GTC Scotland chief re-emphasises need for clarity and coherence in education system

Published by Pauline Stephen on January 17th 2022, 6:03am

Following The General Teaching Council for Scotland’s [GTC Scotland] response to the Muir Review, Dr Pauline Stephen, Chief Executive and Registrar, re-emphasises the need for clarity and coherence in the Scottish education system.

The New Year is often a time for resolutions and the turning of new leaves. Some are small – for me, it’s the sheer joy of a new notebook or diary to coincide with the return to routine after the holidays. Of course, we anticipate bigger collective changes to grapple with in 2022.

By the time this edition of Teaching Scotland magazine is published, the education system may well have been presented with the findings from the Muir Review and perhaps even heard the Scottish government’s response. While we know the broad parameters of some of the future direction, the scale, scope and depth of proposed changes will no doubt continue to be debated in 2022. 

We will be reviewing the findings closely and with great interest. Any time of reform presents opportunities as well as challenges. Organisations involved in Scottish education need to grow and develop in response to changing needs and expectations. This is an opportunity for us all to keep the best of what we do while taking steps to improve our functions.

One of the key aspects in our response to the reform has indeed been function. Any changes to structure are just that, changes to structure. No structural change will create a deep, positive and enduring contribution to Scottish education without careful consideration as to what each part of the system exists to do and reflections about how they do it. Creating space to undertake this reflection was challenging.

In fact, carving out time to think is an ongoing obsession of mine. Time and space were another central theme of our response. Since 2014, we have asked teachers when they were signing off their Professional Update, for their views about how their ongoing learning is supported and what gets in the way of effective career-long teacher learning. Their feedback has consistently been about having appropriate time and space to learn, think, reflect and consider the impact of their learning on themselves, their learners and their colleagues.

There is an established framework in place for this – through mandatory and aspirational Professional Standards and Professional Review and Development – but this framework may well need different structural supports, such as the organisation of a school week that prioritises both learner and teacher learning.

Another framework that could benefit from deeper consideration is support for beginning teachers. While many experience a very effective induction into the profession, there can be variation. This is a consequence of structural system supports and availability and prioritisation of established and expert teachers to provide mentoring and support.

GTC Scotland believes there is a need for a continuum of learning for beginning teachers; from initial teacher education through probation, post-probation and beyond. By this we don’t mean increased centralisation of learning opportunities for teachers, quite the opposite, this is about embracing diversity while providing a structure to navigate through an early career and build on the learning in initial teacher education.

Such a framework is not just a signpost for content to learn – it should also provide the time and space to develop ethical reasoning skills. Teaching is not only a technical role. It is complex relational and intellectual work. It requires hour by hour, sometimes minute by minute, effective ethical reasoning. This is in part why we have rigorous entry requirements for teacher education in Scotland. These standards recognise that teaching is a complex activity and role, which happens in a complex system. Teachers are not merely implementers of policy; they enact policy in their context for their learners, in their community. This requires critical thinking and ethical reasoning and calls for space for teachers to engage in learning that supports this essential element of our profession.

While we need to recognise our complex context, there is a need to ensure complex does not become complicated. This, I think, is where the calls for increased clarity and coherence are most felt. We believe this is needed in the space of professional learning. Our view is that the framework to minimise complication exists. That is, what it means to be a teacher in Scotland is signing up to a set of agreed standards and ethical behaviour and committing to ongoing learning. Strategic leadership for professional learning and leadership should therefore be closely aligned to this established framework for teacher professionalism.

Registration with GTC Scotland is founded on being part of a profession – illustrated by having shared ethics and standards, entry requirements, ongoing professional learning and a fitness to teach function. It is through accepting this framework that individuals have the privilege of self-regulation. GTC Scotland has a clear, statutory function involving regulation of the individuals on our Register, ensuring all those who enter it are first assessed to meet the requirements of our profession and undertake further individual regulation in circumstances where this is warranted.

Regulation formed a core part of our response. Our focus related specifically to responsibilities for regulating the education system to ensure that no failures to follow child protection procedures result in risk for children and young people. We asked where responsibilities sit for effective system regulation in ensuring the employers of teachers act as good employers, assuring that appropriate processes are in place and used for the management of teacher concerns.

Trust is an important word in this context. Breaches of trust at individual, establishment and system level can be serious and significant. Trust is essential in any consideration of reform as it speaks to the culture we want to collaboratively grow and nurture. Teaching and teachers really, really matter and what teachers value, think and do is critical to achieving this culture enhancement. So, the changes we expect to be debating in 2022 need to start from, in our view, an understanding of teaching as a mature profession, with a shared framework in place for a reason.

Now is the time to undertake some deep reflection about the essence of this framework to ensure it is relevant and offers clarity and coherence. This journey starts with our Annual Lecture on January 25 and will continue with a range of activities as we engage in critical debate about teaching as complex intellectual, relational and therefore ethical work. We very much hope you can join us.

This article originates from Dr Pauline Stephen’s keynote address in the January 2022 edition of Teaching Scotland.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

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Pauline Stephen
Chief Executive at The General Teaching Council for Scotland
January 17th 2022, 6:03am

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