Professional development courses will bring radical change to the teaching profession, an excited Matthew MacIver, registrar at the General Teaching Council for Scotland, tells Neil Munro
After 30 quiet years, the General Teaching Council for Scotland is about to have greatness thrust upon it. That, at least, is how Matthew MacIver, the council's registrar, sees its pivotal involvement in the continuing professional development of teachers.
"In the past, teachers complained that the GTC had no relevance in their lives after they were granted full registration and once they completed their probation, unless they transgressed," he says. "Many teachers saw the council as the body to which they paid their annual registration fee and wondered what they were paying for."
Now, Mr MacIver believes, a brave new world is opening up for the GTC.
"Quite simply, this is a new chapter in our history," he says. "We are at the beginning of a process that will change the face of the profession as well as how the council is perceived."
The council is to be given almost complete responsibility for professional development, based partly on the powers it already has to vet initial pre-service courses. It will now move to set the standard for full registration, the standard for chartered teachers and the standard for headship. It has set up a CPD unit to oversee these programmes - all without increasing its annual pound;30 registration fee.
The Scottish Executive has just taken the decision that the GTC is also to be responsible for the national register of providers of general professional development courses. Mr MacIver sees this as much more than looking after a database. "We have to ensure that a certain quality is being delivered to teachers so they can be confident that general CPD is operating to a high standard," he says.
The chartered teacher programme is being opened up to the 22,000 teachers at the top of the main grade scale from August. The GTC sent out information about the programme to the homes of 67,000 fully registered teachers in early May: it was an exercise unprecedented in its history.
Those eligible have until May 31 2003 to check their eligibility for continuing with the programme, otherwise they have to wait until next year.
Within a week of the information going out, the GTC had received 632 chartered teacher programme applications and 250 telephone and e-mail enquiries. Since then, applications have been coming in at a rate of about 1,000 a week.
The bulk of related enquiries have been about arrangements for the accreditation of prior learning. Teachers who believe they have already achieved and learned a significant amount can apply to the council for APL endorsement. If their claim is agreed in full, they will be able to go straight to the top of the chartered teacher tree and secure a pound;35,000 salary for staying on in the classroom rather than as the result of promotion.
But not everyone will be so lucky, which gives rise to the potential for controversy. What Mr MacIver sees as robust and vigorous tests of APL claims means some will be turned down and, through special mechanisms the GTC has set up, other claimants will be advised that they may have to undertake, say, six of the 12 modules in the chartered teacher programme to win full status. Teachers will be able to appeal.
"We think it's important that teachers are told, right at the outset, the extent to which their APL claims will be met," Mr MacIver says. "We don't want to raise false expectations.
"This is not about having completed an MEd or an MPhil," he emphasises.
"We're looking for evidence that the teacher claiming APL has been effective in his or her classroom practice - or that they have changed their classroom practice to the extent that they now deal differently with their pupils, their colleagues and the school as a whole."
Mr MacIver confesses to being "hugely excited and invigorated" by these developments. "They have enormous potential for teachers who felt that nobody was acknowledging what they did in the classroom," he says. "This is now being recognised for the first time. For good classroom teachers, it could be a breath of fresh air but challenging as well."
It was not so long ago that the GTC's efforts to raise its profile and talk directly to teachers were restricted to poorly-attended roadshows. Now, because of CPD, these efforts are to be raised to a different plane.
The council intends to post on its website details of successful CPD providers, so that teachers can make up their own minds about which to use.
Teachers will also have to go online to the council to update their profiles of achievement. It is only necessary to state this baldly to see it has the potential to revolutionise the council's profile.
Scottish education has long searched for some kind of holy grail in the professional development of teachers. The arrangements that are about to be introduced are intricate and ambitious, as well as comprehensive, and it is easy to share Mr MacIver's enthusiasm that teaching is on the verge of something big.
There is not only a seamless garment of CPD between the varying ages and stages of teachers' professional lives, but the worth of classroom teaching is being recognised at last, with a salary tag attached.
The unknown question is: how will teachers react? The unions have signed up in the post-McCrone package. Will teachers, faced with funding their own chartered teacher training, buy into it?
Matthew MacIver accepts that the CPD revolution will inevitably have implications for the pre-service stage of training teachers. The content, structure and location of initial teacher education is to come under scrutiny shortly, in the second stage of a potentially contentious review by the Scottish Executive.
Mr MacIver says: "There is no point in overloading programmes of initial teacher education. So we should be exploring how we can develop a core curriculum at that stage and then develop teachers further through the standard for full registration, general CPD, the chartered teacher programme, the standard for headship and so on.
"The idea that 18 weeks of initial teacher education and 18 weeks on a teaching placement makes someone a complete teacher is nonsense."
Mr MacIver is convinced all this amounts to nothing less than "a Scottish success story", which is not happening anywhere else. The fact that it is being controlled by the regulatory body for teachers is seen as another achievement. Wales, for example, also has a CPD initiative, but it is under the direct control of the Welsh Assembly.