Re-registration for teachers and heads

22nd February 2008 at 00:00
Too often in education policy and reform, the importance of the teacher and headteacher gets lost. Unless systems, investments, structures and accountabilities are designed to strengthen the abilities of teachers to perform, they will be of little value.

The job of teaching is changing and needs to change more. A Curriculum for Excellence, with its clarity on outcomes, requires more flexibility in what is taught and when, and more choice and personalisation for pupils. It also demands more freedom for and trust in teachers.

The implications for teaching in compensating for the effects of low socio-economic status, set out in the report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, are profound. New thinking and more flexible approaches will be needed.

The change I was driving had a lot of implications for teachers. I knew they were being asked to do a different job from the one they were trained for and from the one they had become used to. But were teachers being fully equipped to deliver? I initiated a debate on what comprised "teachers for excellence" to identify what further investments in teachers might be needed.

My mind was certainly moving to raising further the qualifications and standard for full registration. I was impressed with the Finnish focus on teacher qualifications and, while we were moving closer to that by virtue of a number of initiatives, we have further to go as a necessary pre-requisite of expecting change and higher performance. The evidence of the performance of new probationers is that we are well on the road.

Criticism of poor teaching performance is not easy when you are seeking to re-build, as I was, the confidence of a profession. Poor teaching is not Scotland's core education problem, but there are too many teachers who do not meet the standards, about 5 per cent. Their colleagues, headteachers, pupils and parents know who they are; yet our system, despite legislative change, lacks the successful processes to deal with the issue.

Meeting required standards is not limited to teachers; HMIE frequently told me between 15 and 20 per cent of our headteachers were not at the required standards. With greater school freedoms over budget, staffing and curriculum a necessary part of the modern mix, the need to address this issue more successfully becomes pressing.

The Labour manifesto at the last election gave the clue to where I was heading. I would have significantly reformed the General Teaching Council for Scotland. I would have slimmed down its council, kept teachers and headteachers in the majority and strengthened other interests around a board table. I would have made its role explicitly about teacher and headteacher standards and given it significantly greater powers.

At root would have been the requirement on teachers to re-register every five years or so, in order to establish continuing fitness for the modern task of teaching. Where questions arose about that, there would be time-limited development opportunities, or supported opportunities to retrain and move to another profession.

I would have required headteachers to register as such and re-register every seven years. Such a review of their tenure would assess not just fitness to continue, but the benefits that could accrue from moving schools, providing the existing and new school and the head with fresh opportunities.

Maintaining and refreshing the standards for the registration of teachers and headteachers should be a core function of GTC Scotland. It also ought to set the standards to ensure the universities are delivering the product needed, assure the quality of local authority and teacher performance appraisal, run the probation system, and set standards for quality CPD.

The winding-down scheme for teachers heading towards retirement has a bigger part to play in managing the time ahead, and I would like to see career sabbaticals back on the agenda. Better headteacher pay and keeping teachers' salaries competitive also need to be part of the mix for maintaining the profession we need. With the freedoms and trust central to that must come a guarantee of the highest standards.

Peter Peacock, the former education minister, in the final part of his series on the state of Scottish education.

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