As the Scottish government’s 2021 reform of education brings a fresh set of Professional Standards for all teachers to adhere to, Dr Pauline Stephen, chief executive of The General Teaching Council for Scotland, looks back on the history of the teaching profession to address why these changes are necessary at a time of widespread pandemic-related disruption.
As the Scottish government’s reform of education gets under way, the Professional Standards provide a shared platform for us to address urgent questions. But why new Professional Standards for teachers, and why now? Isn’t there enough going on for teachers and Scottish education? As recovery from the global pandemic continues and combines with major reform, surely this is not the best timing? I could answer these questions and similar ones by offering a historical analysis that highlights the relatively long journey the review of the last Professional Standards [enacted in 2013] has taken.
In this story of the past, I would take the opportunity to emphasise the importance of the role of significant stakeholder engagement that included a national conversation with the profession. I would definitely reinforce the requirement of a public consultation and describe how the focus groups of interested teachers held during a global pandemic were both inspirational and challenging. I would also ensure that I drew specific updates to the content of the Professional Standards to your attention with an increased focus on equality and diversity, digital learning, learning for sustainability and additional support needs as examples. However, the only story that is important here is, I believe, the personal story of every teacher in Scotland. That is, why teachers have been called to do what teachers have been called to do.
A teacher’s calling
I am a super fan of the work of Marshall Ganz on public narrative. I believe that everyone’s story provides insight into their values into action and constructs their identity about who they are and why they are doing what they do. Most teachers have a personal story about why they teach. Some, like me, have a story which starts with an inspirational teacher from their own years at school, who planted an early seed about an exciting career in education. For others, their chapter to becoming a teacher took a direct route of school to university and back to school again. Some have a different story that describes a journey via other careers. Whereas most teachers have a story about how they became a teacher, deep thinking is sometimes required to identify a personal ‘why’; why we teach. Quite often the foundation of that why is about an ambition to make a positive difference to children and young people and to spread a love of learning.
Our stories as teachers connect to those we work with and for. The story of ‘us’ as a profession of teachers starts with a consideration of what we can do and achieve together, defining what our shared purpose, goals and vision are. The recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] review of the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence emphasised that teachers in Scotland need space to think and reflect and time is needed to lead, plan and support curriculum making. Once again, the role of collaborative professionalism is highlighted, supporting a place for teachers with individual stories coming together to focus on their future impact.
There are choices to be made
Our collective story of ‘now’ is presented to us with some urgency for there are choices to be made. Choices for which there will be a variety of views and likely some problem elaboration, but where the collaboratively generated solutions need to be rooted in our shared professional values of trust and respect, social justice and integrity. Teacher professionalism is critical in influencing the change we have been challenged to lead. Together, across all contexts and layers, we need to embrace the system’s complexity and actively engage in necessary debates, from determining what curricular flexibility is desirable, to what effective assessment of young people looks like. Even more we all need to innovate, adapt, review, change and respond while continuing to offer stability and effective learning and teaching to our learners.
The Professional Standards have multiple purposes. They exist to create a shared language for teaching professionals, are a benchmark for professional competency and provide a framework for becoming a teacher through Initial Teacher Education and probation [the mandatory Professional Standards of Standard for Provisional Registration and the Standard for Full Registration]. They support career-long professional growth [the aspirational Professional Standards of Standard for Career-long Learning, Standard for Middle Leadership and Standard for Headship]. They aim to develop and enhance professionalism as well as ensure and enhance public trust and confidence in the teaching profession.
At their essence, they describe what it means to become, to be and to grow as a teacher in Scotland. They set out what the profession wants for the profession; what we believe is most important in terms of our values, commitment, knowledge, understanding, skills and abilities. They provide the foundation for the development of our future collective story, they are what holds us together as a profession, committed to do the best that we can for our learners. The Professional Standards are often described as GTC Scotland’s Standards. While we at GTC Scotland very much value our role as guardians of the Standards, they belong to the profession and should help the profession belong to each other. So why new Professional Standards, why now? They provide a shared platform for us to address urgent questions, forming our shared prologue for the new story we are going to write together.