Staying sharp

7th December 2012 at 00:00
Will Scotland's new professional update programme help teachers to keep on top of their game?

Rarely do you get something for nothing - as the General Teaching Council for Scotland found in 2010 when the body was charged with creating a system of reaccreditation for teachers as a condition of independence.

Since then, the GTCS has been at pains to stress that professional update (PU) - its preferred title for reaccreditation - is not a mechanism to test teachers, not an MoT, and does not aim to "weed out" supposedly bad teachers.

Now it has begun to explore what professional update will be in practice, with five pilots running in three local authorities - East Renfrewshire, North Lanarkshire and Perth and Kinross - an independent school, Erskine Stewart's Melville in Edinburgh, and the University of the West of Scotland's school of education.

GTCS chief executive Anthony Finn says: "What we thought we would put in place is a system which encourages teachers to improve, to keep improving - not to keep proving that they have already acquired qualifications and registration status. So, given that background and the culture we're trying to develop, to call something reaccreditation seemed to be very negative. Calling it professional update recognises that our primary purpose in moving this forward is to help teachers to improve."

The teaching unions are satisfied - at least for now.

The Educational Institute of Scotland was "utterly opposed" to the original concept of reaccreditation but appears to have softened its stance.

Kay Barnett, one of two EIS representatives on the professional update working group, says: "At the moment, we are not saying no or yes, but things have gone well so far. That is testament to the way the GTCS has handled the process, which means we are able to raise issues on an ongoing basis."

The pilot in East Renfrewshire is "a model of collegiate practice", says former EIS president and East Renfrewshire local area secretary Alan Munro

Professional update has proven "less draconian" than was feared, says Ricky Cullen, EIS local area secretary for North Lanarkshire.

"We are now less concerned - we have been persuaded that professional update is not reaccreditation," he says.

And while the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association was worried that professional update would be used as "a stick to beat teachers with", its fears have not been realised, admits acting general secretary Alan McKenzie.

All note, however, that the process is at an early stage, with the pilots just a few months old and PU not due to be officially introduced until August 2014. Even then, with just 20 per cent of the cohort going through the process each year, some teachers will have to wait until well beyond 2014 before they complete their first professional update process.

In the meantime, the teaching unions are eagerly awaiting the publication of the new suite of standards against which teachers will be expected to measure their performance. It is expected in January.

"We're operating slightly in the dark just now," says Mr Cullen.

At the heart of the GTCS plans for professional update is "access to a constructive and helpful programme of professional review and development (PRD) which offers support and advice to teachers and helps facilitate access to professional development opportunities".

But there is no point in good PRD unless it is coupled with quality training and development opportunities, say the unions. In the current economic climate, they question whether such opportunities will be available.

Mr Cullen adds: "If we do this, teachers will be expected to meet certain targets in terms of updating their skills - but the way budgets are going just now, CPD opportunities are being curtailed."

The impact budget cuts are having on continuing professional development is a "serious issue", says Margaret Alcorn, who recently stepped down as Scotland's national CPD coordinator.

"In many schools, teachers are concerned that the best professional development opportunities might no longer be available."

Good CPD need not cost the earth, she acknowledges. Learning Rounds, which involve teachers observing each other's lessons, are an extremely effective way of providing high-quality professional learning, she says.

However, effective but unaccredited approaches, like Learning Rounds, risk being overlooked thanks to the Scottish government's ambition for a master's-level teaching profession, she fears.

It is a laudable aim but master's-level accredited learning is not always the most effective CPD, she argues. A balance has to be struck between individual learning and the priorities of the school or local authority, she says.

"There's a dichotomy there that needs to be thought through."

Most local authorities have a good set of procedures, principles and paperwork relating to PRD, but that does not always translate into effective practice, she says.

She calls on the GTCS to ensure that PRD conversations are challenging.

"The experience of teachers involved in it has to be tested - do the teachers find the PRD valuable and uplifting?

"Where PRD works well, it gives people a new energy and focus and gives them permission to do things they might not otherwise have felt free to do."

PRD for Scottish teachers "is at best patchy in its impacts and is not fulfilling its intentions", Graham Donaldson wrote in his report on teacher education, Teaching Scotland's Future.

His review of teacher education surveyed more than 2,000 Scottish teachers and included questions about PRD and CPD.

Almost half (48 per cent) felt that PRD was not effective in identifying priorities for CPD and two-thirds (69 per cent) said they had experienced barriers in accessing CPD, most commonly related to funding.

When the GTCS consulted others over its professional update plans, most of the feedback was extremely positive, but there were concerns, including:

- funding - who will fund appropriate CPD, the scheme itself, management of PU?;

- bureaucracy - the scheme must be efficient, not create additional workload for teachers;

- effective delivery - government, local authorities, headteachers and GTCS must take responsibility for delivery of the system and ensure that its operation does not disadvantage teachers;

- time - not enough hours in the day for PU - it must not become an additional burden for teachers.

Those participating in the pilot were concerned about additional workload, but their fears have been allayed.

"It is not overly bureaucratically burdensome," says David Gray, principal of Erskine Stewart's Melville Schools.

However, according to Mrs Alcorn, the councils taking part are "top- performing local authorities when it comes to this area" - other councils may find the validation process more onerous.

Professional update should ensure that all Scottish teachers have access to the same quality of professional support and CPD, say those involved in the pilots. Ultimately, this will improve teacher quality and therefore children's learning experiences, they believe.

Mr Gray adds: "You have to look after the people you employ, nurture them and develop them in the same way as we nurture and develop the children here."

It is important for public confidence that every five years some kind of check is done, adds Norrie McKay, professional officer for North Lanarkshire's learning and leisure services.

"In the context of other professionals, some kind of updating process connected to registration to show you are keeping your skills up-to-date is common. It's about continuous improvement and public confidence."

The pilot authorities are also enthusiastic about the GTCS plans to host online CPD profiles for every teacher in Scotland.

"If a teacher were to move from here to Edinburgh, then their profile is with them instantly and they don't need to get set up on a new system," says Jean Cessford, service manager, support for staff, for education and children's services at Perth and Kinross Council.

It is expected that teachers taking part in the pilot scheme will:

- provide the GTCS with an annual update of information, including place of work, address and personal details;

- engage in ongoing PRD processes and CPD opportunities;

- complete a professional update sign-off process.

Sign-off will involve teachers confirming that they have engaged in self- evaluation against the appropriate GTCS professional standard, participated in ongoing PRD processes and CPD opportunities and discussed this with a line manager. The teacher's line manager will then endorse as appropriate.

"It's not just like ticking the Ryanair terms and conditions box," says Mr McKay. "There is the five-year sign-off, but there has to be engagement every year and at different points during the year. It should be an ongoing dialogue about how the teacher is getting on. Although it is called update, it is more of a continuous process."

If the GTCS is unhappy with the quality of a local authority's PRD process, it could opt not to validate or to validate with conditions attached, says Gillian Hamilton, head of educational services at the GTCS.

One of the main questions the pilot aims to answer is whether the validation process the GTCS has designed is effective (see panel).

The body has already started an evaluation of the validation process, with feedback being collected from all those who have taken part to date.

"The validation process is not just an exercise looking at paperwork," says Mrs Hamilton. "In each validation, we have met with the staff responsible for PRD and we have had focus groups involving a range of teachers across each local authority - supply teachers, classroom teachers, teachers in promoted posts, central staff, representatives of professional associations, peripatetic staff - so we have heard directly from teachers about how the PRD experience works for them. That's really important. If the validation was just about paperwork, we would not have got that richness."

In North Lanarkshire, supply teachers were invited to focus groups after a survey revealed that they often missed out on PRD and CPD.

Mrs Hamilton continues: "Teachers on long-term supply are usually pretty well served in terms of CPD and PRD. The challenge is when you have got a supply teacher working a day here and there, and working across a number of schools. We will learn more as we go through the pilot, but we need to be pragmatic. They are not going to have access to more traditional, local authority CPD. However, professional learning can take a whole variety of forms and includes engaging with colleagues, self-evaluation, reading and research. The last thing we would want to be is prescriptive."

The key to the successful introduction of professional update will be partnership working and sharing information so there are no surprises, says Mrs Hamilton.

"When people hear about the work we are doing and what is involved, the word we hear a lot is `reassured'," she concludes.

The main aims of professional update

According to the GTCS professional update working group, the key purposes of professional update are:

- to maintain and improve the quality of our teachers as outlined in the relevant professional standards and to enhance the impact that they have on pupils' learning;

- to support, maintain and enhance teachers' continued professionalism and the reputation of the teaching profession in Scotland.

In numbers

69% - Proportion of teachers who say they have experienced barriers when accessing CPD.

75% - Proportion of teachers unable to complete their CPD within contracted hours.

48% - Proportion of teachers who feel PRD is not effective in identifying priorities for CPD.

22% - Proportion of teachers who say their schools frequently monitor the impact of CPD.

49% - Proportion of teachers who say their schools infrequently or never measure the impact of CPD.

Source: Research commissioned by Donaldson report, Teaching Scotland's Future

The international picture

Professional development is considered a professional duty for teachers in many European countries and regions. Yet teachers are not explicitly obliged to engage in professional development activities in all countries and regions. For example, in Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain, continuous professional development is optional but clearly linked to career advancement and salary increases.

The OECD study entitled Teachers Matter: Attracting, Developing and Retaining Effective Teachers (OECD, 2005) examined, among other things, the preparation and development of teachers in 25 countries.

More than half of the countries that participated had no minimum requirement for teachers' participation in professional development. In countries that have set minimum requirements (Australia (some states), Austria, Belgium (French Community), Finland, Hungary, the Netherlands, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States (some states)), the requirement is commonly five days a year. The range is from 15 hours a year in Austria to 104 hours in Sweden.

Teachers' Professional Development: Europe in international comparison, http:bit.lyTxaPEc

"Initially I did think, `Not another initiative.'"

In each of the three authorities piloting professional update there are two school clusters involved. In East Renfrewshire these are:

St Luke's High in Barrhead and Mearns Castle High in Newton Mearns.

Kirkhill Primary is in the Mearns Castle High cluster and teachers Carrie Cameron and Lisa David are taking part in the pilot programme. They confess they had qualms when they were first asked to volunteer.

"Initially I did think, `Not another new initiative,'" admits Mrs Cameron.

But both teachers say that so far there has been no impact on workload, and because both have leadership ambitions, they are happy to engage in the PRD process, seeing it as a way of furthering their careers.

Kirkhill Primary head Yvonne Donaldson says: "In this climate, workload is a key consideration and initially I did think, `How are we going to manage this in school? Is it going to have an impact on the working-time agreement?' But the way it is happening at this moment in time it seems to be that it is manageable within the 35 hours allocated to the CPD and PRD process."

Anthony Finn, GTCS chief executive, says: "Professional update should require teachers to keep reflecting on what it is that they need to do, as their job changes, as society changes, as systems and schools change. That shouldn't necessarily be much different from what teachers do at the moment."

And his words appear to be borne out at Kirkhill Primary. Staff there already have an annual meeting with their line manager and, as part of the formal process, the depute head makes a point of checking halfway through the year that everyone is meeting their CPD targets. But it is part of the school's ethos to engage in ongoing dialogue about professional learning. Staff already record their CPD online.

Their message is that because the PRD process is already embedded into school practice, nothing has really changed for them as a result of taking part in the GTCS pilot programme.

The validation process

Professional update pilot programmes have gone through a validation process to ensure that they are "practicable, supportive of teachers and not constrained by bureaucracy".

Local authorities provide information prior to a validation meeting with a panel. The panel usually consists of five members, including one GTCS officer, one GTCS council member, one member of the professional update working group and a local authority representative from one of the three councils participating in the pilot.

The meeting, for which a minimum of one day is set aside, is held in the participating local authority so that the panel can engage with a range of people, including teachers in a variety of posts, local authority officers and union representatives.

At local authority level, validation questions include:

  • How do you ensure that all teachers have the opportunity for continuing engagement in PRD and general professional development at individual, establishment and local authority level?
  • What steps have you taken to ensure that appropriate training, including training in coaching and mentoring approaches, is provided for those carrying out and participating in PRD in your local authority?
  • What steps have you taken to ensure that there is an emphasis on the importance of CPD opportunities that are relevant to a teacher's identified needs?
    • Focus group questions include:

      • To what extent is training provided within your authority for those carrying out reviews and those participating in PRD?
      • What types of CPD opportunities do you engage in?
      • How do these address your individual requirements?
        • By and large, pilot authorities have gone through the same validation process, with minor variations. In Perth and Kinross, for example, mixed focus groups featuring managers and teachers were trialled. That approach is being discontinued, however, as it was felt that unpromoted teachers would speak more freely if they were not in the same group as their managers.

          An evaluation of the validation process is currently being carried out, with feedback being collected from all those involved to date. As the pilots continue, the process will be honed. It will be rolled out to all local authorities in August 2014.

          Original headline: Early signs look positive for professional update


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