Standard-bearers

3rd October 2014 at 01:00

In the past, I have been critical of the failure of the Wood Commission's report to properly address the changing nature of Scotland's labour market ("Making the self-made", 18 July). But I have another concern.

It is remarkable that a report arguing for colleges and other training providers to get involved in bringing vocational education to schools has failed to address the issue of how to ensure professional standards of performance.

At present, teachers must be registered with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS). This ensures that they are appropriately qualified, committed to professional standards of performance and engaged in appropriate CPD.

Implementing the commission's recommendations could lead to pupils being taught by registered school teachers, unregistered college lecturers (with Education Scotland performing college-wide quality reviews) and trainers from private providers subject to no rigorous external controls.

Approximately 600 college lecturers out of around 15,000 are registered with the GTCS; in the main because they were registered when teaching in schools. However, their CPD is the responsibility of the little-known Professional Learning and Development Forum, overseen by Colleges Scotland. I doubt if many would argue that this was an appropriate home for the forum.

Given the challenges now being faced, much more attention needs to be given to building in proper ethical standards as part of spelling out the nature of the relationship between a lecturer, teacher or trainer and their students.

I have previously emphasised the need for CPD because of the fast-changing external environment. This becomes much more urgent owing to the commission's findings. We need to ensure high standards of professional reflection in the interests of high-quality education.

So what is to be done? I don't think we need a revolution but I do think we need significant change. For a start, the GTCS should revise some of its protocols regarding who can and cannot register, as they are currently too narrow and overly prescriptive to cover the type of standards needed for the vocational education sector. But ultimately, the GTCS is the natural home for bodies such as the Professional Learning and Development Forum.

The government must also think about what standards need to be applied to the private sector before providers can engage with the education of young people.

This notable failure of the commission to address professional standards may not be overly problematic if all the parties concerned get together quickly, agree on where professional standards are needed and get on with the job of development and implementation. And this week's TESS shows that the GTCS is already taking steps in that direction.

Roger Mullin is an honorary professor at the University of Stirling and an adviser on post-16 educational reform

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