Bloomer warns that it's sink or swim on change

David Henderson reports on the mood among directors.

THE most elaborate conditions of service in Europe have failed to protect Scottish teachers from an increasing workload, Keir Bloomer, president of the Association of Directors of Education, told a seminar on Tuesday.

Top-down, centrally imposed initiatives were buffeting teachers and would continue unless there was a radical change to the system of education governance.

"I have yet to hear primary teachers complain to me about the early learning initiative. It was a bottom-up development and it worked - not a common feature of innovation in education," Mr Bloomer told the Scottish Association for Educational Management and Administration at Jordanhill.

Teachers struggling with the development of early literacy in primary 2 recognised the efforts and benefits since a few years down the line they could be a P6 teacher. They would not want a large proportion of the class to be effectively non-readers.

Mr Bloomer, director of education in Clackmannan, attacked "top-down, hugely prescriptive, ill-conceived, and badly resourced and implemented" initiatives that added to workload and failed to deliver what was promised.

Central government should confine itself to strategic decisions and leave management of the education service to local authorities, he said. "When you have only one source of strategic management, you all get it wrong togethe."

Mr Bloomer also warned that it was in the best long-term interests of teachers and local authorities to conclude a deal on the McCrone committee's recommendations on pay and conditions, given the increasing frustration of ministers. Tony Blair had reported "bearing the scars of two years trying to improve public services," he pointed out.

He continued: "There must be real doubt about whether or not there is going to be a publicly managed and accountable education service in this country. That's the major challenge."

Local authorities would have to show that they had achieved something from the teacher unions in return for higher pay, otherwise there would be a "destructive cycle" of relations with other local government staff.

Ronnie Smith, the Educational Institute of Scotland's general secretary, said that it was "wildly optimistic" to expect all the details to be tied up before Christmas and called for genuinely tripartite talks with ministers and local authorities. Councils had been unable to deliver reasonable pay increases because of the Government's stranglehold on funding.

Turning to specific aspects, Mr Smith said that the proposed balance in the 35-hour working week, with five hours for whole-school activities agreed through a collegiate approach, would place a new professional responsibility on teachers and demand a radically different approach from many headteachers.

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