'If we are not getting it right the whole crusade on standards will come unstuck'
Labour will put teacher training at the centre of its education policy if it assumes charge of the Scottish Office after next week's election.
Helen Liddell, the party's Scottish education spokesperson, said yesterday that Labour will set up a "commission on teacher training and education". Brian Boyd of the Quality in Education Centre at Jordanhill, who has been carrying out a review of teacher training for Labour, has accepted the chairmanship of the new body.
Mrs Liddell, who unveiled her plans at the annual conference of Catholic headteachers in Crieff, said: "If we are not getting it right in initial teacher training, then the whole crusade on standards will come unstuck. "
Her unexpected announcement pushing teacher training to the top of the agenda comes after initial conclusions by Dr Boyd's working party which Mrs Liddell says point to "a radical overhaul of how we train and motivate our teachers".
The clear intention is to signal to teachers Labour's determination to be tender but tough. Mrs Liddell's speech is littered with denunciations of Government policy which she claims has "set school against school, parent against teacher and local government against central government".
But, while acknowledging that morale has suffered as a result, she makes clear the quid pro quo for restoring teachers' professional standing will be "the highest possible professional standards and a continuous quest for improvements in skills and knowledge that will make the whole school a learning organisation".
Labour's strategy owes much to Dr Boyd's thinking which has a familiar echo in Mrs Liddell's view that "it is important to create a climate where it is the norm to pursue continuous professional development and to ensure that effective teaching and learning is shared across subjects and across sectors".
A Labour government would force teachers to take accredited courses of professional development, she said. "Staff development is not an option" and must be linked to appraisal which is "another confirmation of teachers' entitlement to staff development".
Mrs Liddell said: "We can only truly have the teacher as role model if the profession demonstrates a commitment to continuous development and Labour will establish rigorous and systematic school evaluation that recognises staff development as a key plank in raising standards overall."
She also announced that there would be a survey of all student and newly qualified teachers "to map out a coherent national development provision that is transparent in its goals and effective in its delivery. We will end the fragmentation of probationary training where teachers can find themselves in 20 different schools in two years with little scope for advice and guidance. "
Confirming a key role for the General Teaching Council, Mrs Liddell said: "Labour will make the probationary period a key issue in the drive to improve the quality of teachers, to prevent unsuitable people from becoming trapped in the profession and to create the link between initial teacher training through probation into continuing professional development."