In an atmosphere of 'relaxed alertness'

Virtually everyone who's anyone in Scottish education has been involved in some way with the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration. By Willis Pickard.

More courses, and more staff. There are not too many institutions in Scottish education which can make that boast. The Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration is one. Admittedly, the staff increase is small: from one part-time official to two, plus a new secretary.

Arthur Cumming, the former headteacher and Strathclyde quality assurance inspector who runs SCSISA, says that the present level of operation means that if he is overseeing one of the centre's courses there is no one at the Moray House base to deal with day-to-day matters and forward planning. So he is to be joined by Reg Wilson, who is taking early retirement from St Andrew's College.

SCSISA is quarter of a century old. It was born as the Scottish Education Department's national staff college. Gradually, it expanded its range of courses, taking in primary as well as secondary, but most of the courses are still mainly for heads and their senior management colleagues. John Havard, who retired after 17 years as director, presided over the reconstitution of the centre after its future was called into doubt and the Headteachers' Association of Scotland mounted a rescue operation.

It has remained at Moray House, where, as Mr Cumming puts it, it has an "independent" position but strongly backed by Gordon Kirk, the principal. "It is small in terms of income for Moray House," Mr Cumming says, "but through its training role, it packs a punch."

Courses - some run in conjunction with the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum and the Government's Audit Unit - are well subscribed. For some there is a waiting list. Mr Cumming believes that in advertising a management course, the first-come first-served principle is not enough. "We want to achieve a balance of participants, especially geographically. Therefore we may turn down someone from the central belt, whereas if you apply from Shetland, you are virtually certain to be accepted." Some heads are not too happy at being asked to wait for a later course.

The calendar for next session, detailing 17 national three-day courses, is about to be sent out. In the first term there are residential courses, either in Edinburgh or Stirling, in: quality assurance for primary and special schools; management of the secondary curriculum focused on Higher Still; managing the 5-14 curriculum in the primary; quality assurance in the secondary; managing the curriculum in S1 and S2; and human resource management in secondaries.

The last of these is aimed at principal teachers, whereas the others are for heads and their deputies and assistants. Mr Cumming has found an appetite among PTs for personnel management. They are accustomed to in-service linked to their specialist subject. But particularly for those aspiring to promotion, attention to wider aspects of management is attractive.

Another innovation is one-day courses costing Pounds 35. This session there are 14. Next month will see four across the country, with up to 75 participants at each, to be addressed by Archie McGlynn, the chief inspector in charge of the Audit Unit.

In all, SCSISA involves about 1,000 teachers a year. Looking back at the records he inherited from John Havard, Mr Cumming says: "There is a who's who of Scottish education among those who went as participants and those who contributed to the courses."

Having taken early retirement, aged just over 50, and a year before Strathclyde disappeared, Mr Cumming had no plans to remain in education until the SCSISA post came up. Inevitably, he has found that a part-time commitment has stretched to occupy more of the week than he expected, although the courses themselves are squeezed into the comparatively few weeks in the session which are not devoted to holidays or too near the beginning and end of terms.

A biochemistry graduate and chemistry teacher, he had spent 22 years in secondary schools, seven of them as head of Cathkin High in Glasgow. In 1990, as a senior Strathclyde inspector, he helped to establish the region's quality assurance unit and he handled school inspection reports in the Renfrew division. His career might have been tailored to assess the training needs of school managers. He retains a side interest in assessing schools, too, as the Scottish adviser for the Barclays New Futures scheme, which rewards pupil innovation. He is keen to increase Scottish involvement and is happy that several winners have been secondaries in less-privileged communities.

In the past year, SCSISA's director has become an expert in another kind of assessment - gauging the skill of a hotel in mounting a conference. The residential courses run from Mondays to Wednesdays with a view to giving school managers a break from day-to-day problems so that they can focus on wider professional issues. The opportunity for informal discussions with colleagues is also recognised. Mr Cumming says: "I like to think that the atmosphere is one of relaxed alertness."

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