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Teaching Scotland's Future - Report of a review of teacher education in Scotland

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Chapter 1: Overview

Over the last 50 years, school education has become one of the most important policy areas for governments across the world. Human capital in the form of a highly educated population is now accepted as a key determinant of economic success. This has led countries to search for interventions which will lead to continuous improvement and to instigate major programmes of transformational change. Evidence of relative performance internationally has become a key driver of policy. That evidence suggests, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the foundations of successful education lie in the quality of teachers and their leadership. High quality people achieve high quality outcomes for children.

It is in this context that I have undertaken this Review. Taken as a whole, the evidence gathered in the course of the Review highlights five major ideas which are almost axiomatic and which underpin its recommendations.

  • The two most important and achievable ways in which school education can realise the high aspirations Scotland has for its young people are through supporting and strengthening, firstly, the quality of teaching, and secondly, the quality of leadership.
  • Teaching should be recognised as both complex and challenging, requiring the highest standards of professional competence and commitment.
  • Leadership is based on fundamental values and habits of mind which must be acquired and fostered from entry into the teaching profession.
  • The imperatives which gave rise to Curriculum for Excellence still remain powerful and the future well being of Scotland is dependent in large measure on its potential being realised. That has profound and, as yet, not fully addressed implications for the teaching profession and its leadership.
  • Career-long teacher education, which is currently too fragmented and often haphazard, should be at the heart of this process, with implications for its philosophy, quality, coherence, efficiency and impact.

The established strength of the teaching profession in Scotland, together with the steps taken by successive governments to improve it further, have created a secure platform upon which to build. The breadth of commitment across Scottish education to the importance of professional development is impressive. Having an all-graduate profession, bolstered by the existence of a framework of standards set by the General Teaching Council for Scotland ( GTCS), structured induction for newly qualified teachers, the valuable contributions to professional learning made by national organisations, local authorities, teacher and headteacher associations, and contractual provision for teachers to engage directly in the education of new colleagues and to pursue their own continuing professional development all place Scotland in a strong position when compared with other countries internationally. Recent developments in initial teacher education and in leadership development together with the developing culture of self evaluation in Scottish schools provide further points of growth. One main requirement, therefore, is to make the most of what we already have.

The immediate context for the Review is Curriculum for Excellence with the opportunities it offers and the challenges it poses for teachers, schools and the wider education system. Curriculum for Excellence is much more than a reform of curriculum and assessment. It is predicated on a model of sustained change which sees schools and teachers as co-creators of the curriculum. In that respect it is different from previous reforms which have worked more directly through the central development of guidance and resources. It is therefore critically dependent on the quality of leadership at all levels and on the ability and the willingness of teachers to respond to the opportunities it offers. The Teachers' Agreement in 2001 1 laid the foundations for this kind of twenty-first century professionalism but the impact of that agreement on children's learning has yet to be fully realised.

As the Literature Review 2 which was undertaken as part of this Review outlines, the last 30 years have been dominated internationally by a search for increased 'effectiveness' in the work of schools and of teachers. This approach has placed a strong emphasis on governance arrangements, technical accomplishment, management processes, and measured and measurable outcomes as part of wider assumptions about the relationship between such measures and the contribution of education to economic growth. Within that environment, there have been moves to stress the importance of practical competence in teacher education.

However, the most successful education systems do more than seek to attain particular standards of competence and to achieve change through prescription. They invest in developing their teachers as reflective, accomplished and enquiring professionals who have the capacity to engage fully with the complexities of education and to be key actors in shaping and leading educational change.

This view implies that teacher education must build throughout a career and go well beyond recreating the best of past or even current practice. It must help to develop a teaching profession which, like other major professions, is not driven largely by external forces of change but which sees its members as prime agents in that change process. Within that culture, leadership qualities and skills are developed and practised throughout.

The Review affirms this more proactive view of teacher education, and the implications for all stages are very significant. It requires a more integrated relationship between theory and practice, between the academic and the practitioner, between the provider of teacher education and the school. The capacity of the teacher should be built not just through extensive 'teaching practice' but through reflecting on and learning from the experience of supporting children's learning with all the complexities which characterise twenty-first century childhood. The 'craft' components of teaching must be based upon and informed by fresh insights into how best to meet the increasingly fast pace of change in the world which our children inhabit. Simply advocating more time in the classroom as a means of preparing teachers for their role is therefore not the answer to creating better teachers. The nature and quality of that practical experience must be carefully planned and evaluated and used to develop understanding of how learning can best be promoted in sometimes very complex and challenging circumstances.

There is an urgent need to challenge the narrow interpretations of the teacher's role which have created unhelpful philosophical and structural divides, and have led to sharp separations of function amongst teachers, teacher educators and researchers. There is currently an over-emphasis on preparation for the first post and less focus upon the potential of the initial and early period of a teacher's career to develop the values, skills and understandings which will provide the basis of career-long growth and in so doing create a broader and deeper leadership pool. The Review's recommendations aim to entrench the interconnections between schools, universities and other agencies, and between theory and practice. Teachers should see themselves as educators not just of the young people in their charge but of their colleagues locally, nationally and internationally. The implications of this 'extended professionalism' are taken forward throughout the report in relation to a teacher's developing career.

The Review's recommendations are designed to ensure that career-long teacher education achieves the kind of continuous quality improvement which underpins Curriculum for Excellence by addressing the need to:

  • agree the fundamental qualities and skills needed for twenty-first century teaching and leadership;
  • achieve greater coherence between the various components of lifelong career learning;
  • build stronger partnerships;

The foundations of a high quality teaching profession lie in the nature of the people recruited to become teachers. Every effort must be made to attract, select and retain individuals with the qualities which are essential in a twenty-first century teacher and potential school leader.

Selection processes must relate to these qualities, and should be competitive. In recent years, Scotland has not suffered the same supply problems as many other countries and is in a strong position to select the most able and promising students. Current selection processes vary considerably and entry requirements tend to rise and fall with supply pressures. We need to broaden the base of selection to involve local authorities and schools as more equal partners and to include more consistent attention to interpersonal skills. Equally, the difficulties with literacy and numeracy displayed by some newly qualified teachers need to be addressed at entry and during the course.

Although there are currently unacceptably high numbers of newly qualified teachers who cannot find posts in teaching, the existing workforce planning model is in itself quite systematic. However, lead times of up to six years between acceptance onto courses and attaining full registration allow unforeseen developments to upset planning assumptions. A degree of error is also inevitable given the current separation in the decision-making processes governing the recruitment, funding and employment of teachers. The Review recommends improvements in information flow which would help to increase the reliability of planning. There is also a need to improve labour market intelligence for students as they move through their courses in order that they can make timely and informed decisions about the likelihood of employment when they qualify. In addition, when employment prospects in teaching are limited, this report's proposals about the nature of undergraduate degrees should improve the currency of those degrees beyond teaching.

Wider questions exist about access to teaching more generally. There are two main routes into teaching in Scotland: four-year undergraduate degrees, normally BEd, or a one-year postgraduate diploma ( PGDE). In contrast to England and some other countries where there have been significant problems with teacher recruitment, Scotland has not seen the need for employment-based, school-based or assessment-only routes. Alternative routes which meet the requirements of GTCS could, however, be helpful as a means of increasing diversity and broadening the base of the profession by encouraging even more part-time opportunities and mid-career recruitment. The improvements to existing undergraduate and postgraduate routes which I am proposing should in themselves bring about significant improvements in quality but employment-based opportunities which have sufficient academic rigour are worthy of further investigation.

The period of initial teacher education, induction and the early years of employment lay the foundations of a teaching force which will still be working well into the second half of the century. This vital early phase in the development of new teachers must be relevant, coherent and of high quality. Our prospective teachers deserve and are capable of more than we currently ask of them.

Initial teacher education has already undergone significant change over the decade or so following the Sutherland Report 3. Mergers between the former colleges of education and universities were designed to help to raise the status of the profession and to allow future teachers to benefit from the wider academic and research culture of a university. Those aims have at best only been partially achieved and there remains considerable scope to improve the synergies between dedicated teacher education schools and the wider university. Undergraduate student teachers should engage with staff and their peers in other faculties much more directly as part of their general intellectual and social development. In particular, opportunities should be created for joint study with colleagues in cognate professions such as social work. The values and intellectual challenges which underpin academic study should extend their own scholarship and take them beyond any inclination, however understandable, to want narrow training of immediate and direct relevance to life in the classroom. In achieving this goal, universities will need to build on existing experience with concurrent study to create pathways which allow study of subjects outwith education.

While much of the evidence given to the Review pointed to good experiences for students, undergraduate and postgraduate, there were many examples of uneven and inconsistent expectations and practices. Looking across Scotland, the nature of any student's experience is subject to variations stemming from the university they attend, the staff they engage with, the schools they are allocated to, and the teachers they work with in those schools. Uniformity is neither necessary nor desirable but the process of teacher education should provide a better guarantee of quality than exists at present. A number of the Review's recommendations are designed to help achieve greater consistency and higher quality overall. For example, the role of the GTCS in approving courses should be extended to ensure that the actual experience of the student is of a high quality. Universities should meet clear criteria for teacher education which go beyond the content of the courses themselves. Self-evaluation, inspection and direct feedback from students should all become stronger features of the approval process and of ongoing evaluation and improvement. Partnership with local authorities and schools should be strengthened to create relationships which are collaborative rather than complementary.

A recurrent theme over the years has been the difficulty in striking the right balance and connections between university experience and school experience in both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Because these elements have tended to be seen as separate but complementary aspects of the course the precise nature of the relationship has been unclear. At its most extreme, the school can feel that it is helping the university out rather than being a full partner in a joint endeavour. There is now a need to create a new kind of collaborative partnership within which all aspects of the student's development are a shared responsibility and respective roles and responsibilities are clear. The implications of such an approach are significant but the changes are essential. Selection for entry to teacher education should be carried out jointly. The school experience should be designed along with the university experience to allow reflection on practice and its interpretation in ways which bring theoretical and research perspectives to bear in relation to actual experience. Information and communications technologies ( ICT) should be used much more widely to enable remote access to classrooms and to allow students and their teachers to observe and analyse different learning approaches and environments. Theory should be developed through practice with a particular focus on those aspects which are particularly significant, challenging or problematic. Thus, for example, the fundamentals of the acquisition of literacy and numeracy, the impact of home background and other environmental factors on learning, the nature of barriers to learning such as dyslexia or forms of autism, behaviour management, and wider theories of learning should be explored at least in part as a direct reflection on the actual school experience of students. All newly qualified teachers should have a sound understanding of these aspects together with the capacity to deal with them in practice. Moves which the universities have already taken in this direction need to be strengthened further.

Schools should nominate themselves to be selected to participate in teacher education on the basis of the quality of the experience they will provide. Current experiments involving a more intensive relationship between a university and identified schools, analogous to teaching hospitals, should be pursued as possible models of practice more generally. Joint appointments between schools and universities, for example, would provide a very tangible form of partnership as a practical expression of the theory/practice relationship. The creation of a network of such 'hub school' partnerships across all authorities and also involving national agencies would enable much more direct engagement of university staff in school practice, with research as an integral part of this strengthened partnership rather than as something which sits apart.

Assessment of students while in schools has also given rise to concern, particularly that high-stakes assessments might be unduly affected by personalities or minor incidents in lessons. Given the kind of collaborative relationship described earlier, there is scope to give prime responsibility to school staff to make the assessments, with appropriate selection, training and support, and with appeal mechanisms as a backstop.

One of the greatest areas of difficulty, particularly in postgraduate courses, is striking the right balance between breadth and depth in what is covered in the course, sometimes referred to as the 'quart into pint pot' problem. There is clear evidence of courses trying but failing to keep pace with an ever-expanding set of expectations of what should be included, particularly in primary education. Concerns abound about students' depth of understanding of both what they are teaching and about how to employ teaching approaches which meet the needs of their pupils and of the particular subject matter. Resolution of this difficulty requires all available time to be devoted to relevant tasks and study, together with absolute clarity about priorities for the initial and subsequent stages of a teacher's education, and about who does what and when.

The Review makes some important recommendations in relation to initial teacher education. Through them I have sought to: clarify the relationship between the school and the university; strengthen undergraduate provision through greater engagement with staff and courses in the wider university; make much greater use of blends of different kinds of high quality learning approaches; clarify priorities for the initial stages of teacher education and those which may require longer timescales; make more effective use of ICT; extend available time by identifying opportunities for study beyond the conventional university year; and achieve much better integration and progression between initial teacher education and the period of induction during probation.

The induction scheme which followed the Teachers' Agreement is rightly much admired internationally and was praised as 'world-class' in the 2007 OECD country review of Scotland 4. The guarantee of a paid place on the scheme ended the fractured probation arrangements which had hitherto characterised the experience of many newly qualified teachers. In providing protected non-contact time and mentoring, the scheme also reflected acknowledged best practice internationally. Specific issues, including the role and training of mentors and some duplication with pre-service courses do, however, need to be addressed. I am proposing that the induction year should become an integral part of an extended experience leading to the Standard for Full Registration ( SFR). Taking this more coherent approach will allow better provision to be made for the range of requirements for the SFR including a reinforcement of the reflective role and extension of knowledge and technical skills through both theory and practice.

In many ways, continuing professional development ( CPD) presents the biggest challenge for teacher education. It should be seen in the same light as, and as progressing from, learning during the pre-service and induction periods: that is, as the basis for continuing to build the teacher as a growing professional who is able to make increasingly powerful contributions to students' learning and to the wider work of the school, and who is equipped to work with colleagues in other services to achieve these ends.

Scotland has some strong features of CPD upon which to build. A commitment to the importance of CPD can be seen in the contractual arrangements put in place following the McCrone Report 5 as well as the introduction of chartered teachers and a number of leadership developments including the Scottish Qualification for Headship ( SQH). Understanding has grown that external courses should form only a small part of an overall CPD strategy and we have seen an increase in the range of approaches to CPD, including more networking amongst teachers. Moves towards distributive leadership have seen more teachers taking initiatives and leading developments within a more collegiate and professional culture. ICT, although not yet realising its potential, is making an increasing contribution as a source of ideas and of networking.

Although there has been an improving picture over the last decade, much current provision is more haphazard than the formal arrangements and these encouraging developments might suggest.

The somewhat anxious response of many teachers to Curriculum for Excellence (Glasgow University 2009 6), particularly in the secondary sector, at least in part reflects a desire for more direct support and training than the Curriculum for Excellence philosophy embodies. Professional review and development ( PRD) is at best patchy in its impact and is not fulfilling its intentions. There remains a need to set clear expectations about professional growth allied to a more consistently effective system of PRD. I am therefore recommending that GTCS develop a new 'Standard for Active Registration' which can be used to signal the kind of enhanced professionalism which should characterise an experienced professional and which could also form part of any system of reaccreditation. This Standard should help teachers to develop and improve in a planned way which reflects their growing expertise and their ability to work effectively in different contexts. In turn, the PRD process should provide a basis for identifying and responding to the kinds of experience, deployment and learning which an individual teacher may need in his or her situation.

We have increasing evidence about what forms of CPD are likely to make the biggest difference. The impact of one-off courses or events, however stimulating, tends to dissipate on return to the realities of the classroom. The most powerful forms of development are local, collegiate, relevant and sustained. Much of the recent approach to CPD in Scotland is already moving in this direction. There is a danger, however, that without some form of external stimulus, the horizons of groups of teachers may be too narrow, with a failure to look for ways forward which go beyond the repertoire of the individuals concerned. In looking at the ways to improve CPD, the main avenues for development lie in establishing communities of practice which operate locally but which, crucially, have access to the kind of external support and challenge which can be provided by dedicated local or national organisations or universities. The school-university partnership hubs which we have advocated for initial teacher education should continue to be developed to support learning for teachers at all stages in their careers. As with other areas of teacher education, we need a much more determined integration of ICT into this process, challenging assumptions that networking requires physical proximity. Blends of different forms of high quality learning, supported by dedicated resources, should become much more the norm in our approach to professional development. Encouraging early evidence of the Curriculum for Excellence support role being played by inspectors in secondary schools may offer an example of this approach in action.

Current CPD is too often characterised by mass 'force-feeding' linked to a particular development or cascading of guidance in contexts which do not allow real and sustained engagement on tasks which will lead to identifiable impact on learning. The proposals in this Review are designed to help create a more relevant, sustained and effective approach within a culture of 'pull' from teachers rather than 'push' from outside the classroom. Part of that culture should include greater encouragement for teachers to gain advanced qualifications. While I am not advocating a 'Masters profession' as a key policy driver, I do believe that advanced study is part of the enhanced professionalism which runs through the Review's recommendations, and that the quality and demands of CPD should reflect these expectations.

Preparation for formal leadership roles overlaps naturally with the planned, career-long professional development described above. Reflective and enquiring teachers who are engaged in continuous improvement are developing the attitudes and habits of mind which are integral to leadership.

Much of the preparation should take place through the range of roles and posts a teacher may experience, including the leading of developments, but we also need to establish more explicit pathways for those who aspire to formal leadership posts. In addition to structured opportunities, greater flexibility in, for example, movement between posts or engagement in short-term projects beyond the school should be encouraged.

The Review gathered an extensive body of evidence which forms the basis for this report. The methodology is described in Appendix 1. Taken as a whole, the findings of the Review point to a number of important developments.

  • Reinvigoration of professionalism, and a reconceptualisation of teacher education to reflect this.
  • More rigorous selection of students applying to enter teacher education allied to more relevant courses, more efficient use of time and more consistent assessment of students' progress.
  • A coherent approach to teacher education which is underpinned by a framework of standards which signpost the ways in which professional capacity should grow progressively across a career.
  • Development of leadership qualities from the start of a career.
  • A new concept of partnership among universities, local authorities, schools, national agencies and other services which embraces selection, course content and assessment, which sets practical experience in a much more reflective and inquiring culture and which makes optimum use of ICT for professional learning.
  • Much more efficient use of existing contracts and structures.
  • A culture within which policy, practice, theory and accountability are better aligned to serve the needs of learners.
  • A national and local infrastructure which sets, promotes and evaluates teacher education in ways which relate both current practice and innovation to their beneficial impact on learning.

The Report as a whole explores the issues covered in this overview in greater depth. It begins by looking at the qualities and skills needed for twenty-first century teaching and leadership. Thereafter it follows the career journey of a teacher, highlighting existing strengths in teacher education, looking at ways in which its relevance and impact might be improved and identifying recommendations to achieve these. Important implications arise from the Review's recommendations for everyone engaged in and with the teaching profession. I have not sought to spell out these implications in detail but in Chapter 7 I highlight areas to be addressed.