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Staffing for change

RURAL Aberdeenshire looks like becoming the unexpected location for the first venture into post-McCrone management and staffing structures - always a possible source of union concern and threat as evidenced by the recent discontent in West Lothian over similar proposals. But a new school on a new site that hopes to recruit staff over the coming months is likely to provide at least one template for the secondary of the 21st century.

There are guarantees to monitor progress prior to the critical job-sizing evaluation that will take place over the coming year. Will it prove acceptable to the unions and will it work if it is?

Authorities assume that the McCrone deal with its union agreement to remove three layers - depute headteacher, assistant principal teacher and senior teacher - signals the green light for further reform of what they regard as excessively hierarchical structures. Unions remain cautious. They argue that there was nothing in the McCrone deal about scrapping principal teachers, indeed there was only agreement after the authorities accepted the continuation of principal teachers as leaders of the curriculum.

Now, Aberdeenshire and West Lothian, to name only two, are reviewing structures in a far more radical way. But the faculty approach is not new and has a troubled history dating back to the days of Strathclyde Region. It did not work then. The question is whether in more enlightened circumstances it will succeed second-time around. Unions want assurances, for example, that a principal teacher of chemistry as head of a science faculty has the knowledge and background to handle physics and biology detail, particularly in the upper school. They want assurances there is no threat to individual subjects.

It is time this was tested. There is no need to maintain structures simply because they have always existed. An Aberdeenshire pilot, properly assessed, would be a welcome step towards more flexible ways of working.

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