Classroom politics

by Sep 19, 2011 No Comments

In the wake of recent economic crises, public services are under the microscope. COSLA has used the McCormac review of teacher employment to seek radical changes to teachers’ conditions. Teachers will feel the pressures.

COSLA’s proposals are a mixed bag. Ending the 35-hour week and replacing it with termly aggregate working hours (350 hours for ten weeks) makes sense. It means that a parents’ evening does not end every other teacher activity for that week.

COSLA proposes a radical overhaul, failing which the abandonment of the Chartered Teacher scheme which has created substantial anomalies in pay among teachers without differentiation in tasks. A review of the school year, four ten-week terms, is suggested. COSLA has also made a powerful case against teachers’ rights to leave the workplace for preparation and marking at home. That practice atomises teachers and detracts from their working in departments and teams.

Other proposals are more debatable. The suggestion that teachers’ continuing professional development should be intimately linked to annual professional review would focus CPD effectively. Unfortunately, COSLA also makes it clear that it is ‘fiscal reality’ driving this change. After five years during which Scottish teachers have been told to look to Finland for the model of educational excellence, the much-lauded Finnish model of an all-graduate teacher profession with most teachers moving to a Masters degree is totally abandoned in COSLA’s submission. Indeed the mantra of COSLA’s CPD proposals is the development (at bargain basement prices) of the “necessary skills, competencies and aptitudes of teaching staff to deliver outcomes for children”.

That fashionable, accountancy-based model of public service management assumes that simple causal relationships can be established between teachers’ professional development programmes and such outputs as numbers entering higher education or employment or examination passes.

The flaw in the COSLA argument is exposed when the role and purpose of teachers is discussed. The bombshell appears under the heading, Teacher’s role in the delivery of integrated children’s services: “a teacher’s primary responsibility above all others is the wellbeing of children within their care.” The modern teacher has always accepted a duty of care and the duty of cooperating actively with social workers, medical staff, the police. Teachers had always believed, however, that their unique primary role was to teach.

The COSLA proposals scotch that delusion: “…

the primary role for a teacher should not be to teach children but should be articulated in terms of ensuring the development, wellbeing, and safety of children. This is the primary role that teachers should share with other children’s services professionals.” This represents the de-professionalising and de-intellectualising of teaching. It trivialises teaching’s unique curricular content and pedagogic skills. It turns the teacher’s job into a cross between that of a foster-parent and a social worker – both invaluable but hugely different from teaching. It beggars belief that such a document, presumably drafted by COSLA’s education officials, could have been written by anyone with any experience of teaching.

A serious question now requires to be asked of COSLA, the body which not only employs the vast bulk of Scottish teachers but which represents a powerful part of the Scottish democratic system. If the primary role of teachers should not be to teach children, whose role is teaching? Indeed, does COSLA consider that teaching as a process has any use or value beyond its caring aspect? And if teaching is to cease to be the primary function of local authority schools, will COSLA be surprised if a considerable number of parents then choose to opt their children out of such schools and into schools which still see teaching as their major purpose?

Alex Wood, a retired headteacher, is an Associate at the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration and a freelance writer

Leave a Reply