'We are aware of the problems in schools'

23rd June 2000 at 01:00
Comments in the McCrone report that teacher trainers are out of touch are firmly rebuffed by education lecturers. They believe it is the professor - and the teachers who made the comments to his inquiry committee - who are out of date. Raymond Ross reports.

McCrone doesn't know what he's talking about in relation to the work we do," Professor Gordon Kirk, dean of education at Edinburgh University (Moray House), told The TES Scotland. "In fact, he's talking rubbish!" His dismissiveness is shared by several lecturers at Strathclyde University's Jordanhill Campus, who found the inquiry report ill-informed and were equally scathing in some of their remarks.

McCrone's comments about initial teacher education "are hardly based on rigorous research," says Anne Wilson, lecturer in primary education and an elected member of the General Teaching Council for Scotland. She challenges the methodology of the report on this matter.

"McCrone is suggesting reforms derived from the ad hoc comments of 'some of the teachers' the committee spoke to. I am in schools every week. We all visit schools regularly. We are inundated with requests for in-service training. If we are out of date or out of touch, why do we get all these requests?" she says.

Primary colleague Geri Smyth says: "The report points out that more than half of Scottish teachers are over 45 years old. If the comments derive from this age range, we are talking about teachers whose pre-service experience was more than 20 years ago. Their experience obviously doesn't match present-day realities."

Several of the lecturers find the report "naive" and believe it gives a very simplistic view of university and teacher education, referring to "training" and not to teacher education. They are also riled that the committee did not come and look at the courses before making "unfortunate and opinionated comments". If it had, the lecturers believe it would have seen a different picture.

They say the report betrays a lack of knowledge of what they do, on issues such as behaviour management, for example.

"The teachers say behaviour management gets insufficient attention, yet it's one of the first things our course tackles," says David McLaren, a lecturer on the secondary PGCE course. "Of the 18 weeks that pre-service teachers are on campus, as specified by the Scottish Office, there is a specific focus on behaviour management for the first two weeks."

"The report conflates pupil management with discipline, reducing it to the matter of handling disruptive pupils instead of seeing it in the context of developing interesting lessons," says Henry Maitles, a senior lecturer in social studies education.

The lecturers find it ironic that the report is telling them they are out of touch, yet is asking them to take a lead in curriculum development and continuing professional development. "How do you make sense of that?" asks David McLaren.

"We evaluate our practice all the time because we're no' daft and we are monitored by the General Teaching Council, the Quality Assurance Agency and Her Majesty's inspectors. We are constantly monitored," points out Mark Sheridan, head of applied arts. If teacher education institution (TEI) staff are "out of touch", is McCrone implying that these monitoring bodies are similarly out of touch?

"We are aware of the real problems in schools," says Graham White, director for the primary PGCE course. "To say otherwise is demeaning."

He supports the emphasis in the report on continuing professional development and the extra five days allocated, wishing the issue had been addressed a long time ago. However, he feels McCrone hasn't seriously looked at the matter of resources. "Who is going to mount these courses? We are already stretched.

"There are staffing and resource implications for us as well as for schools."

There is a lot of support for this view. The faculty would love to be more involved with continuing professional development, says Mark Sheridan, "but we don't just train teachers. We also provide courses for social workers, speech therapists, sports scientists and so on. We are driven by many agendas, not just one. It's not up to any one body to tell us what to do. We are here to work in partnership with many bodies. Teacher education institutions are faculties in universities now, with research priorities and obligations too."

Issues related to the running and evaluation of chartered and advanced chartered teacher courses also cause concern. "Who would want to do it?" asks David McLaren. "It would require a great deal of negotiation if we were to do it. Potentially it could prove a lot of work, especially for us when we are supposedly so out of touch!" Joy Baker, a lecturer in business and computing education and the faculty's convener for the Educational Institute of Scotland, believes these courses could be divisive in schools. "Every teacher's role should be advancing continuing professional development anyway. Chartered status could mean X is officially a better teacher than me. Why should I do extra-curricular work when X is being paid more to do it?" Even more divisive and controversial, in the Jordanhill lecturers' view, is McCrone's proposal that there should be designated "training schools" for student teacher placements.

"Look at the UNICEF report which says 20 per cent of Scottish children are brought up in poverty. The point is there's a clear link between poverty and low achievement. This should be our biggest priority," says Mark Sheridan. "Training schools? What's that priority about?

"Our students need to work in schools where the experience of poverty is the sharpest. They need all sorts of experience and training schools would narrow this."

Geri Smyth believes there is a danger that funding would be the driving force to becoming a training school and she refutes the report's suggestion that some schools have more to offer trainee teachers and probationers than others. "I'd hate to suggest to a student they should only go to one school or to certain schools," she says. "We are and should be about partnership with all schools."

David McLaren agrees and adds that, in terms of sheer numbers, there wouldn't be enough places in a restricted number of training schools. "When you have 429 students to place, you're grateful to get the co-operation of any schools.

"You'd need a huge number of training schools and even then I think it might distort the work of these schools."

He also points out that, despite the emphasis on collegiality elsewhere in the report, this is not a very collegiate approach. "It raises so many contentious issues that would really need to be talked about that I feel it's not a road we should go down."

While the idea of training schools might be good for probationary teachers, the lecturers believe that a few accredited schools would mean a limited experience for students and new teachers and that this would change the learning experience of pupils. Parents at training schools might also complain that their children were being taught by too many students or probationers.

"Every school should be a training school and every school should have a policy for probationers," says Henry Maitles.

"As it is, we simply would not send students to 'bad' schools or departments. When we place students our priority is how supportive the school or department is."

However, Margaret Kirkwood, senior lecturer in computing and president of the Scottish Educational Research Association, fears that in rejecting the concept of training schools per se, there is a danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

She believes initial teacher education should be restructured. "The one-year PGCE course is too short. It should be two years and more school-based, and teachers in training should receive salaries. The two years would widen their experience and help them make more sense of theory.

"More responsibility should be devolved to schools in the partnership between TEIs and schools, but these schools would need better resourcing so that the mentoring role of teachers could be strengthened.

"I recognise the danger of a divisive two-tier system, but we need to think of models that build on capability and look for ways to avoid divisiveness rather than steer clear of the idea altogether."

Margaret Kirkwood also says: "In terms of CPD and research, it's important that the extra hours proposed by McCrone allow for teacher autonomy and flexibility. Teachers don't need any more time or workload barriers. You need to evaluate any teacher research as you go and you need time to enable you to be creative as a teacher. McCrone should be used to release teachers' creativity and that means allowing autonomy and flexibility."

A similarly holistic approach is suggested by Mark Sheridan with regard to continuing professional development in general. "CPD is the most important aspect.

"We have strong links with Millersville University in Pennsylvania, where every working teacher has to do CPD courses continuously. This is in marked contrast to the ad hoc Scottish approach of after-school or weekend CPD. As TEIs we have to respond to this in terms of how we relate to professional colleagues.

"I approve of the US approach wholeheartedly. It's a different mindset, but it's going to come. It'll just take time. The Americans are further down the road."

The lecturers welcome the idea of exchanges between schools and TEIs and agree these could be a rewarding element of any sabbatical scheme.

Margaret Kirkwood would welcome teachers in teacher education institutions and more teachers taking on development roles in local authorities. "Anything that expands horizons is to be welcomed and, yes, that includes TEI staff refreshing the memory with the harsh realities of the classroom. I absolutely welcome that," she says.

"I think school practice is encouraged here if any TEI member feels they need to do it," says Henry Maitles. "But if they're insisting we need to do three days a year, or whatever, then that's insulting and it's also tokenism.

"I took P7 classes on the Holocaust last year, using materials I was piloting. It was very useful for development of those materials, but I didn't learn anything I didn't know about teaching."

Taking an overview, Brian Boyd, senior lecturer in language, regards the inquiry report as "a curate's egg which McCrone wants us all to swallow whole, though there are some strange omissions such as the failure to mention parents' nights and primarysecondary transition issues, and a naivety about all schools being able to be collegiate.

"McCrone talks up collegiality but, when you look at it, he actually proposes a real top-down line management system in schools.

"Nevertheless it is a basis for development and we have to go with it. Not to do so would be too dangerous.

"We have to work together, TEIs, teachers and unions, local authorities and the Executive. Otherwise I could see the situation leading to attacks on local authorities, wanting to remove them from education. as is happening in England."


'In the course of its visits to schools, the Committee had an opportunity to discuss the adequacy of (initial training) qualifications as a preparation for teaching with a number of new entrants to the profession. The courses themselves are not strictly within our terms of reference and we therefore did not visit the institutions themselves or attempt a proper appraisal of course content. But initial training closely affects matters that are our concern, and we considered the comments made to be important.

Some of the teachers to whom we spoke criticised aspects of the initial training they had received. They said that insufficient attention was given to topics such as behaviour management of difficult and aggressive pupils and to the understanding of problems such as attention deficit disorder.

It was thought that an insufficient number of the lecturing staff in the teacher education institutions (TEIs) had had recent experience of working in a school, and that they were therefore sometimes out of touch with recent developments and the problems and requirements of the job as it is now.

On the other hand, periods of placement were seen as extremely valuable, especially where these were well organised and where the trainee was given appropriate help and guidance from experienced staff in the schools.

Recommendations That the Executive commissions a review of the design of initial training courses, specifically: u that more attention should be given in courses to issues of pupil management, to putting the theories of teaching and learning into practice and to other new needs such as the impact of new technologies and the teaching of modern languages in primary schools; u that TEI staff should be required to update their experience with periodic spells in a school teaching environment as appropriate; u and that schools chosen for teacher placements must have departments where good practice is the norm and where sufficient support and guidance can be given to trainees. The Executive, in conjunction with the other interested parties, should consider drawing up a list of accredited schools and departments for this purpose and allocating them extra funding.

u Consideration should be given to the idea of designating some schools as "training schools", working in close partnership with TEIs to deliver a high quality and structured introduction to the profession both during initial training and thereafter.'

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today