Backwards to the future?;Management

1st October 1999 at 01:00
Irate teacher James McLaren responds to the Millennium Review of teachers' pay and conditions and the employers' astonishment that the unions are willing to reject their current offer.

I have taught for 24 years, run a school football team, coached a judo club, taken pupils for canoeing and at least four other sports (please note, I am not a PE teacher). In addition, I have helped to write national courses, school courses and been involved in many educational initiatives. At present, in my spare time, I am studying for a Masters degree in education.

My colleagues are just as involved. Some give up their evenings to take homework and revision classes, some come in to school during the holidays to take pre-exam revision classes, and some give up their time and pay for courses required by them to do their jobs.

This is not an exhaustive list, as I don't want to go on too much, particularly as the employers admit this is what happens. In fact, we read that our council has been commended for the quality of our schools and our headmaster congratulated our staff on achieving our best results ever; we had easily passed the schools examination targets for the year.

The employers say that they wish to recognise these facts and enhance the professionalism of their committed staff. Yet careful examination of the Millennium Review on teachers' pay and conditions indicates that this is very far from their thoughts.

They wish to remove the autonomy of the individual teacher and thus remove a major component of any profession.

If the review is implemented, the teacher will not be able to use his or her experience and skills to choose the areas in which their efforts will supply the greatest returns for pupils. The decisions will be made by the employers; all the available time will be used in areas which they regard as important.

Teachers could be compelled to carry out duties for which they were not suited. What is not accepted is that education at the "chalk face" is a team effort, and that not every teacher is good at taking a football team or designing a science course.

Non-teachers reading this may think it is an extreme view and that the employers will be much more sensible and anyway there are safeguards built in, as all the extra duties are subject to a consultation process.

To illustrate the worth of the consultation process, I will describe an incident which occurred in a school where I once worked.

The large secondary was gearing up for a great whole-school initiative. The first stage was a major consultation exercise to ensure consensus and ownership among the staff. A large part of an inservice day was given over to the exercise. A presentation was to be given by the headteacher, followed by group workshops and then a plenary session.

Unfortunately, due to an administrative error, the results of the consultation exercise were placed in every teachers' pigeonhole the day before the consultation exercise. As one headteacher once publically said,"I will consult with anyone, and then I'll do what I want."

There are many other issues within the review that I could examine, but this single issue has the potential to severely damage teaching as a profession and in turn - and not too far down the line - to consequently damage our pupils.

This year colleges of education seem to be having difficulty filling their places, and some authorities are advertising widely to get teachers to return to the class.

Removing the professional status from teachers will not enhance recruiting prospects.

James McLaren is a biology teacher at Hermitage Academy, Helensburgh

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