Level playing field 'to extend to Scotland'

12th January 2001 at 00:00
The customary one-year induction period in England will not suffice north of the border. But, reports John Cairney, this could soon change.

The system of probation and teacher registration in Scotland is being reviewed and could result in a convergence of the procedures north and south of the border. Since 1969, the traditional route to gaining full registration with the General Teaching Council for Scotland has required teachers leaving training to complete a two-year probation period, after which full registration can be granted subject to satisfactory reports from one or more headteachers. On some occasions, an applicant is only granted conditional registration and has to undergo additional monitoring before reapplying.

Teachers who have not trained in Scotland have to satisfy the GTC's professional requirements and apply for registration to the Exceptional Admission to the Register committee.

Several factors have led the Scottish Executive Education Department (SEED) and the GTC to review these induction and registration procedures, especially the wide variation in the support offered by schools to new teachers. It is estimated that more than 20 per cent of schools did not even welcome student teachers.

Overshadowing this, the number of new teachers on fragmented short-term supply work has increased in the past 15 years, resulting in a "destabilising of the probation experience for too many new teachers", says a review report.

The GTCSEED steering group set up to review the content and organisation of teachers' probation in Scotland also includes representatives from schools, local authorities and teacher education institutions. Their objective is to create "a coherent induction programme for all probationer teachers and develop a standard for full registration with the GTC". The resulting document on the registration standards will be published for consultation soon.

Its timing is intended to comply with the conclusions of two other initiatives on professional development in Scotland: the implementation group following the McCrone committee, whose report on teachers' pay and conditions contained recommendations on continuing professional development including probation, and a national working group on continuing professional development.

In recent years, an increasing number of local authorities have organised their own programmes for new staff at the start of the school session and at "twilight classes" during the term, assisted by the Government's Excellence Fund.

Jim McNally, the GTC's national development officer for teacher induction, says that it is in school that a new teacher begins to form relationships with children and colleagues, and professional development takes place. Therefore, it is vitally important not only to identify and meet the developmental needs of new staff, but also to deal with new teachers' fragmented experience while on shortterm supply, since that undermines their induction into the profession.

"The development of a standard for full registration involves identifying what would be expected of a teacher at the end of probation. The standard has to build on the guidelines for initial teacher education and serve as a basis on which further development can continue."

There will be more than 20 "benchmark statements for full registration", covering three categories of professional practice. These are knowledge and understanding, skills and abilities, and values and commitment, each of which is expanded in detail as expected elements of competence.

Among the developments expected of a new teacher by the end of the induction period will be a more informed, working knowledge of, for example, individual pupils in their care, their taught areas of the curriculum and local authority policies; a deeper understanding of the nature and purposes of what they teach and how core skills can be meaningfully integrated into the curriculum; more polished and adaptable practical skills in terms of classwork routines, managing resources and communicating with and relating to pupils; and some critical thinking about their teaching.

The standard for registration, however, will be more than a set of specific competence statements. "It is recognised that judgments of a more holistic nature have a traditional and valid role in describing teachers' attributes, that becoming a good classroom teacher is the main aim and activity of new teachers - and that this is achieved in different individual ways," says Jim McNally.

Although the national framework which emerges from the GTCSEED review will display certain general principles and structures, the other national developments will influence the final format. "We await the outcome of the McCrone implementation group and the bigger picture of continuing professional development as a whole. And the impact of technology on how teachers teach and learn is also a big issue."

At present, the one-year induction period in England would not satisfy the Scottish requirements, and incoming staff are likely to be granted only conditional registration. There has been no widespread call to reduce the traditional two years' probation in Scotland, though early indications from the McCrone group point to a possible reduction to one year, linked to a review of initial teacher training.

If the GTCSEED steering group comes to the same conclusion, and Jim McNally says this cannot be ruled out, the level playing field, easing the movement of teachers within the UK, could be with us soon.

For further information on emerging issues in Scotland, see the GTC's in-house journal, "Teaching Scotland", of February 2000 and November 2000. The General Teaching Council for Scotland, Clerwood House, 96 Clermiston Road, Edinburgh EH12 6UT. Tel: 0131 314 6032 e-mail: moiras@gtcs.org.uk

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