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.