Professional update needs quality backing

7th December 2012 at 00:00

"I learned that I could teach a class of more than 100 pupils - and teach a good lesson - with virtually nothing. That made me realise I am a good teacher." It took a five-week trip on an educational Link programme to Uganda to make Amanda Hampton, a P5 teacher in Aberdeenshire, realise her professional strengths (page 18). The vast majority of teachers, however, will not cross continents and become Global Teachers. They will have to rely on resources closer to home to meet growing demands for professional improvement.

Anthony Finn, chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, insists that the "professional update" programme his organisation is driving "shouldn't necessarily be much different from what teachers do at the moment" (News Focus, pages 12-15). The GTCS has been cautious in its pilots, with the three authorities involved in trialling the programme already acknowledged as leaders in this field (Comment, page 33).

So for teachers at Kirkhill Primary in East Renfrewshire, for instance, not much changed for them under their professional update pilot. That finding should offer considerable reassurance to many.

But let's not be complacent. There are plenty of schools which are not getting their professional review and development processes right; plenty of teachers whose CPD needs are not being met - 69 per cent told a research project for the Donaldson review they had experienced barriers in accessing CPD, largely because of funding issues. And plenty of school leaders are not well enough versed in coaching and mentoring techniques, as Pam Nesbitt, president of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, told MSPs this week (page 7).

The accounts of teachers who are removed from the GTCS register for incompetency or other failings make distressing reading (page 6). Yet the tiny minority who should not be entrusted with children's education is not the group at which recent changes - professional update, review of professional standards, the Donaldson report - are targeted.

That is because, by and large, the system works well enough to catch them. The proof of the pudding will be whether the reforms can move the mediocre to good, the good to even better.

Education Scotland's chief executive, Bill Maxwell, wants all teachers within the next five years to be engaged in research (page 5). That will require a step change in attitudes and, as Kay Barnett, EIS education convener, warns, the economic climate is not conducive to such engagement. While entrants to the profession can see some light at the end of the tunnel in terms of job security (page 5), the picture is by no means as positive as it was seven years ago when 63 per cent of new teachers got permanent full-time posts, compared with 35 per cent today.

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