Partnership must drive the engine of progress

16th November 2012 at 00:00
Future professional growth will depend on vital collaborative efforts across the education sector

Why should hard-pressed teachers view the publication of the National Partnership Group (NPG) report on teacher education with more than passing interest? In fact, as with my original report, Teaching Scotland's Future, the issues being addressed go right to the heart of the future health of Scottish education.

The recommendations in my report, in addition to making teaching a more attractive and satisfying job, were an affirmation of current strengths in the teaching profession, and the means by which the full potential of Curriculum for Excellence can be realised.

High-quality teaching does not just happen. It needs high-quality teachers. And high-quality teachers need high-quality professional development. Present arrangements are too often characterised by chance. We need to create a strong base in the early phase of a teacher's career and ensure that subsequent professional growth is planned, intellectually challenging and coherent.

The NPG report provides a further stimulus to this agenda and helpfully identifies important steps to be taken by national bodies. However, much of what is needed is not dependent on developments nationally. A lot has happened in the nearly two years since Teaching Scotland's Future was published. Promising models of school-university partnership are emerging. New and flexible approaches to providing accreditation at master's level are being developed. Individual schools are themselves designing new ways of working, such as interesting developments in professional review and development, which I had the chance to see recently in Hamilton Grammar School. TeachMeet events, where teachers take greater control of their own professional development, are proliferating, including those run by students at the University of Strathclyde and now by NQTs in North Lanarkshire and Glasgow.

The proposed GTCS review of entry requirements should aim to attract individuals of the highest calibre into teaching. We also need all teachers to model good standards of literacy and numeracy. Testing these skills diagnostically should ensure that all prospective teachers leave university with high levels of proficiency, ready to play their part in eradicating the poor levels of literacy and numeracy that blight so many lives.

I welcome the proposed review of the guidelines for initial teacher education courses. We need to provide all prospective teachers with the best possible foundation for their future careers. That means study at university and in schools which challenges assumptions, promotes intellectual rigour, melds theory and practice and establishes habits of mind and of practice that will endure throughout a career. I am encouraged that work is already under way in all of our universities to reshape degree and postgraduate provision and hope that the outcomes will include a stronger focus on disciplinary study and more effective school experience.

If we are to achieve tangible improvements in the quality of students' experiences, effective collaborative partnerships between schools and universities must be an essential part of any future landscape. However, the NPG proposals on partnership are disappointingly vague and will not in themselves guarantee better outcomes for students. There will of course be differences in approach but all should lead to an end to theory-practice divides, to assessments that are too dependent on isolated visits by university staff and to students being placed in contexts that do not themselves model good practice. Local partnerships should focus not on the process of partnership but on the impact they must have. We need a professional ethic within which constructive participation in teacher education is not an option but an obligation.

Of course, the benefits of a high-quality early phase in a career can quickly dissipate. What happens thereafter is equally important and we have an increasingly good understanding that effective professional development needs to be relevant, collegiate, informed and intellectually challenging. Teachers generally give very positive evaluations to such approaches.

The next challenge is to combine effective professional development with recognition by GTCS and by universities. The #163;3 million committed by the Scottish government to support master's-level study together with proposed Scottish Masters of Education are welcome developments. We now need to provide recognition in ways which can meet individual and local needs and circumstances, and cater for mobility in the teaching force.

The review of standards undertaken by GTCS, including the introduction of the Standard for Career-Long Learning, is a further important piece of the jigsaw. This new standard, combined with a revitalised approach to professional review and development and supported by an improved e-portfolio, should help to establish a much more constructive and coherent culture of professional growth.

I strongly welcome the establishment of a National Implementation Board to be chaired by Professor Petra Wend and charged with ensuring that we move quickly from proposals to action. There will be genuine debate about how best to achieve success and I hope that the board will adopt a broad interpretation of implementation.

I am confident that, with determination and ingenuity, the National Implementation Board can work with partners across Scottish education to bring about necessary changes in culture and practice and thus improve the educational experience and achievements of our young people.

Graham Donaldson is professor of education at the University of Glasgow and author of Teaching Scotland's Future. In his next article he will discuss the leadership aspects of the NPG report.

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