“Teaching Scotland’s Future”

– in the Scottish Parliament on 9th March 2011.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a statement by Angela Constance on the Scottish Government’s response to “Teaching Scotland’s Future”. The minister will take questions at the end of her statement so there should be no interruptions.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

There are three pillars to our approach to improving education in Scotland. The first is curriculum for excellence, which has now been successfully implemented in every school in Scotland.

The second is financial stability. The Scottish Government has set up an independent review of teacher employment to be chaired by Professor Gerry McCormac, to provide us with recommendations in the summer. That review and the review of teacher education in Scotland will deal with closely related issues, and we will have to consider them together. The cabinet secretary’s appointment of Graham Donaldson to the review of teacher employment group will, I hope, facilitate that process.

The third pillar is the continued pursuit of excellence in teaching—the subject of today’s statement. “Teaching Scotland’s Future” was published on 13 January. It is a groundbreaking piece of work. We believe that internationally it is the first to consider, as a single system, the full spectrum of teacher education and professional development. I therefore restate the Government’s thanks to Graham Donaldson and his team—I am pleased to note that Mr Donaldson is in the public gallery today. His report sets out a challenging agenda that the Scottish Government has no hesitation in accepting. We must now work to achieve the vision that it sets out.

Graham Donaldson makes it clear that, as we take forward that positive direction, we build on solid foundations. Scotland’s teaching workforce is well prepared and well supported. His 50 recommendations are designed to build on that strong base, ensuring that good practice is spread across the whole system.

As we undertake the work, it is increasingly understood that the public, private and third sectors must work together and with young people, families and communities to ensure that the full range of positive outcomes is delivered. There is agreement that early intervention to address risks, using the principles of getting it right for every child, is key to improving the life chances of those who might otherwise not achieve positive outcomes. We need to ensure that, through their education and development, teachers are enabled to contribute to that agenda.

I cannot during this statement refer to each of the 50 recommendations that Graham Donaldson made. The full Government response can be found on both the Scottish Government and review websites, and it indicates that we accept—in full, in part or in principle—each of the recommendations. Copies of our response can also be found at the back of the chamber.

I will highlight key aspects of the report that we need to take forward to achieve its vision. The most important partners in achieving that vision are teachers themselves. “Teaching Scotland’s Future” offers the opportunity to reinvigorate the concept of teacher professionalism.

Local authorities and universities have crucial roles in supporting teachers and working more closely together, and the report also highlights the contribution of national bodies. Making those partnerships work at a time of financial constraint will need detailed planning around implications—financial and otherwise.

To take forward many of the main recommendations in the report, the Government will set up a national partnership group for “Teaching Scotland’s Future”. In that spirit of partnership, we have asked the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland and the Scottish Teacher Education Committee—representing the universities—to co-chair the group alongside the Scottish Government. It will include other important national stakeholders, such as the General Teaching Council for Scotland and the new national agency for quality improvement in education. We will also ensure that it includes front-line teachers and school leaders—those who have to make any arrangements work on the ground.

The national partnership group will have a challenging agenda. It will look in detail at how partnerships between schools, local authorities, universities and others can deliver the best quality in teacher education across the range of a teacher’s career. An important part of that will be developing opportunities to work towards masters-level qualifications. Through this development, we are moving towards highly successful models of teaching seen elsewhere in the world, encouraging a thirst for knowledge and intellectual ambition in the profession.

That is a challenging agenda. That is why we will set up the partnership working group immediately and ask it to report back on its proposed work programme by September 2011.

We have also identified two areas in which it would be helpful for the group to devolve some of its work, and two working groups, reporting to the national partnership group, will be set up. The first will look at areas of priority—such as specific curriculum areas or aspects of learning and teaching—that might be important to address at different stages in teachers’ careers. The second specific group will be asked to develop the clear and progressive educational leadership pathway that “Teaching Scotland’s Future” suggests.

The important work that the national partnership group will take forward and oversee will set a substantial and demanding agenda into the medium term. However, “Teaching Scotland’s Future” sets out other directions that we need to build on now. That includes inviting the GTCS, as it moves towards its new independent status, as agreed by the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee last week, to consider how it might develop a more coherent approach to teaching standards. The GTCS will also be an important partner in work with the universities to reconceptualise and develop the traditional bachelor of education degree through which many of our teachers, especially primary teachers, come into teaching.

A final area in which we need to take steps now is in ensuring that the right people enter initial teacher education. Therefore, the Government will work with partners to improve selection procedures. Universities are autonomous institutions with the right to select their own students; however, they must also accept that there is a legitimate wider public interest in who trains to become a teacher.

As we discuss those wider ways forward on selection, there are areas in which we need to take decisive steps to ensure quality. We need to ensure that teachers have secured the higher level of literacy and numeracy skills that they need to develop those skills in others. Therefore, we will build on the existing high standards within the teaching workforce overall by undertaking work to ensure that new entrants to the profession have or develop appropriate standards of literacy and numeracy. We will take that forward vigorously and will aim to pilot approaches with the new student intake in 2012.

As we work with our partners, the actions that I have set out today will provide a collective challenge to us all. Professor Lindsay Paterson, writing in last week’s Times Educational Supplement, captures that well. He points to the role that we, in this chamber, must play alongside the universities, schools and others. I conclude with his words:

“The stability of purpose needed for lasting reform will require political consensus and strong leadership nationally. This revolution depends on us all.”

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

I thank the Scottish Government for providing an advance copy of the minister’s statement although, in truth, there is so little substance in it that Michael Russell would not have been criticised for providing information in advance of the statement had he responded to the questioner who asked him about Donaldson at the TES hustings last week.

The context of the statement is 3,000 fewer teachers in Scotland’s schools, barely 10 per cent of newly qualified teachers in permanent employment and the teachers unions balloting with a strong recommendation to reject proposals from the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities affecting their conditions of service. In her statement, Angela Constance mentioned the three pillars of the Government’s approach to improving education in Scotland. However, few people apart from ministers believe that the curriculum for excellence is being successfully implemented in every school in Scotland; we have the exact opposite of financial stability, with education budgets being cut next year by between 1 and 1.5 per cent in virtually every local authority in Scotland; and the third pillar—“the continued pursuit of excellence in teaching”—has been seriously undermined through Renfrewshire Council’s proposal to chop access to teachers by two and a half hours each week.

What can we say about a response to a report that accepts every recommendation—all 50 recommendations—but says nothing whatever about the resources that are needed to act on them? Angela Constance was not at the conference in January at which Graham Donaldson presented his report. He made it clear that significant resources would be required to implement, among other things, its recommendations on continuing professional development; however, there is no number for that in the Government’s document or the accompanying material. The Government’s commitment is a paper commitment—there is no sense of what the most urgent priorities are. For the record, I ask the minister how much money the Government is committing to the implementation of Donaldson’s recommendations—specifically recommendations 42, 44, 46, 48 and 50?

The Government has shown itself incapable of implementing its national economic priorities—

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Order. Mr McNulty, we have had enough, I think. Your questions will have to stand.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I regret the fact that there was so little substance in Mr McNulty’s question. Given the political consensus that existed in welcoming Mr Donaldson’s recommendations, I had hoped that we would hear a bit more from the main Opposition party than some girning and greeting.

Mr McNulty will indeed know more than I do about education cuts, given that the architects of the reality that we are living with were in the previous Labour Government.

Mr McNulty will be well aware that, although the on-going negotiations between the teachers, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Government have come to a halt, this Government’s door remains open to helping to resolve the situation in any way that we can.

Mr McNulty fails to recognise that excellence in teaching is the single most important factor in improving attainment in a classroom. I would have hoped that that would be the agenda that he would pursue this afternoon. As members know, the curriculum for excellence is alive and well in Scotland’s schools.

I reassure Mr McNulty that Mr Donaldson is of the view that his recommendations could be met within the existing resources. However, that will be a matter for the national partnership group to explore and pursue in greater detail.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

The minister said that universities are autonomous institutions with the right to select their own students but that they must also accept that there is a legitimate wider public interest in who trains to be a teacher. Is it the Scottish Government’s belief that, in future, other bodies might participate in the final selection process for teacher training? Along similar lines, if a teacher was thought in any way not to match those criteria, would that still be a matter for the GTCS to decide?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I draw the member’s attention to my statement’s emphasis on partnership working. Universities are indeed autonomous institutions, but it is in the interests of Scotland’s children that we get the right people into teacher training. Mr Donaldson’s report addressed the issue of how some institutions select teachers, and I confess that I was somewhat surprised that some institutions make that selection primarily on the basis of applicants’ academic attainment and not always on the basis of a face-to-face interview.

The academic standards of those who wish to become teachers are crucial, but so are their skills. I would have thought that the means by which we select those people would provide us with the best way of ensuring that we get the right people. I would never underestimate the importance of teachers’ academic abilities, but we need people who also have the skills and potential to develop positive relationships with children; who have good communication skills; who are, at heart, lifelong learners; and who have an understanding of the fact that today’s children have many varied needs. In our schools, we have many children who have many barriers to learning to overcome, so we need extremely rounded and skilled people to become teachers. In saying that, I do not for one minute diminish the academic abilities that Scotland’s teachers need.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

I thank the minister for her statement and I thank Graham Donaldson and his team for what is a comprehensive piece of work that will help the next Scottish Government to improve Scotland’s teaching workforce. We welcome many of the recommendations around selection and on-going professional development and the focus on leadership and literacy and numeracy. We also welcome the announcement of a national partnership group to work on the recommendations and report back to the Parliament in September. The Scottish Liberal Democrats stand ready to play our part in that process.

We recognise that teachers are the primary resource in education and that they need our support. Will the minister give us some further indication of the Government’s plans to improve continuous professional development for teachers? CPD in formal and informal settings will be crucial not only in supporting teachers and improving their careers but also in sharing best practice across Scotland. Does the minister agree that it is crucial that the Government set out clear standards for CPD that are tailored to the needs of the individual teacher and clear standards for monitoring the effectiveness of CPD, which is absolutely fundamental in the on-going development of our teachers?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Margaret Smith is right to highlight the fact that teachers are our primary resource, and she is also correct to highlight the importance of continuous professional development. The strength of the Donaldson review is that it sets CPD in the continuum of wider teacher education.

CPD should not be seen as a touchy-feely, nebulous subject. It needs clear parameters, outcomes and aspirations, and particular standards must be met: monitoring is, of course, important to that. There is some great practice on CPD in learning communities and schools, particularly in relation to the use of glow, which I suspect we could use far more effectively.

There are many ways to take the agenda forward, and the national partnership group and the teacher employment review will examine those in great detail.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

The minister will be aware of Graham Donaldson’s recommendations—in particular recommendations 4 and 5—on the initial selection of students who are recruited to become teachers. Does she agree that a teacher must, as well as being academically competent, have a personality that is enthusiastic, inspirational, keen and motivational?

Although setting up a national assessment centre may be costly and perhaps over-burdensome, does the minister agree that some sort of initial test, along the lines of the United Kingdom clinical aptitude test that universities use for medical students, is necessary? Will she get the partnership to look at that?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Maureen Watt is right to raise the question of the initial selection, and she reflects in detail on an earlier answer that I gave. Yes: on the one hand, we want academically competent teachers, but we also need teachers who will inspire and motivate.

The strength of the Donaldson review is that it talks about leadership. Leadership is not just for headteachers; we now expect teachers to show good leadership skills throughout their careers, particularly with the implementation of curriculum for excellence.

Maureen Watt also raised a technical point about clinical aptitude tests with regard to the more personal attributes of potential teachers. I am aware from my former career as a social worker that there are arguments for and against such methodology. I am sure that the national partnership group will look at that closely, as it is an issue that is alive and well.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

What steps will be taken to ensure that new entrants to the profession have high-level literacy and numeracy skills, and that those skills are regularly refreshed? Does the minister intend to introduce some form of diagnostic testing of literacy and numeracy, and if so, at what stage? Will there be an overall threshold for competence in literacy and numeracy?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

As Donaldson rightly acknowledged, Scotland’s teachers already have very high levels of literacy and numeracy; we have a good, competent workforce. At the heart of curriculum for excellence is a focus on literacy and numeracy, so it is quite right that we now expect Scotland’s teachers to demonstrate and exemplify throughout their practice the highest possible standards in those areas. As I said in my statement, we will pilot various ways of ensuring that that is achieved. The detail is very much a matter that is to be worked out by the national partnership group. As a Government, we already have an action plan on literacy, and we will collaborate with and consult the literacy commission.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

One phrase that particularly struck me in Professor Donaldson’s description of the qualities and skills of a 21st century teacher is that they should have the ability to seek out and

“work in a range of partnerships to support the learning and development of each young person”.

That strikes me as being an approach that is vital in particular for children and young people who have additional learning needs. Will the minister expand on how she believes the Donaldson recommendations can join up with and support the Scottish Government’s wider additional support for learning strategies?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Ms McKelvie is right to highlight that the thrust of all that we do is indeed to get it right for every child, and getting it right for every child is not just the role and responsibility of Adam Ingram, the Minister for Children and Early Years. It is, of course, everyone’s responsibility. Given the variety of needs—whether they are learning needs or health needs—that children present in classrooms the length and breadth of the country, we are now expecting teachers to show a range of skills across a breadth and depth of health and social areas in terms of disability and learning difficulties.

It is right that the needs that Scotland’s children present in our classrooms are more adequately reflected in what is taught in initial teacher education, but I am aware that Donaldson was right to say that we cannot teach everything in initial teacher education. That is why the induction of teachers is crucial, as is continuous professional development, which has to be tailored to the day-to-day job and the children with whom a teacher is actually working.

On partnership working, we encourage teachers to work with other disciplines, which will, of course, have to be reflected in teacher training.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I understand and agree with Donaldson’s thoughts on continuing professional development. We all want our teachers to be actively involved in such a process. However, I am also concerned that we should not mix up the idea of selecting the right people with the need to have the particular bent towards academia. I was struck by the comment that universities and the GTCS will work

“to reconceptualise and develop the traditional BEd degree”.

Can Ms Constance shed some light on what is planned for the BEd degree?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

The issue was highlighted in the statement and is a theme throughout the Donaldson review. I think there is consensus that we need to replace the traditional bachelor of education degree to reflect what we actually need to teach Scotland’s children to ensure that they attain and achieve in ways that equip them for the 21st century.

Ms Ferguson is right about the difference between selecting the right people and continuous professional development. Those are quite separate strands, and we need to think about that carefully.

On the detail of what should be taught and the replacement for the bachelor of education degree, we need to take it a step at a time. I am not going to stand here and say that I have done all the work in one day or that I have all the answers. That will be an important task for the national partnership group along with other partners, particularly our education colleagues.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat

Would the minister be good enough to clarify a couple of things for me? Like my colleague Margaret Smith, I am supportive of the national partnership group. We must recognise that, obviously, teachers teach children. What input will there be from children and parents to the partnership group? There is a synergy in the relationship between teachers and pupils, and parents. It is a bigger partnership, if you like.

I turn to the other issue that concerns me. Unfortunately, my copy of the report does not have page numbers on it, but I note that at the bottom of one page, which I am sure the staff of the official report will be able to track down, a number of concerns are expressed in relation to the gender imbalance in teaching, be that in promoted posts or the ratios—

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Come on. This is not a speech, please.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat

Is the minister able to clarify the measures that are, or are likely to be, in place to tackle some of those issues?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

As I said earlier, the national partnership group will include front-line teachers and leaders. Given the teaching profession’s emphasis on working in partnership with parents, Mr O’Donnell’s point is very well made. I know that the Government has continued to discuss with its partners the question of who else should be on the national partnership group. I assure Mr O’Donnell that I will raise his specific point with the cabinet secretary.

Mr O’Donnell was also right to refer to gender imbalance, particularly in promoted posts. I suspect that I do not have sufficient time or leeway from the Presiding Officer to address that point fully or adequately, but it has been taken on board.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

I welcome the minister’s comments about the many qualities that are needed in teaching and the recognition that it is a vocation that can inspire staff and pupils alike. Does she therefore agree that comments by Michael Gove, the Tory Secretary of State for Education, that graduates with third class degrees should not be allowed to be teachers, are unwarranted and do nothing to encourage partnership working?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

The broader message is that we have great teachers, that we are building on success and looking forward to the future, and that teachers need to be well rounded and developed individuals with good academic and interpersonal skills. I do not think that I can say anything else that would not just be repeating what I have already said.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I, too, welcome the minister’s comment about reinvigorating the concept of teacher professionalism. What resources is she allocating to implement the Donaldson recommendations on CPD?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

As Mr Macintosh will be aware, CPD largely—though not exclusively—falls within local government’s remit. However, there is a national responsibility to ensure that its provision in local authority areas is not patchy and, at national level, we want more coherent CPD. I draw the member’s attention to my earlier reference to Mr Donaldson’s comment that his recommendations could be met within existing resources although, of course, the national partnership group will test the issue and look at it in more detail.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I ask that the final two questions—and the answers—be brief.

Photo of Christopher Harvie Christopher Harvie Scottish National Party

Since the European Commission found that 11 per cent of European small to medium-sized enterprises lose contracts because of the lack of language skills, at a cost of millions of euros and jobs, can we be assured that modern languages and cultural and regional studies will have a permanent priority in Scotland’s education policy?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Mr Harvie raises an interesting point. The work on progressing Donaldson recognises the importance at times of having national action plans—indeed, we have one such plan for science at the moment. The point about modern languages was well made.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

There is growing evidence of local authorities cutting school support staff; indeed, in my region of Fife, assistants are being taken out of the classroom to carry out other duties. In the light of those challenges, will the national partnership group consider the crucial role of classroom support staff who work with teachers to deliver for every child?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I am sure that in the discussions within or outwith the national partnership group on crucial education and teaching matters we will not consider solely teachers, but will look also at other staff.