Teacher training ‘will look very different by 2018’

5th August 2016 at 01:00
General Teaching Council for Scotland will not allow courses to be ‘dumbed down’ to ease staff shortages

The way Scotland trains its teaching workforce will look “very different” in as little as a year’s time, with none of the options for change off the table, the head of the body charged with accrediting teacher-training courses has said.

In an exclusive interview, Ken Muir, the chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), told TES that Scotland’s curriculum had been overhauled to make it fit for the 21st century and now it is the turn of initial teacher education.

But it is vital that the GTCS does not allow teacher training to be “dumbed down” as it is diversified, he said.

“In two years’ time – maybe even in a year’s time – I think we will find a very different kind of landscape compared to what we have got because, while it is working well for most, it needs to be more fit for the future environment in which we are going to be operating,” said Mr Muir.

He stressed that all the proposals being discussed – including one that would allow recruits to complete the PGDE and probation year simultaneously – would “satisfy the council’s requirement for full registration”.

The PGDE takes 36 weeks, not a year, Mr Muir pointed out, and could therefore be compressed into “a shorter time frame”.

Mr Muir spoke to TESS shortly after the Scottish government wrote to university schools of education challenging them to come up with more routes into the profession to tackle the teacher shortage.

In a letter last month, education secretary John Swinney said that it was “essential” to consider alternative routes into teaching, including a fast-track option (see box, “The Swinney challenge”, below). The move has been criticised by unions who believe it could affect teacher quality and lower the status of the profession.

A flexible workforce

Mr Muir also used his interview to reveal that the GTCS was looking at introducing a “middle school” category of registration that would allow teachers to teach from P6 to S3.

This would give councils more flexibility and help to smooth the “disjointed” transition from primary to secondary which has plagued Scottish education for a generation, he added (see box, “Cash incentive ‘misused’”, below).

Mr Muir was keen to point out that change would not come at the expense of quality.

He said: “As registrar, that’s my principal consideration: that we don’t dumb down teaching as a profession because it is a complex task. It is very difficult, and we know that.

“We see the fall-off rates in some of the routes south of the border – notably Teach First – that are significantly poorer than the retention rates in Scotland.

“And that’s folk who have been thrown in the at the deep end who perhaps think they might be good teachers, but actually teaching proves to be more complex than they might have originally anticipated.”

The GTCS was previously sometimes seen as “the barrier” to change but the body has been at the vanguard of developing new approaches, Mr Muir added. The introduction of provisional conditional registration at the beginning of the year was on track to result in an additional 100 teachers from England being registered in Scotland, he said.

The body has also been instrumental in getting a programme that allows redundant oil workers to retrain as secondary science, technology, engineering and maths teachers off the ground.

The GTCS is due to hold discussions with the Scottish Funding Council about a top-up qualification for college lecturers interested in becoming teachers, too.

However, more needs to be done, he said. But he warned that it would take time and you could not “just flick a switch” and have a programme ready to use at university level.

“There is a bit of a lead-in time to all of this but we are very much on the case in terms of what needs to be done.”

Cash incentive misused

Probationers who opt for the preference waiver scheme – the scheme by which new primary teachers receive £6,000 and new secondary teachers receive £8,000 if they agree to work anywhere in Scotland – should only be deployed in the areas where shortages are most acute, said Ken Muir (pictured, right).

There were examples of probationers being handed the cash and working in the Central Belt in places such as North Lanarkshire, the chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland said.

“Generally, probationers who tick the preference waiver box end up in the more distant and rural regions of Scotland, but that’s not always the case. We should be restricting the preference waiver to the North East and the Highlands and Islands.”

Mr Muir also called for the different categories of teacher registration to be reconsidered, with the possible introduction of a “middle school” option.

He added: “The GTCS council here is already asking the question about whether the categories of registration we have are wholly fit for the environment of the future.

“We know that transition has been a big issue, we know that the broad general education (BGE) is a fixed part of the landscape, so we are already looking at whether we need something that better reflects the Curriculum for Excellence model.”

Teachers who could teach largely in primary, but could also work up to level 4 in secondary could provide a solution, he said.

The Swinney challenge

Education secretary John Swinney (pictured, below) has challenged universities to come up with new alternative routes into teaching, including a fast-track option that would combine the PGDE and probation years.

Among others, he wants to see routes developed that would:

address teacher shortages in secondary subjects such as STEM;

help teachers develop specialisms in primary;

help teachers complete training with a full Masters degree;

allow distance learning and work-based training;

encourage more black and ethnic minority graduates to enter teaching.

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