Wednesday seminars: Professional Update

Professional Update

Our SoE Wednesday Seminars are proving to be a really interesting and useful source of research provocations for me – you get a “taster” of some colleagues’ work and a robust discussion with others in attendance, all within an hour. This week’s was presented by Cate Watson and Alison Fox and was entitled:

Professional re-accreditation: constructing teacher subjectivities for career-long professional learning

It offered a critical interpretation of the Professional Update system which has been introduced recently to the teaching profession by the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS).

Cate started by explaining what Professional Update was and how it was closely linked to the Professional Review and Development systems already in existence. The PRD process is an annual review which takes place between a registered teacher (HT, LA manager etc.) and his or her line manager. The purpose of this review is developmental and self – evaluation is supposed to drive the process; professional learning and developmental needs are supposed to be discussed, previous PL experiences evaluated in terms of the impact on learning and future ones planned. We know from previous experience (National CPD team survey, Teaching Scotland’s Future survey) that in 2011 when this data was gathered less than half of teachers interviewed had had a PRD within the previous year. There is a feeling that in general terms, PRD has perhaps fallen short of expectations.

Professional Update (PU) is a 5 yearly re-registration process which will be required of all teachers and educators if they wish to maintain active GTCS registration which is necessary if they are to remain eligible to teach. The PU process will be based on what happens in PRD.

The thrust of Cate and Alison’s argument is that:

  •  There has been discussion and visibility of the processes but not the principles of PU
  • The underpinning principles of PU seem to have emerged from prevalent managerialist discourses around professionalism and teacher learning and they have not been articulated
  • There has been a surprisingly uncritical acceptance of this new system by the profession
  •  There are tensions between the developmental and accountability functions of PRD.
  •  Coaching and self- evaluation are central to the process (not so much an argument – maybe more of an explanatory statement).

The data they gathered through interviews with participants in an introductory pilot of the PU system suggest that the message about the separation of PU from competency procedures has been successfully communicated.

The GTCS has been consistent in its approach to dissemination of the policy; in early stages its leaders introduced it carefully as a process with a reverse perspective of “what it is not” in an attempt to emphasise the distance between it and competency or disciplinary procedures which the organisation also oversees for the profession.

The uncritical acceptance of this message seems to indicate that some aspects of what is going on in PU are being overlooked. For example, these two processes might be described as being completely separate and unconnected but essentially they are being conducted by the same people and this may present a less than distinct separation between them. In a school, it is one’s line-manager who performs PRD which will feed into the PU process but it is also the line manager who will raise competency issues should they emerge, thus unfolding a course of action which leads back to the GTCS via the local authority. This raises the question of how open can participants be in their approach to the process?

Self-evaluation is at the heart of the process of PRD, but how useful is this in these circumstances? In spite of frequent exhortations to encourage this as a practice at the heart of professional learning (see GTCS advice on PRD; Education Scotland’s pages on career-long professional learning),self- evaluation is not a universal good – it can only be as good as the person self-evaluating, regardless of whether or not the shadow of eligibility to teach is looming.

The mainstay of the argument here about teacher subjectivities is aimed at the use of a coaching approach in the PU/PRD process (according to those present at the discussion this emanates from the discourses of Total Quality Management, first raised in the late 80s  some of its values have helped shape the new managerialism in education) which directs teachers back to the new suite of professional standards. It seems like we may be operating in a closed loop whereby our entry to the profession is controlled by the authority whose systems also manage our performance and whose standards impose a structure for learning and development which is impossible to ignore if we wish to remain eligible to teach. Some might see this as a managerialist reconstruction of teacher subjectivity and an attempt to ensure teacher compliance. Whichever way there does seem to be acceptance that PU is all about development and not our eligibility to teach, that coaching and self-evaluation will make it work and we will all be better teachers as a result of it. Much of the work I did with the National CPD Team was on PRD – then I might have been more convinced of the connection between PRD and teacher improvement, now I’m not so sure.


About catrionao

I'm a lecturer at UWS and a PhD student at Stirling University, studying a school based practice of teacher professional learning.
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4 Responses to Wednesday seminars: Professional Update

  1. Michelle Lewis says:

    Hi – agree wholeheartedly with your blog. My LEA was involved in the pilot for PU. The process has been communicated well by GTCS and has indeed been well received by colleagues. This I believe is due to practitioners becoming more familiar and more confident in self- evaluation and reflection. My worry is that it will become a tick box exercise unless we communicate the principles behind it and have an openand frank discussion about what constitutes effective CPD.

  2. catrionao says:

    Thanks for commenting Michelle. I agree with you that the dangers are apparent of reducing the PRD exercise to ticking boxes and that what constitutes effective CPD needs to be discussed. I also think that we need to develop critical reflection on practices-, classroom practices and leadership practices. – that might involve some questioning of the principles underpinning PRD/PU , and maybe also investigating the link between the PRD process and teacher improvement? Is that what it is for? How do we know there is a causal link between these two things? If there is, how does it work? If there isn’t, then should other ways of approaching improvement be considered? From our discussions on Wednesday, other colleagues with more experience in education in professional fields beyond schools commented that assessing and evidencing learning seems to be a current obsession common to many professions. Again, I think we need to question the assumption that evidencing professional learning in the PRD process leads to improvement in practice.
    Andy Hargreaves spoke recently about a concern he has that in Scotland we might be over-investing in individual CPD which will build human capital, but may not reap the system-wide improvements we are looking for. He suggested we might need to invest more in social capital – building collective and not just individual knowledge to develop capacity across and within systems. Not surprisingly, given my research interest in learning communities, I think that’s a fair point, Whichever way, encouraging critical reflection in the profession as referenced in the new suite of standards might help improvements in practice – it might also result in difficult questions being asked. As Alison Fox asked recently – is Scotland ready for a critical profession? Maybe we already have one, but I’m not so sure we do given the ease with which professional update was accepted by it with neither challenge, interrogation or resistance.

  3. Ciara Gibson says:

    Your blog has really given me lots to think about. I think we are all very good at going through the motions of the systems in place and are very aware of the importance of being seen to be self reflective practitioners, however the key for me is what you have mentioned above, the impact of PRD. The way I am currently thinking about it there are almost 2 strands. As a teacher you reflect on your practice, your teaching and how you can improve what you do. You can also reflect on the learning that happens in the classroom, pupil engagement, achievement etc, this sounds really obvious but in my experience teachers often look at the two separately. There is often a desire to improve in an area you are interested in/passionate about, which will indeed progress your skills and possibly develop your professionalism, but will not necessairly impact on the pupils in front of you. If the PRD process is indeed to improve practice teachers need to be engaging in a wide range of self evaluation and reflection throughout the year, not something that will come easy to most I’m sure. Currently the PRD process relies on coaching and honest self reflection with some evidence to highlight the impact Professional Learning has had on teachers, so if it has impacted on you does that automatically mean it has had impact on your learners? Many assume it does. How linked should monitoring of learning & teaching & the PRD/PU process be? Is the apparent ease with which the professional update was accepted because there is little or no link between the two?

  4. catrionao says:

    Thanks for your considered response Ciara, I think the connection between teacher improvement and learner improvement is vitally important, but how those two things connect and the assumption that both these things will happen as a result of PRD both need some interrogation, and that’s what isn’t happening, although as was reported by my colleagues at the seminar last week, the new PU system is being accepted more or less without question.
    You ask an interesting question yourself:
    “how linked should monitoring of teaching & learning and the PRD/PU process be?”
    and then wonder whether the apparent lack of connection between these two things has had a bearing on how it was accepted so easily.
    Here you have pinpointed the tension between the “soft” developmental side of PU and the “hard” accountability side. I think it might have been presented to us, very effectively, as a developmental tool but there is clearly an accountability element to it which hasn’t been so readily discussed.
    I understand both you and Michelle are involved in the pilot so I’d be keen to hear how things are progressing for you both. Thanks again for your interest and taking the time to comment.

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