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McCrone's prescription for primaries

THE McCrone report is one more step in bringing primary schools in from the cold, a long process which has been struggling forwards through all of my working life.

Thirty years ago, primary schools were poor relations. Funding was minimal, teachers were paid at a lower rate, classes were larger and poorly equipped, real education was reckoned to start at age 12 and it was almost impossible to find officials with primary experience on the staffs of education authorities. To make it worse, many primary schools were led by heads and deputes who knew little about their sector as they were secondary teachers given their posts as a consolation for missing out on the prizes at the top table.

A number of developments have contributed to the improving status of primary education. A common basic pay scale across sectors and an all-graduate profession have raised the esteem of primary teachers and we have the unease created by international comparisons to thank for the overhaul of classroom teaching. The structured 5-14 curriculum with its emphasis on assessment, continuity and progression has brought greater confidence, while national testing with all its weaknesses provides a broad standard against which we can measure our achievements. Yet there is much still to be done.

While you can bet that occupants of primary promoted posts nowadays have experience in teaching primary children, there has been a reluctance to recognise the need for a proper promoted post structure if primary schools are to cope with the demands now placed on them. Compare the promoted posts in primary and secondary schools of similar sizes and guess who comes off worse. And remember that in small primaries - and Scotland has many of them - the head is a full-time class teacher too.

McCrone recognises the glaring differences between the complexity of the secondary school promoted post structure and the poverty of the primary one. The suggestion that principal teachers might find a place in primary schools is welcome, although concrete proposals remain to be seen. If primary schools are to continue with their overloaded curriculum and if primary teachers are to continue successfully in their multiple roles, it has to be in the context of a proper management structure.

The General Teaching Council for Scotland has jumped in with a proposal for primary guidance teachers and such a move may bring benefits. Our own school is fortunate to have a head and depute who are not class teachers, yet we wrestle with our remits in vain attempts to improve our management efforts.

Look at what is in the depute's remit, generally described as supporting pupils. The list includes: positive behaviour, anti-bullying, personal and social development, health education; links with psychologists, social workers, children's panels, occupational therapists, doctors and nurses; organising case conferences, reviews, meetings with parents, individual education plans, special needs targets, emotional, social and behaviour targets, support for learning and playground development. She is filling a guidance role and contributing to a large part of the inclusion agenda. No wonder we feel overawed. A dedicated guidance post would permit the removal of many of her tasks and allow her to share more directly in the management of the curriculum and of learning and teaching.

But there is one serious warning, whatever new posts are created. Time has to be built in for extra responsibilities. If not, time can only be found by the head taking over the class to free the teacher, thereby robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The expectations on primary schools have risen along with their increased status. Implementing McCrone's proposal for principal teachers provides a better chance of achieving the expectations.

Brian Toner is headteacher of St John's primary in Perth.

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