'You have either got it or you have not'

22nd October 2010 at 01:00
Some NQTs are `cracking', some are cracking under pressure and some no more than average, headteachers and deputes explain to Emma Seith

Ann Moore, headteacher, Preston Street Primary, Edinburgh

I more or less remember my first head saying to me: "Go in there, shut the door and get on with it." The new one-year probation period is far superior and the newly-qualified teachers we have had here have been very strong.

They have been really motivated, enthusiastic and committed, and I've managed to keep three of my probationers on. They have a much better theoretical basis for what they are doing and why they are doing it than we had when we were trained.

The Standard for Full Registration really is used well and they go through it meticulously in the course of the year. That makes them more aware of a whole range of issues that affect everyday teaching.

There was a bit of a problem for a while, when we were straddling the two systems - 5 to 14 and Curriculum for Excellence. Now there is still the question of where we are at with assessment. No one, whether NQTs or more mature teachers, is 100 per cent sure, but we have to start thinking how we ensure teachers coming out are clear about moderation and how you use it.

I'm concerned about the way expressive arts are taught during initial teacher education. Newly-qualified teachers seem to have little experience of teaching music, art and drama. All good drama teachers have been teaching in line with CfE for years. Drama enhances children's learning, it engages them and they find it more motivating and fun. With the new Creative Scotland organisation and the creativity portal, I'm hoping we will develop a more creative approach.

At the moment, I think training in the expressive arts is limited and has not been hugely experiential. You have to have the theory, but people also need the opportunity to get out there and give it a go, and come back and discuss how it went.

John Finlayson, headteacher, Portree Primary, Highland

I feel at times there are students getting through who shouldn't. The student comes with a profile from their university and occasionally it bears no resemblance to the person standing in front of me. On one occasion, I phoned up and found out there were concerns here and there. It would be better to have a more accurate summation in the first place. Sometimes you'll be told a student was borderline, but no headteacher wants a borderline teacher in their school.

In terms of the good students coming out, they have great enthusiasm and in recent years their knowledge of Curriculum for Excellence has been strong, sometimes stronger than teachers in school. Generally I find they are good at speaking to staff and their colleagues in school and looking for support and advice.

There are issues around behaviour management. I'm not sure how strong that is in their training. I also don't think they come out realising the complexity of the job they are going to be doing. They might find a child has a bruise they don't like the look of, another child has autism, one wets himself; they have to manage auxiliaries, they have got a composite class. I wonder if we are educating students to appreciate the huge gambit of expectations we have of them?

Enterprise and employability should be compulsory for all students. At the end of the day, why are we educating young people? It's so they can go out and get a job. I have had issues with probationers who have had to write school reports. Their literacy and numeracy skills should be well developed; if not, colleges should be addressing that.

There needs to be more ongoing communication between schools and colleges, including the first year of teaching. That would lead to a greater degree of responsibility from colleges.

Jane Arthur, headteacher, Pirie Park Primary, Glasgow

Consistency is the word that keeps coming to mind - the level of consistency in terms of the quality of students coming out is not great.

One particular area for development is ICT. I would be expecting them to come out with cutting-edge knowledge and to be showing us innovative ways of using ICT across the curriculum, but it's very patchy and seems to depend on the student's personal interest. In primary, we find we are showing them how to use the interactive smart boards.

One thing I'm constantly harping on about is: newly-qualified teachers need to have the basics of early education. They need to look in more detail during initial teacher education at how children develop literacy and numeracy skills. When I was a student, we got one lecture on phonics and I don't think that's changed, but you need to know what has come before in order to build on that.

What students are good at a lot of the time is self-evaluation. A real strength is their ability to analyse their teaching and learning critically and work out what they can do to improve.

They have a general knowledge of CfE but again, as with ICT, I would expect them to be coming out and leading the way, with great ideas and creativity, but it seems to come down to the individual.

Students know how to promote positive behaviour but they need to look more at how to manage other behaviours, and that should include children with additional support needs (ASN). The presumption of mainstreaming has meant a huge variety of children in the classroom.

In teaching, you learn a lot by doing, but ICT, ASN and literacy and numeracy must be embedded in initial teacher education.

Colin Sutherland, headteacher, North Berwick High, East Lothian

Today's students are very au fait with Curriculum for Excellence and they have a level of IT ability which is tremendous. This means they are in a strong position to help and support others, and newly-qualified teachers who have these skills in spades have helped move schools forward very well. They are part of the iPhone generation. They inhabit the same world as the kids - instant access to anything.

When a student is not up to the job, sometimes there is a conflict between what the school feels and what the training institution feels. We are at the sharp end, the front line. A headteacher is not doing a student or pupils any favours by letting people into teaching who are not going to make it.

We once had a newly-qualified teacher who was utterly unsuited to teaching. It was unbelievable that this person was passed as a student. You should try to support as much as you can but, in the end, you've either got it or you've not. I do think you know when someone has that teacherly presence, that magnetism, that oomph.

We need to look at that interface between student and NQT and ask ourselves: do we let too many through? However, the overwhelming majority do well.

We have been blessed with some cracking NQTs here in recent years. The sadness is they are not getting jobs. In the medium term prospects look better; we know a lot of teachers are going to retire. But in the short term the situation is dire.

Aileen Hollywood, depute head, Kilmarnock Academy, East Ayrshire

The universities all work on different timetables, which causes a major headache for schools. The postgrad students more or less come out on placement at the same time but the BEd students come at different times, which makes admin complicated. It's a problem; it's something that could be tidied up a wee bit.

The main concern we have is about student quality and student support. In the practical subjects, the skills the students have in some cases are poor, and in others, pretty average. We have had home economics students in the past whose practical skills were poorer than some of our S3 pupils.

They are going into PGDE programmes with degrees in related subjects, like consumer studies or health studies or dietetics, but they don't have the practical skills working with fabric or food. One home economics teacher had a student who did not know what a roux was.

Another area where we have had problems is art. We have had a number of students and probationers who maybe completed graphic design or digital art degrees but have poor knowledge of world-renowned artists and poor fine art skills. One said to our principal teacher that the ability to draw was over-rated.

It used to be universities carried out two visits per placement; now it's down to one. During that one visit the person could have a very good lesson and get a good report back from the university, because they might be doing something in their field of expertise. That makes life difficult for us in schools seeing them every day and realising they don't have the skills required to do the daily work of an art department.

There is a feeling among the PTs of practical subjects that the universities are just taking anyone.

Morag Patterson, depute head, Queen Anne High, Fife

The people coming through teacher training today are of a very high standard, because they usually have to go through a tough selection process. We are getting more mature students than we used to, coming to teaching on the back of other career experience.

Newly-qualified teachers are more ready to look critically at their own practice. They reflect, evaluate and try to improve their own performance. They don't feel too precious about their work and realise that nobody teaches a perfect lesson all the time.

The universities have been trying to become more uniform in recent years, but they still all have slightly different ways of reporting on and assessing their students. That makes having students more time-consuming and teachers are less keen.

We are also seeing fewer visiting lecturers coming out, which puts more pressure on PTs and class teachers. I wonder if we couldn't use Glow or modern technology to keep communication going, so we know we are in line with their standard?

Having students in schools is great professional development for everybody. They are the people who are going to be delivering Curriculum for Excellence and they are probably more in tune with it. They keep staff refreshed, introducing new methodologies and resources.

Probation is much more rigorous than it used to be. You are in training and on trial, and if you don't produce the goods in a classroom, you won't progress.

If a school has concerns, there are routes to flag those up. It is a lot of paperwork but we have a responsibility not to rubber-stamp future teachers who might have weaknesses.

Also, you have got to look at it from the student's point of view. You can't have schools saying "you are no good at teaching" without telling them why.

However, there are some teachers in post just now who really would not get through the current induction year.

  • Original headline: `You try to be supportive, but you have either got it or you have not'

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