This month, we launched the Network for Social and Educational Equity’s teacher practitioner panel, a group that aims to develop an ongoing relationship between leading practitioners in education, and researchers at the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change where NSEE is based.
With more than 30 attendees from schools and education authorities across the west of Scotland, the online event was opened by Professor Margery McMahon, head of the School of Education at the University of Glasgow, who welcomed the formal constitution of such a panel, and reinforced the School of Education’s commitment to working with teachers in the long term.
Professor Chris Chapman, NSEE’s principal investigator, outlined the benefits of joining the panel. The aim behind setting it up was to blur the boundaries between research, policy and practice, and move different types of knowledge, expertise and ideas around the system.
It would be one way to allow teachers more influence on educational policy—influence that would be informed by research and evidence and would allow the university to tap into teachers’ broader networks.
Teaching Scotland’s Future
Educational consultant Graham Donaldson then spoke about Teaching Scotland’s Future (TSF), the report on teacher education first published ten years ago to consider the best arrangements for the full continuum of teacher education in Scotland.
Reflecting on the events of 2020 and the effects of lockdown on the education system, and on the wellbeing and attainment of pupils, Professor Donaldson discussed the need for the education system to be future proof- being able to respond to future disruptions which are increasingly likely to happen”.
Impact of professional learning on pupils
Five years after the TSF review, research found that there was a greater focus on the impact of professional learning on pupils. Decisions about what professional learning to undertake were now more likely to involve a consideration of the needs of the individual pupils that a teacher is working with.
In addition, Professor Donaldson commented that there was a consensus that teachers were engaging in professional dialogue more often and that there had been a cultural shift towards more openness, sharing of experience and willingness to talk about pedagogy.
There was also a greater willingness to try new approaches. One important marker of the change in culture was that a sizeable minority of teachers (41%) said that they try new teaching practices and strategies more often than they did five years ago (40% say they try them the same amount and 18% say they try them less often).
Speaking about the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), the aim of which was to help children and young people gain the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for life in the 21st century, Professor Donaldson spoke about how it radical it had been at the time by thinking about what is was that children should experience and learn while they were at school, and how the system went about ensuring that the aspirations within the Curriculum for Excellence could be met.
In many ways, the CfE was ahead of its time as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s 2030 project which looks at school curriculums in the context of global competence, was in effect foreshadowed by the CfE.
The issue then that had concerned Professor Donaldson was that the teaching force was properly supported to reach those aspirations. He wanted to think much more profoundly about what professional teaching entailed and meant, and how to build the capacity to support this.
‘Not daunted by complexity’
Teaching Scotland’s future depends on a profession that is not daunted by complexity and that embraces engagement with and leads thinking on how we best provide for our young people in what is a an increasingly volatile and complex environment within which we live, and certainly which young people will live within.
What the professor felt was urgently required was thinking about digital and face to face learning. Describing the events of the last year as letting “the genie out of the bottle”, Professor Donaldson said school closures facilitated a huge growth in independent learning.
It was something that would have happened anyway, but the pandemic rushed this new development through, and the education system needed to look at the possibilities promoted by the digital learning, and its effects on wellbeing given the lack of social contact.
Partnerships and the importance of teacher productivity
Going forward, partnerships between teachers, teaching bodies, educational institutions and universities needed to be revisited and nurtured to stop them withering on the vine, and there had to be a look at teacher productivity.
Traditional, measurements of productivity were seen as time in front of a class, but quality of engagement should be measured, and the system should invest in non-contact time.
Professor Donaldson’s presentation was followed by questions from the audience—teachers raising the point about leadership and management, and the difference between the two.
The panel will be meeting on a quarterly basis, and the NSEE team hopes to bring panel members on board for all of its research into educational practises that promote equity in education.