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Threat of new tests for teachers

THE education ministers have signalled once again in the past week that continuous professional development is now at the top of their agenda. Proposals are expected shortly in the form of a consultative paper, but the current dispute between the unions and management has made the timing a sensitive issue.

Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister, went further than ever last week, suggesting teachers may face tests to ensure they keep their skills and expertise up to speed.

In an oblique response to a question on whether he favoured such tests, Mr Galbraith told a conference in Edinburgh: "I look into the future and do not think it is impossible at all."

The message was reinforced by Douglas Osler, the head of the Inspectorate, who said that continuous professional development (CPD) should be "an entitlement and a requirement" for teachers.

He added: "The best guarantee for the future of a world class education system is a restless professionalism that is never fully satisfied with itself or its achievements."

The consultative paper will indicate that some of the building blocks are already in place: standards of competence for probationers are being drawn up by the General Teaching Council and the Scottish Qualification for Headship has been introduced. The next step is expected to be a new standard for the "expert teacher".

Ministers are unlikely to opt for testing, at least in the short term. They have already ruled out as "a step too far" any suggestion of an active staff development register as a condition of maintaining full registration with the GTC.

Mr Galbraith said: "I am amazed at how little professional development there is, how little cross-fertilisation between authorities and schools, how little updating of developments in subjects. I attach particular priority to continuous professional development and we will soon set out a clear strategy for delivering it."

As a former neurosurgeon, he was "surprised" after he asked physics teachers when they were last on a course in their subject and was told none had taken one, while French teachers said they did not read French journals.

Peter Peacock, the Deputy Minister, believes professionalism must be enhanced, and has suggested more staff development would end classroom isolation. "I have a horrible feeling that teachers are burning the midnight oil and busily reinventing the wheel all over Scotland," Mr Peacock said.

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