Progress update

8th August 2014 at 01:00

The Professional Update scheme to reaccredit teachers launches this month. How will it be viewed - as friend or foe?

I have posed this question at some 20 well-attended seminars organised by EIS learning representatives, and it has been interesting to trace a change in mood over time. Earlier events were dominated by concerns over workload and resourcing, whereas recent sessions have been more open to the potential benefits.

It is certainly true that under the direction of the General Teaching Council for Scotland the scheme has moved a long way from the initial "five-year MOT" headlines. It is now a relatively light touch, professionally rooted approach.

The actual sign-off for Professional Update is literally that - two signatures, every five years, confirming involvement in an accredited local authority professional review and development (PRD) scheme.

Yet the process of validating local authority PRD schemes has revealed just how many programmes have fallen into abeyance. The reasons may be complex but I suggest a key factor is that facilitating professional learning is not a cost-free agenda. Resourcing such levels of participation creates a budget pressure that some directorates have found easy to set aside.

But the EIS teaching union is clear that professional learning is an entitlement. It is also something that should happen as part of working-time agreements - not in addition to everything else.

Although the theory of Professional Update is sound, the litmus test for the scheme will be how it is realised at local authority and school level.

There are barriers to progress around professional learning: workload is a key challenge, a lack of professional trust is still too evident and poor leadership can be a problem. But opportunities exist, too. Scotland's consensual approach to education policy stands in marked contrast to many other systems, for example. Curriculum for Excellence depends on more collegiate practice. And there is genuine buy-in from the professional associations to the concept of professional learning.

EIS, meanwhile, has more than 100 learning representatives to support colleagues' development. It has partnered several universities in sponsored CPD programmes and has active relationships with bodies such as the Tapestry Partnership and the Association of Chartered Teachers Scotland. It has also been given funding for a joint programme of master's-level study with City amp; Guilds.

Yet it is teachers who really need to assert control over this agenda and demand that local authorities deliver access to professional learning, whether that be through collaborative working, professional learning communities, peer mentoring, formal courses or simply time to talk.

Professional Update may prove to be a useful framework but only time will tell.

Larry Flanagan is general secretary of the EIS teaching union

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