This may be remembered as the year of change, with the introduction of more inclusive elements in the classroom and the next step towards full implementation of the post-McCrone agreement. Both of these changes were anticipated by teaching staff but the enthusiastic adoption of faculties by education authorities across Scotland is a change that has caught many by surprise.
Apparently the stimulus for the faculty concept was Professor Gavin McCrone's original report, which suggested that there were too many levels of management within Scottish secondary schools. Surely Professor McCrone could not have envisaged how divisive this wholesale change would be within schools and how it could effect recruitment to the profession in the future?
In a case of the left hand not knowing what the right one is doing, Education Minister Peter Peacock is encouraging the necessary numbers to join the profession by finally being able to offer a decent wage. At the same time authorities are reducing the opportunities for promotion. It is all very well getting people into teaching through an attractive salary but we have to offer incentives to keep them in. The expensive chartered teacher scheme won't do it.
There was much talk last year ridiculing the notion of making departmental amalgamations through proximity, creating a faculty of the ground floor, for example. But decisions about which subjects should form some new faculties seem to be based on equally tenuous links. Joining English and modern languages is a popular choice among headteachers because they both involve language; doesn't every subject? Art and technical subjects both have elements of drawing. Why not amalgamate mathematics and PE, as you need to be able to count the scores when playing a game?
Many Catholic schools have decided to make religious education a faculty in itself. While this highlights the importance of religion in faith schools, it seems wasteful to award one to a subject where there may be no specialist staff to be head of, and many schools will not be presenting pupils for RE exams.
The thinking behind faculties was to introduce a flatter, more streamlined management structure. It is argued this will be more cost effective, efficient and successful than before. For many authorities, I imagine that the cost effective nature of faculties in the long run is the greatest attraction.
Yet initially the introduction of faculty heads on higher salaries working next to the original PTs will cost councils rather than save money. Nor does it seem particularly efficient to have one subject specialist learn about another subject in order to take control of that department.
This subject knowledge will have to be acquired while juggling PT commitments and teaching classes. Crucially, the new faculty head will have to get on top of the exam and internal assessment diet immediately if results are not to suffer. What is more efficient, a PT ordering the requisition or a faculty head finding out from each member of the department what they need before carrying out the requisition?
Different departments do things differently: a faculty head with a background in English may have difficulty grasping that noise levels have to be higher in modern languages classes, for example. This is knowledge acquired through experience.
Another weakness of the new system is that there is too much reliance on teacher goodwill for it to be healthy. Incoming faculty heads will have to rely on the original PTs continuing to carry out their duties until they find their feet. The original PTs may feel no sense of obligation as they are being paid the same salary as before despite their jobs being taken from them.
There is also a problem of mentoring probationers. If the head of faculty does not teach the same subject as the probationer, then the department will have to ask non-promoted teachers to take on this task, and they could quite rightly say no as it would be outwith their duties. This would not only limit the number of places for probationers on offer but could create bad feeling within schools.
The rules of business such as streamlining management structures cannot simply be applied to schools. Schools are not in the business of selling but of developing, and as such are unique entities. The sooner education authorities realise this and stop trying to make short cuts to save money, the better for everyone.
Gordon Cairns is a supply teacher.