As Gove strips his system back, let's fight to save ours

15th February 2013 at 00:00
Scotland's comprehensive schools should be invested in and preserved better

Absorbed as we may be with Curriculum for Excellence, it would be wrong for us to ignore what is happening to education in England. What is clear is that under Michael Gove's direction we are seeing some of the most ideologically inspired changes to schooling since Margaret Thatcher's day.

Mr Gove is dismantling the comprehensive system, stripping local education authorities of any influence over schools, pursuing a divide-and-rule approach to teachers' rights through performance-related pay and, most recently, in the name of raising standards, reintroducing exams that are reliant almost entirely on recall rather than analysis and critical thinking.

But in the face of this onslaught, there are some dissident voices; not just the unions, fighting to preserve conditions of service, but academics who are offering an alternative vision. Professors Tim Brighouse and Bob Moon have written a paper entitled Taking Teacher Development Seriously and its thinking resonates with not just the Donaldson report but the way in which we, in Scotland, believe educational improvement should proceed.

It may seem simplistic, but the evidence suggests that if you want to improve schools you need to invest in teachers. Thus, while the goal of master's-level qualifications for every teacher may well be worth pursuing, we need to invest in the continuing professional development of the teachers we currently have. I have long argued that CPD will determine the success or failure of Curriculum for Excellence; it needs to be available, of high quality and with a focus on pedagogy.

Professors Brighouse and Moon suggest that the current arrangement of in-service days needs to be reviewed and cite evidence from research, which suggests that at least 50 hours of CPD over not more than two terms is needed to ensure that our teachers are able to update their professional knowledge and skills.

It may well be that their proposal of a national teaching institute may not be what is needed in Scotland, but the roles they suggest for such an entity are pertinent. They argue for CPD that has a rationale and is planned in such a way as to enable career-long progression. They propose that CPD needs to be evaluated and schools should participate in the drawing up of criteria for success. Finally, the development of a national teacher development portfolio is required.

If we want education to flourish in Scotland and to preserve our comprehensive system, let's invest in teachers, focus on pedagogy and aim to tackle academic underachievement.

Brian Boyd is emeritus professor of education at the University of Strathclyde and co-founder of Tapestry.

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