Getting the chemistry right

BEFORE union activists pounce, let one thing be clear. The chemistry teachers who spent a week updating their skills before embarking on the Advanced Higher (page five) did so in school time. Most of them had been released for the week before the summer holidays. But some might have been willing to give up a few days of their own time so valuable did they find the experience.

Using holidays to better oneself professionally is, in some quarters, trahison des clercs, abandoning traditional rights and undermining colleagues. What the McCrone committee has recommended - a sacrifice of five days in the interests of self-development - is controversial and therefore not to be introduced willy-nilly for those who might not be punctilious in defending their seven weeks' freedom.

Teaching is stressful and tiring. Some people say they need a long summer's recuperation. For others there is a ditinction between holiday and refreshment. Chemistry teachers, like their colleagues in biotechnology for whom a summer course started last year, found that the opportunity to try out new activities and experiments in a university-standard laboratory, as well as informally share ways of tackling pupils' learning problems, amounted to professional reinvigoration - sufficient reward for a physically tiring week.

For the foreseeable future teachers are not going to be given sabbaticals like their university counterparts. After-school in-service or the occasional day-release conference does not add up to real professional development. It takes longer, better structured events, of which a summer school can be one. Building such benefits into a teacher's life will mean tackling one of the most controversial McCrone proposals and proving the distinction between repose and refreshment.

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