An open dialogue on the ITE review

24th June 2005 at 01:00
Ian Menter asks Hirek Kwiatkowski if the report's four themes mean all change on entry to the profession - or just a case of steady as you go

Dear Hirek, I know you told me that many of the discussions you engaged with during the meetings of the review team on initial teacher education were very rich and interesting. I have to say that I was consequently rather disappointed with what has emerged after all this time. In spite of The TES Scotland's front page headline, "Change, change, change for ITE" (May 27), it seems to me that, overall, this is very much a "steady as you go" kind of report - perhaps inevitably so, when you have a wide range of stakeholders involved in writing it.

The four themes under which the report has been written demonstrate an interesting set of priorities and I would like to share a thought or two on each of them.

* Widening access: I am intrigued by the attempt to combine a concern to address geographical problems of access to ITE courses with concern about representativeness of the workforce. There is a paradox here, I think. The attempt to bring people from the more remote parts of the country into teaching is, I think, likely to entice far more women than men, thereby making the gender imbalance of the workforce even greater.

* Competences and values: this does seem like a good time to review the standard for ITE and make sure that it fits more closely into a continuum of professional development. Given the very significant developments in later CPD, this is a great opportunity and I'm pleased it's going to be taken.

* Relationships: while I think the increased role for local authorities in ITE is very innovative and indeed distinctive within the UK, nevertheless it seems to me that the group has ducked the fundamental issue of ensuring that teachers within schools have a properly structured and supported opportunity to work with student teachers.

The issue is not just about placements, important though that is. It is about how teachers play a full part in ITE - in the way that they do in many other countries. The term "partnership", commonly used to refer to these matters elsewhere in the UK and Europe, has been carefully avoided in your report. I suspect this is because the Scottish Executive is unwilling to address the difficult question of resourcing this work in the way that it has done for the induction scheme. Don't you agree?

* Accountability: colleagues throughout the system will be generally pleased to see the call for a reduction in the bureaucracy of accreditation. It is reassuring to see confidence expressed in university quality assurance systems. The time and resources spent in preparation for such accreditation events, often very much duplicating what has already been done internally, could be much better spent, for example on working with our colleagues in schools, training them in student teacher support.

I'll be very interested in your responses to these points. Oh, and can you tell me now, why the report took so incredibly long to see the light of day - given the relative lack of controversy contained within it? More generally, given our shared commitment to developing teaching as a research-based profession, I cannot see from the report itself, where the group has drawn on available research, either that carried out in Scotland or elsewhere. Did it draw on research at all, I ask?

All the best, Ian

Dear Ian, I am pleased to be able to respond. I would reiterate my view that the discussions of the review group were of a high order, demonstrating commitment and aspiration regarding the very high expectations there will be of our teaching profession in Scotland. It was focused on a forward-looking "agenda for action".

I acknowledge the extended delay in relation to the original intended publication date. I have no doubt that much of this related to our early intention that this review should be the start of a process of significant development of teacher education in Scotland; and the "ministerial response" took some time to prepare.

Perhaps I can exemplify the above and my challenge to your view of the report as "steady as you go" in terms of your comments on the four key themes.

Your comments regarding widening access are well taken - up to a point.

However, it is in the key actions related to this theme and the Education Minister's "challenges" that the potential of this review emerges. The university education faculties and the local authorities (with appropriate flexibility in funding, for example) are enjoined to develop - quickly and more fully - flexible, local and focused ITE provision. This will release it from earlier restrictions that so constrained anything other than the current mainstream ITE which derives from the colleges of education.

The challenge here from the review is to develop such models to become the flexible and inclusive ITE of the early 21st century - which can then attract a more balanced applicant pool. This is why it is important also to understand and exploit the full potential of the next two themes: competences and values; and relationships.

My personal view, following from the publication of the review report, is that the 1998 guidelines are overtaken by the review; and I would certainly not view them as any restriction on ITE developments in our faculty. Of course, there must be parameters. But the review group came quickly to the view that such freedom for the future development of ITE did not relate only to the education faculties. We were particularly concerned that this review should result in swift and specific engagement of the local authorities. As the employers of newly qualified teachers, they have a clear interest in ITE, and education faculties need to work closely and effectively with them.

Not least of the items for discussion with the authorities will be the final theme: accountability. Once again, I suggest that the requirement for revised, effective and efficient processes of accountability by August next year is not exactly a "steady as you go" agenda. Moreover, this is a further example of the importance of the matrix of relationships, in view of the further expectation that local authorities should (quite rightly) have a key role in the quality assurance of the initial professional education of their employees, but also in a way which is effective and efficient. It must not be dislocated from or totally additional to the academic approval of universities, accreditation with the General Teaching Council for Scotland and ministerial approval of ITE.

Finally, you asked about research input into the review. There was some, and it was inevitably (in view of the original timescales) limited principally to Scotland and the UK. Another reason for the limitation was, as you will know, Ian, the relative paucity of quality research in Scotland into ITE issues. And that was one of the reasons I was determined to appoint the first professor of teacher education in Scotland - you, Ian!

Best wishes, Hirek Hirek Kwiatkowski is dean of the faculty of education at Glasgow University and was a member of the review group on initial teacher education. Ian Menter is professor of teacher education at the university. Their dialogue continues next week.

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