'They've missed the bus on teacher training'

2nd March 2001 at 00:00
Leaders of Scotland's teacher education institutions (TEIs) have called for root and branch reforms of the way teachers are prepared for the classroom. They fear the forthcoming Scottish Executive review of initial teacher education will be a "missed opportunity".

In particular they are demanding a searching probe of the way initial training, the new probationary year and ongoing staff development should combine to produce quality teachers. "There has to be a recognition that the TEIs cannot do it all," Professor Douglas Weir, dean of the education faculty at Strathclyde University, told The TES Scotland.

A meeting last week of the Scottish Teacher Education Committee and the General Teaching Council for Scotland was said to have given a "cool" response to proposals from the Executive for a series of changes, summarised by one of the participants as no more than a "quick fix".

Others accused the Executive of taking a "heavy-handed" approach to hearsay allegations about the shortcomings of the TEIs.

A paper from the Executive, seen by The TES Scotland and which is likely to lead shortly to a ministerial announcement, suggests three key areas for action and says these would require "persuasive argument" not to be included.

The areas for action are improvements in student teacher placements in schools, more effective partnerships between authorities and the TEIs and the need for TEI staff to have more "recent and relevant" experience of the classroom.

The Executive has also identified three other areas on which it wants action - managing pupil behaviour, improving the use of technology in teaching and learning and preparing teachers to deal with special needs pupils in mainstream classes.

The Executive's proposals do not rule out a deeper review of initial teacher education following the Green Paper to be issued later this year. It is intended to kick off a "great debate" on the naure and purpose of teaching. But the Executive says it "requires a clear picture of how teachers are educated at present to enable informed decisions to be made".

Ministers plan to use management consultants to carry out the review, but the whole approach was derided by Professor Gordon Kirk, dean of education at Edinburgh University. Since the Scottish Executive Education Department has approved all the competences and programmes for teacher education, he says, "it is difficult to see how it can plead ignorance about what it has approved."

Professor Kirk says difficulties with partnership and student placements in schools, for example, have arisen because the arrangements are inadequately resourced and the ability of schools to handle planned increases in trainee teacher numbers must be in question. "You don't need consultants to tell you that," he said.

Professor Weir and Professor Bart McGettrick, dean of education at Glasgow University, believe a much clearer recognition is needed of the respective roles of initial training, probation and continuing professional development (CPD). "There should be a new dimension which emphasises the importance of teachers' professional values and personal commitment," Professor McGettrick said. "That must then flow into CPD." He felt the document represented "missed opportunities ".

Professor Weir said TEIs should be expected to concentrate on "a small number of key topics on which there is agreement that the beginning teacher should be rock solid".

He added: "We might even find that these programmes are based round sociology and psychology, which have been dirty words in some circles. But a well-grounded course in sociology, emphasising pupil interaction and classroom dynamics, could address issues of classroom behaviour and pupil management, while a good course in developmental psychology would lend itself to improving learning support."

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