Heads warn of 'deficient' basic skills

9th July 2010 at 01:00
NQTs who `should have failed at college' are holding pupils back, school leaders tell review

Too many new teachers have "deficient" basic skills, poor levels of literacy, and lack a "professional ethos", the association which represents secondary heads and deputes has complained.

In a blunt submission to the Donaldson review of teacher education, School Leaders Scotland also queries the standard of primary teaching, says university education lecturers should go back to school every six years and suggests radical measures to attract high-calibre students into teaching.

The views of SLS are at odds with the commonly-expressed praise for newly- qualified teachers (NQTs) as "the best ever", and they will not resonate well with primary teachers.

The submission states: "There are concerns that some students emerging through the Bachelor of Education route have weak subject knowledge, while some students emerging through the postgraduate one-year route may have deficient basic skills in the practical subjects. A number of students and newly-qualified teachers do not appear to demonstrate a professional ethos."

It goes on: "A number of us view with dismay the poor literacy skills of a number of NQTs in secondary schools, and this needs to be addressed.

"Similarly, we are not convinced that pupils are coming to secondary schools with secure literacy and numeracy skills . effective teaching of literacy and numeracy has to be given more prominence in the initial and continuing training of primary staff."

Pupils are being "seriously affected" by sub-standard NQTs "whom schools consider should already have failed while at college", according to secondary heads.

One weakness in the present system, they believe, is that postgraduates on the one-year training course are being spread thinly across too many schools, and would benefit from two longer placements rather than the three which are currently the norm.

SLS also suggests looking into the medical profession's model of teaching hospitals.

It looks to Finland, where teaching is a "desirable and high-status profession" with a masters degree a pre-requisite, and it calls for "a drive to get highly-qualified entrants into the profession".

Secondary heads urge consideration to be given to more "experiment and variety" in the training of teachers. They cite England's "great success" with the fast-tracking of people from other professions, a reference to the Teach First scheme which parachutes top graduates into schools after six weeks - but whose students have been refused registration by the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

SLS warns that "near-systemic failure" to create permanent jobs for NQTs is undermining initial teacher education far more extensively than ever before, a situation it says is likely to deter good graduates from applying to teach.

The support system from local authorities for NQTs is often inadequate, the heads say. They go further in castigating support for teachers' development in general, which is blighted by "massive inconsistencies in the capacity of local authorities". SLS wants a re-examination of the system of professional review and development, which is too often paid "little more than lip-service".

The heads urge Donaldson to come up with recommendations to plug the "huge gap" in the preparation of staff to take on leadership roles, pointing out that the flattening of the career structure now offers "limited opportunities" for many young staff to be promoted.

This generation of young teachers, if taking on the role of faculty head, also has a lack of subject knowledge which "makes them vulnerable to criticism from the very staff they are trying to support".

SLS identifies failings in university faculties and schools of education. Staff should go back to school every six years, "so that lecturers have a much sharper awareness of the difficulties new entrants face".

EIS highlights CPD

In its submission to the Donaldson review, the Educational Institute of Scotland has highlighted continuing professional development as "one of the major successes of the past decade", like the probationer scheme.

There were, however, "significant gaps" in CPD availability and its "overall coherence", and it must be protected from budget cuts at all costs.

The EIS opposes any reduction in probationers' protected CPD time, in contrast to SLS, which wants probationers to have greater experience of full-time teaching.

Henry Hepburn henry.hepburn@tes.co.uk.

  • Original headline: Heads warn of new teachers' `deficient' basic skills

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