Axe for advisers crippled Higher Still

12th March 1999 at 00:00
THE Higher Still development programme faltered because of the collapse of the advisory service at the time of local government reorganisation, the president of the directors' association told advisers at their annual conference in Bellshill last weekend.

Michael O'Neill, director in North Lanarkshire and president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said many of new single-tier authorities had been "misguided" in doing away with advisers. Now they realised the need for expanded support.

"The failure of Higher Still to get off the ground is due to lack of support locally," Mr O'Neill said. "We had only a Higher Still Development Unit, and this small group was incapable of taking us on a national programme.

"You will not find a director of education in Scotland who will disagree with the fact that the Higher Still programme stumbled because you cannot deliver a national programme through a small unit. It has to be devolved to the local authorities."

Mr O'Neill said that the national development officers were able, but too few. In the past, there would have been a national programme, with guidelines and curriculum content delivered by local staff. "The problem was that there was no local expertise to co-ordinate local delivery."

He called on support services to focus less on subject-centred in-service and more on getting teachers to understand how young people learn and how teachers should teach. The success of early reading initiatives in a number of authorities was due not to the phonics system used but to the awareness by teachers that they could teach in a different way.

Mr O'Neill accepted that it was difficult to persuade teachers to take part in in-service if it was about something they regarded as "generic" rather than subject specific, but they should realise that the successful delivery of Higher Still, for example, would depend on how youngsters learn.

Jan Ward, the new president of the Association of Educational Advisers in Scotland and a senior adviser in North Ayrshire, agreed that the association had been at its lowest ebb just before and after local government reorganisation.

But Ms Ward said: "There have been recent indications that more local authorities are increasing their support staff. In my own council, for example, we began with only six and now have 13 in post." This was partly due to developments such as Higher Still, 5-14 and the Government's strategy for raising attainment. Major initiatives could not be undertaken without a local support service in schools.

Despite the increased numbers, some advisers had a wide, multifaceted remit, Ms Ward said. "In many cases far too much is expected of one individual."

Sylvia Dow, senior education officer at the Scottish Arts Council, called on every local authority to have an expressive arts policy. She regretted the replacement of advisers in separate areas of the arts by all embracing "expressive arts" officers.

Leader, page 16

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