McConnell sets out vision of the new professionals

23rd March 2001 at 00:00
The Scottish Executive is planning a much more extensive reshaping of teaching and teacher education than hitherto anticipated, in an attempt to redefine its "professionalism".

Jack McConnell, Education Minister, made it clear at a conference on the theme held last week by the General Teaching Council for Scotland that he expected a quid pro quo from the McCrone settlement - referred to by himself and by several other speakers as a "watershed".

He had set out to tackle the immediate grievances of the profession, but there was now "a huge agenda before us - nothing less than the reinvigoration of school education".

Mr McConnell repeated his promise of a Green Paper later this year to kick off a debate on "the future purpose and outcomes of education". The view of teachers would shape that debate, he pledged, because "they know what works in the classroom".

The pay and conditions deal, Mr McConnell said, had created "the single most important opportunity for a generation to change the culture and atmosphere in our schools".

He added: "We all know that to inspire confidence in others, we must first have confidence in ourselves. We have to move on from suspicion and mistrust to co-operation and development. From defending the status quo out of fear of change, to opening up minds and behaviour to new ideas, new practice, new learning.

"We are creating a new and dynamic culture in our schools."

Professionalism, Mr McConnell said, meant more than trusting, valuing and rewarding teachers. It also involved doing the job "however long it takes - not watching clocks or counting hours". His message was: strive to improve your knowledge and skills, be open to new ideas, and never be satisfied that "the good work you did today is the best work you can ever do".

Mr McConnell made it clear his vision extended beyond the classroom to the way teacher are prepared for the job. He revealed that the initial review of teacher education, by management consultants between the end of April and June, will be reinforced by a look at entry qualifications to ensure teachers are drawn from as many sections of society as possible.

He called on the GTC to work with the Executive "to open up the profession to the diversity of experience and skills our young people need to meet the challenges the future will present to them". But his officials stressed later there would be no compromise on standards of entry.

Mr McConnell was given notice, however, that the profession would expect his "reinvigoration of school education" to be meaningful. Walter Humes of Strathclyde University said a new professionalism required teachers to be given time and space to reflect on their work and to be encouraged to explore new ideas free from "the Scottish tendency to seek a 'right answer' to every situation".

Courses for teachers must raise their sights beyond the job. "There has to be intellectually engaged professional life beyond the course, the award, the achievement of chartered status.

"Otherwise what we will be offering will be inert knowledge within an empty framework of credentialism, rather than the genuine professional enrichment which teachers deserve."

But even Professor Humes, a veteran critic of educational leadership in Scotland, suggested that the McCrone settlement and the exams crisis may now challenge "the culture of complacency and compliance which has characterised so much of policy-making in recent years. The voices of teachers can be raised with a better chance of being heard."

Professor Humes's views were supported by Di Bentley, director of education at Sheffield Hallam University, who called for teachers to have "a minimum entitlement to strategic thinking time".

Leader, page 16

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