How challenging can it be for today’s teachers, in the present economic climate, to access an afternoon of quality CPD? An enthusiastic delegation of Dutch colleagues visited Glasgow to explore a range of issues, one of which was of particular interest to Chartered Teachers, namely, how an effective Masters-level teaching force might be developed in the Netherlands. As a member of the Association of Chartered Teachers Scotland, I was keen to discover what colleagues in the Netherlands were currently thinking and what we might learn from them.
Following a brief – and typically, witty- introduction from David Cameron (the Real…Ltd), David Noble, Chair of ACTS, delivered a summary of Scottish education’s ambitious Masters-level programme which began with pilot modules in 2001, and described its evolutionary – perhaps now catalytic – impact on CPD and GTCS Standards to date, not solely within the recently updated Standard for Chartered Teacher, but also the undoubted influence on forthcoming developments, which will present Scotland’s teachers with opportunities to engage in CPD within an improved, more challenging framework.
André Koffeman then presented an overview of ‘Masters-level professional learning in Holland’, first posing the question, ’For an uncertain future, how can we know how to teach and what to teach? ’. He then highlighted some thought-provoking research by van de Grift (2009, 2010), whose findings suggested that in Holland, the average teacher reaches just two-thirds of their potential, in that within a 5 – 10 year period of teaching, they reach a peak in their experience, with a plateau effect thereafter. Aiming for ‘collective professionalism’ in addition to ‘individual professionalism’, and in endeavouring to create ‘a social context in which staff start learning again’, Action Research and Professional Learning Communities are identified as a viable way forward. In concluding, Andre encouraged us to reflect on what we do as teachers, and to promote the positive message that ‘Learning is a good thing, ‘otherwise, how will pupils learn?’
Language proved no barrier when facilitating one of several ‘break-out’ groups, comprising Chartered Teachers and leading academics, together with Dutch teachers and lecturers. Excellent examples of recent Masters research in Scottish schools were presented, with most groups so thoroughly engrossed in enquiry that it necessitated some ‘rounding up’ to return to the Plenary. At this point, the future of Masters-level professional learning was examined, in addition to a hint of what the GTCS may have in store, via the National Partnership Group.
In concluding this inspiring afternoon, there was a consensus that in identifying common challenges and aspirations, useful links could be established with our counterparts in Holland – and beyond – supporting a growing culture of teachers learning from one another.
Julie Tormey, M.Ed.
NATURE & DEPTH OF DISCUSSIONS
After a brief introduction to the Chartered Teacher scheme and the Dutch understanding of the term professional learning and the need to undertake such, Dutch and Scottish colleagues had self-organised into 7 groups.
I presented the small scale action research project that I undertook as part of my MTeach, afterwards fielding questions from all sides.
Not unusual for disconnects to occur between different participants in learning. The vertical group research revealed a mismatch between the pupils’ true experiences and teachers assumptions of pupils’ experiences and a disconnect between the Headteacher’s assumptions about the teachers’ experiences and the truth of teachers’ experiences. Monique, a teacher in a Dutch vocational secondary school, lamented how her students often seemed unable to identify opportunities to apply their classroom learning when out on work placements.
Some of those who had chosen (Scotland)/been chosen (Holland) to undertake Masters level professional learning in both the Netherlands and Scotland had experienced a degree of professional jealousy directed towards them by colleagues.
On a personal level, to share my research with others who had gone through the same process and understood the process, the emotions and the demands of a teacher-learner-researcher that were involved.
ONGOING ACTIONS OF CHARTERED TEACHER
Complete follow-up action research to explore impact of initial investigation into vertical groups in my setting.
Display initial and follow-up research posters at the Scottish Educational Research Association (SERA) 37th annual conference in November.
Complete my MTeach – remaining modules are ‘Chartered Teachers as Catalyst of Change’ and ‘Chartered Teachers as Knowledge Creators’ (dissertation).
Consolidate ACTS (despite everything), start work on formalising international network of educators involved in professional learning & research
PRESENTATION TO SCOTTISH & DUTCH COLLEAGUES on 19th September 2012
I was 11 years into my career when I embarked on the Chartered Teacher programme in 2010. Currently, I am half way through my MTeach at Edinburgh University.
‘Vertically Challenged? What do vertical groups look like in my setting? What has been their impact?’ was a small scale action research project that investigated a new mixed age grouping practice called vertical groups that had been introduced at my school. Vertical groups take place once a week for about an hour and involve all pupils, teachers and support staff in the mainstream part of the school. There are 12 groups with a teacher for each, and every group has about 18 children in it. It’s vertical because there’s a mix of children from each stage in the school from P1 through to P7. In their first year, the vertical group sessions took in citizenship issues such as Fairtrade, the UNCRC and bullying.
The research developed from a couple of concerns I had.
Firstly, I wasn’t sure that I really understood the rationale behind the change that had been brought in by the Senior Management Team.
Secondly, although the general impression of vertical groups from participants and facilitators was positive, I worried that perhaps the youngest pupils were overwhelmed or even intimidated in the groups because numbers wise at least the groups were dominated by pupils all older them.
I collected evidence from teaching and non-teaching staff, managers and pupils. I gathered together photographs, film and drawings in addition to carrying out group and one-to-one interviews.
After analysis of all the data, several issues came to the fore. First of all, my initial worry about the younger pupils appeared to be unfounded. This was good, although I should admit that due to time constraints, I was unable talk with the children about their drawings in order to verify my interpretations but I feel that the preponderance of smiley faces and bright colours tells the story of their positive experiences.
Some quite stark disconnects were revealed between what teachers believed about the pupil experience and what pupils themselves thought. For example, some teachers categorically stated that particular named children were not enjoying or getting anything out of vertical groups for a specific reason ie: elective mutism or autism, meanwhile the drawings done by those particular children were amongst the smiliest and most colourful of all, indicating quite the opposite. Rather that their engagement with this new and novel way of working, was on their own terms.
There was also a mismatch between what the HT thought about the teacher experience of vertical groups and what teachers thought. Talking about the content of the different vertical group sessions in her interview, the HT said that ‘the staff have had input beforehand and the leaders or co-leaders have been trained for anything that they’ve had to take forward’. In reality, one member of staff was charged with planning the lesson every week for all 12 groups and during data collection, the staff as a whole lamented the lack of advance notification regarding the content of the vertical group sessions. And, while the pupil leaders were very enthusiastic and took their responsibilities very seriously, most were often underprepared for communicating the content of the lessons effectively because advance planning and review were not built-in and simply had not occurred. Related literature underlined the extent to which a high level of organisation, planning and ongoing support for all participants was required for such a structural transformation to become a successful and sustainable practice.
As for the rationale behind vertical groups, the HT explained that she thought it was a great way to broaden pupil voice in the school. She also believed it was a way of improving relationships across the whole school community. This view was certainly supported by the data I collected in school. Reading the literature helped me understand that while there is no one grouping practice which suits everybody, there was a strong evidence base for the HT’s contention that vertical groups would bring about more widely distributed pupil voice and stronger community feeling.
In the wake of the research several things have happened.
Though the research was ostensibly carried out for a university assignment, fortunately my Headteacher has been very supportive throughout and she asked me to present it to colleagues at school.
Following on from that presentation, changes were made to vertical groups so that planning is now shared across the whole staff, the pupil leaders have access to all the lesson plans weeks in advance so there is a far greater degree of ownership and understanding of the content from pupils and staff.
Since the start of this academic year, more mixed-age working opportunities have been incorporated into the timetable.
And on a personal note, the profound understanding I achieved through the critical thinking processes that underpin the action research left me feeling empowered and with an increased sense of agency and self-efficacy. I think that the confidence derived from my studies undoubtedly helped me succeed at interview for a secondment to a national organisation. I genuinely believe that had I not engaged in this style of professional learning, none of it would have ever happened.
The Dutch visitors were informed of the educational changes implemented by the Mc Crone Agreement and the different routes that had been pursued by teachers wishing to attain Chartered Teacher Status.
These routes have included the following:
- Modular Route
- Partial APL Claims
(A combination of a Masters Qualification and Chartered Teacher Modules)
- Full APL Claims
(This route attracted many teachers who had previously held promoted posts such as APT and ST. The McCrone agreement proposed a reconstruction of the teaching career routes. These positions were eliminated with a view to maintaining good teachers in the classroom.
Regardless of the route chosen, Chartered Teachers have demonstrated that they possess a wealth of experience in their subject discipline and wider educational issues. They are a highly skilled human resource. Chartered Teachers have recognised that the programme was an excellent professional development opportunity. It has been aligned to the highest professional standards set by the GTCS.
Engaging in Practitioner Action Research has transformed the practice of many Chartered Teachers in many ways. They continue to impact upon the curriculum employing the skills and knowledge acquired through reading and research of educational theory. The Chartered Teacher Programme has empowered them to gain confidence in experimentation with new methodologies and current approaches to Learning and Teaching. Many Chartered teachers have incorporated AifL techniques, collaborative learning and self-evaluation into their daily practice. They are highly committed to their continuing personal development.
Several Chartered Teachers informed the Dutch visitors of the work involved in their individual action based research projects. These projects were initially undertaken as part of their CT studies.
These included the following:
- Collaboration with staff to create Outdoor Activity projects that have been integrated into the curriculum. These programmes encourage young people to adopt healthy lifestyles and improve their fitness. Team building exercises have empowered young people to become confident individuals and effective decision makers. Many skills acquired are transferrable to other subject disciplines.
- A recognition of the importance of Pastoral Care in guiding young people. A Chartered Teacher highlighted the counselling experience that had been acquired and the ways in which she continues to offered valuable support to pupils who have suffered bereavement. The nurturing of the emotional and well being of our pupils is important in serving the communities in which we teach.
- An analysis of the Learning Styles of both teachers and pupils resulted in the Chartered Teacher learning new approaches to teaching and learning. This resulted in an adaptation of teaching methodologies to match the different learning styles of pupils.
It is evident that the extent to which Chartered Teachers can impact upon the curriculum can vary and be restricted by the schools in which they teach. A greater understanding of the CT qualification is required. The Head of Establishments should recognise that the Chartered Teacher is a valuable human resource. Given the collective experiences of the Chartered Teachers present, they are well equipped to support the implementation of ACFE, assist in Mentoring and advise staff in the GTCS update of Professional Standards. Many Chartered Teachers are active members of Learning and Teaching communities and are involved in projects such as curriculum development and interdisciplinary work.
The Dutch colleagues informed Chartered Teachers that they are part of the first cohort of a Pilot Masters programme. Unlike the GTCS model the Dutch programme is funded by their Government. On completion of the Masters qualification there is no financial reward. Depending on the particular route adopted, the Chartered Teachers present highlighted that they had invested sums of money ranging between £ 1,800 and £ 6,000 in their professional development. Extensive personal time had also been invested in pursuing individual research and study. Both Scottish and Dutch teachers faced the demands and challenges of managing their studies outwith the school day.
There is variation in teaching salaries paid in Holland as it is dependent on the school and the area in which they teach, even if the same subject discipline is involved.
Dutch teachers are nominated by the Head of Establishment to follow the Masters programme whereas Chartered Teachers were self-nominated. It was highlighted that the GTCS procedures were rigorous and that the acquisition of staff testimonials had been necessary to support the final portfolios.
Like Chartered Teachers, Dutch teachers were engaged in action based research projects. Some themes were similar. On completion of the Masters qualification the Dutch teachers are expected to promote the programme to other staff. It may be a rolling programme. However some teachers raised questions as to whether all teachers would be capable of meeting the standards required.
Both Scottish and Dutch teachers agreed that the qualifications were valuable. The personal learning that had taken place as part of the journey had transformed their practice.
Teachers in Holland and Scotland face similar challenges. The economy, government, educational directives and societal changes continue to impact upon their conditions and impose restrictions on the way teachers operate. Questions were raised regarding true professional autonomy versus prescriptive teaching.
This event was beneficial in learning about educational initiatives in Holland. Teachers from both countries would have enjoyed more time to exchange ideas. An online forum would promote further discussion from which all teachers involved could enhance their professional development.
I was impressed about how much further ahead than Scotland Holland seems to be with regard to vocational education, and several of the teachers were involved in areas like nursing education and education for horticulture. The group of teachers I held discussions with told me that some pupils make a choice at the age of 12 about the route they are going to follow: academic or vocational. Vocational education also doesn’t seem to have the stigma that it has here. In fact one teacher told me that the group that seemed to have the most problems as far as perception was concerned was the lower performing academic group.
I was also interested to find out from one teacher that Dutch schools don’t have a catchment area, and so have to attract pupils, if they don’t succeed in doing this and numbers fall, teachers can lose their jobs and ultimately the school could close. The other thing that amazed me was that someone who had only been qualified for less than two two years was able to become a head of department. The teacher concerned explained to me that there was a shortage of teachers in Holland because people could earn far more in industry and commerce, so it was possible to become a head of department very rapidly. Obviously this is very different to the situation in Scotland! He did, however, point out that the situation was beginning to change because of the financial crisis in the Eurozone.
Several of the teachers told me that they had been very impressed by the efforts teachers at Govan High made to help pupils from deprived backgrounds achieve their potential. Two of them told me they had been shocked by the levels of multiple deprivation that some pupils at the school faced, as these were much greater than they faced in their own establishments. They thought the teachers there were doing an excellent job and found their visit there highly stimulating.
A presentation by one member of the group also had interesting ideas for helping pupils move on from a “plateau” of achievement in Maths, while another presentation looked at the performance of teachers throughout their careers, noted that performance tended to level off on a graph and decline, and suggested ways of reversing this decline and moving the graph upwards. Levelling off and decline in teaching performance can also be an issue in Scotland, and obviously collaborative work with colleagues and professional CPD of the type envisaged in the Donaldson Report has an important role to play in re-energising teachers.
An ACTS committee member had positive informal discussions with the Dutch course leader and, in the near future, this may see Dutch teachers writing for SERA’s online journal Researching Education Bulletin. ACTS has successfully run teachers-as-researchers seminars in co-operation with British universities and one suggestion put forward is to extend this to Amsterdam University.
One teacher presented his findings about inter faith dialogue derived from a recently completed MSc dissertation at Oxford University. The twenty pupils in S3 and S4 involved with this action research project responded positively to a series of teacher-led interventions. Analysis of their conversations revealed clear evidence that the pupils developed skills in both cumulative talk – whereby they built positively but uncritically on each other’s dialogue; and exploratory talk – in which they engaged critically but constructively with each other’s ideas. The teacher has been sufficiently encouraged to make a proposal to the Scottish Government that an anti-sectarianism project be established.
Click here to access details of this mini-conference