The key to improving pupil achievement

20th September 1996 at 01:00
Achievement is rapidly becoming the next "big idea" in education. The appointment of an officer for achievement to one of the new local authorities, and the imminent report of a Government task force on underachievement are only two manifestations of this.

But what about staff development? The idea that the best way to raise pupil achievement is through teacher development is by no means new. It also seems fairly obvious. By helping our teachers to develop personally and professionally, they will not only become better teachers, but also happier people. Schools will become more effective and better places for everyone to work in. Standards of achievement will rise.

One of the main reasons is that teacher development is expensive - it is not a quick fix one-off solution. It is also not popular with those who prefer to portray teachers as the problem rather than the solution.

But we staff developers should admit that a lot of what we have done in the past has not been that effective. We need to do a lot better if we are to convince everyone that teacher development is the real key to pupil achievement and therefore worth a substantial and long-term investment.

The Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum paper Teaching for Effective Learning (TESS, September 20) can provide practical starting points for staff development on learning and teaching. It is designed to give teachers insight into our knowledge about how people learn and the implications for teaching and teacher development.

One of its most significant messages is that teachers need to keep up to date with what is known about how people learn. About 80 per cent of what we now know about the brain has been learned in the past 15 years, yet the average length of time that teachers in Scotland have been in post, and therefore since many of them studied in any depth, is 20 years.

Our current knowledge about learning suggests, among other things, that everyone has much greater potential for learning than we normally recognise; that the emotions play a central role; and that we all have a range of different abilities and preferred ways of learning. We also know a great deal more about how teachers actually teach and how pupils learn in classrooms.

Much of this new knowledge points out the need for changes in the way teachers work, the way we design and plan courses and run our schools. It also highlights the fact that we must look forward for ideas to help raise pupil achievement, not backwards.

Through its learning and teaching programme, the Scottish CCC is developing partnerships with a number of authorities to tackle these issues with their schools. The council is also developing a support network to help people share ideas, experiences, materials and contacts across authorities.

An electronic forum, which will be an essential part of this network, will go live on Scottish CCC's Web pages very shortly.

Teaching for Effective Learning is available, price Pounds 6, from the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, Gardyne Road, Dundee DD5 1NY; tel: 01382 455053. The Teaching for Effective Learning forum can be accessed at For further information contact Ian Smith, development fellow, at the Scottish CCC.

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