Teacher-training squeeze smacks of political PR

19th August 2016 at 01:00
Scotland needs more teachers, but government plans are more papering over the cracks than fully repairing the walls

Amid warnings of teacher shortages from across the country, TESS revealed last month that the government was seeking to condense the standard two-year teacher-training period – postgraduate diploma and induction year – into just one (“Trainee teachers could qualify in half the time”, 29 July).

The most obvious way to achieve this would be to combine the 18 weeks of school experience with the induction year, meaning successful completion of just three teaching placements could allow an individual to achieve the status of fully qualified teacher. This would set a disastrous precedent, piling pressure on students and robbing them of much-needed support.

That induction year – during which new teachers enjoy a restricted timetable (in theory), and necessary time and space to get up to speed with an extraordinarily challenging profession – is, in the vast majority of cases, vital. Replacing it with little more than a crash course in classroom mechanics would do a terrible disservice, not just to those entering the profession, but also to the young people whose education depends entirely upon the quality of teaching they receive.

We know from experience in England that rushing people into the classroom – no matter how well-intentioned it is – jeopardises quality and increases drop-out rates. This short-term, short-sighted solution may well exacerbate, rather than address, problems around recruitment and retention of teachers.

Rushing people into the classroom – no matter how well-intentioned it is – jeopardises quality and increases drop-out rates

It’s clear that this plan has nothing to do with improving Scottish education. Instead, it is a desperate attempt to plug holes created by the policies of a government that has been in power for nearly a decade. It’s about cutting costs, speeding up the production line and, most of all, controlling the political narrative around teacher numbers. Much like the introduction of standardised testing, this is about being seen to do something – anything – rather than spending the time and money required to do the right thing.

Might there be specific, individual cases where faster progress towards fully qualified status is appropriate? Perhaps, but seeking to condense initial teacher education and the induction period into a single, overloaded year is not an appropriate solution to the challenges faced by the Scottish education system.

If Scotland’s education secretary, John Swinney, is serious about tackling teacher shortages and the so-called attainment gap, then he should look instead at the obvious issues keeping talented individuals from becoming educators: real-terms pay cuts, unsustainable workloads, the flagrant dismissal of professional expertise and, perhaps worst of all, a culture – exacerbated by politicians – that views teaching as a low-status profession at the mercy of party politics and soundbite-driven PR.

Scotland does need more teachers – a lot more – but these proposals simply paper over the cracks rather than repair the walls. Teacher numbers would rise as the quality of teaching fell and, as ever, it would be Scotland’s children that suffered in the name of political expediency.

James McEnaney is a lecturer, journalist and stood for Rise in May’s Scottish elections

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