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

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Chapter 2: Twenty-first century teachers and leaders

This chapter explores what kinds of teacher Scotland needs for the future, taking account of the views of respondents and findings from international research on teaching and educational leadership, and considers the implications of the changing environment in which our teachers will be serving. It then begins to consider how teacher education can contribute to building a teaching profession which will have the capacity, qualities and skills which are most likely to lead to the best educational experience for our young people.

There is a very extensive literature on this subject, spanning several different perspectives. What comes through consistently, however, is that the expectations upon teachers have grown considerably in recent years and that the job has become increasingly complex and demanding.

Qualities and skills of twenty-first century teachers: respondents' views

We asked respondents to the Review to set out their perceptions of what should characterise a good teacher now and in the future. The analysis of that evidence7highlighted a number of key features of good teachers. They should:

  • be reflective, with critical and creative thinking skills;
  • be committed to teaching as a vocation;
  • be committed to the development and learning of each child;
  • work in a range of partnerships to support the learning and development of each young person;
  • have a passion for learning and deep understanding of and enthusiasm for their subject;
  • have discernment to be able to put relevant theory into practice;
  • share ideas and network with colleagues; and
  • be keen to participate in their own personal learning and development.

Direct discussions broadly supported that set of characteristics. Parent groups also raised the need for a review of entry requirements and further development of coaching, mentoring, collaborative and group work skills. Young people, both within Scotland and internationally, placed high priority upon well-developed interpersonal skills. In a survey undertaken by Young Scot, for example, being enthusiastic and having a sense of humour rated highly. Young people also valued teachers' ability to enable them to learn independently. In the Young Scot8survey, knowing a lot about a subject and being good at explaining things were also seen as important.

Evidence gathered from students and practitioners showed that they often perceived the ability to manage a class and to impart subject knowledge successfully as being paramount. This meant that they often assumed that 'time in the classroom' is the most useful element in teacher education: they saw teaching implicitly and often explicitly as a technical skill which is best acquired by being 'apprenticed' to experienced teachers. Being effective in the classroom and learning from able and experienced colleagues are both essential. However, overwhelmingly, the submissions to the Review would support a broader view of the teacher's role. That view is captured in the words of one consultee 9:

' A professional teacher will work from a strong knowledge base informed by an understanding of current pedagogical research. They will be committed to a learner-centred approach and to enabling all learners to achieve their full potential. They will work within an ethical framework. They will receive good support and supervision. They will be encouraged to review and reflect on their practice and to engage in CPD. They will be committed to learning as a lifelong process.'

Qualities and skills of twenty-first century teachers: wider evidence

The most successful education systems invest in developing their teachers as reflective, accomplished and enquiring professionals who are able, not simply to teach successfully in relation to current external expectations, but who have the capacity to engage fully with the complexities of education and to be key actors in shaping and leading educational change. The International Alliance of Leading Educational Institutes published a report in 2008 10 which drew together current evidence about teacher education and highlighted the need for a 'redefined professionalism' of teaching. It said:

' There is an urgent need to recognize (sic) teachers' work as complex and demanding, and improvement in teacher quality requires a reconceptualisation of how we prepare a new generation of teachers… It is manifested in qualities that require teachers to value and sustain the intellect, to work collaboratively with other stakeholders in education, to be responsible and accountable and to be committed to lifelong learning and reflexivity.'

The Teachers' Agreement and the philosophy of Curriculum for Excellence embrace this much wider concept of teacher professionalism whose successful realisation depends on the ability of teachers to respond in this way. This implies that teachers must be able to go well beyond recreating the best of current or past practice. It implies 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.

The OECD report 'Teachers Matter' 11 concluded that:

' all countries are seeking to improve their schools and to respond better to higher social and economic expectations. As the most significant resource in schools, teachers are central to school improvement efforts. Improving the efficiency and equity of schooling depends, in large measure, on ensuring that competent people want to work as teachers, that their teaching is of a high quality, and that all students have access to high quality teaching'.

The Literature Review which was commissioned for this Review suggests '…four influential "paradigms" of teacher professionalism: the effective teacher, the reflective teacher, the enquiring teacher and the transformative teacher… Each has a contribution to make in the contemporary context of A Teaching Profession for the Twenty First Century and Curriculum for Excellence'. This spectrum of professionalism was captured in 1974 by Eric Hoyle where he suggested that '…models of teaching existed at some points on a spectrum between "restricted" and "extended" versions of teacher professionalism… the effective teacher rests at the "restricted" end of the spectrum… with the other three models being at various points towards the "extended" end of the spectrum". In other words, a teacher at the 'extended' end of the spectrum is the kind of professional who is highly proficient in the classroom and who is also reflective and enquiring not only about teaching and learning, but also about those wider issues which set the context for what should be taught and why. In addition, engaging from the start of a career with these wider issues is an excellent preparation for future leadership roles. This concept of professionalism takes each individual teacher's responsibility beyond the individual classroom outwards into the school, to teacher education and the profession as a whole.

It is clear from the research evidence about teaching and the common threads in the views expressed to the Review that much of the work of teachers and teacher educators in Scotland already exhibits these features, but the future success of Scottish education depends on redefining and strengthening this 'extended professionalism'.

This Review endorses the vision of teachers as increasingly expert practitioners whose professional practice and relationships are rooted in strong values, who take responsibility for their own development and who are developing their capacity both to use and contribute to the collective understanding of the teaching and learning process. It sees professional learning as an integral part of educational change, acting as an essential part of well planned and well researched innovation.

Leadership for twenty-first century learning

The importance of leadership for school improvement is well researched and documented. The findings from the Teaching and Learning International Survey ( OECD, 2009) suggest that effective school leadership makes an important contribution to the development of other teachers in a school. The findings of McKinsey and Company 2010 12 suggest that, 'the overall performance of a school almost never exceeds the quality of its leadership and management'. School leaders who demonstrate strong leadership are more likely to use further professional development to address teachers' weaknesses, foster better student-teacher relations and teacher collaboration, and recognise teachers for successful innovative teaching practices. In recent years, with moves towards the enhanced professional role of teachers, there has been greater focus on leadership for learning and distributive forms of leadership. Indeed, there is an expectation as a result of the Teachers' Agreement that all teachers should now be involved in developing, not only delivering, the curriculum. A culture of initiative and collegiality within which learning is always the prime focus embodies the kind of distributive leadership which is the hallmark of our most dynamic and effective schools.

There is an urgent need to extend the pool of potential leaders in Scottish schools. That means we need to develop and foster widely, and from an early stage, the qualities and skills which characterise effective leaders. The literature about those qualities and skills is voluminous but, in summary, the qualities which we have concluded are essential for the twenty-first century teacher also provide a strong basis for the development of leadership more widely. The people recruited into teaching, their experience during their early years as teachers and the ways in which we identify and develop talent across careers will all contribute to extending the size and quality of the leadership pool.

Scottish education has embarked on a highly ambitious programme of change through Curriculum for Excellence and related developments in early education and inclusion. It is likely that our approach to education will continue to develop in ways and at a pace which will outstrip anything we have experienced to date. Developments in communications technology will provide scope for quite different approaches to offering access to learning. They will also pose increasing challenges to conventional schooling, with much greater diversity in how schools and their partners organise themselves to provide for their learners. It is hard to predict what these changes will mean but it is clear that our teachers and promoted staff will have to be flexible, bold and creative if they are to continue to serve young people well. The next section considers this context in greater detail.

The context for the profession of teaching in Scotland

Across the world, governments are reforming their education systems in quite radical ways as they try to address challenges arising from globalisation, societal change and technological development and to address their own specific national needs and aspirations. Scotland is no different. Curriculum for Excellence seeks to address these challenges, and indeed is very much at the leading edge of current international thinking about the curriculum, learning and teaching, and strategies of educational change.

The 2007 country report on Scotland undertaken by the OECD13 provided an external analysis of the strengths and areas for improvement in Scottish education. Drawing heavily on the Programme for International Student Assessment ( PISA), national surveys of achievement and published reports from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education ( HMIE), the OECD report concludes that '...Scotland is building a strong platform of achievement in basic education'. However the report also cautions that, 'Scotland could slip through the ranks. It could be bypassed economically and become more divided socially. Its population might become less well prepared to manage the demands of a global economy...'. In a particularly memorable way the report also says that, 'In Scotland, who you are is far more important than what school you attend... the school system as a whole is not strong enough to make this not matter.' The report goes on to identify a number of additional factors beyond the social background of young people which need to be addressed, highlighting barriers to successful learning which are '…embedded in curriculum and teaching practice' in Scottish schools as a whole. The messages about underachievement are for everyone involved in Scottish education, not simply those teachers working in areas of multiple deprivation.

The challenges facing Scottish education, and so Curriculum for Excellence, are summed up in the OECD Report as being:

  • the widening achievement gap from about P5;
  • marked social differences in basic achievement;
  • declining student engagement and interest (especially in early secondary);
  • marked gaps in Scottish Qualifications Authority ( SQA) attainment;
  • staying-on rates that have ceased to grow;
  • wide regional variations in post-compulsory participation; and
  • a worrying, comparatively high level of young people not in education, employment or training.

In its overview of Scottish education in 2009, 'Improving Scottish Education' 14 ( ISE), HMIE highlight substantial strengths including the professionalism of teachers and increasing expertise in self-improvement. However, ISE similarly identifies a number of entrenched issues which need to be addressed. These include the growing underachievement relating to social background which the OECD report also cited, as well as issues relating to:

  • raising overall levels of achievement;
  • strengthening literacy and numeracy skills in order to ensure that all children can progress in their learning and development;
  • creating more challenging and interesting learning; and
  • establishing a stronger and more consistent base of general education before young people embark on qualifications.

HMIE importantly highlight the need to have '...a commitment to personal and professional development on the part of every educator.'

The findings of OECD and HMIE are broadly consistent with much of the body of other evidence about the performance of Scottish education. The most recent 2009 PISA study 15 also broadly confirms that analysis. Its results published on 7 December 2010 show that Scotland, in general, has held but not improved upon its place as a mid-ranking performer.

Meeting these challenges will depend ultimately on the quality of our teachers and their development as extended professionals. We need teachers who can understand the broader context within which they are working. That means recognising and tackling 'wicked', persistent issues and having the confidence and capacity to do so successfully. It also means that our teachers must be able to engage directly and willingly with the change process. Extended professionals are agents of change, not passive or reluctant receivers of externally-imposed prescription. They actively seek, apply and evaluate approaches to supporting children in ways which result in tangible improvement in learning. They are increasingly able to develop, sustain and use partnerships and networks both to achieve the best outcomes for each child and to extend and deepen professional learning.

Teachers should be confident in understanding and addressing the consequences of various barriers to children's learning and their needs for additional support. To address the serious weaknesses in literacy and numeracy, for example, all teachers need an understanding of how children, including those with additional support needs such as dyslexia, acquire and continue to develop vital skills in these fundamentals of learning throughout their schooling. This will also reduce the risk that early difficulties with literacy and numeracy lead to increasing inability to cope with the curriculum as a whole as a young person progresses through school and ultimately suffers serious impairment of life chances in adulthood.

Taken as a whole, this evidence points to the need to reinvigorate efforts to bring about significant improvement both in teaching and learning and in the leadership of Scottish education at all levels. Teacher education has a major part to play in that endeavour. This agenda is broad and will demand considerable depth of knowledge and skill from every teacher and those in formal leadership positions. That has implications both for what teachers have a right to expect from teacher education and for what they need themselves to put into that process.

Education policy in Scotland should give the highest priority to further strengthening the quality of its teachers and of its educational leadership.

Education policy should support the creation of a reinvigorated approach to twenty-first century teacher professionalism. Teacher education should, as an integral part of that endeavour, address the need to build the capacity of teachers, irrespective of career stage, to have high levels of pedagogical expertise, including deep knowledge of what they are teaching; to be self-evaluative; to be able to work in partnership with other professionals; and to engage directly with well-researched innovation.

We explore these implications in depth in the chapters which follow.