Let's look at the age not the institution

18th August 2000 at 01:00
A 21st century curriculum can't afford to wait for outdated teaching qualifications to catch up, says Gordon Kirk

OVER the past decade or so the General Teaching Council for Scotland has considered the structure of teaching qualifications and the extent to which they were attuned to the changing needs of schools. On each occasion, the support for reform has been insufficient and the status quo has been allowed to continue unaltered.

There is now a growing consensus that the established pattern of qualifications is under severe pressureand the case for reform needs to be restated, taking account of recent and anticipated changes in the curriculum and in education more widely.

The shortcomings of the existing tripartite structure of primary teaching qualification (TQ), secondary TQ and further education TQ have been widely discussed and are easily enumerated: the 5-14 programme questions the rigid distinction between primary and secondary TQ. There are calls for more study in depth in upper primary and less fragmentation in early secondary, to the extent that the recent consultation paper on the Schools Scotland Code even suggests that we abandon primary and secondary categories in favour of flexibility of deployment across sectors.

As is demonstrated by experience in other countries, there is no law of nature which requires a sudden shift from a single teacher to 15 or 16. Standards of achievement in upper primary and lower secondary are commonly regarded as too low, either in absolute terms or in the light of international comparisons. And the BEd (Primary) degree, expected to cover the whole curriculum from age two and a half to 12, is overloaded and is a recipe for superficiality, quite out of keeping with the demands of an honours degree.

At a later phase of education, the Higher Still programme invalidates the secondaryFE categorisation; and the honours degree, a superb qualification for teaching in some contexts, is hardly the recipe for teaching in the community schools of tomorrow.

Finally, Scotland's appalling record with regard to health and the significant evidence of personal and social malfunctioning suggest that current interventions are proving inadequate: we currently expect most of these school interventions to take place through personal and social development, which is normally the responsibility of teachers with no professional qualification for such work.

Even if all of these pressures for reform were agreed, some argue, there is no need for a new range of teaching qualifications. What is required is perhaps some adjustment to the existing programmes, combined with systematic provision for continuing professional development of teachers (CPD). Of course, there is a clear need for more CPD provision and all teachers have an entitlement to activities which extend their professional resourcefulness and understanding. However, CPD is properly regarded as a way ofenabling teachers to respond to change, rather than as a mechanism for compensating for inadequacies in initial training.

The case for reform is that the existing framework is, for all of the reasons given, inadequate and will not be improved by incremental marginal adjustments. That judgment fully recognises that those teachers already in service will require substantial CPD. The choice before us is not the revision of initial teacher education or substantial investment in CPD: a strong and resourceful teaching force requires both.

In the new structure qualifications should be age-related rather than institution specific. I propose three additional qualifications. First, we need teachers who have a much more pronounced expertise in early years upto about eight. Moreover, we need to ensure that that training equips teachers to work in the inter-professional context now common for this phase of education.

In order to accommodate the identified needs in upper primary and the early years of secondary, we need through a 9-14 middle years TQ to prepare teachers with a sufficient blend of breadth and depth of study to enable them to teach across the primary-secondary divide. It is proposed that teachers should complete a four-year programme which, in addition to professional studies and school experience, would involve study in any three among: literacy, numeracy, environmental studies, social educationlifestyle education, science and technology, and mathematics. Social educationlifestyle education should be a compulsory component in such programmes.

Finally, a 15-plus upper years TQ. This qualification would most closely resemble the existing highly specialised training and would permit cross sector teaching in further education establishments or in the upper years of the secondary school. What matters here is the capacity to teach effectively at a particular phase of education rather than the institutional context in which that education is provided. The Higher Still reforms and the need for closer articulation with higher education programmes make it imperative that teachers operating in the upper stages have a pronounced disciplinary base to their professional activities.

It is emphasised that these proposals would not replace the existing arrangements. The more extended range would increase choice for students, and employers would have a wider range of expertise from which to draw to meet varying circumstances.

There would be a significant increase in the number of routes into teaching and a much greater degree of flexibility between teacher education programmes and other forms of higher education, with maximum opportunity for transfer. Such flexible arrangements are more likely to to meet the changing needs of the 21st century than a structure that was established more than 100 years ago.

Professor Gordon Kirk is dean of the education faculty at Edinburgh University.

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