While today’s QTS consultation is welcome, we must not forget that teachers need professional development and mentoring throughout their career, notes Alison Peacock
The Department for Education’s consultation on strengthening qualified teacher status and improving career progression for teachers, published today, is nothing if not wide-ranging.
While the proposed changes to QTS will attract some debate, the suggestions for ongoing teacher development read a little like a teacher’s Christmas wish-list. The proposals cover everything from mentoring, sabbaticals, and specialist career pathways to a systematic approach to identifying and accessing high-quality CPD.
There’s no getting away from the fact that many of the ideas will be both difficult and costly to bring to fruition – and that burden cannot be carried by schools. But the prospect of supporting teacher sabbaticals, providing time and training to recognise the value of teacher mentors, and setting an expectation of access to high-quality professional development for all teachers, is hugely exciting. It has the potential to make a real difference, and I believe this level of ambition for the profession is only right. We should take the opportunity to aim high.
A focus on support and development at the start of teachers’ careers is crucial; too many teachers are leaving the profession too early. We need to provide professional development and support that meets new teachers’ needs and that also sets a culture and an expectation of reflection, ongoing professional learning, engagement with evidence, expert challenge and support.
We need to avoid taking too simplistic an approach to ‘CPD entitlement’
But we must also make sure that the cliff-edge – where structured support and training end, and workload can become overwhelming – is not just pushed to later in teachers’ careers. Teachers need professional development and mentoring throughout their career, not just at the start and at transition points. This requires a sustained approach, coupled with pathways for teachers who want to remain in the classroom and influence the profession through their specialist expertise or to lead on mentoring or teacher development, as well as for those who aspire to traditional school leadership roles.
We need to avoid taking too simplistic an approach to ‘CPD entitlement’, either, or we risk unintended consequences. Opportunity cost alone can mean poor-quality CPD is more damaging than no CPD at all. Neither can we just think of professional development as CPD courses; we must recognise the value of engagement in and with research, professional collaboration, and formal and informal learning which takes place outside of a training room.
Perhaps the biggest area of challenge, then, will be how to measure and evaluate the quality of professional development, in its many forms, on a national scale. It will require a nuanced approach to judging quality and effectiveness, centred on its impact on both teachers and pupils.
It is important, too, that in doing so we recognise the many examples of exceptional practice in schools and MATs across the country, and ensure these are not just enabled, but actively promoted and shared. We need to raise the bar in terms of the quantity, quality and consistency of provision for teacher development without reducing schools’ autonomy or limiting their flexibility to do what is right for their teachers.
The vision and intentions behind the proposals are exciting and have much potential. As with so much in education, though, implementation is key – and to drive the direction this takes, and influence which proposals are taken forward and which are not, it is vitally important that the profession takes the chance to have our voices heard.
The Chartered College has already been involved in the development of these proposals; our Director of Education and Research, Cat Scutt, has been a member of the Department for Education’s career progression advisory group. We will continue to seek the perspectives of our members and build on these in our own response to the consultation, whilst encouraging them to respond as individuals, too.
Exceptional professional development and career progression pathways are not currently at the top of most people’s list of reasons for joining the profession – but we should be aiming for that to be the case. We have an amazing body of teachers doing incredible work in the classroom every day – and they deserve the highest level of opportunities, development and support, too.
Alison Peacock is chief executive of the Chartered College of Teaching