KIDS -V- CASH A RESPONSE TO RE-STRUCTURING IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS

KIDS -V- CASHA RESPONSE TO RE-STRUCTURING IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS What is the biggest challenge facing Scottish education today? Raising pupil attainment? Improving the quality of teaching? Introducing new, more appropriate courses and qualifications? Monitoring and improving pupil behaviour? Perhaps all of these?

Given the much publicised “21st Century Agreement” between teachers, local authorities and the Scottish Executive, the general public might be forgiven for assuming that Scotland is well placed to take on these challenges. Unfortunately this is not the case in secondary schools. Why? The 21st Century Agreement was certainly intended to usher in a new era in Scottish education. Teachers were given a 21% “catch up” pay rise over three years. Schools were given increased resources to pay for additional support for teachers. A new programme, the Chartered Teacher programme, was brought in to allow teachers to improve their classroom skills and augment their salaries. Plans were put in place to improve the management structures of primary schools.

These measures may ultimately improve teacher morale and pupil achievement and attainment but all that will be set at nought if proposals being implemented by many local authorities are progressed. These local authorities intend to cut a swathe through Principal Teacher posts in secondary schools. These are the posts which are responsible for delivering effective teaching and learning, monitoring pupil behaviour within departments and implementing new courses. In short, Principal Teachers are at the “sharp end” of all the issues mentioned at the beginning of this piece. The layman might be forgiven for expressing incredulity that these posts should be axed at such a time. It is as if Neville Chamberlain had returned from Munich and promptly cancelled Britain’s re-armament programme.As if it was not bad enough that these posts are to be done away with, local authorities are heading in this direction via 32 different routes. West Lothian Council for example, is appointing new “Principal Teachers – Curriculum” as current postholders retire or are promoted. The consequence of this policy is that the new “Super PT” may be responsible for a bizarre combination of subjects. There are also huge variations in responsibilities between different “Super PTs” in different schools. One is responsible only for Mathematics and Business Education. Another for PE, Music, CDT and Art. Yet, pending job sizing, both are currently paid the same salary. Will the job sizing tool kit be able to accommodate both posts on the PT scale without significant changes to their responsibilities? If the answer is “Yes”, who will take on any responsibilities which may have to be shed by the weightier post? Certainly not unpromoted teachers. If a responsibility may be rewarded by points in the tool kit, no sane classroom teacher will touch it.

Other authorities have taken a less pragmatic but perhaps more honest approach. In, Falkirk, only a few miles from West Lothian, all current PTs will apply for a pre-determined raft of “Super PT” posts and those who are unsuccessful will effectively revert to classroom teachers. How the new breed of “Super PT” will cope with developing the curriculum, ensuring pupil discipline and monitoring teaching standards in a wide range of subject areas is anyone’s guess. We are told that one school is forming one faculty by simply combining the group of subjects taught in the same corridor. This probably has the merit of convenience, if not of educational soundness. We will know for sure in August 2004 when unsuccessful applicants will demit their responsibilities. At least the pupils and parents of Falkirk will know fairly quickly. It may take several years until their counterparts in West Lothian are similarly enlightened.

A number of issues have clearly never been considered by the architects of these schemes. If Principal Teachers subject are no longer around, who will take on the task of mentoring probationer teachers? While it is true that many of the Probationer’s needs are generic, they are ultimately subject specialists. Since the new Probationer Training scheme permits qualification in only one secondary subject, there will be even greater demands for subject specialist support during Induction. If Probationers are placed in schools where there is no subject Principal Teacher and other subject teachers are also inexperienced, how can the school meet its contractual responsibility for support and development of newly qualified teachers?

What of Health and Safety issues? Will a super PT in charge of, say CDT, be aware of all the HASAW implications of the various procedures carried out in a CDT department. The only advice which might be given to a teacher in such a department is not to undertake any such activity where there is the remotest doubt concerning the Health and Safety of staff and pupils. Science labs, Home Economics rooms and PE may become “ghost subjects” in such schools. They might appear on the timetable but there may be little practical content to the curriculum.

Reducing the overall number of PTs in a school has significant implications for Guidance and pastoral care. Whatever managers and other teachers may think of Guidance (and PSE), it is clear that students value the service of dedicated guidance teachers, who have undertaken appropriate professional development. Brian Boyd’s survey for Inverclyde – the only authority which has consulted its students – established unequivocally that students prefer to talk to promoted guidance staff. The suggestion that each or any teacher in a school is equally able to undertake guidance roles, with no specific training, is simply ludicrous. Alternative models of pastoral care, such as some First Line Guidance proposals, will not meet the needs of pupils and parents.

And what of the teacher unions? The Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association has already threatened industrial action over re-structuring proposals in Argyll and Bute which would have had the effect of demoting existing postholders.

Changes in management structures need to be based on sound educational principles and must deliver the curriculum effectively. There is little evidence of this in the varied proposals being advanced. There is a case to be made for introducing a more flexible remit for some Principal Teacher posts. The secondary curriculum is arguably over specialised. For years, school managers have complained that the system of calculating promoted postholders’ salaries in secondary schools by pupil roll alone was far too blunt an instrument. For all its flaws, the job sizing tool kit offers the possibility of a far more flexible structure which would allow the creation of new posts while still protecting subject teaching by appointing PTs at lower points on the PT scale with an appropriate, job sized remit.

The question that needs to be asked is, ‘What is a school’s primary function?’ Answer: “providing effective and appropriate education for Scotland’s children.” Sadly, this does not seem to be evident to many local authorities, for whom protecting the secondary curriculum takes a lower priority than saving cash. In addition, the whole idea of re-structuring management posts is the ideological imperative of educational administrators who wish to create a structure which is responsive to their “vision”. They may be successful in achieving this. Whether they will be successful in meeting the needs of Scotland’s children and the expectations of their parents is another matter entirely.

Further details available from: Barbara Clark

Assistant General Secretary20 October 2003

Published on 10 December 2007 - Press Releases