Programmed for impact

16th February 2007 at 00:00
Falkirk teachers are fired up by an exciting initiative with a fresh approach to mentoring

AN AMBITIOUS alternative to the "flawed" chartered teachers programme is being piloted by a central Scotland authority to raise the game of the staff - not just the individual "super teacher".

Falkirk Council's "leading teacher" initiative has seen eight teachers take part in intensive training that helps them work with colleagues to improve classroom learning. The idea originated in Lar-bert High amid frustration among senior staff that the chartered teacher programme might not have much impact in class.

A subsequent pilot, funded by the Scottish Executive and Falkirk Council and due to end in June 2008, involved the appointment of two leading teachers in four of the authority's eight secondary schools: Larbert, Denny High, Bo'ness Academy, and Braes High, Falkirk.

The leading teachers are being paid an annual fee of pound;1,000 and released from the classroom two days a week to support colleagues.

They first had to develop coaching and mentoring skills at Stirling University. They were also trained in accelerated learning, a method that helps pupils identify their own preferred ways to learn.

Larbert High head Neal McGowan, who also chairs the area's secondary schools improvement partnership, said: "We had a sense of frustration that the chartered teacher programme wasn't opening up all the possibilities that we wanted it to. There's no requirement to make an impact in the school in terms of learning and teaching. I think that it's flawed."

Depute head Jon Reid was more forthright: "We wanted to get away from the chartered teacher programme because everybody knows it's not really working. While there are some very good chartered teachers, folk sometimes just do it to boost their pension and don't put anything back into the school."

Mr Reid underlined the advantages of Falkirk's alternative programme. "It's fundamentally about securing improvement. Whatever mechanisms you use, it is making a difference to colleagues and their practice, and, ultimately, it impacts on kids - and that's what the chartered teacher doesn't do."

Leading teachers aim to work closely with colleagues. Mr McGowan stressed that they were not being "parachuted in" to help ailing colleagues. "These aren't weak members of staff," Mr Reid added, "but staff who want to try a new approach... to see if it raises achievements."

One of Larbert's leading teachers, Derek Easton, underlined the potential benefits, particularly given the reliance on accelerated learning.

Ironically, the training Mr Easton, a drama teacher, undertook at Stirling University could be used towards acquiring chartered status.

But he said: "It's quite expensive to go down that road - and I felt it was too expensive."

Mr McGowan points to Larbert High's other leading teacher, Chris Somerville, when identifying advantages over the chartered teacher programme.

He is only in his second year as a fully qualified teacher and could not be considered for chartered status, a situation Mr McGowan described as "ludicrous".

Mr McGowan stressed that at Larbert the programme was rooted in accelerated learning, with continuous professional development in its ideas being offered by leading teachers.

The school started to introduce accelerated learning in August and it has already had an "exceptional" impact, according to Mr Reid.

"The kids feel they are achieving more and they are more confident," Mr McGowan said.

"There is more engagement between the pupil and the teacher, and there is a connection in their learning from one stage tothe next."

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