Teacher quality matters most

3rd August 2007 at 01:00
Robust, caring and optimistic are just some of Ellen Moir's words to describe Scottish education

SCOTLAND HAS potentially the world's best education system, according to a renowned American expert in teacher training.

Ellen Moir, director of the New Teacher Centre at the University of California, in Santa Cruz, has hailed Scottish education for its positive example in light of what she sees as worrying target-driven trends in her own country.

She expressed concern that American teachers were being forced to focus on stringent yearly targets ahead of the wellbeing of their pupils, a situation against which Scotland com- pared favourably.

"You are so far from that you have a chance to build the 21st- century best education in the world," she told delegates at the International Summer School on School Leadership in Edinburgh this week.

There was a "testing and accountability frenzy" in the Uni-ted States, and not enough support for teachers from local authorities, she went on. "We are too focused on test results at the expense of building the human capacity to do the best job possible," she said.

"Teacher quality is the single most important ingredient in raising standards of achievement and helping students learn. I think we need to invest more heavily in helping teachers become the best they can be."

In this regard, Mrs Moir believed American education authorities should take a lead from the Scottish example. "This emphasis (in Scotland) on developing a leadership culture is really critical for building the type of learning and teaching that's necessary."

She told of financial incentives that were used in the States to retain staff in difficult schools, but argued that it was far better to go down the Scottish route of building a "learning culture where teachers feel supported", adding: "Teacher morale and school culture they matter significantly in making a difference to kids."

She has come to believe that qualities such as "humaneness" and "caring for each other" would "move teacher practice on the most".

Mrs Moir was impressed by Scotland's chartered teacher and induction programmes, and believed that these should become "really robust models in local authorities". She was also impressed by the breadth of learning in Scottish schools.

"We have become so focused on test results (in the US) that we have narrowed the curricu- lum," said Mrs Moir. By com- parison, she described the Scot- tish curriculum as "robust and thoughtful".

She argued that there was too much focus on literacy and numeracy in Amercian schools, and not enough on areas such as music, art and social sciences. She would like to see more emphasis on formative assessment.

"I think in Scotland you're looking more at the whole child and an education that is very rich, across all subject areas," she said. "And you have a national induction scheme at this point, induction in America is state by state."

Mrs Moir spoke to The TESS after addressing the second day of the international conference, when she told delegates on a number of occasions how impressed she was with Scottish education.

"I think you have a lot to be optimistic and proud about in this country," she said.

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