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Jurassic Park councils slammed

A shot across the bows of the Scottish Executive and school managements was delivered this week by the leader of the second largest teachers' union in a harsh assessment of what he claimed was lack of progress since the post-McCrone settlement.

In his presidential address to the annual congress of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association in Peebles today (Friday), Bill Fitzpatrick says that there is now a general assumption that teachers can be told to do anything in return for the "largesse" of a 23 per cent salary increase.

Mr Fitzpatrick says teachers had taken a "leap of faith" in supporting the settlement. "However, local authorities who seem unwilling, or congenitally unable, to adapt to the new philosophy of respecting the point of view of others, seem to have decided that Jurassic Park was a much better role model for them.

"The dinosaurs suddenly came back to life - for example, Controlosaurus which believes that it must decide everything for teachers and the dreaded Skintosaur with its cry of 'cannae afford that'."

Mr Fitzpatrick's sentiments are not confined to his union. They follow comments earlier this month by Donald Matheson, a past president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, who said teachers had to be given collective freedom to shape their hours and managements had to trust their judgment.

Further backing for new ways of working emerged at the same time from Gordon Jeyes, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education. Mr Jeyes called for teachin conditions which were "less top down, collective not autonomous".

But Mr Fitzpatrick, principal teacher of history at Grange Academy in Kilmarnock, feels assurances have not yet gone beyond the rhetorical stage. He cites problems surrounding the requirement that the shape of the 35-hour week must be agreed at school and local authority levels.

This exemplified the attitude that "teachers will be allowed to agree what the authority tells them", he charges.

If there is to be a brave new world of mutual respect, Mr Fitzpatrick adds, teacher workload must be reduced quickly, indiscipline must be tackled meaningfully and teachers must be freed from administrative chores.

He also calls on HMI to "take a reality check" and investigate not only the workload implications of new courses but also their educational value before they are implemented. "Meaningful pilot studies could be a radical departure," the SSTA president declares pointedly.

Mr Fitzpatrick went on to pledge that teachers are "desperately keen" for their pupils to be successful since they were "real flesh and blood people not some numerical entry in a statistical document".

He warns, however: "We can and will take standards even higher but not immediately. You cannot repair decades of neglect and underfunding in a trice, you cannot raise morale in a disillusioned profession overnight and you cannot move towards a better future without a firm grip on the reality of what can, and cannot, be achieved in any given time-scale."

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