Carrying on as if nothing will change

When I became a headteacher in 1986 there were no national priorities, no standards and quality reports, no school development plans, no North Lanarkshire service plan, no How Good is Our School? performance assessments, no STACS tables, no targets, no best value judgments, no national education debate, no talk of continuing professional development, inclusion, the Children Act, devolved school management, school boards I None of that existed and yet I don't recall having much time for sitting reading the newspaper. "Why does the heidie not read The Herald in the morning?" "So that he has something to do in the afternoon."

My days then were filled with planning, negotiating, discussion, observing and talking to people, adults and children. I managed frequent visits to classrooms. I remember an occasion in the late 1980s telling Douglas Osler, now HM senior chief inspector of education (name dropping), that I recognised the faces of all 850 pupils.

I'm afraid I can no longer be certain about such a claim. I still manage the corridor patrols and dining hall duty but a much higher proportion of my time is taken up with report writing and evaluation and attending meetings outwith school.

At a recent headteachers' conference one of my colleagues was heard to exclaim that the job he now had was totally different from that for which he was appointed. I am sure this is true. Is it a better job? Is it a more fulfilling job?

Are the skills for which I was appointed still relevant?

Am I past my sell by date?

Being an optimistic sort of person, I checked the quality indicators in How Good is Our School? and gave myself level 4 in most strands. So that's it then: I'm "very good".

Surely there is more to it than this?

We have changed so much in such a short time. Much of it is for the better. All good teachers in the past used self-evaluation, though they probably did not know it by this term. After a lesson, every teacher makes a value judgment about the quality of that lesson and of the learning achieved. Perhaps the self-evaluation process of How Good is Our School? is an aid to this in identifying possible comparisons and exemplars. This is only helpful if it is used to improve the experience each young person has in class and as an aid to teaching and learning.

Development planning is promoted by HM Inspectorate of Education and unions alike as a way of making progress and at the same time reducing excessive workload problems. In theory that would seem to be a worthy aim. However, auditing success in achieving the targets declared in subject plans over several years shows that a large number of targets are not reached for a variety of reasons. These include changes in local and national priorities, delays in production of materials, cancellation of in-service training courses and shortage of replacement teachers.

Teachers have asked repeatedly for a national development plan and hopefully this will be forthcoming eventually. With a Holyrood election next year, there are obvious difficulties in giving any long-term commitment. Without this plan it is impossible to scheme any more than in the short term and yet schools are expected to be able to forecast what we will be doing in three years' time.

With many authorities involved in public-private partnerships and public finance initiatives, many schools do not know if they will be in the same building, or even open, three years from now. Job sizing means many staff have no idea of the post or duties they will have then. Despite this, we all carefully write down our intentions in our school development plan on the assumption that nothing will change and that the plan might actually work.

At least my personal development plan for 2005 will work. I'll have retired.

John Mitchell is headteacher of Kilsyth Academy, North LanarkshireTo send your views to him e-mail Next week: Sheilah Jackson, head of Queensferry Primary, Edinburgh

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