They're simply the best

14th November 2008 at 00:00
Today's entrants to teaching are better prepared than ever before, a new study claims

Research published today into the professional culture of teachers hails new entrants as "catalysts for change", but warns that their impact may be weakened by the lack of permanent jobs post-probation.

That finding is likely to rub salt in the wounds for the Scottish Government, which commissioned the report jointly with the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

Fiona Hyslop, who is speaking at the launch of the report at Linlithgow Academy today alongside Tony Finn, the new chief executive of the GTCS, is known to be sensitive about the ongoing lack of jobs for new teachers.

The report quotes one local authority respondent: "The insecurity after induction definitely has a negative effect, not just on the entrants themselves but also on the people who are working with them. The mentors who are working with them feel disillusioned that, after all the work and hard effort they've put in, they're not getting a post."

However, both Ms Hyslop and the GTCS can take heart from findings that new entrants are better prepared than ever before as teachers, not just in their subject knowledge but in their grasp of teaching methodologies and pedagogy. They are revitalising the school culture, engaging far more than their older colleagues in extra-curricular activities, involving pupils more positively and embracing classroom observation.

The report, by a team of Glasgow University researchers led by Moira Hulme, into the "professional culture" of new teachers, finds some evidence that they are taking the lead in developing the curriculum at an early stage of their career.

Mr Finn said he believed the key difference in the behaviour of the current cohort of new teachers, compared with those in the past, who also started out full of enthusiasm and vigour, was the change in the balance of roles between older and younger teachers. "In the past, new teachers would have been at the forefront of things like ICT," he said. "What seems to be happening now is that some are also taking part in curriculum initiatives, not just being led, but as the leading person."

The report reveals a gap in continuing professional development for teachers in the five years immediately following their induction training. It also finds that teachers on temporary or supply contracts are missing out on professional support.

Mr Finn said it revealed another "significant weakness" - the need for more focused support for the leaders of schools who had to encourage "greater collegiality, more collaborative learning and a better understanding of the pedagogical needs of teachers as they implement a new curriculum with different management systems".

For that reason, the GTCS announced this week that it is planning a new Standard for Leadership, which should be "relevant to many teachers, particularly to those considering a career in management".

Mr Finn said it would be linked to other standards, especially the Standard for Headship, and "provide guidance for teachers across their careers, ensuring that an appropriate focus is placed on high-quality learning and achievement in every classroom in Scotland".

The idea of a leadership standard has won the backing of School Leaders Scotland, which represents secondary heads. Outgoing president Brian Cooklin told its annual conference in Cumbernauld this week that a standard aimed at principal teachers and faculty heads was especially important to encourage them to apply for depute and headship posts.

Meanwhile, some of the findings in the GTCS report reflect ongoing concerns since the implementation of the national teachers' agreement in 2001, namely a lack of support for faculty structures as drivers of cross- curricular development; and uncertainty about the role of the chartered teacher. But some of the its comments contain implied criticisms of headteachers. It argues that "teachers often felt that their professional values were more closely aligned with national policies than with local school-level policy".

This, suggest the reports authors, demonstrates that although class teachers exercise "high levels of professional discretion in the classroom", they do not appear to enjoy "appropriate levels of influence and autonomy within the wider context of the institution".

The report adds that a "top-down" organisational hierarchy persists in some schools and that more work needs to be done to change a culture of protectionism.

It also finds that "inauthentic, tokenistic, contrived or induced" forms of consultation and collaboration increase divisions between senior management and maingrade teachers."

One experienced teacher from the Scottish Borders told the researchers: "When you have been in the teaching profession for as long as I have, there's not a lot new under the sun. The actual way of doing things is probably something you did 20 years ago, maybe twice in cycle since you started teaching. Now an NQT has been told what they're doing is the greatest thing since sliced bread."

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