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Education: Communication on the quality of teacher education - FAQ

06 August 2007
by eub -- last modified 25 November 2010

The European Commission on 6 August 2007 set out proposals to improve the quality of teacher training in the EU. High-quality teaching is a prerequisite for high-quality education and training, which are in turn a powerful determinant of Europe’s long-term competitiveness and capacity to create more jobs and growth. If adopted by Member States, the proposals agreed today will ensure that the EU has the highly-educated workforce it will need to face up to the pressures of the 21st century.


Q1. Why do teachers need training?

Teachers are increasingly called upon to help young people become fully autonomous learners by acquiring key skills, rather than memorising information; they are asked to develop more collaborative and constructive approaches to learning and expected to be facilitators and classroom managers rather than ex-cathedra trainers. These new roles require education in a range of teaching approaches and styles.

Furthermore, classrooms now contain a more heterogeneous mix of young people from different backgrounds and with different levels of ability.

These changes require teachers not only to acquire new knowledge and skills but also to develop them continuously. To equip the teaching body with skills and competences for its new roles, it is necessary to have both high-quality initial teacher education and a coherent process of continuous professional development keeping teachers up to date with the skills required in the knowledge based society throughout their careers.

Q2. What specifically is this Communication designed to achieve?

The proposals aim to promote a seamless continuum of teacher education provision from initial teacher education, through induction to career-long continuing professional development; they suggest that Member States ensure that such provision provides all teachers with the qualifications, and the full range of knowledge and skills, that they require; and they aim to encourage policies that promote a culture of reflective practice and research within the teaching profession. In short, it aims to tackle the following problems: skill shortage amongst teachers, lack of coherence and continuity between different elements of teacher education and the limited amount of in-service training available to practising teachers.

Q3. What’s the current situation regarding teachers’ initial degree qualifications?

Teachers' initial degree qualifications vary with the type of school in which they teach.

Upper secondary teachers

  • in ALL Member States, initial teacher education is at university level institutions (ISCED 5A);
  • it lasts at least 5 years in 18 Member States: BE nl, CZ, DK, DE, EE, FR, HU, MT, NL, IT, LUX, AT, PL, PT, SI, SK, FI, UK
  • it is less than 5 years in only 10 Member States (BE fr, BG, EL, ES, IE, CY, LV, LT, RO, SE)
  • It lasts over 5 years in DK, DE, IT, LUX, AT

Lower secondary teachers

  • in ALL countries, initial teacher education is at tertiary level institutions (ISCED 5)
  • in MOST countries it leads to a university level qualification (ISCED 5A);
  • exceptions are: BE, AT Hauptschulen (ISCED 5B)
  • it lasts at least 5 years in 12 Member States: DE, EE, FR, IT, LUX, AT, PL, PT, SI, SK, FIN, UK
  • it is less than 5 years in 13 Member States (BG, CZ, DK, EL, ES, IE, CY, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, RO)

Primary teachers

  • in MOST countries, initial teacher education is at university level (ISCED 5A);
  • in 4 countries it is at non-university tertiary level (ISCED 5B) (BE, LU, AT, RO).
  • training last 5 years in 7 Member States: DE, EE, FR, PL FIN, SI, UK
  • training last 4 years in 15 Member States: BG, CZ, DK, EL, IE, IT, CY, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PT, SK, RO
  • training last 3 years in 5 Member States: BE, ES, LU, AT, SE

Q4. What’s wrong with the way things are?

In a recent OECD survey, almost all countries report shortfalls in teaching skills, and difficulties in updating teachers’ skills.

In many Member States there is little systematic coordination between different elements of teacher education, leading to a lack of coherence and continuity, especially between a teacher's initial professional education and subsequent induction, in-service training and professional development.

In-service training for teachers is compulsory in only eleven Member States. Where it exists, training generally amounts to less than 20 hours per year.

As regards new teachers, only half of the countries in Europe offer new teachers any systematic kind of support (e.g. induction, training, mentoring) in their first years of teaching.

Furthermore, in contrast with other professions, the teaching profession has a high percentage of older workers. The proportion of teachers aged between 45 and 64 is over 40% in many countries while as many as 30% of the teaching population are aged between 50 and 64 years of age in some countries. This has clear implications for teachers' (re)training needs.

Q5. How were these proposals developed?

The Commission established a working group to reflect upon improving the education of teachers and trainers, comprising representatives of the 31 countries that participate in the Education and Training 2010 work programme.

Subsequent work by the Commission and national experts showed widespread agreement about the changes required. A set of Common European Principles for Teacher Competences and Qualifications was drawn up in cooperation with experts appointed by the Member States. It was discussed and validated in 2005 at a European conference of senior policy makers, experts in the field of teacher education and major stakeholders.

A series of peer learning activities has also been organised on areas of shared policy concern.

Q6. How would this proposal help promote growth and jobs?

The Lisbon European Council in March 2000 stressed “investing in people ... will be crucial both to Europe's place in the knowledge economy..."

The European Council in March 2006 noted that 'Education and training are critical factors to develop the EU's long-term potential for competitiveness as well as for social cohesion'.

The quality of teaching is one key factor in European competitiveness. Research shows that teacher quality is significantly and positively correlated with pupil attainment, and is the most important within-school aspect explaining student performance (its effects are much larger than the effects of school organisation, leadership or financial conditions). Furthermore, other studies have found positive relationships between in-service teacher training and student achievement and ‘suggest that an in-service training program ... raised children's achievement ...(and) suggest that teacher training may provide a less costly means of increasing test scores than reducing class size or adding school hours’.

The Council in November 2006 stated that 'the motivation, skills and competences of teachers, trainers, other teaching staff and guidance and welfare services, as well as the quality of school leadership, are key factors in achieving high quality learning outcomes' and that 'The efforts of teaching staff should be supported by continuous professional development and by good cooperation with parents, pupil welfare services and the wider community.'

Improving the quality of teacher education is, therefore, an important goal for Europe's education systems if quicker progress is to be made towards meeting the common objectives that have been established under the Education and Training 2010 programme.

Q7.Isn’t teacher education a Member state responsibility?

Yes. Member States have committed themselves to improving teacher education within the Education and Training 2010 work programme, which is the main framework for policy cooperation in education and training among the Member States for this decade.

The Communication encourages and supports national reforms in order to help Member States to adapt their teacher education and training systems to meet changes in the labour market and society in general.

The common objectives set by Member States, and the common challenges faced by them, require an approach that is based upon common principles. It is hoped that the Communication will encourage Member States to act in a coherent and concerted way to tackle a problem that affects the whole Union. The aim is to provide Member States with a number of broad policy orientations that will support their ongoing national reforms in teacher education and training. How Member States go about implementing this will, of course, be up to them.

Q8. What does the reference to teachers and research mean?

It is now increasingly accepted that, as with any other modern profession, teachers have a responsibility to extend the boundaries of professional knowledge. This might mean taking time to reflect upon the methods they use and adapt them if necessary; it might mean taking part in research in the classroom to find out which methods work best. It will certainly mean keeping up to date with the latest research in their fields, and in pedagogy and the science of teaching throughout their careers. Systems of education and training for teachers need to provide the necessary opportunities for this.

Source: European Commission

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