Is Scot­land’s teacher train­ing let­ting down our chil­dren?

A row erupted last year when a trainee teacher told a Scot­tish Par­lia­ment com­mit­tee she did not be­lieve that term’s grad­u­ates had suf­fi­cient skills in nu­mer­acy to pass on to 11-year-olds. It raised ques­tions about the stan­dards of train­ing ... and the deb

The Herald on Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By An­drew Den­holm Ed­u­ca­tion Cor­re­spon­dent

It is very im­por­tant to un­der­stand that teacher ed­u­ca­tion is the start­ing point of a jour­ney and not the end point

AS the five teach­ing students took their seats in com­mit­tee room 1 of the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment on the morn­ing of May 10 last year, none of them would have re­alised the seis­mic im­pact they were about to have.

Af­ter the open­ing pleas­antries, MSPs from the ed­u­ca­tion com­mit­tee be­gan to ques­tion the group on the qual­ity of teacher train­ing in Scot­land – or teacher ed­u­ca­tion, as the uni­ver­si­ties who de­liver it pre­fer it to be known.

Fol­low­ing a num­ber of na­tional and in­ter­na­tional sur­veys that in­di­cated a fall in stan­dards of lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy in the class­room, the con­ver­sa­tion quickly turned to the mat­ter of ba­sic skills.

Halla Price, a pri­mary teach­ing stu­dent from Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity, told the com­mit­tee: “There was not enough fo­cus on the teach­ers hav­ing the skills to teach nu­mer­acy. I do not be­lieve ev­ery­one who grad­u­ated this year has suf­fi­cient skills in nu­mer­acy to be able to teach it to 11-year-olds at a rea­son­able stan­dard.”

Cue bed­lam. Here, for the first time, was a sug­ges­tion the slide in stan­dards could be laid at the door of poorly pre­pared trainee teach­ers un­able to pass on the es­sen­tial skills re­quired to make pupils lit­er­ate and nu­mer­ate.

Even tabloid news­pa­pers be­came in­ter­ested in teacher train­ing, with the front page of next day’s Daily Record be­rat­ing the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment un­der the head­line “You Do The Maths”.

Ruth David­son, leader of the Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tives, seized the mo­ment, de­mand­ing new lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy tests for pri­mary teach­ers at the be­gin­ning and end of their course.

There was even graver con­cern when the ed­u­ca­tion com­mit­tee re­ceived a fol­low-up re­port from uni­ver­si­ties that said stu­dent teach­ers on some four-year de­gree cour­ses could spend as lit­tle as 44 hours on nu­mer­acy and 48 hours on lit­er­acy.

Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary John Swin­ney said he was “very con­cerned” by the find­ings and raised the is­sue with both uni­ver­si­ties and the Gen­eral Teach­ing Coun­cil for Scot­land.

More than a year on and there is still re­sent­ment f rom some in­volved in teacher ed­u­ca­tion over the way the is­sue played out.

“The students were not a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple,” one mem­ber of univer­sity staff said. “They were a very spe­cific group who had al­ready writ­ten to com­plain to the com­mit­tee and they were the only ones se­lected to speak. It was un­for­tu­nate and we are still deal­ing with the con­se­quences.”

Pro­fes­sor Ian Rivers, chair­man of the Scot­tish Coun­cil of Deans of Ed­u­ca­tion, is also con­cerned about the weight given to some of the state­ments made to the com­mit­tee.

“There was no ac­tual ev­i­dence that teach­ers who leave univer­sity are un­able to teach 11-year-olds to the ap­pro­pri­ate stan­dard,” he said. “Ev­ery univer­sity does its ab­so­lute best, work­ing in part­ner­ship with ex­pe­ri­enced teach­ers, to make sure our students leave able to meet the re­quire­ments and pro­fes­sional stan­dards ex­pected of them.

“The com­mit­tee wanted the lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy work we do neatly cal­cu­lated in terms of the num­ber of hours we de­liver, but that is a very nar­row view of what we do. All of the work on lit­er­acy, nu­mer­acy is in­te­grated into the course as a whole so it is very dif­fi­cult to

pro­vide what they wanted. That does not mean lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy is be­ing ig­nored.”

Mr Rivers also ques­tions the cur­rent nar­ra­tive from head­teach­ers and coun­cil of­fi­cials that the qual­ity of new teach­ers is not what it was.

Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have recorded an in­crease in the num­ber of pro­ba­tion­ers hav­ing to re­peat a year be­cause they were not seen as be­ing of an ap­pro­pri­ate stan­dard and school lead­ers have also raised con­cerns over qual­ity.

“We do not al­low any­one to grad­u­ate if their prac­tice is not up to scratch and that is done with as­sess­ments by a mem­ber of aca­demic staff from the univer­sity in part­ner­ship with the class­room teacher they have been work­ing with,” said Mr Rivers.

“It is very im­por­tant to un­der­stand that teacher ed­u­ca­tion is the start­ing point of a jour­ney and not the end point. When students are on pro­ba­tion coun­cils are also heav­ily in­volved in the devel­op­ment of skills and knowl­edge as the teacher moves to­wards be­com­ing a fully reg­is­tered mem­ber of the pro­fes­sion.”

The other con­cern that has un­set­tled pub­lic con­fi­dence in teacher ed­u­ca­tion is drop-out rates. Fig­ures pub­lished this year showed the num­ber of new teach­ers leav­ing af­ter less than a year had dou­bled in just four years. In to­tal, al­most 300 pro­ba­tion­ers have left the pro­fes­sion since the 2014/15 school year.

While the rea­sons for leav­ing are not given, a wider sur­vey of pro­ba­tion­ers con­ducted last year high­lighted a num­ber of wor­ry­ing con­cerns about the qual­ity of cour­ses and the ex­pe­ri­ence of pro­ba­tion­ers in schools.

Some t r ainees t old how t heir “ap­palling” ex­pe­ri­ences at the hands of dis­in­ter­ested lec­tur­ers and on place­ment in class­rooms had made them

We do not al­low any­one to grad­u­ate if their prac­tice is not up to scratch and that is done with as­sess­ments by staff from the univer­sity in part­ner­ship with the class­room teacher they have been work­ing with

re­think their ca­reer path. One said vet­eran teach­ers had told them to “leave while you still can” while an­other sug­gested bul­ly­ing was rife within the pro­fes­sion and staff rooms a “poi­sonous en­vi­ron­ment”.

The Scot­tish Coun­cil of Deans of Ed­u­ca­tion ar­gues that the drop-out rates are not par­tic­u­larly high and are gen­er­ally sta­ble. How­ever, they ac­knowl­edge a grow­ing con­cern over the ever-in­creas­ing de­mands placed on trainee teach­ers and the re­quire­ment that uni­ver­si­ties pro­vide the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment with ev­i­dence of how they are ad­dress­ing a va­ri­ety of ad­di­tional ar­eas in­clud­ing looked af­ter chil­dren, chil­dren with autism, LBGTI pupils, black and eth­nic mi­nor­ity pupils and pupils with men­tal health is­sues.

Moyra Boland, a se­nior lec­turer from Glas­gow Univer­sity’s School of Ed­u­ca­tion, said all of these ar­eas were cru­cial, but ques­tioned whether it was wise to try to cram them all into a one-year post­grad­u­ate course.

She said: “You can never get ev­ery­thing into the cur­ricu­lum. That will never hap­pen be­cause there is so much to know in schools and it is such a com­pli­cated job. You never stop learn­ing as a teacher be­cause ev­ery class pro­vides new chal­lenges with new com­bi­na­tions of chil­dren.

“Rather than think­ing about cov­er­ing ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing in ini­tial teacher ed­u­ca­tion in Glas­gow we are much more fo­cused on how we give our students the skills and dis­po­si­tions to find the knowl­edge they need to sup­port their chang­ing class­rooms from year to year.”

Ken Muir, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Gen­eral Teach­ing Coun­cil for Scot­land (GTCS), also has con­cerns over what is ex­pected of trainee teach­ers and be­lieves the time is ripe for a wider re­view.

He said: “It would be a good time to look at whether the cur­rent sys­tem of a one-year post­grad­u­ate fol­lowed by a one-year pro­ba­tion­ary year ad­e­quately pre­pares teach­ers for the range of young­sters and ex­pe­ri­ences they will face.

“There are huge added re­spon­si­bil­i­ties on teach­ers, and there­fore on teacher ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes, and an ex­pec­ta­tion that ev­ery­thing has to be cov­ered which cre­ates pres­sures and dif­fi­cul­ties.

“We need to stand back and ask, if we want teach­ers to be skilled in cov­er­ing a wide range of ar­eas from sex ed­u­ca­tion to ad­di­tional sup­port needs, can we cram all that into an 18- week univer­sity post­grad­u­ate pro­gramme?”

Mr Muir said one so­lu­tion was to look at a longer pe­riod of in­duc­tion that al­lowed teach­ers to un­der­take the ad­di­tional stud­ies they re­quire once they were in school so they could fo­cus on the ar­eas most per­ti­nent to the con­text of their schools.

There is also more rad­i­cal think­ing on the cur­rent struc­ture of ini­tial teacher ed­u­ca­tion.

Pro­fes­sor Chris Chap­man, chair­man of Ed­u­ca­tional Pol­icy and Prac­tice at Glas­gow Univer­sity’s Robert Owen Cen­tre, wants to see bar­ri­ers bro­ken down be­tween uni­ver­si­ties and schools.

“If we are build­ing new schools we should look at teacher prepa­ra­tion in the de­sign of those build­ings. You could have stu­dio class­rooms or ex­per­i­men­tal class­rooms where trainee teach­ers are work­ing with univer­sity staff and teach­ers in a more reg­u­lar and dy­namic way,” he said.

“I would like to see univer­sity staff co-lo­cated in schools and work­ing much more closely on a day-to-day ba­sis with teach­ers and stu­dent teach­ers and en­gag­ing with re­search. That would cre­ate a much more dy­namic and re­flec­tive set of teach­ers.”

Ray­mond Solty­sek, a for­mer teach­ing lec­turer at Strath­clyde Univer­sity and now an i nde­pen­dent ed­u­ca­tional con­sul­tant, ar­gues Scot­land could go much fur­ther.

He be­lieves the in­con­sis­ten­cies high­lighted in the way uni­ver­si­ties de­liver ba­sic skills is an in­di­ca­tor of a sys­tem where students at dif­fer­ent in­sti­tu­tions study dif­fer­ent sub­jects for dif­fer­ent lengths of time and are as­sessed in dif­fer­ent ways.

“Per­haps more rad­i­cal ini­tia­tives should be ex­plored,” he said. “Many have sug­gested var­i­ous struc­tural changes, in­clud­ing tak­ing pro­fes­sional teacher train­ing back into the pub­lic sec­tor.

“How­ever, a model of pub­lic own­er­ship might take the form of a Na­tional Col­lege of Teacher Ed­u­ca­tion – a cen­tral body run by the GTCS, coun­cils, Ed­u­ca­tion Scot­land, teach­ers’ bod­ies and as­so­ci­a­tions – that would cen­tralise mat­ters such as re­cruit­ment, course de­sign, stu­dent place­ment co­or­di­na­tion and as­sess­ment. That would pro­vide much greater con­sis­tency in what is de­liv­ered across Scot­land.”

The trainees give their views to the the com­mit­tee and Halla Price, on the right, cre­ated a storm when she told MSPs ‘There was not enough fo­cus on the teach­ers hav­ing the skills to teach nu­mer­acy”

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