Group approach to future reform

26th March 2010 at 00:00

Scotland is proud of its educational traditions. The aspirations in the Book of Discipline (1560) for each parish to have a school and schoolmaster, reinforced in the 1696 Act for Settling Schools, provided the basis for the legendary "lad o' pairts" to have an education which could take him from the parish school to one of Scotland's renowned universities.

This is not the place to discuss the merits of this claim, but a belief in the importance of education and in the superior nature of Scottish education survives to the present day. We need a resurgence of that earlier determination if we are to inspire all our young people with a desire to learn, which will allow them to thrive in an increasingly complex and competitive world.

Education reform in Scotland over the past 30 years at least has focused increasingly on what should be taught, the assessment of standards and the factors which bring about school improvement. Until very recently, change management has followed a version of the research, development and dissemination model - bringing together leading practitioners, preparing materials and providing training on implementation.

Over that period, we have seen significant progress and our understanding of what can make a real difference to learning has grown. However, changes in society and the wider economy, allied to globalisation and the pervasive impact of technology, demand a much more dynamic process and render more rigid approaches increasingly obsolete.

The future will demand broader achievement and deeper learning through a more flexible, diverse and personalised approach to meeting the needs of every one of our young people. That is the real significance of Curriculum for Excellence.

How can we support our teachers and the wider education community to engage with confidence in this agenda, and with an unknowable future agenda? In essence, that is the question which the Review of Teacher Education in Scotland has to address. RTES consists of a small team led by me, and it will report by the end of the year.

The remit covers the full continuum of teacher education from initial preparation through induction to continuing professional development. It will look at issues of scope, quality, progression and coherence across these hitherto largely self-contained stages in a teacher's career. In doing so, it will also address issues of workforce planning and the work of the key bodies involved in teacher education.

RTES will actively seek wide engagement in its work. I have already had exploratory and very constructive discussions with a wide range of individuals and organisations. In addition to a formal call for views and evidence, the team will visit all of the universities involved in teacher education, initial and continuing, to hear at first hand the views of staff and students.

Similarly, we will be visiting authorities and schools to engage directly with officials, heads and teachers. Meanwhile, meetings are being arranged with a wide range of interested parties including professional bodies, employers and, of course, parents and young people themselves.

It is vital that everyone who has something to contribute can do so. The RTES website, Learning and Teaching Scotland online service, Glow groups and other online forums will provide information about the progress of the review and invite contributions to thinking as it develops. I hope that The TESS will also publish "thought pieces" from time to time, which will help to stimulate thinking and debate.

We will, of course, look widely at research evidence, international studies, relevant articles and emerging effective practice in Scotland and beyond. A literature review is currently being commissioned and will report before the summer.

As part of the governance of RTES, I have established a reference group of individuals who cover a wide range of backgrounds and who have been drawn from across different sectors and parts of the country. This group will not be bound by the findings of the review but will provide support and challenge to our work.

The importance of teacher education to educational success is the subject of active debate across the world. The McKinsey report's simple but powerful observation, that the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers, has struck a chord internationally.

In many ways, Scotland is one of the front runners in the field. Our approach to induction and the inclusion of rights and obligations to continuing professional development in teachers' conditions of service are looked on enviously by many other countries. Universities and authorities are already engaging in groundbreaking developments in both the preparation of teachers and in their continuing development, so there is much to learn from and to build on.

RTES provides an opportunity to step back and ask some fundamental questions about how we develop and support our teachers. Its findings and recommendations must point the way to developments which will stand the test of time. Although it cannot ignore immediate pressures, not least those affecting public expenditure, it must look to the long term. It is vital that the profession and the wider community engage in the process. I will do all that I can to make that happen.

We would welcome any comment on the discussion page of our website and in The TESS.

Graham Donaldson is former senior chief inspector of education.

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