A prophecy worthy of Jeremiah

24th October 2008 at 01:00

"Educational meltdown" - the headline of the lead story in The TESS (October 10) made depressing reading. Aberdeen City Council is up the proverbial creek without a paddle. Class sizes, school buildings, senior secondary subject choices, supply teachers, stress, continuing professional development, quality assurance, A Curriculum for Excellence, support for learning, behaviour management, music tuition - a litany of lamentations worthy of Jeremiah.

I suspect Aberdeen City Council is not alone in its financial apocalypse. The council's lack of cash is starkly obvious, but how many authorities are able to fully fund the areas listed above? The situation is bleak throughout Scotland. I am not talking about ridiculous wish lists. Education is different from the National Health Service, when not meeting a particular need may result in the avoidable death of a patient. I'm referring, as I have done many times and without apology, to failure to keep pace with inflation.

Many secondary schools have never known such big class sizes. In my subject, it's not unusual to have 30 kids in a core religious education class. This is manifestly absurd in a subject which, if it's well taught, contains much discussion at its heart, demonstrably more difficult to handle in a huge class. With the exceptions of S1-2 English and mathematics, secondary classes are generally larger than ever before. This is not progress.

What else? Continuing professional development? Are teachers being allowed to go on courses after teachers themselves have identified their training needs? The picture is variable, with some schools able to be fairly generous to their teachers and other schools in which the headteacher commandeers the lion's share of the training money to pursue his or her own agenda. This is against the whole ethos of CPD, where the focus is on consensus and discussion.

Bi-level classes for the senior school were alluded to in the report on Aberdeen City Council. You will find much of this practice throughout Scotland, with so-called minority subjects like philosophy being taught in bi-level classes. Obviously, this is another challenge, and attainment would be pushed up if school staffing was commensurate with timetabling demands.

If the proposed new qualifications structure goes ahead, we might find ourselves with tri-level classes. We know there is insufficient finance to support the present system. How are we going to deliver future plans? It seems that hindsight is not being used, as we attempt to navigate our way around the hostile waters of increasing poverty of provision.

Teacher stress is doubtless inevitable where the education budget is not enough. Financial restraints mean that external cover is not used and teachers are expected to cover internally ad nauseam.

Further, schools don't have enough money for textbooks and teachers realise they are being asked to run the 100 metres with their legs tied together. Increasing numbers of them are buying school equipment out of their own pockets, because they can't deliver the curriculum without doing so. How can this be justified? Who will throw a paternal arm around our shoulders and tell us all will be well?

There's no easy answer and certainly no smug punch line here - just the certainty of even darker days ahead.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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