Teacher Professional Development

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ASTI Policy on Teacher Professional Development

The ASTI Education Committee has reviewed a wide range of literature on how other countries are meeting the needs of the teaching profession for ongoing professional development. This review was prompted by a concern that the teaching profession in Ireland is working in an environment characterised by rapid and sustained change and is inadequately supported in terms of access to in-career development. The Committee was also conscious of the new policy context in Irish education which aims to promote lifelong learning at all levels of society and within the education system. Another concern of the Committee related to the greatly extended role and range of professional responsibilities of the teacher both in the classroom and in the wider school community. This process of change within the profession must be supported by appropriate forms of professional support, including access to training and education. The Committee considered that it is important for the ASTI to have in place a coherent policy for continuous professional development for teachers. Such a policy will assist the ASTI to negotiate for the introduction of a range of measures to support teachers' professional development and to secure a range of enhanced study leave and other conditions of employment for teachers. Accordingly, the Committee prepared an initial paper outlining ASTI Policy and Proposals for Teacher Professional Development.

ASTI Policy and Proposals for Teacher Professional Development

(a) Introduction

As Irish society undergoes accelerating and profound change, the pressures on our schools are mounting. The teaching profession must be trained and equipped so that it will have the capacity to respond to the changes and challenges which face the education system. The ASTI believes that we need to develop a coherent and long term policy for teacher professional development within the context of the learning society and the adoption of lifelong learning as a societal goal. While progress in in-career development has taken place since 1995, it cannot be said that a strategic framework is in place to address the continuing professional development needs of the profession. Such frameworks are already well developed in neighbouring countries. The ASTI believes that the development of such a framework is now imperative arising from such factors as status and morale of the teaching profession; the age profile of the profession; the impact of social changes on the work of schools and the delivery of the curriculum; legislative developments and the impact of the learning society.

(b) Teacher Professional Development

Teacher professional development refers to the wide range of learning activities which teachers engage in, individually or collectively, to improve their professional practice and to enhance student learning. This definition includes Inservice Training, Continuing Professional Development and Teacher Learning. Clarification of these concepts is important if a coherent and effective policy is to be developed for the teaching profession. Inservice Training typically refers to the training engaged in by teachers in response to curriculum change. It generally is of short-term duration with the emphasis on knowledge content and methodologies specific to areas of the curriculum and school policy. Continuing Professional Development includes the vocational training implicit in Inservice Training but the focus is on supporting the personal, professional and social dimensions of the teacher's role as it changes during the lifetime of a teacher's career. Teacher Learning is the concept underpinning Continuing Professional Development which emphasises the teacher as a lifelong learner whose capacity to engage in critical reflection and to improve their knowledge base is at the centre of teacher professionalism.

(c) Weaknesses in Current Policy Provision

The ASTI has identified a number of weaknesses in current policy and provision, some of which are of a critical nature. These include:

(i) Lack Of Clarity In Definitions

At all levels in the education system but particularly at that of policy making, there is a lack of clarity in definitions and understanding of teacher professional development. This weaknesses is manifested in current Departmental policy which tends to ignore the personal and social development needs of teachers and concentrate exclusively on Inservice Training in response to curriculum change. The concept of the teacher as "lifelong learner" has yet to impact on Departmental policy. Teaching is a professional activity and training to support the teacher professional must meet the range of professional and developmental needs of individual teachers. This limited conceptualisation of teacher professional development has contributed to other weaknesses such as the lack of a strategic policy framework, lack of financial supports for teacher learning, lack of accreditation system for teacher learning and lack of recognition for changing role of the teacher.

(ii) Lack of Strategic Policy Framework

The lack of proactive, strategic thinking for teacher professional development at Departmental level was a core theme of the influential 1991 OECD Review of Irish Education. Notwithstanding the commitment in the 1995 Government White Paper to development of "strategic framework for the in-career professional development of teachers with explicit, achievable objectives, specified target groups and criteria for evaluating the impact of in-career professional development programmes", such a framework has not emerged. The Department has not published a policy document containing such a framework and does not have a structure within which such a framework could be developed in partnership with the education partners. The availability of EU funding and the requirements of curriculum change have largely determined policy which consequently tends to focus of issues relating to delivery rather than to infrastructure, is short term in nature and does not address more fundamental issues of sustainability of current models, partnerships with the teaching profession and other education partners, incentives and supports for teachers to engage in sustained and regular learning, including the development of systems of accreditation to recognise teacher learning. In addition, it does not address issues in relation to the structure of the teaching career and opportunities for promotion and mobility within schools. The administrative unit in the Department with responsibility for in-career development - the In-Career Development Unit - is primarily engaged in the administration and delivery of Inservice Training and does not engage in policy development for the profession. The existence of a range of delivery services operating in a largely independent fashion is symptomatic of the lack of a strategic approach. In summary, there is a lacunae in the Department of Education and Science in terms of policy development for teacher professional development. The establishment of the Teaching Council will not obviate the need for the Department to address this fundamental weakness.

(iii) Inadequacy of Response to Changes in Teacher Employment

Profound changes are underway in the teaching profession which are not addressed in current policy which largely focuses on the delivery of inservice training. Such changes include the changing age profile of the profession; emerging difficulties in the recruitment of teachers in certain subject areas and in teacher retention; the spread of part-time employment in teaching and changes in work patterns through the introduction of family friendly working arrangements and other provisions; the entry into the profession of mature students and workers from other professions; the large number of teachers approaching retirement age and consequent changes in their work lives; the growing diversity in the range of teachers' qualifications and the increase in the employment of non-national teachers in schools. Each of these developments have implications for the quality of the education service and therefore must be addressed by policy for teacher professional development.

(iv) Weak Tradition of Research and Evaluation

This weakness in national policy affects all areas of the education system. Teacher professional development is no exception. Research and evaluation are critical components of education policy which performs the crucial role of assessing the effectiveness of current policy but also of shaping future policy. Meaningful partnerships in education cannot be sustained if access to research data is restricted or simply unavailable.

(d) ASTI Recommendations for Future Policy and Practice

The ASTI recommends the following measures which, collectively, would contribute to the development of strategic framework for teacher professional development.

(i) Partnership Process For Policy Development

Teachers are the professionals best placed to identify their own professional development needs. At present, there are no structures to enable the Department of Education and Science to work with the teaching profession on the development of policy and the identification of needs. Notwithstanding the establishment of the Teaching Council, there is a need for a structure which will enable the teaching profession to have a direct input into this area of education policy development. The establishment of such a structure would also serve to underpin the commitment of the Department to working in partnership with the teaching profession.

(ii) Strategic Policy Framework

The ASTI recommends the development of a strategic policy framework for professional development based on the following principles: 

  • All teachers, irrespective of employment status, have an entitlement to continuing professional development and to engage in lifelong learning activities 
  • Teacher professional development policy must include inservice training, continuing professional development and teacher learning. Policy must be comprehensive to ensure that it meets the needs of the teacher professional at the different stages of the teaching career and the needs of schools in a time of sustained social change 
  • Teacher professional development is a shared responsibility of the education partners 
  • Teacher professional development must be adequately funded and teachers should be provided with financial and other supports to facilitate participation and progression in teacher learning 
  • Teacher professional development should promote the development of a comprehensive system of accreditation for teacher learning  
  • Teacher professional development should contribute to the development of a structured teaching career 
  • Teacher professional development be supported by ongoing research and evaluation of teachers professional lives and needs and the operation of schools 
  • Teacher professional development should encourage collaborative learning among teachers by supporting and promoting models for whole-school learning and innovation 
  • Teacher professional development should commence upon entry to the employment through the participation of all newly qualified teachers in a national system of teacher induction  
  • Teacher professional development should commence upon entry to the employment through the participation of all newly qualified teachers in a national system of teacher induction  

(iii) Supports and Incentives for Teachers

Teacher professionalism requires the individual teacher to be committed to ongoing education and training and to engage in lifelong learning. Teachers require a range of supports and incentives in order to maintain this commitment. Current facilities for unpaid study leave are increasingly unsustainable in the context of the high costs of registration for courses and the requirement to pay substitute teachers and meet other requirements under the Protection of Part Time Workers`Act, 2002. Measures to facilitate teacher participation in ongoing in-career development must include:

  • Enhanced study leave arrangements, including short and long-term study leave, sabbatical leave. Adequate financial supports should be available to teachers to enable them to avail of such leave including paid educational leave, provision of option of annualised salary, etc. 
  • Reduced class-contact hours to enable teachers to engage in professional development activities and to integrate learning into their teaching and other professional practice. 
  • Introduction of "out-of-school" leave to enable teachers to participate in work placements in industry and other employment sectors for specific periods of time. 
  • Promotion of teacher learning using ICT to engage in distance education and local-network learning activities. 
  • Review of existing framework for qualifications allowances to take into account all accredited learning by teachers.

(iv) Accreditation for Teacher Learning

A comprehensive system for the accreditation of teacher learning should be developed as a matter of priority. While the establishment of the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland and its two constituent agencies, HETAC and FETAC, will contribute to the emergence of such a system, considerable work requires to be conducted among the education partners, in particular at the level of the Department of Education and Science, to address a range of issues in relation to teacher learning and the core issues in any accreditation framework, namely, recognition, validation, credit transfer and access, transfer and progression in learning in accordance with the principles of lifelong learning. As a first step, the Department of Education and Science should develop a discussion paper on a system of accreditation for teacher learning. The publication of such a paper would serve both to inform teachers of the wider issues contingent on the development of the national qualifications framework and would enable teachers to contribute to the development of policy in this area.

(v) A Career Structure for Teachers

In the UK and other jurisdictions, fundamental reviews of the workload and role of teachers are being undertaken in order to promote professionalism, underpin teachers' commitment to participation in professional development, support the induction of newly qualified teachers and to address issues in relation to teachers' conditions of service. Examples of these developments include the Mc Crone Report in Scotland - "A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century", the Report of the Continuing Professional Development Working Group in Northern Ireland, the British GTC ongoing work in relation to the Professional Learning Framework and in Canada, the Professional Learning Programme for teachers in Ontario. Common features of these reviews are measures to achieve a more structured teaching career within which teachers can progress both as classroom teachers and as members of the school leadership team, measures to promote and reward teacher participation in ongoing professional development activities, measures to facilitate collaborative learning and innovation within the school, measures to retain highly qualified and experienced teachers in classroom teaching and measures to tackle teachers' workload. It would be appropriate for the ASTI to consider the merits or otherwise of such reviews.

(vi) Conclusion

The teaching profession is currently facing a period characterised by sustained demands for engagement with change at curricular and school policy , by increasingly interventionist legislative developments and a culture in which education and the capacity to learn are the pre-requisites for individual well-being and for economic competitiveness. At the same time, the teaching profession faces a number of other challenges in terms of the role of the education professional, the remuneration of teachers, the workload of teachers, teachers' morale and their status in society. All of these issues are interlinked and require to be addressed across a number of Governmental financial and educational policy areas. The development of a coherent policy for teacher professional development should be foremost among these policy areas.