Our board is not playing games - we want to help
It has been a busy six months since the National Implementation Board (NIB) was established. Our remit is to deliver the recommendations of the National Partnership Group, which in turn was set up to turn the vision set out by Graham Donaldson in his report, Teaching Scotland's Future, into concrete proposals. To describe that as an ambitious agenda is an understatement - but it is nevertheless one we believe we can and must deliver.
It should come as no surprise when I say that the various partners bring to the table their own perspectives; discussions are often robust but all the better for being so. What is not in dispute is our common purpose - to improve the quality of teacher education, from the start to the finish of a teacher's career, and of school leadership. Unless we do this, as Donaldson has often warned, the potential of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), so vital to Scotland's future well-being, will not be realised fully.
Classroom teachers' interests are represented by Susan Quinn, outgoing president of the EIS union, while a former president of School Leaders Scotland, Jim Thewliss, speaks on behalf of headteachers.
The other main education organisations also have a seat at the table - the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), Education Scotland, the Scottish government, STEC (the Scottish Teacher Education Committee, representing the teacher education institutions, Universities Scotland (speaking on behalf of higher education), and on the local government side the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES) and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla).
Malcolm Wright, chief executive of NHS Education for Scotland, brings another perspective, while Donaldson's has a particularly important role to play as the board's adviser, bringing in an international perspective.
Having been educated in the German school system, I can justifiably claim to act as a critical friend of the Scottish education system, coming to it only relatively recently. My own passion is modern languages - I taught German and Italian earlier in my career at Middlesex University as well as lecturing on a PGCE in modern foreign languages - but Graham's observation, in the introduction to his report, that "the foundations of successful education lie in the quality of teachers and their leadership" resonates strongly with me.
As I seek to maintain the momentum of this process, I am conscious that Scotland's teachers are already being asked to do a lot - to put into practice new teaching methods and to deliver new courses in secondary as well as new forms of assessment and moderation across primary and secondary. I'd like the profession to understand that the work of the NIB in enhancing teacher education is not something additional to the delivery of CfE. Raising teaching standards and providing high-quality opportunities to learn is about giving teachers the confidence to face the challenges of teaching the new curriculum.
The NIB's work must be seen as part of a wider programme of action, ranging from the GTCS's strategy for professional update and revised professional standards to new entry qualifications being introduced for initial teacher education. With new guidance on professional review and development due for publication soon, our work in the NIB should be viewed in the context of a concerted push nationally to raise standards.
Just as teachers are encouraged to operate in a collegiate manner, we in the NIB are using the medium of partnership to deliver that bigger picture of improvement.
Over the past six months, local authorities and universities have been developing closer relationships, which should allow schools to play a bigger role in the training of student teachers. This should deliver a less fragmented experience for new entrants to the profession, while classroom teachers and university-based professionals will work more closely together. The NIB is currently considering means of allocating some funding to universities and local authorities to help embed new partnership working approaches.
STEC members, meanwhile, are working to develop a shared framework for the accreditation of master's-level learning. This is new territory for HE institutions - competitor organisations who are nevertheless collaborating in the accreditation of each other's modules to make an enhanced level of study more accessible to teachers in Scotland. Teachers should be starting to work with their local authorities and chosen universities to have existing learning programmes accredited. I want to emphasise to teachers that master's-level study does not necessarily mean a period of academic study at university. We want to encourage accredited, high-quality, school-based learning that supports teachers to have the confidence and knowledge to conduct more effective practitioner enquiry.
Over the years there has been much talk about creating a college of educational leadership - but not enough action. The NIB has been tasked with finally delivering on that promise, and in September a report scoping potential models for such a college will be published. By January 2014, the NIB will have in its possession an evaluation of the current routes to headship and the means to map out clearer leadership pathways in the future.
I'd like to conclude by publicly acknowledging the open letters published in TESS in recent months by former Strathclyde dean of education Iain Smith to myself and Donaldson, warning us of potential pitfalls and encouraging us in our endeavours in equal measure. I could have opened this article in similar vein by writing "Dear Iain" in reply to his "Dear Petra" missives, but that might have struck a less inclusive note. For I want to ensure that the NIB wins the hearts and minds of all teachers in Scotland - not just a few.
Professor Petra Wend is principal and vice-chancellor of Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, and chair of the National Implementation Board.