Scottish classrooms to face new shake-up

A MAJOR review of the way teachers are trained has been launched by the Scottish Government, amid concerns that too many of them lack practical skills and knowledge.

Worries over falling standards and the ability of staff to implement a new curriculum prompted education secretary Fiona Hyslop to order the nine-month, root-and-branch investigation into teacher training.

It will cover training from pre-classroom university courses through to ongoing professional development.

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The inquiry will be led by Scotland's chief inspector of schools, Graham Donaldson, who will leave his current post in January to focus on the task full-time. His report is expected to be delivered to ministers in the autumn. The announcement was welcomed by one of Scotland's leading education experts, who called for apprenticeship-style teacher training, with greater practical experience in classrooms and a move away from lecture hall-based learning.

The move comes in the run-up to next year's launch of the Curriculum for Excellence, which is intended to be the most radical education reform in a generation. But it is also set against a backdrop of falling teacher numbers, rising unemployment in the profession and complaints of a dearth of training to help teachers cope with sweeping changes to their role.

Labour called the review a "face-saving exercise" for ministers who had failed on teacher numbers, while unions are worried the investigation will be too narrow. Ms Hyslop, however, said it would help to create a system to train teachers that would be "fit for the future".

She said: "We know that as we continue to implement Curriculum for Excellence, the demands on teachers will change.

"That is why I believe that the time is right for a wide-ranging review that takes a fundamental look at our system of teacher education. It is time to work out what is good, where the strengths are and where improvements and modernisations can be made."

She said Mr Donaldson's review would be "open and inclusive".

"He will be tasked with considering the full range of teacher education in Scotland – including initial teacher education, induction and continuing professional development," she said.

"There are some specific questions that I would like the review to answer, including 'how can teacher education support the flexibility in the profession that Curriculum for Excellence requires?'"

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Earlier this week, HM Inspectorate of Education released a report indicating that, since the McCrone agreement on teachers' pay and conditions in 2001, standards had not improved significantly. It said staff did not have enough access to good in-service development courses.

Lindsay Paterson, professor of educational policy at Edinburgh University, said: "There is certainly a need for fundamental change in teacher education in Scotland, and so the review is welcome."

He said research had shown that primary teachers needed a "much firmer grasp" of individual subjects.

In the recent Trends in International Maths and Science Survey report, Scotland fared far worse in science than many western nations – at P5 level, only 51 per cent of pupils had teachers who considered themselves very well prepared to teach science. Prof Paterson said: "This is especially important because, with Curriculum for Excellence, they are being expected to lead the development of the curriculum."

He also said there was an "urgent" need for proper means by which secondary teachers can regularly update their specialist knowledge.

He added: "There is a need to transfer much of the practical training of teachers to schools themselves, in a model akin to that of apprenticeship, with a concomitant transfer of resources from universities to schools, in order to allow schools to have the capacity to lead and supervise such training.

"For both these reasons, there is also a need to reduce the involvement of teacher-education faculties in the training and development of teachers, allowing these faculties to concentrate on core areas in which they have unique expertise, such as conveying to teachers an understanding of child development, of psychology, of how people learn, and of the history and wider social significance of education."

But he added: "Whether this apparently quite restricted, and brief, review will be able to deal with the sheer scale of what is needed is doubtful."

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Ronnie Smith, general secretary of Scotland's biggest teaching union, the EIS, said it was "critical" the review focused on the quality of training rather than practical considerations of cost. He added: "The EIS doubts whether the scale of the task set out can be adequately addressed in the relatively short time frame or by the method proposed."

Labour education spokesman Des McNulty said Ms Hyslop was trying to close the stable door after the horse had bolted.

He said: "If it was about preparing teachers for the Curriculum for Excellence, Fiona Hyslop should have done this two years ago.

"She has brought this in now because of the crisis with trained teachers who can't find work and a crisis in the colleges of education because she's now telling them they must take far smaller numbers of students."

Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said:

"The real question for most teachers is whether the Scottish Government is prepared to give them more help on the actual content of the Curriculum for Excellence. In particular, this is vital for the first few years of secondary school."

Mr Donaldson promised to take an inclusive approach to the review so the profession was prepared for the challenges ahead.

He said: "My aim will be to work with all those with an interest in the quality of Scottish education – to set out a path to future success."

A brief history of modern education

1962 – Ordinary grade exams (O grades) introduced for pupils in the top 30 per cent of the ability range.

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1977 – Munn and Dunning reports into the high number of school leavers gaining no qualifications. Recommended restructuring of S3 and S4 to allow more pupils to gain qualifications.

1984 – Introduction of the Standard grade to replace the Ordinary grade in reaction to Munn and Dunning. The idea was to create a universal system of certification, rather than one just for the brightest children.

1994 – In response to the Howie Committee (a major review of curriculum and examinations in S5 and S6) Higher Still announced as a way to update the structure, rather than content, of the Higher system to raise attainment and create better progression from Standard grade.

1993-99 – Higher Still system introduced.

2000 – Scotland's national exams system fiasco led to thousands of Scottish students receiving incorrect, incomplete or delayed results. Administrative errors blamed.

Professor Gavin McCrone, pictured left, led a review of teachers' working conditions which was sparked by a series of strikes by the profession in the 1980s and led to a new package of terms and conditions known as the Teachers Agreement.

2001 – Teachers Agreement introduced – it was envied by the profession in other parts of the UK as it guaranteed non-teaching preparation time, more training and better pay.

2002 – Scottish Executive undertakes extensive consultation on state of education in Scotland in an effort to create a new school curriculum.

2009 – Announcement by secretary of state for education and lifelong learning Fiona Hyslop, pictured left, that Standard grade would be replaced by new Nationals Level 4 and 5 from 2014 and compulsory literacy and numeracy assessments for all school-leavers. Controversy emerges as this may lead to many youngsters leaving school without having sat an exam.

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2010 – Result of 2002 review – the Curriculum for Excellence (as it became known) due in schools. Introduction delayed a year after teachers complained there was not enough time or training for implementation in 2009.