Subject vice must go
THE PROBLEM of pupils in the early years of secondary having too many teachers should be alleviated by ensuring that all social subjects teachers learn how to integrate history, geography and modern studies. Every student in the social subjects should take a course in such an integrated approach.
These challenges to the inviolability of subject specialisms are thrown down by the dean of the largest education faculty. Douglas Weir of Strathclyde University (Platform, page 10) says in a special article that there is "only one solution" to the growing problem of over-concentration by secondary teachers on a single subject.
He points out that from next year new standards for entry to teaching courses mean that fewer secondary students will be eligible to train in more than one subject. That will be despite "renewed pressure to increase the extent of social subjects integration" because of a widespread belief that young secondary pupils are exposed to too many new teachers after having had only one in the primary classroom.
Professor Weir later told The TES Scotland that now is the time to look at how the next generation of teachers is being prepared. "These are the people who will drive the system until 2020 and beyond," he said.
As a recently appointed member of the General Teaching Council, Professor Weir said he is "pressing hard for the lack of consistency" between primary and secondary training to be put right.
The type of teacher now needed has changed dramatically, he claimed. In the primary there is "creeping specialisation", especially since science is to be detached from other parts of environmental studies. Teachers are looking for in-service training in science, which imposed demands similar to those faced by the Modern Languages in the Primary School programme.
At the same time pressure is on for less specialisation in the early years of secondary, Professor Weir said. Yet initial training for the two sectors remained very different.
He claimed that the General Teaching Council had not thought through the consequences of changing needs. The current review of the council's composition and remit should give the opportunity for a rethink and for examination of new ideas wherever they came from.
"I believe at least there is a bit of a debate being created," Professor Weir said.
In an admonition to his GTC colleagues, who recently reminded secondary heads that no teachers should be asked to take a subject in which they are not qualified, he writes: "If the GTC is to remain credible and influential in maintaining high standards, it ought to be consistent in its attitude about who teaches what.
"It makes no sense to make a stand on the social subjects in S1-S2 but to turn a blind eye to other areas, such as social education courses and cross-curricular courses, where no training or qualification is required."
The GTC's role was to adapt to the changing curriculum, as it had in, belatedly, recognising media studies for registration.
At the last GTC meeting, Bart McGettrick, dean of education at Glasgow University, said the traditional secondary qualification was too specialised for the multiplicity of courses in the first two years but not specialised enough in the upper secondary with the advent of new Higher Still subjects.