update "may turn out to be an opportunity missed to make a really positive difference to the education system in Scotland if time is not managed properly".

A small minority remained sceptical about the entire project. One said it would be "great to be given the freedom to develop professionally", but "the reality is nothing like the vision" and Professional Update was "just another way for line managers to control [the] teacher".

Alan McKenzie, acting general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said: "We are supportive of Professional Update - teachers should be entitled to something like this. Our greatest concern is that it might be used as a tool by some headteachers to have a go at people, although we have been told to not worry about that."

Mike Corbett, NASUWT Scotland national executive member, said his union was "happy with the advent of Professional Update and most of what has so far been proposed".

He added: "There are no major concerns regarding workload and, instead, there is a hope that the new approach will guarantee appropriate professional learning opportunities for teachers and replace the patchwork picture we had before.

"The two significant concerns we do have are around funding of those professional learning opportunities in the current financial climate and how supply teachers will access these."

Mr Flanagan added: "While the EIS acknowledges that Professional Update as a process is not in itself threatening, and indeed may be supportive of staff, the real test will be whether local authorities actually facilitate the time for teachers to engage in CPD activities.

"In the recent EIS well-being survey, for example, 70 per cent of members responded negatively to the statement, `I have sufficient time to dedicate to professional development and learning.' "

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