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Of Panaceas and People

Scotland, like many countries has been looking at how it might train and develop its teachers in order to improve its schools, and education, for all learners. Closing the gap between the lowest 20% of achievers and the rest is also another key driver for Scotland and many other countries. Graham Donaldson's report 'Teaching Scotland's Future' was informed by successes in other countries as well as the history and uniqueness of the Scottish education system. In his report Donaldson made some 50 recommendations on what we needed to do to improve teacher training and teacher quality in Scotland. All 50 recommendations were accepted by the Scottish Government and an Implementation Board was set up to draw up plans to consider how this might be best achieved.

Amongst the recommendations was one that said Scotland should aim to have a teaching cohort that was educated to and trained to Masters level. Some immediately thought this meant we were going to copy the model adopted by Finland, where all teachers have a Masters degree. However, that is not entirely what Donaldson was advocating. Rather, he was asking for teacher education to be seen as a career-long continuum, during which teachers could have a Masters degree, but who should be able to receive credits for Masters level modules in ITE and should have access to 'Masters level' CPD  throughout their careers, for which they could receive accreditation from universities and GTCS.

Last week (28th March) the Scottish Government announced that they were providing funding of £1.7 million in order to allow up to 1400 teachers 'to undertake high quality, masters level professional learning.' This was generally seen as a positive step forward for Scottish education and Scotland's teachers, and was an obvious step to support some of Donaldson's recommendations. However, I was contacted by Joyce Mathews (@passionateaboot) on Twitter and she asked how I saw this announcement might improve teaching and learning in Scotland's schools? This set me thinking.

My response to Joyce was that there was no way that masters level qualifications, professional development or CPD could deliver improvements in teaching and learning on their own. So what else needs to be in place? Most importantly, in my view, we need to have the right people in place, and have to have the right people with the right dispositions entering the profession. Donaldson himself made improving the rigour of the selection process for new entrants as another of his recommendations. He also recognised this was not easy, but that this should not stop us from trying to improve the quality entrants into the profession. Joyce noted that this was a similar conclusion reached in England by those who considered whether they too should go down the road of masters level qualification for teachers. She added that they had identified the primacy of middle leaders in the improvement of teaching and learning in schools.

I would say that for teaching and learning to be improved then this has to be at the core of all school business. More than that however is that teaching and learning has to be at the core of every individual's focus within their classrooms, departments and schools. Certainly we need to improve the quality of CPD that is provided, in schools and outside, and if we ensured all of this was at masters level we could make improvements in the learning experiences of all learners. Individual teachers need to see career long professional development and learning as part of their professional responsibilities and duties. We need to encourage and support them to look closely at their own practice and their impact on the learning. We need them to enquire into this and consider the small changes they could make to bring about big changes and greater impact for learners. They need to see this as a key component of the continuous process of professional development.

There are no panaceas to improving teaching and learning in schools. There are people, and they should be our key focus. Perhaps we spend too much time focused on systems, structures and policies, when most of our time should be spent focused on the people who are charged with delivering and supporting the learning experiences of our learners. Hattie and others have shown that if we really want to improve our educational systems and our schools, we need to focus on improving our teachers. Everything else we do should be supporting them to deliver the very best learning experiences they can on a consistent basis. If strategies and support don't do this we should change them to ones that do.

Masters level teaching and training can support what we are trying to achieve, only if we have the right people in our schools, and training in our universities, in the first place.

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