Alice is stuck on a backwards bike

19th September 2003 at 01:00
A purge of promoted posts and restrictions on chartered status have left able graduates dismayed, says Peter Wright

spoke to one of our younger teachers the other week. It's something I try to do occasionally, if I can move my zimmer fast enough. Alice (not her real name) is everything I would liked to have been as a tyro teacher: organised, very able and one of the most effective classroom teachers I've seen. In short, a prime candidate for promotion through the ranks of management or, if that is her preference, chartered teacher status.

Alice told me she is thinking of jacking in the job and going to work abroad. Now this may be nothing more than a fit of post-vacation blues.

Alice conceded as much herself. But I think it signified a more serious and longer lasting issue.

The 21st century agreement between the teaching unions, the local authorities and the Scottish Executive was meant to bring about a new era.

Recruitment and reward and retention were the "three Rs" at its core.

Recruitment and reward have been taken care of via the probationers'

training scheme and a significant but not over-generous pay rise. But my conversation with Alice indicates that retention is likely to be an enduring problem.

Let's ignore the furore over job-sizing. In the short term, job-sizing has no relevance for unpromoted teachers. Alice and her peers are much more agitated about the fact that they are excluded from taking part in the chartered teacher programme until they have reached the top of the main scale. And they are right. If they had opted for employment in the private sector, as talented graduates, they would immediately have been placed on some form of accelerated promotion scheme. Not in education, where they must sit it out.

Worse. Because of the salary assimilation arrangements, some teachers will take 10 years to reach the top of the scale and thus be in a position to join the chartered teacher programme. What kind of organisation is it that actively frustrates the ambition of its younger employees in such a manner?

Promotion in the secondary sector is another sore point. If Alice had come into teaching only a little earlier, within a few years she could reasonably expect to have had an outlet for her talents in the shape of a promoted post. Not now. West Lothian Council, to take one example, has embarked on a reorganisation of promoted posts in secondary and is honest enough to admit that this will result in a reduced number of secondary promoted posts in the future. It is less than surprising that Alice and teachers like her have become dispirited.

However, advancement and status are not everything. Surely the flatter structures envisioned in the McCrone report will afford younger teachers greater access to the levers of power in schools? Their professionalism and sense of autonomy will surely be enhanced by working in such an environment? In fact, the opposite has happened. In West Lothian, the new breed of "principal teacher curriculum" has been deftly shuffled into the place occupied by the former assistant headteachers as members of an "extended senior management team".

The term "line manager" is today just as prominent in the vocabulary of power as it was before the McCrone report and younger teachers are restricted, as ever, to running the football teams, discos and clubs and any other stuff handed out to them "because it would look good on your CV".

Thinking about the conversation a little later, I was entertained by a mental image of a "backwards bike". You'll know what I mean, even if you have never tried, unsuccessfully, to ride one. Common at county shows, fetes and the like, it looks like a perfectly functional bicycle until you try to ride it. Disaster then ensues as forward pressure on the pedals leads to the bike shooting backwards and an attempt to push the handlebars to the left leads to a plunge to the right and so on.

Like the backwards bike, the 21st century agreement appears to have had exactly the opposite of its intended effect in secondary schools. Promotion opportunities are shrinking while management structures are essentially unchanged. Able graduates are likely to vote with their feet.

If you don't believe me, go ask Alice.

Peter Wright teaches in West Lothian.

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