Teachers: the block to a better education system?

At last, something that has prompted me to blog.  And who’d a thunk it, it’s those darn teachers who have managed it.

Perhaps, though I should declare an interest, before the teacher lobby piles in suggesting I am anti-teacher.  I was raised by a teacher and grew up among them.  I loved most of my teachers and have huge respect for all those who inculcate knowledge and learning into today’s cherubs.  The problem is there are plenty out there in our classrooms who don’t.  And my ain cherubs have encountered a few of the duds along the way, as well as their fair share of people for whom I have only awe.  They perform a vital role in our society that is overlooked if not so under-valued in purely monetary terms these days.  And frankly, I couldn’t do what they can.


the problem with teachers – generally – is that they seem to think that education is about them, and them above all else.  All those years rubbing along with tinies, tweenies and teens who have perfected the art of self-absorption and egotism has had its inevitable impact.

There’s a story in today’s Scotsman about teachers’ disquiet about nascent proposals to create new super-schools.  The idea appears to be furthest down the road in my ain back yard, Dumfries and Galloway.  Not renowned as a hotbed of radicalism, the council does seem to be blazing a trail on education reform. It has already successfully piloted the cluster concept, whereby a small secondary school and its feeder primary schools have the same head teacher and consequently, a much closer way of working.  Yes, it saves money but it has kept these schools open and it appears to work.  It is now being adopted or at least, explored in other local authority areas.

But this new plan appears to be a step too far for some.  The options are to keep the four secondary schools in Dumfries but as teachers are advocating, to create integrated timetables with pupils moving between schools or to create a single super-school for S4 – S6 and four schools for S1 – S3.  A third option would be a new school for S4 – S6 with the existing schools teaching pupils from P6 onwards.

What the story doesn’t set out is the rationale behind such thinking, so let’s apply a little context, some of which the Burd knows about and some of which is indeed supposition, but based on what we know generally.

The focus for change appears to be two-fold.  Firstly, to provide for students at the upper end of the school system, one presumes more effectively.  We already know that across the country, many subjects have disappeared from the timetable because low uptake has made them unfeasible.  The proposals to create a single campus for senior pupils would appear to be an attempt to address this situation: presumably, having more senior students in one school creates the opportunity to offer more subjects and ensure that teaching staff are able to focus on supporting young people in gaining qualifications.  Greater choice, improved attainment – a potential win-win surely.

Secondly, the issue of transition from primary to secondary and what happens to boys in particular, at this crucial juncture – a number of them struggle and regress academically – is one which has exercised the Director of Education in Dumfries and Galloway.  He has been trying various, innovative ways of addressing it and should be commended for doing so.  It is entirely possible that the proposal to create schools focusing on the early years of secondary or to create a whole-school approach over these vital transition years is about addressing this issue.

So, all the options appear to be trying to fix some of the well-documented issues in Scottish education, which may or may not be more acutely prevalent in this rural area.  Of course, funding and the future sustainability of education in the region will also be in the mix.  With PFI/PPP off the menu, there is bound, too, to be an attempt to upgrade infrastructure in an affordable way.  Some of the schools are bound to be crumbling and also, not necessarily located anymore where the greatest populations of secondary school age children are.

Whatever the reasons, such willingness to find creative solutions to problems and to future-proof the provision of education in a rural area which suffers more than its fair share of de-population, particularly of young people, is to be welcomed and worked with.  Not according to the EIS which has surveyed its local membership.  Guess what?  They’re not happy.

John Dennis, EIS local association secretary, said: “Many made clear in the survey that they value being in a six-year secondary school and that their job satisfaction, their expertise, their conditions of service and their promotion prospects would all be damaged if they were to work in a burgh school under 
option two.

See?  All about them.  The weans don’t even warrant a mention.  Indeed, their preferred option of things largely staying as they are but with pupils moving across town between schools in order to access an integrated timetable (whatever that is) again suggests a lack of consideration for what is in the best interests of children and young people.  The idea of naive 12 year olds criss-crossing Dumfries in search of an education is a recipe for disaster.  The amount of time lost to teaching as weans inevitably get lost/held up/get distracted by shops/run over/delete as appropriate would be enormous.  And of course, as the cherubs age, they would get more wily at lengthening the time taken and the excuses to be made for not turning up at all.  By 17, they’d have turned it into an art form and barely be in school at all.

Of course, none of this would matter a jot to the teachers, who would of course, be safely, securely and cosily ensconced all day in the one location.  The plan is fraught with less obvious difficulties.  Whose responsibility would it be to report a child who doesn’t turn up and at what point would a child be considered missing?  How would the schools know who is absent for the day or just opting out of turning up for that one lesson?  Who would be legally responsible for the children as they made their way through town?  Would they lay on buses to transport the weans hither and thon and if so, how much would that cost?

In focusing only on their needs and interests, teachers appear to have forgotten all about the welfare and well-being of the children they owe a duty of care to.  Worse, they seem to have lost sight of being part of the solution rather than a block to change.  And if they want to be taken seriously as partners in imagining the future of education provision, then they need to start making it less “all about me” and more about ensuring that the kids are alright.



11 thoughts on “Teachers: the block to a better education system?

  1. Nobody should be anti-teacher as we’re all teachers to some extent and education is too important to be clouded by professional boundaries. As a teaching professional I would admit that institutionally teachers do guard their territory quite vociferously and sometimes this is to the detriment of school learners. Historically, Scottish teachers – again collectively – have never been known for radicalism in terms of educational change. On the other hand slowly and surely things are changing in terms of “the classroom” Schools are much more collegiate and teachers now work with others in a way they never did before recognising that many community,specialist and knowledge partnerships do bring learning to life for the pupils. There is a critical difference between institutional and individual teaching efforts. The professional bodies that guard Scottish education are wary of structural change but operationally teachers in groups and across learning communities do see the benefit to learners of for example more cohesion across the P6 -S2 curriculum and more primary methodologies in S1 to S3 for those learners that need it. I think that’s one of the downsides of having the system we have – that its overly beaurocratic, excessively managerial and it tends to stifle the creativity of teachers themselves – and exhaust them. Even when individual learning communities pilot really innovative projects there is not the managerial commitment, resources and often teacher energy to take it to the next level of system change. But in defending teachers I would say again – there is a chasm between what teachers do in the classroom everyday and how the system is run. It is the gatekeepers and not the teachers themselves you should be aiming at.

  2. I think every part of the public sector needs to recognise that resources are restrained and therefore we need some flexibility and we need to be able to work in different ways. Of course trade unions need to be part of the process. Hopefully a compromise will be found. I recognise that teachers work beyond what they are strictly contracted to do but so does everyone else I know. There is nothing unique about that!

  3. totally ill informed rant, cluster concept not piloted in dumfries and galloway. no educational advantages put forward for superschool , and no financial case either. if it goes ahead bound to be budget cuts elsewhere. if present system refined only senior pupils would require to change schools in afternoon, better than having 1600 pupils dumped on the outskirts of Dumfries

  4. Will a Trade Union act in the interests of its members first? Yes – it’s their job.
    Will that always be what is in the interests of children? No.

    It doesn’t make teachers themselves bad or rubbish or their Trade Union not worth listening to – it just means that they come at an issue from a different perspective than other interested parties and we should bear that in mind.

    Anyway, never argue over an ascertainable fact – the EIS can just publish the survey in full and we can all form an independent rational judgement based on that. dumfries@eis.org.uk

  5. Congratulations on at last saying something about the spoilt pushy teachers. Since their industrial inaction of the 1980s where they hot School Sport in a way that we have never recover they seem to think that they can call the shots.
    Hang around any staff room as a non teacher and one sees how they didn’t want Higher Plus and now CfE is being talked down. The way in which q

    • Sorry I got cut off
      The way in which quite promising Primary children end up sitting in S1 and S2 doing not a lot is a national disgrace. Perhaps the biggest failure in Scottish Education is the S1 S2 period.
      Of course there are some brilliant, dedicated teachers, but equally there are those who are neither brilliant nor caring. Unfortunately criticism of the profession draws exactly the response which it has.
      Teachers do have a difficult time, and the attitude of many parents is shameful, but very often that is merely in response to past failures of the teaching profession.
      We need to begin at the colleges and work our way through the profession really seeing where they are rather than take their word for it that they are doing well as unfortunately there are areas where teachers are failing

    • Spoilt pushy teachers ??? do you even know what your talking about? CfE being talked down? Again do you know what you are talking about? I would to an extent agree with you regarding S1 and S2 as it is a sort of ‘floating period’ but that said CfE was aimed at addressing some of these issues. May I also add that you get great electricians and poor ones, great doctors and poor ones, great shop assistants and poor ones …so yes you guessed it it is the same in teaching. Rocket science isn’t needed there however your astonishing remarks seem to indicate that teaching is awash with lazy spoiled teachers. Let me tell you something get in a school and do the job for a month then I will listen to you …otherwise stop making grandiose statements that you have no right, qualification or indeed experience in the profession to make. That’s what is wrong with the profession in many ways …do-gooders and their bright ideas yet have never done the job!! Hang on i’ll go and tell a joiner to step aside and show him how to do it despite the fact I have never used a chisel!!!

      As for the 1980’s inaction as you put it regarding school sports may I remind you that labourers were earning more than a teacher that had spent 5 years training for the job, been through university etc and many unskilled workers were earning more!! I am not deriding unskilled workers as I was one myself a long time ago but lets be pragmatic here. They were merely fighting for better pay and conditions and as for it never recovering well the school I work in is recognised in excellence for it’s football and rugby and is a centre of excellence that the SFA and SRU train kids etc. In addition, the school teams have one loads of local and national awards for their sports. But that’s right it has never recovered. I was a kid in secondary school in the 80’s and I don’t remember being awash with sport …or maybe nostalgia is blurring your rose tinted spectacles !!!

      As for CfE and talking it down – well the idea of CfE is actually excellent and was well received by teachers in general .. the reason we talk it down as you so put it is that it requires funding and maybe you hadn’t noticed but there are now cuts in education as everywhere else therefore the principle of CfE cannot be met where at its heart lies interdisciplinary learning at it’s core … if you know what that means then you may know the issues and problems!! With class sizes increasing to the maximum legal contact then this means unfortunately kids don’t get as much time as they used too …that’s a major concern (oh but I say that because i’m spoiled and want small classes don’t I?) …… well actually I care and want to be able to make proper, useful, influential contact with a pupil. In a 50 minute period with 31 pupils that gives me roughly one minute per pupil per period – 3 minutes a week!!! And you wonder why the system is going wrong. It’s because people like you sir think from the wrong perspective. You think teachers want an easy ride and if they suggest something then it can only be for their own good.

      As always it’s a ‘race to the bottom’. Let’s make sure we have the worst working conditions possible for everyone, as little as possible paid to anyone, and be derisory about whatever they do. That’s the modern day culture …what happened to aspiration, respect, working for a common goal, fighting for EVERYONE’S rights etc etc …rather people just want to attack others and they don’t have the faintest clue what they are talking about.

    • As an Addendum regarding CfE … well after seeing the Arrangements Documents and building the new Nat 4 and 5 courses it turns out it is pretty much an amalgamation of Standard Grade and Intermediate to a large extent. Wow – that’s revolutionary. All the talk about CfE and it’s huge merits for more active, interdisciplinary learning and now with all the budget cuts everywhere it turns out it is a ‘mish mash’ of the two previous systems. That’s why we talk it down as it’s purely political and not in any way to benefit kids. Also the examination side is VERY general. An example of a specimen exam paper read ‘How did Hitler come to power in 1933?’ And the rest of the KU questions are very similar – in effect they are ‘shotgun’ questions …fire enough at the target and some will hit. There is no precision in the questions but merely general questions that kids can rattle everything they know off at and get the marks. So you guessed it next year the Nat 5 results across Scotland will be amazing because the Government can’t be seen to let it fail. My concern id the curriculum is being further eroded for political reasons. Education is a political football and who suffers – the pupils. But again it’s all us teachers isn’t it? I’m all for active learning and experiential learning – wheres the money to do that in budget cuts? How can I as a teacher give varying experiences and create active lessons when materials are scarcer and scarcer? How can I as a teacher create lessons that are active, creative, experiential when I am teaching huge numbers in classrooms, maximum contact on my timetable and have reports, SAT forms, IAT forms, marking, development etc etc etc to do? I am not a magician sir and this cannot be achieved when you add in interdisciplinary learning as that is also at the core of the new system. So after all the hype about CfE, after all the delays in it’s implementation it comes to us as a hybrid of the previous existing curricular approaches. We could have saved millions upon millions as a country if the Education minister had said – stick with Standard Grade and Intermediate and just try here and there to add experiential and active learning best you can. That would have saved millions! Because ladies and gentleman in a nutshell that’s what you have as the much vaunted CfE. That’s why we ‘talk it down’ as it’s not ‘fit for purpose’ in many respects. Not because we are ‘lazy spoiled teachers’ but because it has come nowhere near what was promised for our country’s most precious resource … our kids. It’s them that have been failed by the Government and we are shouting about it but noone is listening as all we get back is – ‘lazy, spoiled’ teachers’ who want an easier life!!! I wish !!! The Government want to save money so Nat 4 is internally moderated (which will account for at least 50% of most schools pupils). Therefore there aren’t as much marking costs to the SQA. Only Nat 5 will sit an exam!! And it’s all about lazy teachers …this is all about poor education policy that has been forced through at a time of austerity that was initially meant to come with funding and Unions welcomed it as did we but we always said it needs funding ….now in austerity there is no funding so what we have is a system that isn’t fit for purpose or the product that it was sold to the public as. So again Mr Andrews do your research rather than ‘spouting off’.

  6. Firstly I would like to point out that in the last ten years that I have been a teacher I have seen radical change in such a short time therefore the fact you grew up amongst teachers is fine but the system has changed so much in a short time I hardly think you would recognise it therefore don’t presuppose you ‘know it all’ regarding teachers, their views, their issues and their challenges.

    An EIS official is a Trade Unionist therefore he is there to represent the views of teachers as Peter has mentioned. The teachers on the other hand concentrate on their pupils whilst others look out for their interests or are workers not entitled to fair representation of their interests? This is the issue I have today in that everyone wants to race to the bottom and criticise everything everyone else does with little to no knowledge of the situation or profession based on long held views, prejudices and sensationalist media stories. I am a teacher therefore what do I know about an electricians work, or a doctors work, or a secretary’s work, or a builders work? Am I really in a position to know the pressures they face, the stresses of their job, their motivations etc. Maybe a little but not in entirity therefore am I in a position to make an all out judgement? Of course I am not.

    However here it seems all out judgements can be made. Teachers are only out for themselves …. I have never heard such tosh that teachers think its ‘all about me’.

    Let’s not forget the introduction of National 4 and 5 that is underfunded and lacks clear direction and has done since its inception. However we the teachers are working many, many hours way beyond any contractual obligation to ensure good courses are in place for our pupils to give them an excellent chance of attaining. The majority of this work is unpaid and we do it for the benefit of our pupils. From my perspective I passed my development time in my WTA last September therefore everything I have done in that regard is simply for pupil benefit. If it were ‘all about me’ I would have finished last September albeit I have tens of hours of development left with 4 weeks to go until end of term!!!

    What about the school trips we take pupils on locally and internationally every year – the hours we dont spend with our families to enrich and enliven education for those in our care at substantial risk in this day and age of litigation and unpaid. But yet again it’s all ‘about me’ !!!!

    What about the challenges of ever increasing class sizes and the challenges faced trying to ensure every child has the ability to attain and achieve and to try and ensure they are enjoying what they are being taught as well as feeling inspired. The massive problems of trying to make interdisciplinary learning work well for pupils under staff cuts, lack of funding, larger and larger class sizes etc etc.

    These are just a few points of many and no doubt people will weigh in with the usual jibes about this and that …. but rather than do that why not think about what this society is offering our kids? That we are happy for class sizes to get bigger thereby hampering pupils learning, that we sit back and accept mismanaged curricular changes with little to no funding, the fact that schools budgets are ever dwindling for resources etc. Why not challenge those in power about that than challenge the teachers who do a damn good job under difficult circumstances (ass do many other people but its teachers here you attack). So rather than point the finger at teachers why not point a finger at the the ‘system’ as that is whats hampering and will further hamper the education of our future generations. In a society you get what you wish for – just be careful what you wish for!

  7. John Dennis is an EIS official. It is his job to present the views and represent the interests of teachers. Quite why anybody would be shocked at him doing so is a bit puzzling. The fact that he is quoted looking at the issue from the the teachers’ perspective is likely to be a function of the question he was asked. There is certainly no rational reason to suppose that this represents the entirety of his analysis. And even less reason to suppose that commenting from the teachers’ perspective precludes him having an opinion about the effect on pupils.

  8. One word – nonsense!!! All about teachers? Thats absolutely preposterous. Yeah thats why we continue to work bringing in National 4 and 5 whilst there is no funding. In other words developing hundreds of hours of courses in our own time as timetables are rammed full which is fine but leaves no time for development outside the WTA of approx 40 hours dependent on individual schools. Thats why we are trying to implement interdisciplinary learning with no funding. That’s why we take kids on trips abroad to enliven and enrich their learning. All of the above and there are many more examples are for the benefit of those we teach. Because in fact we do care. Do we get it right all the time? No. But do you? The point is the teaching profession as a whole tries its absolute best for their pupils and the commitment given is beyond your scope. Sure you grew up in a teaching household but let me assure you education has changed radically in the last few years. And i mean radically. So your perception may very well be long out of date. As a final point and to make you happy – we as teachers spend hundreds if not more hours of our time unpaid for the benefit of the pupils we teach each year. Its as simple as this – if teachers worked only their agreed contractual obligation then watch every school in the land grind to a halt. So before you lambast the profession and somehow expect teachers, as well as doctors, nurses and other professions, remember this – we do what we do because we see our job as a vocation for the benefit of others at substantial cost to ourselves not only in time, but money, our health and our general wellbeing. I do not complain about that as i chose my profession and many other people in industry etc do the same but a little respect, understanding and appreciation would be nice. I think people these days see schools as ‘babysitting’ institutions rather than centres of learning !!!

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