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Pupils hit by non-contact time

Accusations of babysitting have been made by expressive arts specialists, research on reduced class contact reveals

one of the most comprehensive surveys of reduced class contact has revealed that it could be adversely affecting pupils' education.

Last session was the first year in which non-contact time for all teachers was reduced to 22.5 hours per week. But expressive arts specialists, who were employed in timtabled blocks to release teachers from class, complained they were being used as "babysitters" rather than giving pupils a quality experience. They claimed class teachers were the major beneficiaries.

The evaluation of phase two of the new arrangements, part of the national teachers' agreement, was carried out in Perth and Kinross.

Council officials and union representatives are now implementing a series of proposals aimed at countering the problems identified by teachers.

Douglas Stewart, local association secretary for the Educational Institute of Scotland, acknowledged that many of the issues would inevitably be mirrored elsewhere. The survey in his authority is thought to be the most detailed carried out anywhere in Scotland.

Many education authorities followed the example of Perth and Kinross and used expressive arts and PE specialists to cover the hours of primary teachers' non contact time.

Mr Stewart acknowledged that the "babysitting" verdict was very negative, but said he did not feel teachers saw specialists in that way.

Chris Webb, head of education services in Perth and Kinross, accepted that the previous system "did not necessarily lead to a high-quality learning experience for youngsters". In future, schools would be offered different options rather than a "one size fits all" approach.

The Joint Negotiating Committee for Teachers in Perth and Kinross has already agreed that expressive arts specialists should deliver art, music and drama in three blocks through the year. Schools will be able to vary the amount of specialist input they receive, depending on the skills and talents of existing school staff.

Among more positive findings were that reduced contact with pupils allowed class teachers more time for planning and preparation, and sharing best practice.

However, primary teachers said they were concerned that team teaching between themselves and specialists was no longer taking place, pupils' learning experiences were poorer, and there was a lack of communication between themselves and specialists. A 10-minute handover has now been built into the hour-long expressive arts lessons delivered by specialists, to allow for better communication with class teachers.

A few expressive arts specialists said they liked having sole responsibility for a class, and that it gave small schools a substantial increase in time with them. But they were concerned about being left on their own to teach practical subjects such as music or drama to classes of 30 pupils.

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