Let's tether these kites with evidence

16th July 2010 at 01:00

Your report last week, "Heads warn of new teachers' `deficient' basic skills", is a timely reminder that when Graham Donaldson and his teacher education review team consider the submissions of bodies such as School Leaders Scotland, they should be clear about what constitutes "evidence".

There is a tendency for organisations to use such submissions as vehicles to ride some hobby horses and to fly some kites (apologies to readers with an aversion to mixed metaphors).

No one in initial teacher education would argue that it is perfect. There are ongoing concerns about the length of the BEd (too long?) and the one- year PGDE (too short?). There is the debate about inter-disciplinarity in the secondary course and subject specialism in the primary.

But SLS needs to provide evidence for some of its assertions. Vague accusations of poor levels of literacy and basic skills need to be substantiated; these issues may well exist, but what is the extent of the problem and how does it impact on the ability to teach?

The suggestion that too many new teachers lack a "professional ethos" is similarly unsubstantiated. Notwithstanding the question as to whether an individual can have an "ethos", my experience of PGDE students and of probationer teachers would give the lie to this claim.

Finally, the suggestion by SLS that fast-tracking people from other professions is part of the solution needs some examination. The vast majority of PGDE students nowadays have had experience of working in other fields, and few of them would argue that they could be ready to teach in six weeks.

Initial teacher education, as suggested recently by the General Teaching Council for Scotland, is under threat. Experienced professionals, with long and distinguished careers in schools, who have for long been the mainstay of what are now faculties of education, may well be a dying breed as ability to contribute to the universities' research assessment exercise becomes the main criterion for appointment.

Let's try to inform the debate by evidence-based submissions and leave kite-flying to the summer holidays.

Brian Boyd, emeritus professor of education, Strathclyde University.

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