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Harder to find visiting teachers

While secondary and primary schools draw ever closer, and the Scottish Executive announces its plans for teachers to work across the divide, one aspect of primary-secondary liaison has declined in recent years. Fewer visiting specialists in subjects like music, art, physical education and drama, now go into primaries to give the benefit of their expertise to pupils and teachers.

The reorganisation of the regions, and the resulting loss of economies of scale, is one reason for this. But another, points out Ruby Hughes, senior manager in Fife education authority, is the simple difficulty of recruiting teachers of any kind. "In the past a lot of visiting specialists were doing the job because there weren't posts in the secondaries for them. So they decided to take up being a visiting teacher.

It is a lot easier to find jobs now, so fewer people want to be visiting teachers: it's not an easy option."

Aberdeenshire's senior education officer, Anne McArthur, a former primary head, confirms that recruiting visiting specialists is very difficult. "You can advertise some jobs until the cows come home and you still won't get the staff. I've got vacancies for visiting specialists in art, drama, home economics, music and PE."

Whether this is perceived as a problem depends very much on the individual primary teacher. Many of them are more confident teaching these subjects than science and technology or modern languages - both of which require increasing specialist knowledge.

"The subject I'm least confident about teaching, and a lot of my colleagues say the same, is PE, simply because of the safety aspects," said one experienced Aberdeenshire teacher. "But the packages the authority provides are a big help, and you just avoid anything remotely dangerous, like using the big equipment.

"Don't get me wrong, we all love it when a specialist comes in, and some of the things they do with the kids are just amazing. But we have all been trained to teach music, art, drama and PE. And even if we're better at some subjects than others, as primary teachers we just get in there and do it."

But there is another side to this, says Anne McArthur, who is responsible for Aberdeenshire's band of visiting specialists: "Schools are on the phone to me every day desperate to get specialists in. The biggest demand is for PE, because teachers worry about safety, and then music because they feel you need musical ability to teach it.

"Secondary PE teachers will say to me that children now can't do what they used to do. For instance, when we had Grampian region the kids all got swimming lessons. That's had to be stopped, so a lot of kids going up to secondary now can't swim. We have no plans to reduce the number of visiting teachers."

It is possible that the national teachers' agreement will usher in something of a revival in the fortunes of visiting specialists. Primary headteachers are beginning to wonder how to make up the difference between the 22 12 hours class contact time agreed for the teachers and the time that pupils spend in class. Visiting specialists may well provide a large part of the answer.

It is a suggestion that Ms McArthur views favourably. "As manager of our visiting specialist service I'll be putting it as a proposal to our director."

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