Paying the price for reform on the cheap

2nd February 2007 at 00:00
We hear a lot about the left and right brain, but some recent pronouncements make it clear that, in terms of education, the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing.

First, the left hand: the last few months have seen proposals for science academies, General Teaching Council registration schemes, the importance of A Curriculum for Excellence, increased setting, raising the school leaving age to 18, foreign language lessons starting in P1, teachers for excellence and education for citizenship.

These have left the education community and the public once more with the impression of non-stop change. This is not to deny the need for change but, as far as the right hand is concerned, we are told that hard-pressed local authorities are dealing with financial problems by examining education spending and, in particular, slashing CPD budgets (TESS, November 24).

So, we have new, innovative, cutting-edge developments without the where-withal to ensure that the teachers have access to the CPD that could make them effective. This is a recipe for disaster. Many will rightly argue that these developments are not being funded and that, once again, teachers will be told to get on with it.

I'm reminded of strategies to deal with inclusion in the class: without support, it is difficult for teachers who understand social inclusion and who want it to work to make it do so. Worse still, given that cynical views come to dominate good innovation, the staffroom cynic is shown to be right - politicians want reform on the cheap, with all the stress that that involves.

This is not a call for all and any continuing professional development. I visit enough schools to know that some teachers - actually a small number - have had a bad experience of CPD or, more accurately, have been to the odd bad course. But research suggests that most continuing professional development is very good. Without it, there is a danger of tokenism towards the reforms.

What is just as bad is the message that CPD is not as important as other areas of spending and that local authorities believe they can cut back without opposition.

We now have an opportunity in the run-up to the election to suggest to the minister that this is unacceptable and demand that, at the very least, the cuts in continuing professional development budgets are restored.

Henry Maitles is head of curricular studies in Strathclyde University's education faculty

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