Training is in dire need of direction

16th April 2010 at 01:00

The McCrone review, A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century, published in May 2000, and the subsequent national agreement of 2001, have proved of fundamental importance in giving teachers a new status and confidence, and a readiness to grasp the challenges of reforming education.

The first working groups on continuing professional development (CPD), the chartered teacher programme, the new standards and pathways and the emphasis on educational leadership have led to sustained progress, underpinned by the excellent work of Margaret Alcorn's national CPD team.

The two reviews of initial teacher education (ITE), punctuated by the HMIE scoping review, record considerable enthusiasm and, significantly, the second stage review of June 2006 concludes that perhaps the most encouraging aspect is the enhanced degree of co-operation and partnership working between and among all stakeholders in ITE.

Ten years after McCrone, the introduction of the new opening up of learning for all our young people, known as Curriculum for Excellence, has made clear the need for a re-appraisal of the initial and continuing development of the teaching profession, to enable all its members to engage with the need for personal learning and wide-ranging collaboration.

There are three essential components to the next stage in creating a teaching profession for the 21st century: initial teacher education, continuing professional development and educational leadership.

Graham Donaldson has made it clear in his request for submissions to the review of teacher education in Scotland that his remit covers the full continuum of teacher education. It is vital that educational leadership is included in his vision. It was seen as a key area in the first meetings of the then Scottish Executive's CPD advisory group.

A plethora of opportunities for developing leadership skills has since come into existence, but there is no overarching body that brings together initiatives and drives forward action and reflection.

Leadership is essential to education and to its reform at all levels, and it must be included as an essential component of the teacher education review. Above all, it is in each and every school that education must be improved for the benefit of its pupils: for that, we need to focus on the preparation and development of our current and future headteachers.

The first principle of teacher training and education must be that it is led by teachers for teachers. The lack of a recognised professional body to steer the three components of teacher education - initial, continuing and leadership - is the key weakness in the present diverse structure. It is indeed more collaborative now, but leadership by the profession is lacking.

One has only to look at other professions to see the way in which their status, professional standards, initial training and educational development are in the hands of clearly-identified bodies: the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates, The Royal College of Surgeons, The Royal College of Physicians and the Institute of Chartered Accountants.

The Lord President, the head of the Scottish Judiciary, is responsible for making and maintaining appropriate arrangements for the welfare, training and guidance of judicial office holders. But the teaching profession has no such unity of leadership and purpose.

The contribution by our universities to initial teacher training, continuing professional development and educational leadership is of the greatest significance. But universities have yet fully to overcome their sometimes patronising approach to the teaching profession. Their current priorities are to meet the demands of the Scottish Funding Council and the new Research Assessment Framework, facing league tables and often inappropriate metrics.

It is necessary that the significance of the wider contribution of universities to educational reform, at all levels and across all departments, should be emphasised and included in the strategic dialogues of the future. But the first principle must be that universities should give high status to teacher education, and that they should all collaborate with the national professional body of teachers charged with its journey to excellence.

The natural mechanism for a clear professional lead in initial teacher education, continuing professional development and educational leadership suggests a new vision for the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS). The enforcement of professional standards is separate from, but closely allied to, these roles. However, if this were to be the body to give national leadership to all three aspects of teacher education, then it needs to be visionary and fulfil the role of a college of teachers as well as a teaching council.

The recent consultation was narrow and did not succeed in showing what could really be achieved, were GTCS to be given a true national leadership role for the teaching profession. But the GTCS could indeed give teachers the professional status and direction that the Royal Colleges give to our medics.

As arguably teaching is the primary profession on which all others in the end depend, it deserves no less.

Judith McClure is chair of the Scottish Educational, Leadership, Management and Administration Society. Here, she begins a regular series responding to the Donaldson review of teacher education.

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