School ‘faculties’ dilute learning, warns Swinney

The loss of principal teacher posts in favour of a faculty system hasn’t happened as a direct result of Curriculum for Excellence implementation, minister insists
9th June 2017, 12:00am
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School ‘faculties’ dilute learning, warns Swinney

Education secretary John Swinney has revealed concerns that the creation of school “faculties” is diluting pupils’ depth of learning and leading to weaker leadership.

Mr Swinney insisted that the change was being driven by local authorities and had nothing to do with Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). Questioned by MSPs on teacher workforce planning last week, he said that he was “concerned” by local authorities’ move towards having faculties, rather than individual subject departments overseen by a principal teacher.

He feared that “the ability to enhance the quality of learning and teaching within schools is made more remote by the fact that there isn’t that immediate leadership”. The absence of principal teachers meant that “we’ve lost an element of leadership of learning”, he added.

But the minister rejected a suggestion by Conservative MSP Liz Smith that CfE, by promoting more links between different subjects through faculty structures, had “unwittingly” created problems such as reduced subject choices for pupils.

Mr Swinney said: “I don’t think CfE has been the driver of this process, to move to broader faculty leadership. The move to faculty heads and flatter structures is about local authority choices, it’s not about CfE.”

However, Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA), told Tes Scotland that CfE’s “broad general education” in S1-3, by echoing primary schools’ generalist approach to education, made it easier for local authorities to claim that they were moving towards faculty structures for educational reasons. “It’s giving them the argument to do it,” he said. Critics argue that the main reason why councils are introducing faculties is to cut costs.

Mr Searson added that there was “no consistent model” for faculties, which led to unusual combinations of subjects such as religious education and technical education.

He also warned that where the faculty head did not share teachers’ subject expertise, those unpromoted teachers were left with extra work for no financial reward.

Mr Searson feared that local authorities were increasingly keen on the idea of having generic faculty heads, who would be moved around regularly to head up different faculties, even if their subject expertise was far removed from the teachers they were working with.

Last year, West Dunbartonshire secondary teachers went on strike, partly as a result of plans to remove principal teacher posts. At the time, EIS union general secretary Larry Flanagan said the council’s plans - later partially reined in - would create a “generic mess”, with subject teachers left out on a limb if their faculty head had a different specialism.

Jim Thewliss, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, told Tes Scotland that some faculty head systems had preceded CfE. He said he knew of no research showing curricula were more effective delivered through discrete subject departments. But he acknowledged that faculty structures had led to difficulties, such as limited opportunities for career progression.

Mike Corbett, a former NASUWT Scotland president, works in East Dunbartonshire, one of the last councils to retain principal teachers. It has started a review of school management structures, and he believes faculty heads will be one option.

“No one has given me a sound educational reason for moving to a faculty head structure,” said Mr Corbett. East Dunbartonshire Council declined to comment.

He added that recent revisions to national qualifications highlighted a “key flaw” in faculties: “Promoted post-holders in, for example, physics had no idea about the curriculum and quality of materials for chemistry or biology and gave these little attention or passed on work to classroom teachers, which should have been a management responsibility. As for faculties that cobbled together disparate subjects - PE and home economics or music, for example - these fared even worse.”

Michael Wood, chief executive for education directors’ body ADES, said: “The decision to appoint faculty heads is a matter for local authorities and was not driven by CfE, although the curriculum headings have helped to shape the formation of faculties.”


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