Faculties a backward step

THE CREATION of faculties to replace traditional subject departments could make A Curriculum for Excellence harder to implement, it has been claimed.

The loss of clearly identified and remunerated subject leaders in schools is likely to create "considerable difficulties" with national curriculum development in chemistry, says Douglas Buchanan, a lecturer in the department of curriculum research and development at Edinburgh University's Moray House School of Education.

His warning comes in the wake of a survey by the Royal Society of Chemistry's education division (Scottish Region Committee) into how management restructuring was affecting the quality of teaching and learning in chemistry.

It concluded that it was still too early to discern any drop-off in quality, but predicted that chemistry education would suffer in the long-term.

One of the stated aims of A Curriculum for Excellence is to promote more inter-departmental, cross-curricular working. Secon-dary subject teachers, however, are acknowledged to be more resistant to such changes than primary teachers who are used to linking different areas of learning.

The survey uncovered concerns that when the present reservoir of existing or "demoted" principal teachers retired, there would be no one left in the system with experience of running a chemistry department. Issues relating to health and safety were also highlighted.

It found a diverse arrangement of management structures for subject departments. Fifteen authorities had either a faculty structure in all schools or were working towards that position. A further 12 were delegating the decision on establishing faculties to headteachers, while four were retaining principal teachers in all schools. With only a couple of exceptions, independent schools were retaining principal teachers.

Dr Buchanan, who is a member of the Scottish Region Committee and has been an adviser on curriculum development since Standard grades were introduced 20 years ago, said: "The general tone of responses was profoundly negative, with considerable scorn being heaped on the faculty system.

"A source of anxiety, in many cases for faculty heads themselves, was the difficulty of managing and developing courses and effectively administering the national examination assessment arrangements when there was a lack of subject expertise."

He added: "It was also clear that working relationships in some faculties were becoming highly-strained. The lack of promotion prospects for young teachers was cited as a demotivating factor and there were concerns about the fairness of budget allocation and the degree of direction as to how funds were to be allocated."

The findings of the survey suggested that the advantages of a faculty system were: consistency of approach across a congruent set of subjects; greater opportunity for transfer of best practice across departments; better transfer of common knowledge and skills between subjects; and better leadership for S12.

The disadvantages, however, were seen as outweighing any advantages and were seen as more fundamental: lack of expertise in departments with inexperienced teachers; lack of subject-specific advice for probationers; and lack of subject support from faculty heads in their non-specialisms.

Dr Buchanan said: "Perhaps matters will improve as chemistry teachers gradually accept the realities of the new regime and their innate professionalism reasserts itself. However, at a time when investment is needed to protect the future of chemistry in schools, universities and the UK chemical industry, the new structure is almost unanimously seen by teachers as a big backwards step."

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