In search of a model

16th May 1997 at 01:00
With a new Government committed to raising standards in teaching, over the next six pages The TES examines the crucial area of staff development. But is the new qualification for subject leaders one-size for all? Anat Arkin reports.

The Labour Government is in favour of new grades and standards for teachers such as the proposed national professional qualification for subject leaders. But it remains to be seen whether it is prepared to pay for such training. And there are doubts whether a single qualification based on one set of records can meet the professional development needs of heads of department in large secondary schools, as well as subject co-ordinators in two- or three-teacher primary schools.

The Teacher Training Agency thinks it can, and the proposed new National Professional Qualification for Subject Leaders will be targeted at middle managers in all types of schools. But, after consulting subject associations and other organisations, the TTA looks likely to come out in favour of differentiating the training that leads up to the qualification.

According to Frankie Sulke, head of policy at the TTA, this should ensure that the qualification is as appropriate for the head of a large secondary school department as for a subject co-ordinator in a primary.

"While they both have the same responsibility for monitoring and improving the teaching of the subject in the school, how they will do that will differ in a primary and secondary context, and the training they receive has to enable them to do the job in the context they are in," she says.

Tailoring training to the needs of subject leaders in different types of school could take the edge off one of the main criticisms levelled at the proposed new qualification. But some commentators still doubt whether subject co-ordinators liaising with other teachers in small schools will have the same opportunities to hone their management and leadership skills as heads of large departments.

"If you are in a small school where you aren't deploying any staff, then obviously you are not going to meet the standard on staff deployment," says Francis Loftus, secretary of the Council of Subject Teaching Associations. The council argues that two models are needed: one for subject leaders in small schools and another for those working in secondary schools and larger primaries.

The draft national standards in the TTA's consultation document set out the skills and abilities subject leaders need in order to carry out their role. And, although the standards mention the importance of professional knowledge, they have been criticised for putting too much emphasis on management as opposed to teaching.

Responses to the TTA's consultation document also show that teachers and their subject associations want a stronger focus on subject-specific management knowledge and skills. The Association for Science Education, for instance, says the NPQSL framework needs to recognise that, while health and safety issues are crucially important for anyone running a science department, they are a minute part of, say, an English co-ordinator's role.

The TTA is now looking at the subject-related aspects of the NPQSL. But decisions about the final shape of the qualification and how it will relate to other parts of the national qualifications framework are not expected until the new Government announces its priorities for teachers' in-service training. At the moment it is not even clear how training and assessment for the NPQSL will be funded. But, with as many as 200,000 teachers responsible for co-ordinating or leading subjects in schools, both demand for the new qualification and the costs of implementing it could be huge.

The reference in the TTA's consultation document to "more effective use of existing funds" has, therefore, set off alarm bells. Some subject associations are worried that existing funds will be used to set up new bureaucracies, leaving teachers to foot the bill for their own training. Others warn that without new money, take-up of the NPQSL will be patchy.

There could be pressure on teachers to pay for their own training if the NPQSL becomes the accepted route into middle management, rather than a way of improving the performance of existing subject leaders. It might then be argued that teachers should contribute towards the cost of a programme that improves their career prospects.

But it is not yet clear if the qualification will be aimed at aspiring subject leaders or at more experienced people already in post. Whatever decision is made on this question is likely to influence the way the qualification is delivered, with an assessment-driven model accrediting prior experience clearly more suitable for existing than future subject leaders.

The consultation document lists five possible ways in which the NPQSL could be delivered. These range from a network of regional training centres similar to those set up for the new headteachers' qualification to a model that involves no training but uses the national standards to establish development targets and assessment benchmarks.

Most of the subject associations who spoke to The TES favour a flexible model that would help teachers meet the national standards through locally developed training modules. There is also some support for the no-training model, though this is probably the one least likely to be adopted.

"The whole point of the qualification and the professional development framework is that we want high-quality training and development programmes that actually help teachers improve their knowledge, understanding and skills in order to improve what happens with pupils," says Frankie Sulke.

Teachers and subject associations welcome the TTA's recognition that effective subject leaders play a major role in improving schools and raising pupil achievement. They also want high-quality in-service training and development programmes. But there are concerns about the TTA's moves to standardise provision through its qualifications framework and about the power the agency is accumulating in the process.

"In five years' time a huge amount of teachers' continuing professional development will be devoted to the attainment of those new standards and qualifications," predicts Gary Holmes, head of the School of Professional Education and Development at Leeds Metropolitan University.

"The people who have pushed for that could argue that is good progress compared to the smorgasbord approach of the past. But there will also be strong professional and academic voices which will take the position that we are dealing with professionals and that many of their needs are individualised, that they are about excellence in subject knowledge and pedagogy and local choices for local needs. So there are ideological battles ahead."

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