4 Culture of professional learning
4.1 This chapter provides an overview of the current culture of professional learning among Scotland's teachers and how it has changed since the TSF review in 2010. Subsequent chapters (particularly the chapter on CLPL activities) explore specific aspects in more detail.
What has changed?
4.2 The overwhelming view, from teachers at all career stages and from national and local authority stakeholders, was that - while there are challenges and there is still a considerable way to go - there has been a significant shift in the culture of professional learning over recent years. There was evidence, from both the survey and the qualitative research, that:
- teachers are more engaged with professional learning
- there is more professional dialogue taking place
- there is a greater willingness to try new approaches.
Increased engagement with professional learning
4.3 Almost all LA representatives reported increased engagement with professional learning: 22 of the 30 who were asked thought teachers in their LA were 'more engaged' than they were five years ago and six of the 30 thought they were 'much more engaged'. The remaining two thought there was no difference.
4.4 The views of teachers themselves were more mixed but nonetheless 43% of survey respondents thought that teachers were 'more engaged' with professional learning than they were five years ago, while 36% thought there was no difference and just 11% thought they were 'less engaged' (Figure 4.1).
Figure 4.1: Based on your experience, how engaged are teachers with professional learning in comparison to 5 years ago?
Base: All who completed ITE more than 5 years ago (5,155)
4.5 Participants in the qualitative research identified several inter-related aspects to this increased engagement:
- Increased focus on professional learning. National stakeholders and LA representatives felt that one of the main benefits of TSF was that it had helped raise the profile of professional learning - and this heightened awareness came through strongly in the qualitative research with teachers.
I think it's more at the forefront of people's minds now than it has ever been.
Secondary Head Teacher
- Increased ownership of CLPL. In the qualitative research discussions with teachers, it came through strongly that they felt an ownership of their professional learning: while they expected (to a greater or lesser extent depending on their experience) to be supported, they saw it as chiefly their responsibility to identify their needs and take the initiative in trying to address those needs. LA representatives also felt that teachers now had a greater sense of ownership of their professional learning - and that this was one of the main benefits of TSF.
- Greater awareness of the range of activities that can lead to professional learning. There was a shift away from the assumption that CLPL equated to 'going on a training course' and teachers talked about a wide range of professional learning activities that they had undertaken. Not only were teachers more aware of, and more open to, different ways of addressing their own learning needs, they also realised that much of what they were already doing was professional learning.
[There is a realisation] that it's not about going on course - it might be as simple as speaking to the teacher next door - and that's a huge mind shift.
- More relevant to needs. There was an increased focus on prioritising learning that was relevant to the individual teacher's particular development needs - rather than going on a course just because it was on.
- Increased focus on impact. Linked to the above, there was also an increased focus on the potential impact of professional learning on the pupils. Decisions about what professional learning to undertake were now more likely to involve a consideration of the needs of the individual pupils that a teacher was working with.
More professional dialogue
4.6 There was a consensus that teachers were engaging in professional dialogue more often (see section 8.11) and that there was a cultural shift towards more openness, sharing of experience and willingness to talk about pedagogy. Teachers in the qualitative research commonly contrasted the current culture with the situation they experienced earlier in their careers.
If you went into a class as a student and asked questions, some teachers were quite open to having discussion with you about different things, but other teachers would kind of shut you down because they didn't want to feel like they were being questioned. I think that culture is slowly going away.
Teacher who qualified 10 years ago
Greater willingness to try new approaches
4.7 One important marker of the change in culture is that a sizeable minority of teachers (41%) say that they try new teaching practices and strategies more often than they did five years ago (Figure 4.2).
Figure 4.2: In your professional practice, do you try new teaching practices and strategies more or less often than you did around 5 years ago?
Base: All who completed ITE more than 5 years ago (5,202)
4.8 The evidence from the survey is that most teachers regularly try new approaches and feel encouraged to do so (Figure 4.3). However, although two-thirds (67%) agree that they 'feel supported to try new approaches', it is worth noting that there was more disagreement with this than with the other aspects asked about.
Figure 4.3: How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements…?
Base: All (6,160)
What has helped change the culture?
4.9 Participants in the qualitative research pointed to several factors which they felt had driven the cultural changes discussed above. Some of these were a direct result of TSF, some were given increased impetus by TSF and some were independent.
4.10 There was widespread agreement that the introduction of Professional Update and the new GTCS Standards played a very important role in increasing engagement with professional learning. It was felt that the new Standards provided coherence to CLPL through all career stages. It was also noted that they promoted a shared language around CLPL and pedagogy.
4.11 There was also a widespread view that the 'new generation' of teachers emerging from ITE in recent years had helped change the culture. It was felt that it was 'ingrained' in these teachers from the start that they should be self-reflective, engage in professional dialogue, share practice and work collaboratively. Not only did this help change the culture simply because the new generation were gradually replacing the older generation, but it also forced more experienced staff to 'raise their game'.
For me, somebody who is relatively new to the profession, it almost feels like an ethos in terms of you should be self-reflective, you should be constantly evaluating your own practice, I think. So, I guess, it's almost an institutionalised mechanism, if you like, of almost forcing you to evaluate - in a positive way.
Teacher with 5 years' experience
4.12 Similarly, some participants referred to a 'new generation of head teachers' who were more focused on trying to embed professional learning and create a culture of openness and collaboration.
[Why have things changed?] There have been a few retirements which were… fantastic and great professionals…however, less likely to be interested in engaging in sort of really soft emotional chat about their teaching and learning. For example, great professionals but interested in a different way of looking at things. Whereas we probably are more interested in engaging with each other and learning from each other's experiences
Early career teacher
4.13 There were two other factors, independent of TSF, which were felt to be important drivers of the cultural shift. Firstly, the need to adapt to the significant changes in Scottish education in recent years including GIRFEC, the new National Qualifications, How Good is Our School (HGIOS) and, above all, CfE. It was suggested that the only way that teachers could possibly keep up to date and adapt to these changes was by engaging more with professional learning - and with professional dialogue and collaborative working in particular.
4.14 Secondly, reduced resources (particularly LA support and provision of courses) and limitations on time had forced schools and individual members of staff to look at other ways of meeting professional learning needs. Although the drivers may have been unwelcome, it was clear that this had stimulated more internal work within schools, more collaborative working among colleagues, more sharing of practice, and more variety and creativity in ways to achieve professional learning. It also encouraged prioritisation of activities that would have most impact on pupils and best meet the development needs of the individual teachers.
What are the challenges?
The impact of barriers on engagement
4.15 The cultural change has occurred despite a challenging context (outlined in sections 4.13 and 4.14 above) for Scottish education. All of these issues have impacted on workloads. While, as noted above, the challenges have driven some positive changes, it has to be acknowledged that they have also hindered progress.
4.16 The specific barriers to undertaking CLPL are discussed in section 8.37. In this context, however, it is worth noting a concern that emerged in the qualitative research about the potential impact of barriers on the overall culture. It was felt that the experience of having attempts to undertake professional learning activities thwarted can impact individual teachers' motivation to engage with professional learning. Similarly, there was a view that some teachers may want to undertake more professional learning and understand its importance, but feel that other pressures (particularly workloads) make it unrealistic. This, in turn, has a knock-on impact on the overall culture and the speed of change.
You can't expect people to engage in it and take on this idea that it is a journey if there is no outcome at the other end. If you can't promise them that what they are putting down, you're sitting having the deep and meaningful conversation, that coaching conversation, that they then feel, but what's the point in this because I never get to go? That is, I would say, a massive issue.
It's almost like a door seems to open and then it's closed really quickly again, because actually you can't do it, I can't ask. I got all the paperwork through [to apply for a secondment] and looked at it, but there would be no point in applying because I can't be released to do it.
4.17 There is a danger, therefore, that the heightened profile of professional learning raises expectations and makes it even more demoralising if the barriers cannot be overcome.
Teachers who have not embraced professional development
4.18 Although there was widespread agreement that there has been a significant change for the better in the culture of professional learning - while acknowledging the barriers discussed in section 4.164.13 and 4.14 above - there was also a widespread view that not all teachers have embraced the changes.
There is still a body of staff who are not engaged. The profession is on the path but not there yet.
4.19 Participants in the qualitative research most frequently cited the longest serving teachers as not embracing the changes (though they were at pains to point out that they were not referring to all of these teachers). They also thought the culture of some departments and some schools inhibited change. In particular, they talked about departments and schools where there was a lack of openness and an unwillingness to share practice or engage in professional dialogue. A lack of turnover and/or a longer serving staff profile were thought to be contributing factors.
4.20 Some took the view that a reluctance to engage with professional learning was inevitable among some teachers and things would change over time. Others felt that the pace of change was too slow and that more effective leadership (at both LA and school level) was needed to both challenge and support those who were not engaging sufficiently with professional learning.
A continuing focus on courses
4.21 There was a greater awareness of the range of activities that can lead to professional learning (see section 4.5 above) and participants in the qualitative research frequently made the point that there was much more awareness now that CLPL was not just about going on courses. However it was telling that, later on the discussions, many of those same participants reverted to talking about courses. So, for example, when they were asked about barriers to CLPL or what support the LA provided for CLPL, they naturally talked about barriers to going on courses, or what courses the LA provided/did not provide.
4.22 This suggests that there is some way to go before an appreciation of the range of ways to approach professional learning is fully embedded.
Overall quantitative trends
4.23 While subgroup differences in the results of the online survey are discussed in the relevant chapters, there were some broader trends from the 2010 findings that cut across most of the results and are worth noting:
- those in promoted posts were more positive and engaged with professional learning than those in non-promoted posts (with the exception of probationers) - as the level of responsibility increased (e.g. from PT to DHT), so did engagement
- those working in the primary sector held more positive views about professional learning than those in the secondary sector
- those who have temporary contracts and, in particular, those that work on a supply basis had poorer experiences of professional learning than those on permanent contracts.
4.24 We have not commented on the above differences every time they occur in order to prevent the findings from becoming repetitive but when interpreting the results, readers should bear in mind the overall pattern.
Email: James Niven