Teacher Probation – College or the workplace?

As we approach the end of another school year, many NQTs and some not so ‘N’ QTs are completing or have completed their probationary period in schools across the country. The majority will be engaging with probation in the traditional sense i.e. they will have visits from a Department of Education inspector. A tiny minority will have the inspection element undertaken by their colleague (their principal) as a part of the pilot programme Droichead. Assessment of professional practice aside, there are some induction elements that must also be undertaken (attendance at workshops) in addition to completing probation to gain full registration with the Teaching Council.

Examining the traditional approach, is this an ideal situation for the probationary teacher? Two unannounced half-day visits within a timeframe of at least 100 days, sometimes longer for teachers with longer contracts. These visits can happen at any time. Therefore the teacher is required to give it 110% every day just in case of a visit from the cigire. Planning notes are to be bulked up purely for the sake of not risking doing too little. Enormous amounts of time are therefore required for this planning – all in the teacher’s free time. Very little time is left for the exhausted teacher to have any sort of a personal or social life. At the end of it all, your fate is in the hands of a DES inspector who may or may not be consistent in his/her approach when compared with the rest of his/her colleagues. This is a challenging situation for the probationary teacher.

On the other hand, we have Droichead. It removes some of the issues with the traditional approach but brings in a rake of new ones. As flawed as the external inspector approach is, at the very least you are not being assessed by your colleague, a person who you’ll see in your staff room most days and who you’ll socialise with on staff nights out. Under Droichead, your principal is the person who’ll ultimately recommend to the Teaching Council whether you should be signed off for probation or not. This changes staff relations at a fundamental level. Probation is something that arguably needs to be done, in some form, but perhaps not in this way.

As the title suggests, probation should be firmly integrated into the 4-year Bachelor of Education degree courses. Only a few years ago, you could complete a concurrent 3-year B.Ed. and be deemed qualified to teach. The changes to the qualification are merely artificial, therefore there is huge scope to add a ‘Probation’ module (or something less daunting) within the final year. There is talk of 10-week school placements, where student teachers experience a variety of settings in one school. This would be suited to what I am (and many others are) suggesting. The colleges of education would be the ones responsible for ensuring that their graduates are adequately prepared for the profession, and rightly so. This is an opportunity for decent change. All the Teaching Council needs to do is change their policy and go for the sensible approach.

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