Ian Menter

20th April 2012 at 01:00
The University of Oxford professor of teacher education and director of professional programmes talks about why he has just left Glasgow, the impact of CfE and whether it is better to be a teacher north or south of the border. Interview by Henry Hepburn. Photography Tom Finnie

Why have you left the University of Glasgow?

I was keen to spend a few years in England again, having learned in Scotland that alternatives are possible. The attractions of the University of Oxford are very great, in terms of the academic environment and it being one of England's leading research and teacher-education centres.

You and Donald Christie examined the state of educational research in Scotland - how would you sum it up?

My initial experience from 2001 was of lots of good opportunities for educational research relating to policy. But it seems that this age of austerity has led to very serious decline in support for educational research. That worries me a lot, because I wouldn't see research as an additional luxury - it's fundamental to a contemporary education system.

What are the long-term dangers?

That the profession will not advance in line with teaching communities elsewhere in the world, because of a reduction in the scope of professionalism. Also, if there is not high-quality research around new policies, those policies may become confused and unproductive.

You have highlighted a `huge paradox' that teachers' experience of Curriculum for Excellence is one of `decreasing agency'. What did you mean?

CfE was intended to create much more opportunity for teacher decision- making about the curriculum's detail. But teachers became so accustomed to a very tightly-defined curriculum under 5-14 that some saw a threat. Now there is a gradual move to build confidence, and what have been reported as government concessions recently - more time and support for teachers - are certainly to be welcomed.

Is CfE having the impact you hoped for?

It's beginning to have a very positive impact. I know there are great anxieties about pressures and workload, but I do think this is a chance for Scotland, again, to be seen taking the lead in moving the teaching profession forward.

In a recent talk you referred to `hugely different cultural settings' for initial teacher education in Scotland and England? Could you explain?

The Donaldson report has a view of teaching as a challenging and complex occupation, which demands the best training, preparation and continuing support. In England, there is greater emphasis on subject knowledge and teachers' authority. Both are very important, but they do not amount to the full scope of teaching as I understand it. There is no question that Scottish universities have a significant role in initial teacher education; in England, the system is much more diverse, with the government not seeing universities necessarily as central.

Is it better being a teacher in Scotland?

It's good to be a teacher anywhere, but it seems to me there is a greater culture of trust and support for teachers north of the border. It's more professionally rewarding, in general, to be a teacher, or indeed a teacher educator, in Scotland. This is one reason I'm returning south - to see if what I've learned in Scotland can influence what we do in England.

You touched on the independence referendum and suggested a `yes' vote would be good for teacher education. Why?

I was saying we have had hundreds of years of a relatively independent education system in Scotland, and the evidence suggests that the nation is capable of running it. If that were the only issue around independence, then, if I still had a vote, I would be inclined to support it. Of course matters such as defence and economics make it rather more complicated. I don't know which way I would vote.

You were involved in supporting Schools of Ambition. What is its legacy?

For the 52 schools that took part, a real enhancement of the culture of self-evaluation and self-scrutiny. While I understand that the new (SNP) government may not have wanted to continue that particular policy, which they may have seen as selective, nevertheless the approach could have been a real enhancement to the way CfE was implemented.

In 2004 you co-authored a report highlighting supply teachers' poor prospects. What do you make of their situation in 2012?

It's disappointing that the lessons of that study were not taken on board by the then (Labour-Lib Dem) Scottish Executive. The way supply teachers are being treated by employers suggests, once again, that they are seen as an unfortunate sticking plaster for the system, rather than a fully- supported and integrated part.

Having evaluated leadership programmes in the past, what do you make of the state of Scotland's leadership training?

It's quite interesting that there hasn't been the establishment of a college for leadership like in England. I do think the Scottish Qualification for Headship has been very successful generally, and there's been a lot of local authority support for headteachers. I'd include chartered teachers under leadership - I'm a bit worried that what has been seen internationally as a flagship scheme in Scotland seems under threat.

What will you miss about working in Scotland?

The collegiality and comradeship in Scottish education.

Personal profile

Born: Cambridge, 1949

Education: The Perse School, Cambridge; University of Bristol, BEd


Primary teacher in Bristol, 1975-84; education lecturer at universities of Gloucestershire, the West of England and North London until 2001; professor of education and dean of education and media faculty, University of Paisley, until 2004; professor of teacher education, University of Glasgow, until 2012.

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