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A whale that gave birth to a mouse

The review of ITE has ignored the evidence that radical change is needed now, says Douglas Weir

At last, the second stage review of initial teacher education (ITE) has been published. But what a disappointment. It is short; fewer than 4,000 words of text, which is about the length of a single student teacher assignment.

It is fundamentally complacent. To say that "our traditional models of teacher education serve us well" flies in the face of the international evidence.

Scotland has one of the highest proportions of teachers entering the profession by the "quick fix" one-year route. A small percentage only undertake a four-year programme in which education as a discipline in its own right, and not just pedagogic and curricular mastery, is fully integrated in the degree.

The review presents evidence in some areas, such as access to ITE, where agreement for change already exists. But when evidence is presented, as in an HMIE report, which is critical of the group's central contention that no change is required to the core structure of ITE, the evidence is dismissed.

It contains more bureaucratic than creative ideas, giving more attention to mechanisms for partnership between local authorities and universities than to a fundamental re-examination of the shape, balance and length of teacher education programmes. And, it has no order of priorities.

A large number of recommendations are made without these being put in any logical order or timeframe by which we could best get from the ITE of today to the ITE of the 21st century.

The review group seems content that we continue to train our teachers, in the occupational sense, rather than give them genuine access, in the vocational sense, to the discipline called "education". Almost three-quarters of those who enter teaching in Scotland today do so on the basis of 18 weeks of school experience and 18 weeks of university study, half of the latter being subject knowledge and only the remainder being professional education.

If the review group's report is so deficient and so long overdue, has the minister, in his response, done any better? In particular, has Peter Peacock done any better in terms of the three challenges I set here a few weeks ago (TESS, March 18, 2005) to implement programmes for creating primary to secondary "transition teachers", to build a network of "training schools" and to make the university faculties of education havens of clinical enquiry and evidence-based practice?

Most unusually, the minister's response to the review group is longer than the review group's own report. Also, most unusually, it demonstrates a higher level of critical analysis than the review group, which laboured so long to produce so little.

It is the minister who applauds the innovative concepts behind the Hunter Foundation's "Scottish Teachers for a New Era" programme at Aberdeen University, while the review group's notion of innovative practice has more to do with structures than concepts. But can he afford to wait another five or six years for this programme to prove its worth before setting other ITE programmes, particularly for secondary teachers, down the same track?

It is the minister who gives the clearest acknowledgement that we now have a continuum of teacher learning from ITE into induction and on to continuing professional development, and who goes further than the review group in asking for a "better structure of professional learning and development". But why is he seeking a review of the structure of standards by which teachers gain full registration with the General Teaching Council for Scotland rather than announcing that the Scottish Executive and the GTCS will take steps to merge the one-year programme (and the final year BEd) with the induction year to make a single two-year programme to a single set of standards?

It is the minister who asks for formal mentoring to be recognised as a role for some teachers, both in support of student teachers and of probationers.

His proposal that these mentors work "in individual schools or clusters of schools" is a welcome first step towards the creation of training schools.

It is the minister who asks for a service level agreement from universities to local authorities. From teacher supply and teacher quality perspectives, such agreements make sense, but they will be difficult to deliver across the seven autonomous universities that provide teacher education. This proposal, and many others affecting the university sector, would be much easier to deliver if the minister chose to set up a virtual "National Teacher Education Institution".

This last proposal is, however, the first of a number of areas where the minister disappoints. Perhaps because of my job in a university, I am concerned at the extent by which he intends diminishing the autonomous roles of universities so as to better serve the needs of local authorities and meet his teacher supply targets. While he may be frustrated by the slow pace of change in many universities, his emphasis on a more dominant role for teachers and schools can lead to a dangerous level of conformity and compliance among new teachers, and sits badly with his encouragement for more "research-based practice".

A second is his willingness to give the same stakeholders who produced the review group report yet more time to put the ITE house in order, when there is ample evidence about some critical areas of ITE programmes where he could show leadership and take action now.

A third, and most disappointing of all, is his attitude towards primary-secondary transition teachers where he says: "The (review) group opted not to comment on the issue of primary-secondary transition on the grounds that a number of pilot projects are under way. I await with interest the evaluation of these projects." Mr Peacock has surely missed the most glaring opportunity to act now and help align teacher education with the implementation of A Curriculum for Excellence.

I understand the difficulties which the review group posed for the minister. I understand the minister's desire to avoid action by the Executive that smacks of imposition and his preference for maintaining a consensus for change among key stakeholders. But I am confident that the evidence for real change in the shape and length of teacher preparation already exists. I am therefore sad that Mr Peacock did not use that evidence to announce major changes starting from this autumn and implemented by 2007, rather than the more tentative programme and lengthy timescale that he has proposed.

Douglas Weir is a professor in the faculty of education at Strathclyde University.

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