It is often said that the quality of a nation’s education system is matched by the quality of its teachers. Scotland has a good education system that is supported by a high-quality teaching profession. At the outset, I commend the hard work of the tens of thousands of professional and dedicated teachers across Scotland.
Last month, the Parliament discussed improving learning outcomes. We recognised that a high-performing early years and school system is the single biggest tool to improve the employability and life chances of our young people. It is therefore right that we recognise the achievements of our teachers and pupils. At the same time, we need to be constantly ambitious for our education system. There is always scope for improvement, and we face the continuing challenge of working to reduce inequalities in our society, especially given the current economic climate, and of ensuring that our children and young people gain the skills and knowledge to enable them to thrive in a rapidly changing world.
The case for driving up the quality of teaching is compelling. A study that the American National Bureau of Economic Research recently published highlighted the fact that there is a clear relationship between the quality of teaching that a child receives and how much they earn and how well they get on socially in later life. The study, which was undertaken by leading educationists from Harvard and Columbia universities, concluded that every parent should
“place great value on having their child in the classroom of a high value-added teacher”.
In his report, “Teaching Scotland’s Future”, which was published in January 2011, Graham Donaldson said that
“the foundations of successful education lie in the quality of teachers and their leadership. High quality people achieve high quality outcomes”.
I share his belief in the fundamental role of teachers in shaping and delivering the learning outcomes that we all want to see. That is why I commissioned his groundbreaking report, which has challenged us to examine the way in which we train, develop and support our teachers.
“Teaching Scotland’s Future” offers us the opportunity to reinvigorate the concept of teacher professionalism. That opportunity was welcomed across the Parliament. In response, I established the national partnership group, which brings together the Government, universities, local authorities, the General Teaching Council for Scotland, teachers and other stakeholders to deliver the positive changes that we all want to see.
However, driving up the quality of teaching through improved training and development is only one part of the equation. Highly trained, highly skilled professionals require modern, flexible terms and conditions that will allow them to deliver the best possible education for our children. That is why I commissioned the independent review of teacher employment, which Professor Gerry McCormac led. I thank him and the six members of his review team for the work that they undertook in completing the important and unanimously agreed report “Advancing Professionalism in Teaching: The Report of the Review of Teacher Employment in Scotland”, which was published in September last year.
Since the report’s publication, I have been considering its messages and I have taken time to discuss the recommendations with education partners. Teachers, employers, trade unions and parents hold strong views about the issues that the review raised. It is right that, like Graham Donaldson’s review, Professor McCormac’s review acknowledges the strengths of Scotland’s education system but also highlights the challenges that we face. They are not challenges that we can ignore—that would not deliver the Parliament’s aspirations for improved outcomes.
The review builds on our current system’s strengths, including the arrangements that we have in place for negotiating changes to teachers’ terms and conditions. The review endorsed the Scottish negotiating committee for teachers and the local negotiating committees for teachers. The recommendations that relate to teachers’ terms and conditions are therefore rightly the responsibility of the Scottish negotiating committee for teachers. I am happy that the SNCT has agreed a work plan, which includes a clear timetable, and has established working groups to consider those recommendations.
Those issues are for the SNCT to discuss. I know that some of the discussions will be challenging, but at all times we must focus on how we support our teachers to maintain and build expertise, so that our education system can continue to deliver excellent outcomes for our children and young people. I assure members that the Scottish Government will play a full part in SNCT discussions to help realise positive change.
However, there are a number of recommendations that fall outwith the SNCT’s remit and, following engagement with key education stakeholders, I want to set out how those will be taken forward. Perhaps the most challenging of them is McCormac’s clear recommendation that the chartered teacher scheme should be discontinued. This is not a debate about the importance of continuing professional development or professionalism in our teaching profession. Through the national partnership group, we are already committed to delivering an enhanced model of professionalism for all teachers. Specifically, I have tasked the partnership group with considering how to deliver opportunities for teachers to work towards masters-level qualifications.
There are many excellent chartered teachers in schools across Scotland, but I am not convinced that the chartered teacher scheme remains the best model to provide the teaching profession with opportunities to improve and develop. We must do more, not least because the aspirations that prompted the creation of the chartered teacher scheme remain and, indeed, have been reinvigorated by Graham Donaldson’s report. This is an opportunity for us to design and develop frameworks that help us to move towards highly successful models of teaching that are seen elsewhere in the world, thereby encouraging a thirst for knowledge and intellectual ambition in the profession that will deliver improved outcomes for our children and young people.
We should aspire to a vision of teaching as a masters-level profession, and we should do so, first, by building on the chartered teacher scheme. It provides us with the opportunity to make a masters profession a reality. Moreover, chartered teachers and those who are in the process of becoming chartered teachers should be, and now will be, among the first to access these opportunities. In developing a masters-level profession, we will ensure that existing chartered teachers and those who are in the process of becoming chartered teachers are given credit for relevant professional development that they have already completed or are currently undertaking, and are encouraged to be the pathfinders in that process.
Although terms and conditions are rightly the responsibility of the SNCT, I want to assure chartered teachers and those who are working towards that standard that the Scottish Government, through our role with the SNCT, will work to recognise their position and their commitment in moving towards a masters qualification.
Raising standards across the board is ambitious, and rightly so—we should be ambitious. There will be many issues to consider in developing the proposals. I am sure that they can and will be understood by moving forward in the way that I suggest. I have therefore asked Education Scotland to work closely with key education stakeholders, including the Association of Chartered Teachers Scotland, the national partnership group and the GTCS, to take the issue forward, first with existing chartered teachers and those who are working towards that status.
Teacher training and development are not just about the acquisition of qualifications. We need to embed such developments in our induction-year activities and continuing professional development. Professor McCormac recommends that a new system of professional review and personal development—PRPD—should be introduced. I welcome that approach. Although there is an existing system of professional review and development, we know from Graham Donaldson’s review of teacher education that that system is applied inconsistently across the country. I believe that all teachers should be entitled to a structured opportunity to review their work and plan their development.
The ideas behind the recommendations are not new. McCormac’s recommendations on personal development echo those that McCrone made more than 10 years ago. The McCrone inquiry recommended the creation of an effective annual review process. It is time that Scottish education took that forward.
All professionals require the opportunity to reflect on how they go about their work. Teaching is no different, and if we are to achieve a strong, confident and reflective workforce, concepts such as professional review and personal development should be embraced, not rejected. Such ideas provide an opportunity to strengthen teaching as a whole.
The national partnership group is already looking at related issues as it considers the recommendations of “Teaching Scotland’s Future”. Equally, the GTCS is developing a system of professional update to help ensure that Scotland’s teachers maintain and develop their skills. I have therefore asked the national partnership group to work with the GTCS in considering the recommendations of McCormac that relate to professional development.
Finally, I want to address the issue, as Professor McCormac did, of how we use external experts in our schools. In keeping with the principles of curriculum for excellence, I am committed to helping to ensure that our children receive a broad education that suits their needs. We know that many schools have already created partnerships with universities, colleges, local employers or third sector and community groups. Such partnerships are to be welcomed. I am convinced that if we are to build a varied, pupil-centred education for all children and young people, it will be necessary for our schools and teachers to draw on a wide range of resources, including resources that might currently not be available.
Although there is broad agreement about those positive opportunities, there are also concerns. I have listened to stakeholder opinion on the issue, and I want to move forward with a measured approach. To start the process, I have asked Education Scotland to consider the current arrangements, to identify best practice and to recommend whether further safeguards or guidance are required.
To be clear, this work is not about replacing teachers or diluting their position at the centre of learning. Teaching should be done by teachers. Nor is it about finding ways in which savings could be made from local authority budgets. Indeed, I am explicitly ruling out the model that is proposed by Renfrewshire Council, or variants of it. Instead, I want to build on existing good practice.
In taking forward the McCormac recommendations, there is a great deal of hard and detailed work to be done. I do not want to rush what will be sensitive discussions, but equally I want progress to be made by all the working groups, including the SNCT, by the autumn of this year. Ultimately, I expect a new teachers agreement by April 2013, which will allow any new arrangements to be in place for the new school session that starts in August 2013.
As ever, the stakes are high. Scotland’s young people deserve to receive the best possible education. They deserve a flexible curriculum that is responsive to their needs as learners, and curriculum for excellence is delivering that. They also deserve to be taught by skilled and motivated teachers who are supported by the right terms and conditions. Our work in taking forward the recommendations of “Teaching Scotland’s Future” and “Advancing Professionalism in Teaching” will help to deliver that aspiration.
If we are to offer the best possible educational experience, these are challenges that we must face together, and I invite all parties to play their part in this agenda for positive change.