Open Letter - We watch on as you face the implementation challenge

18th January 2013 at 00:00

Dear Petra,

You have been principal and vice-chancellor of Queen Margaret University for more than three years now. And recently you were asked by the Scottish government to chair the National Implementation Board for Teaching Scotland's Future, following the publication in November 2012 of the National Partnership Group report on how best to implement the Donaldson review of teacher education.

I also have spent some time reading the NPG report; and it sets you and your colleagues on the implementation board some formidable challenges. So there is plenty of work to be done. You have an international background, personally and professionally, and you will understand the specific challenges of driving change in Scottish education.

Having been heavily involved in Scottish teacher education for some 20 years, I have a keen interest in such issues. Now in my elderly years, I have developed a well-known and irritating habit of firing off letters about these matters to the great and the good of Scottish education. Last year, aided and abetted by the editor of TESS, I even had the temerity to send some open letters to the cabinet secretary. Poor Mr Russell: he is not short of advice, much of it contradictory, of course.

The NPG report advocated "maintaining a strong focus on enhancing career-long teacher education". That is good.

The tasks in initial teacher education are interesting. But, without wanting to be too complacent, many of us think that there is a strong starting base. Scotland began to train school teachers in 1827 (the second country in the world - after the US - to do so) and many elements of the present system have been broadly secure and settled since 1906. There is also already a strong partnership between different groups involved in teacher education, eg, between Scottish government and Scottish universities. You will know from your own experience in Oxford Brookes University that that is sadly not something which prevails in the English system.

And, as the NPG report documents, in initial teacher education progress has already been made in implementing some of the key Donaldson recommendations.

I am less sanguine about the challenges in the area of continuing professional development. In my first three years of school teaching (in the early 1970s), I was sponsored to do an MEd degree; I attended many excellent short CPD events, some in-school, some external; and I was one of the many hundreds of Scottish teachers who gave up the first two weeks of a summer vacation to do an excellent college course. Not many of the young staff in Scottish schools in 2013 could give such an upbeat description of the CPD opportunities available to them.

Petra, I shall reflect further and get back to you.

Yours sincerely, Iain

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

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