Open letter - Professional development journeys could be smoother

5th October 2012 at 01:00

Dear Mr Russell,

I am writing basically about the professional development of teachers. I was encouraged recently by two Journey to Excellence videos.

It was impressive to hear the testimony from St Luke's High:

Student 1: "It's become much more common for pupils to be asked how they found the learning at the end of units and things in classes. Pupils are asked to evaluate how they think the unit went, how they think it could be improved for the next year's classes."

Student 2: "In years gone by, I think, the pupil voice has been more to do with litter and toilets and getting new vending machines and things like that - material things. But I think now the pupil voice is about how we learn and challenging our own learning and also the ways that we are taught in class."

It was encouraging to hear of the work in Portree Primary:

Headteacher: "Opening up the learning and getting members of staff, pupils and parents talking about what's actually happening in the classroom is a very important step forward."

Teacher: "As a Primary 7 teacher, I encourage the children to be involved in evaluation of their learning on a regular basis. They're involved in self-evaluation of a variety of work - in particular for their maths. They take responsibility for marking their maths at the end of a block of work."

Excellent. But how widespread are such practices?

The first and clearest answer is: "We do not know". A recent Universities Scotland report cites some extracts from what it calls "the limited (unpublished) research that has been undertaken into CfE implementation". The extracts are not particularly reassuring. At national level we know of the well-regarded work by Tapestry. And, in science education, there is the acclaimed, and externally evaluated, work by SSERC.

At local level, we know that there are some schools with excellent practice. There is some poor practice. What is the balance? The most authoritative statement is probably that of former senior chief inspector Graham Donaldson, who observed recently that there was not enough good continuing professional development practice and that the future of CfE depends on it being greatly improved (TESS, 1 June).

Could that be done? At least one of my advisers is optimistic: "Let's engage the profession, perhaps using the `family of schools' or `cluster' as the unit, and mount a systematic CPD programme, adapting the Teacher Learning Community model of Dylan Wiliam along with others that put teachers at the centre.

"Let's get the teaching unions, GTCS, Education Scotland, the local authorities and external providers around the table and begin to map out a 5- to 10-year plan. It can be done, surely."

Yes, Cabinet Secretary, it could be done.

Yours sincerely, Iain Smith

Iain Smith was at one time a dean of education in the University of Strathclyde. He writes here in a personal capacity.

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