Training for tomorrow's classroom

7th March 1997 at 00:00
Where will teacher educationbe in the new millennium? Willis Pickard talks to Tom Bone, who has played a pivotal roleover the past quarter of a century.

The former colleges of education have lost not only in terms of student numbers and autonomy. Their leaders no longer have the same role in national affairs. Tom Bone, former principal of Jordanhill College, is uniquely placed to make such a judgment. He served for 21 years, from the days of teacher shortage to those of amalgamation with universities. Then for four years until last December he was a deputy principal of Strathclyde University, which with Jordanhill is combined.

When Professor Bone succeeded the prestige-laden Sir Henry Wood as Jordanhill's principal in 1972 at the age of 37, he inherited a position of influence. The committee of principals met annually with the secretary of the Scottish Education Department and the head of the Inspectorate. He joined the Dunning committee on assessment and later the Council for National Academic Awards.

Influence flowed from the key position held by the colleges. More teachers were needed. The peak population of Jordanhill came in 1975-76 with 3,500 students. Professor Bone says that whatever was sought by way of staff and buildings was granted.

True, the statistical writing was already on the wall. Fewer children were being born. A teacher shortage would soon become a surplus. But although Scottish Office statisticians were pointing to the inevitable, as long as there was still part-time schooling because of a lack of teachers, politicians could not cut intakes - and thereby undermine the power of the colleges.

"At the time the SED regarded the colleges of education as the jewels in their crown, more so than the central institutions," Professor Bone recalls. He contrasts the current situation in which the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council has had to place a financial safety net under three of the remaining teacher education institutions. "The outside jobs which I took on were time consuming, and I worked very hard, but, for example, looking at teacher education on behalf of the CNAA meant that I saw what was going on all over the UK and could learn from the experience for Jordanhill."

The danger now is that leaders in teacher education are drawn back into their own institutions or work only within the Scottish system. As well as loss of standing because of a decline in new teachers, there is a need to concentrate on the financial and managerial demands which are placed on higher education.

Not that Professor Bone bemoans all change. The interest in research in teacher education and the recruitment of able seekers of contracts is a positive move. But he hopes that research studies will focus on the "basic skills" of teachers and pupils.

Technology may hold the key to the major changes of the next 20 or 30 years. Professor Bone was chairman of the Scottish Council for Educational Technology in the eighties when schools were first being equipped with computers.

As a former English teacher, he is no technology fanatic, but he foresees individualised learning packages that will be attractive to pupils and from which the next generation of teachers, who themselves have grown up with computers, will not shy away. "When later in life I sit in my rocking chair, I will be able to say, we started it."

Experience of the Scottish Examination Board, where he was vice-chairman, and for 17 years of the General Teaching Council, which he chaired, leads to reflection on the caution that pervades decision-making. The development of Standard grade out of the Dunning report made him "conscious of how often we seem to be solving the problems of the past rather than foreseeing the problems of the future". Radical change at the top of the school, as is now proposed with Advanced Higher, was always thwarted in the SEB by the universities which feared for their four-year degrees.

The success of the GTC has not been copied in countries like England for fear that teacher unions would hold back necessary change. That has not happened in Scotland, Professor Bone claims, but the voice of the teachers has the chance to be heard. The three registrars who have led the GTC deserve credit for maintaining the support of both the Government and the unions.

Professor Bone judges the amalgamation of his old college and later employer to be a success. In the detailed negotiations after the merger he took no part. It would not have been fair to Jim McCall, his successor as head of the Jordanhill campus. But he is keen to scotch the notion, given credence in The TES Scotland, that the amalgamation arose because of the college's financial problems. These were revealed only later and were largely, and temporarily, caused by a change in accounting practice.

But the financial and educational well-being of teacher education was served by the end of autonomy. Institutions still independent have money problems. The creation of larger units within higher education was floated in debates on the Scottish Tertiary Education Advisory Council in the mid-eighties, when according to Professor Bone industrialists for the first time had an important say. Glasgow University, which might have had Jordanhill as a partner, did not recognise the new mood. Strathclyde, which Professor Bone commends for combining devolved faculty management with strong central direction, seized its opportunity.

Tom Bone, who had two other job possibilities at the moment he was offered the Jordanhill principalship, seized his own chances, or, as he describes it: "I was lucky." He is now helping the Law Society to train lawyers better, for which his teacher training experience comes in handy, and he is also on a committee that looks into complaints against lawyers.

Former GTC members know about erring among teachers.

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