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 ‘Teaching Scotland’s Future’: a manifesto for liberal education? – Leonardo Franchi

The publication of Teaching Scotland’s Future (also known as the Donaldson Report) at the end of 2010 was a major commitment by the Scottish Government to enhance the role of universities in programmes of study for those intending to become teachers. In Scotland, this process is known as ‘Initial Teacher Education (ITE), not Initial Teacher Training (ITT), which is used in England. This difference in nomenclature is important, as we will see.

It is reasonable to ask how far we have come in addressing the report’s recommendations with specific reference to those planning to teach in primary schools.

Donaldson sought to improve professional practice by encouraging all ITE providers to deploy the wider academic resources of the university in the drive to prepare students for the classroom. I will focus here on two of the reports more ‘controversial’ proposals: the inclusion of other areas of the university in ITE programmes and the phasing out of the Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree.

The recommendation to incorporate ITE more fully into the life of the university was the logical development of the moves in the 1990’s to merge Colleges of Education with universities. It is a ‘sealing the deal’, so to speak, ensuring that the merger processes were not just (to use a great Scots word) a ‘flittin’! The proposal for wider study underpinned the politically sensitive Recommendation 11 which deserves quoting:

In line with emerging developments across Scotland’s universities, the traditional BEd degree should be phased out and replaced with degrees which combine in-depth academic study in areas beyond education with professional studies and development. These new degrees should involve staff and departments beyond those in schools of education.

According to the report, the BEd degree was not the best model for preparing teachers for the twenty-first century. Of course, serving teachers and policy-makers will have different views on this but the debate has now moved on. It is time to think long and hard about how ITE can be enhanced. I will make two suggestions.

I suggest first that the proposal to leave behind explicit training paradigms of ITE offers an opportunity for more liberal approaches in what was once known as Educational Studies. Such a move would facilitate a broadening of the knowledge base of students and ground their preparation on solid theoretical foundations.

A liberal pedagogy of ITE, ideally, would focus on the historical, philosophical, cultural and religious contexts which underpin contemporary educational thought. This pedagogical approach requires ongoing critical study of primary sources on education and schooling with encouragement to interrogate some of the ‘urban legends’ currently in circulation. I will resist the temptation to name some of these.

Alongside the liberal approach to Educational Studies teachers, I also suggest that we consider the value of a Liberal Arts model of ITE.

Teachers self-evidently must have sufficiently deep knowledge of the subjects they are expected to teach. A good university experience is necessarily rooted in a reflective dialogue with inherited bodies of subject knowledge where students are guided by academic staff with acknowledged expertise in the discipline. This is where the resources of the wider university can come into play, although we should not discount the considerable expertise found in our Schools and Faculties of Education.

Study of the Liberal Arts would complement a liberal approach to Educational Studies. Yet, we need to ask how the inclusion of the Liberal Arts would enhance ITE programmes. Would such an arrangement clash with the ‘professional’ nature of ITE? While ITE programmes must clearly engage with the expectations of policymakers in education, few would argue with the proposition that teachers should be well educated, not just well qualified. A broad-based programme of studies as offered by a Liberal Arts model would place centre stage those classic bodies of knowledge in, for example, History, Art, Drama, Music and Literature which expand the human mind offer windows into the world of ideas.

Study of the Liberal Arts should be essential elements of an educational system which is committed to excellence and general human flourishing. Teachers with such experiences behind them would be very well placed to make a positive contribution to the education of our young people. Indeed, those who are planning to teach in primary schools are those who, perhaps paradoxically, would benefit professionally from the incorporation of the Liberal Arts into the ITE curriculum.

To conclude, I detect a gradual return of the language of ‘teacher training’ in the Scottish scene. Some politicians in Scotland have used this term recently to express concern about the quality of ITE programmes. In response, I propose that ITE in the university must use the resources of our ancient Scottish seats of learning to underpin a curriculum which is broad, deep and challenging. The search for professional relevance should not blind us to the value of liberal learning for human flourishing. While it is important to make honest (and well-informed) assessments of ITE quality, it would be short-sighted to jump to the conclusion that universities are places for explicit ‘teacher training’. Donaldson rightly, advocated a move away from this model. It would be a mistake to discard this recommendation.

 

Dr Leonardo Franchi is a lecturer in Religious Education in the University of Glasgow. He writes in a personal capacity. The full version of this article, ‘Initial Teacher Education in the University: My Little Ship How Ill-Laden Thou Art’, is available on the website of the European Journal of Teacher Education: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02619768.2015.1116514?journalCode=cete20 Dr Franchi’s latest book, Shared Mission: Religious Education in the Catholic Tradition, is available as an e-book or as hard copy. Amazon: