Universities warn of 'mediocre' teachers in Scottish schools

16th July 2010 at 01:00
Education faculties recommend more CPD for jaded mid-career teachers and opening up classrooms to other professions

Universities, which are responsible for the output of new teachers, have lamented the "mediocrity" of many of them, and proposed some radical ideas to improve standards.

They include taking on higher-calibre and older students, a longer probationary period and scrapping the four-year route into the profession.

The concerns, in submissions to the Donaldson review of teacher education, chime with those of School Leaders Scotland, which pointed to "deficient" basic skills of new teachers in its own submission (TESS, July 9).

The responses from the five universities seen by The TESS - from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and the University of the West of Scotland - do have some positive things to say about teacher education. These include improvements in continuing professional development, international admiration for the probationer scheme and the range of routes into the profession.

But a consistent concern is the calibre of teachers, both experienced professionals and those embarking on their career.

"There are too many mediocre teachers in Scotland and too little desire to develop their capacities, challenge them or counsel them out of teaching," states Glasgow University.

The university is concerned that most CPD is aimed at new teachers, pointing to mid-career teachers who often reach a stage "when they feel they are complete professionals and consequently their practice becomes routine".

Stirling University criticises the impact of "corporatist attempts to manage the teacher labour market" with the result that "less well- qualified candidates are admitted to meet targets".

There was a general consensus that the teacher education institutions should try to attract older and more rounded student teachers.

"There is at least an argument that entrants to initial teacher education should not be school leavers or graduates who have no experience of anything other than being a student," states Stirling University. It highlights the "danger" that new teachers simply reproduce their experiences as students and do not try anything new.

Stirling also highlights the reluctance of some subject teachers to attempt cross-curricular work and the weaknesses of some in literacy and numeracy.

The University of the West of Scotland, which wants to see higher entry standards, suggests giving other professions a more central role in schools - artists, creative writers, musicians, journalists, police, youth workers and others - by equipping them with teaching qualifications without the need to become full-time teachers.

It might be beneficial to encourage "more mature entry" to the four-year Bachelor of Education, whose students generally come straight from school, it said. The university moots a three-year BEd followed by a two-year probationary period - or, more radically, scrapping the qualification altogether.

Edinburgh University stresses that postgraduate students have often "made great efforts to acquire an in-depth understanding of the job", whereas BEd students "tend to have minimal experience with youth groups". A condition of entry might be evidence of more work in this area, it suggests.

Stirling University, however, believes the BEd is a better route into teaching. The one-year postgraduate diploma in education "may actually serve to reinforce existing preconceptions of schooling and teaching".

The university describes initial teacher education as "very mixed in quality". The sector is generally "not held in high regard by teachers", whose "poor experiences" discourage them from coming back for CPD.

The University of the West of Scotland makes the frank admission that "there may be a case for reducing the number of ITE providers".

Wales has made a "radical reduction" from seven to three providers, while teacher education in Northern Ireland avoids "unnecessary subject duplication" across institutions.

Other ideas the universities suggested include:

- teacher sabbaticals, as in Wales (UWS);

- single ITE course covering primary and secondary, to bridge the "huge divide" between the two (UWS);

- send ITE staff back to school on secondment (UWS);

- masters-level accreditation for CPD (Stirling);

- less exposure of probationers to "fads" such as Brain Gym, "learning styles" and "multiple intelligences" (Stirling);

- more scope for "mistrusted and marginalised" chartered teachers to share expertise (Stirling);

- address student complaints that school placements are not quality- assured (Glasgow);

- counter the persistent notion that mainstream teachers cannot help some special-needs pupils (Edinburgh);

- pilot a masters degree for new teachers (Aberdeen);

- identify ways to measure the impact of CPD (Aberdeen).

henry.hepburn@tes.co.uk.

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