Battle plans in the brave new market

4th April 2003 at 01:00
During discussions on job-sizing related to A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century, a statement was made that principal teachers in future will need to be aware of market forces and the popularity of their subject area.

It is expected that job-sizing reviews will take place regularly, possibly every three years, and that salaries may go up or down as a result of this. There will be full conservation only for those in post prior to April 2001.

The discussions had me wondering how market forces would affect pupil choice at S2 and S5.

We have all seen something of this in social subjects. Normally only one social subject is available in S3, so economics, geography, modern studies and history compete to provide the best picture of their subject in S2 to attract the most academic pupils.

At Kilsyth Academy, economics has the hardest task because there is no S2 course. The principal teacher has to rely on touting himself around S2 personal, social and health education courses to advertise the subject.

There is anecdotal evidence that some pupils have confused home economics with economics, giving rise to some strange discussions in June when the new economics class starts and cries of: "Please sir, when do we start cooking?"

The history staff decided some years ago to use fairly recent history to teach about the use of sources and the accuracies and inaccuracies of the materials available. They do this by studying the sinking of the Titanic, including viewing the film Titanic. The annual joke by the staff is that the captain bears a strong resemblance to their headteacher. Indeed, some children think their headteacher was the captain of the Titanic in his younger days.

Some subjects at S2 have an inbuilt advantage. Everyone knows computers are necessary for modern employment. What they do not know is that the current computing studies course is very poorly related to vocational opportunities or even skills learning in the field of computing.

The discovery in S3 that physical education studies is not about gaining an extra three hours of football a week and actually requires writing is a major disappointment to some pupils who failed to listen in their PSHE classes or to read the various booklets issued in S2 about subject choices.

With the increased use of flexibility in S3-S4, I have some concerns about how to allow children a wide choice of attractive courses and at the same time deliver the Standard grade targets required by the Scottish Executive.

I am currently in discussion with Cumbernauld College about introducing some new courses over S3-S4, replacing Standard grade courses, over the next few years. Some, but not all, will be at Intermediate 1 or Intermediate 2 level and will have equivalences.

I am sure the introduction of the European Computer Driving Licence would prove to be popular. It has high currency among employers and would articulate well with a variety of college courses.

Market forces could mean a reduction in the number of students taking Standard grade computing studies with a consequential drop in the numbers at Higher grade. The viability of the Higher course is already in doubt in many schools.

Other courses Kilsyth Academy has discussed with the college include hair and beauty, hospitality, call-centre training construction courses and electronics. All have direct vocational links and could prove popular to a middle ability group of students who currently start such courses in college after attempting more academic subjects in S5-S6 at school.

More information to parents may mean they will use market forces to choose subjects with the greatest success in examinations or the perceived greater likelihood of employment.

Will market forces push more subjects down the route of classics? The difference will be that the salary conservation arrangements will have gone and if a subject has disappeared, the need for a principal teacher in that subject will also have gone.

Will market forces push teachers to a greater degree of retraining? Perhaps as part of every teacher's continuing personal development, individuals should be considering being trained to deliver courses such as ECDL or plumbing. The General Teaching Council for Scotland already has thoughts in this area and its attitude to flexibility in the past does not promise an easy transition.

John Mitchell is headteacher of Kilsyth Academy, North LanarkshireIf you have any comments, e-mail

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