Slow progress on Donaldson training report

22nd July 2011 at 01:00
Lessons on collaboration and leadership are being lost, says Moray House academic

The momentum of the Donaldson report on teacher education may be stalling amid signs that schools are struggling to adapt to its most important messages, a major gathering of international educators heard.

"There's a sense that current policy on teacher education and leadership is still to be absorbed in schools," Deirdre Torrance, director of the masters in educational leadership and management at Edinburgh University's Moray House School of Education, told TESS.

Ms Torrance, who spoke at the International Council on Education for Teaching's world assembly in Glasgow last week, was "somewhat surprised" at how few in Scottish education had engaged with Donaldson.

"Unless those messages become firmly established, it's difficult to move forward," she said.

Terms such as "distributive leadership" were problematic because teachers had few reference points, but also because in practice "leadership is still firmly located in the role of the head".

Schools were working hard on building up leadership, she observed, "but a lot of tensions are being glossed over" and there was not yet consensus among teachers about what the teacher-leader role entailed.

Teachers were still waiting for permission to act, then acting within clearly-defined boundaries. For Curriculum for Excellence to flourish, they needed to feel "genuinely empowered", said Ms Torrance, who is also director of the certificate in developing educational leadership and learning at Edinburgh University.

"We're not seeing bottom-up change. We're not seeing teachers reflecting critically on their practice, working collaboratively with colleagues to experiment with and find solutions to problems - and find solutions for pupils."

Ms Torrance stressed that all schools of education were engaged with what Donaldson meant for them and their courses, but they were still waiting for a "national steer" on issues such as the implications of masters qualifications on existing student programmes.

Scottish education had been very open in its discussion of policy until a few years ago, but that had changed, Ms Torrance argued.

"The McCormac review (of teachers' pay and conditions) would fall into that category; very little information has come out," she said.

At the same conference, Christine Forde, professor of leadership and professional learning at Glasgow University, said there were issues around attitudes to headteacher positions.

"One of the urban myths is that it's just too hard a job," she said. "But many heads say it's the hardest but the very best job in the world."

The teacher profession in Scotland had a leadership "bulge", an older generation that was about to leave the profession in large numbers, she added. As a result, many teachers were about to be plunged into leadership early in their careers.

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