Teacher Professional Development in the UK: North and South

While geopolitically, England and Scotland appear to be on quite different trajectories after the Brexit referendum, at least we seem to be of one mind when it comes our respective approaches to teacher professional development.

The Department of Education in Whitehall today published a much-awaited document: “Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development“. This offers a detailed description of the standard that teachers south of the border are expected to meet with respect to their own professional learning, growth and development throughout their careers. The document begins with a clear statement of how important teachers are to national well-being:

As the most important profession for our nation’s future, teachers need considerable knowledge and skill, which need to be developed as their careers progress.

The paper sets out the key elements of the standard:

  1. Professional development should have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes.
  2. Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.
  3. Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge.
  4. Professional development programmes should be sustained over time.
  5. Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership.

At the heart of the paper there is a clear focus on the concept of teacher self-reflection, on the need for every teacher to look continually at their own practice in relation to their impact on learners. So, for example, it states:

Professional development that aims to change teachers’ practice is most effective when it includes collaborative activities with a focus on the intended pupil outcomes. In particular, effective professional development:

  • builds-in peer support for problem solving;
  • includes focussed discussion about practice and supporting groups of pupils with similar needs;
  • challenges existing practice, by raising expectations and bringing in new perspectives; and,
  • includes support from someone in a coaching and/or mentoring role to provide modelling and challenge.

North of the border, GTC Scotland set out its guidance on this critical topic back in 2012, in The Standard for Career-Long Professional Learning. This defines the standard in terms of four elements:

  • GTCSPRDProfessional Actions
  • Professional Skills and Abilities
  • Professional Knowledge and Understanding
  • Professional Values and Personal Commitment

The paper lays out clearly and describes in some detail the main components of each of the above. Every teacher, once they have achieved the standard for full registration at the start of their careers, must continue to grow professionally. They should, it states:

…continue to develop their expertise and experience across all areas of their professional practice through appropriate and sustained career-long professional learning.

Like its English counterpart above, a similar concept of teacher self-reflection lies at the heart of the GTCS paper. So, for example, it asks teachers to:

  • develop skills of rigorous and critical self-evaluation, reflection and enquiry including how to investigate and evidence impact on learners and professional practice;
  • commit to on-going career-long professional learning, including postgraduate study as appropriate;
  • lead and contribute to the professional learning of all colleagues, including students and probationers.

Teachers in Scotland and in England have very clear respective standards to live by in their professional practice, and headteachers across the UK should be working each and every day to ensure that their teaching staff are given the time, the resources, and – most critically – the required professional trust and autonomy to enable them to continue to grow and meet these exacting standards.