'Your review was like a breath of fresh air'

21st January 2011 at 00:00

Envious glances are being cast at the Donaldson review of teacher education from south of the border.

Many of the most influential figures in Scottish education met in Edinburgh this week to chew over its recommendations, and to hear views from outwith Scotland.

"Reading your review was like a breath of fresh air," said Christopher Day, emeritus professor of education at Nottingham University, who compared it to what he saw as retrograde reforms by Westminster Education Secretary Michael Gove.

"I think it's an absolutely seminal report that people will be quoting for years," said Rachel Jones, head of education for Steljes, a company that provides video technology to assess teachers' practice. The former London secondary headteacher believed it would have an impact in England, Europe and beyond.

Anthony Finn, chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, held up Scotland's increasing emphasis on professionalism against trends south of the border, summed up by schools minister Nick Gibb last year: he reportedly questioned the value of postgraduate certificates of education from "rubbish" universities, saying he would rather have unqualified graduates from Oxford or Cambridge teaching in schools.

English delegates had been impressed by the Donaldson review's contrasting focus on teacher professionalism.

The review did, however, put an "elephant in the room", Professor Day said. He wondered whether there was "really the capacity for the kind of ambitious changes that are now on the agenda".

Mr Donaldson himself opened the event, organised by Holyrood Events, by reiterating that high-quality teachers and leadership were paramount.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh University's Pamela Munn talked up subject specialism, an area she believes has been "somewhat neglected".

"We need experts to navigate sources and information, and judge their trustworthiness," said the emeritus professor of education, highlighting the dangers of "dubious information" on Wikipedia.

Interdisciplinary work could not be done without teachers who had a mastery of their disciplines. Even primary teachers should have at least one subject specialism beyond literacy and numeracy, she added.

Professor Munn warned against technology for technology's sake in classrooms: "Using new technology to do something you could do just as easily by talking does not seem to be very sensible."

The failure of other speakers to mention early-years education perturbed Aline-Wendy Dunlop, Strathclyde University emeritus professor of education. She regretted that pre-school teachers were no longer, as in the past, the most highly-trained in Scotland. She also questioned the logic in preventing teachers from entering the chartered teacher programme until they were six years into their careers, which created a "hiatus in their learning".

In a panel debate, Scottish Government director of learning Colin MacLean appeared to suggest that ring-fencing of CPD could be reintroduced, despite the concordat that leaves spending in the hands of local authorities.

That was welcomed by Educational Institute of Scotland president Kay Barnett, who said ring-fencing of CPD budgets was "crucial".

Mr MacLean was keen to clarify: "I'm not suggesting that there be a return to ring-fencing. But there is a debate to be had."

National continuing professional development officer Margaret Alcorn argued that the format of conferences such as this week's was in need of review: a procession of speakers, without Twitter "hashtags" or opportunities for discussion, was "not an effective way to learn".


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