Editorial - Greek tragedy holds lessons close to home

Gillian Macdonald

Scottish teachers have much to be grateful for. That's the message that comes through strongly in this week's TESS. We see the conditions imposed on teachers in Tokyo and Osaka, where politics has lurched to the Right in the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown of 2011 (page 11). We hear, too, of the climate of despair in Greece as it faces economic meltdown (News Focus, pages 12-15).

Teachers' salaries in Greece have been halved in two years and every month their pay packets are smaller; their families struggle to survive on pound;500 a month and all face massive cuts in pensions. Pupils faint from hunger, schools shut for days because they can't afford the heating; 1,000 schools have closed and 30,000 teachers - one in five - have lost their jobs. Youth unemployment is nearly 50 per cent. Hope is running out in a country where "pupils have lost their smile".

That's not to minimise the problems Scottish teachers face, with the prospect of lower pensions in return for higher contributions and longer working lives; reduced pay for short-term supply teachers; poor job prospects for new teachers; and the heavy workload preparing for the new curriculum and qualifications. But it does help to keep them in perspective.

One area causing anxiety in Scottish schools at the moment is assessment, moderation and pupil profiling. Workshops on those topics, run by the AHDS union, are instantly oversubscribed and have lengthy waiting lists. Many teachers, we hear, are worried about how to tackle them - until they discover that Building the Curriculum 4, a little-promoted document, provides many of the answers.

Argyll and Bute has used this document to develop its own Skills Tree, an online framework that is helping pupils to take a systematic approach to new areas of learning. Douglas Blane visited Kilmodan Primary in Glendaruel to see it in action (pages 18-21). Whether the children are role-playing in French or baking cakes for the tearoom they run, the framework enables them to be more independent in their learning and understand its purpose better.

There's a salutary reminder, though, not to be seduced by jargon and theory. In this week's TESS interview, Stephen Breslin, the new chief executive of the Glasgow Science Centre, talks of the importance of feeding children's curiosity and love of learning, the "fire" in their bellies - not feeding it with boring material that doesn't engage them, but inspiring them: it's more important how you make them feel (page 16).

Plutarch puts it differently in Point of Interest (page 11): "The mind does not require filling like a bottle, but rather, like wood, it only requires kindling to create in it an impulse to think independently and an ardent desire for the truth". Which takes us back to Greece.

gillian.macdonald@tess.co.uk, Editor of the year (business and professional).

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Gillian Macdonald

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