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.