Concerns are regularly expressed about new teachers’ grasp of the basics of the job, such as the teaching of literacy and numeracy. Earlier this month, heads outlined deep reservations about the quality of probationer teachers (“Probationers ‘aren’t good enough’, heads warn”, 6 April), while a student teacher last year told MSPs that some of her peers lacked the numeracy skills needed to teach P7 maths.
Now, a government adviser and author of a seminal report on teacher education in Scotland is calling for more coherent support for new teachers early in their careers.
Graham Donaldson – who sits on the Scottish government’s International Council of Education Advisers and who is a former chief inspector of education – is calling for the entire concept of an initial phase of teacher education, covering the first two or three years of a teacher’s career, to be “revisited”.
He says that the one-year postgraduate qualification, the PGDE, and the one-year induction are “just the start” of building a teacher’s expertise.
Donaldson argues that better support for early career teachers would also help address concerns about competence in the teaching of literacy and numeracy.
He first made the recommendation that early career teachers should continue to benefit from mentoring beyond induction in his review of teacher education, Teaching Scotland’s Future (TSF), which was published in 2011. However, while the Scottish government accepted his recommendations, he says the TSF agenda is “in need of some reinvigoration”. Donaldson adds that the teacher-recruitment crisis has led to the focus on properly preparing teachers for a 40- or 50-year career going “off the boil”.
Greg Dempster, general secretary of primary school leaders’ organisation AHDS, has previously said that the main areas of concern for primary heads were the teaching of literacy and numeracy, as well as classroom management. And research reported in Tes Scotland earlier this year showed that a large minority of new primary teachers could not say that they were confident in their ability to teach key areas of the curriculum, such as maths, reading and writing.
Donaldson – speaking exclusively to Tes Scotland – also calls for a duty to mentor students and probationers to be written into teachers’ terms and conditions, and to become part of the headteachers’ charter. The government wants the role and responsibilities of headteachers to be stated in the charter, according to plans set out in a consultation that closed at the end of January.
Donaldson says: “The situation that applied when I was looking at TSF was we had this staccato process of initial teacher education, then induction and then support from whatever in-service training a new teacher happened to get because of where they happened to be.
“The recommendation was that we needed to see that as a more coherent phase in building a new teacher, and ensure they developed the expertise they would need in that early phase of their career.
“My impression is that that has gone off the boil due to pressure to get teachers in, but we should still ensure that when we do bring people in, they are as well prepared as they can be for a 40- or 50-year career.”
The concerns about the teaching of literacy and numeracy reinforce the need for an early phase, he says, adding: “In particular, if you take the PGDE, that’s just the start in terms of building somebody’s expertise.”
Donaldson adds that mentoring new teachers should be part and parcel of the job of teaching. He continues: “A responsible profession has to regenerate itself. A duty to grow the profession should be built into the headteachers’ charter and teachers’ terms and conditions. It should be unacceptable not to be contributing to the future of the profession. It should be a normal expectation and part of what it means to be a teacher.”
Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, says it has always supported the notion of experienced teachers supporting students and probationers. However, it is opposed to the idea of any additional responsibility being placed on teachers’ shoulders without the provision of additional resources.
EIS assistant secretary Andrea Bradley says: “The banks have already burst in terms of what teachers can be asked to do in the 35-hour week. If we are going to look to formally add anything more to teachers’ terms and conditions, we have to ensure the human resources are in place to realise the ambitions of such a duty.”
A Scottish government spokeswoman says the government’s plan for monitoring the performance of the education system, the National Improvement Framework, recognises that teacher professionalism is “a key driver in achieving excellence and equity in education”. The spokeswoman adds that the government is “strongly committed” to the importance of early career development and currently invests £37 million to support the Teacher Induction Scheme, which guarantees new teachers a job for one year to serve their probation.
She continues: “Our ambitious reform agenda will ensure that teaching remains an attractive career and we are committed to the development of a new career structure for teachers, and to doing this in partnership with the profession and local government.”