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One for all is all over

Primary teachers appear to be doing well out of the post-McCrone deal, and parity with their secondary colleagues in terms of classroom hours and management time will be a reality within three years. There are already substantial numbers of assistants supporting classroom work, particularly in the early years, and more administrative back-up is being ploughed in.

These are clearly positive and long-overdue developments that respond to the demands of the sector.

But parity of teaching hours introduces uncertainties into primary teaching and opportunities for more restructuring. This is where it grows murky.

There is no consensus among primary teachers and decision-makers about ending the tradition of the one-class, one-teacher approach to delivering the curriculum. Visiting specialists in music, art and physical education have, of course, always been a feature of primary schools and the presence of assistants and auxiliaries is changing the landscape. The teacher as an isolated island may be less of a norm.

But as primary teachers' time in front of pupils reduces, scope for further experimentation grows. What will fill the gap as class teachers focus on their professional duties? Will it be a specialist in science, French, technology, drama? Will it be an extra member of staff who works between classes or across cluster schools? There is no set template, although many people have a vision of altered images of the primary classroom.

Ministers may want specialists - probably drawn from the secondary sector - deployed in upper pri-mary, but many harbour doubts about the practicalities. Primary staff remain suspicious of the available expertise and teaching specific subjects in secondary is different from work in upper primary. Highland's pilot in which it will deploy specialists from the primary sector will be watched closely.

But it will not just be one-way traffic. Primary staff, highly skilled in core work, are being lined up to teach the basics in the first two years of secondary as part of an improved P6-S2 transition programme. How will that go down in departments? There are in fact significant barriers to increased specialisation, not least in training, career structures and sectoral regulations. This one has a long way to run.

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