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Ministers send a coded message

THERE was not the slightest whimper when the Scottish Executive slipped out its consultation on the Schools (Scotland) Code earlier this month. But 44 years after regulations were first introduced for basic standards on staffing, class sizes, qualifications and management in schools, the message from ministers could not be clearer.

New Labour's modernising agenda means the death-knell for what it regards as the restrictive practices of the past. The current education Bill, now going through its committee stage, will see that the statutory base of the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee is first out the door. Other apparently outdated mechanisms and standards will follow shortly.

The review document puts it bluntly: "Schools should not be unduly constrained by regulations that either frustrate innovation or impose needless uniformity."

Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, writing in the foreword invites comments and insists responses will help ensure "the regulatory framework for schools does not act as a strait-jacket, stifling discussion and innovation".

All parties accept the 1956 Code should be reviewed but arguments differ about replacements. Unions still prefer the safeguards of regulation, fearing the worst in any employer-driven free-for-all.

Keir Bloomer, president of the Association of Directors of Education, sees matters in an altogether different light. "The old code is entirely input-driven and has no place in the 21st century. It's a mishmash of obsolete rubbish."

Mr Bloomer, director of education in Clackmannan, said: "This is a set of regulations initiated before most of the current profession were in school themselves. The idea that there is anything in regulations dating back to 1956 relevant to the present situation s extraordinary.

"They have been amended on 11 occasions and it is almost impossible to get a copy of current regulations in force. Some regulations are not merely routinely ignored but consistently set aside by ministers."

Senior teacher posts and depute head posts in primary were two issues where ministerial power overrode the code. Mr Bloomer also believes regulations on class sizes have been superseded.

Ideally, he wants nothing to replace it. "If you want to improve standards in the system, you do not do that by prescribing input, you do that by setting targets for the outcomes."

WHAT THE CODE REQUIRES OF TEACHERS AND AUTHORITIES

People: Authorities must employ adequate teaching and clerical staff in schools and a formula is set out for the number of teachers employed in primaries.

Class sizes: Maximum on the number of pupils in nursery, secondary (including practical classes) and special needs classes. The SJNC agreement further spelt out limits on primary and composite classes.

Management: Prescribes the range of promoted posts in schools.

Teacher registration: Teachers must be registered with the General Teaching Council which has powers to strike off teachers.

Teacher qualifications: Qualifications required to teach in primaries and secondaries are stipulated and teachers with primary qualifications are stopped from working in secondaries. Qualifications spelt out for teaching in special schools and classes.

Pre-school: Qualifications for teachers are laid down, as are maximum class sizes, and how auxiliaries should be employed.

Designation of stages and classes: Describes the terminology for yearly courses and classes. Relaxation of the age and stage restrictions in secondary may make this redundant.

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