Bully girl sweet talks the heads;Interview;Helen Liddell

26th March 1999 at 00:00
Neil Munro listens to Helen Liddell accentuate the positive in one of her last major outings as Education Minister

IT WAS not the stuff of the headlines that have turned Helen Liddell into a staffroom bogeywoman in remarkably short order.

"I can't be responsible for newspaper headlines," the Education Minister likes to say in defence of her teacher-bashing image and said again at last week's spring conference of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland.

Mrs Liddell was responding to Ian Valentine, head of Cleveden Secondary in Glasgow, who praised his enthusiastic teachers but said their morale was depressed "because all they see from the Government is the same teacher bashing as before and therefore they feel undervalued".

She insisted that "this Government is not teacher bashing". She instanced, as she frequently does, the Inspectorate's Standards and Quality report in January which praised management in 80 per cent of schools, an emphasis turned on its head by the press which reported that 20 per cent of schools are poorly led.

She also said the extra money given to local authorities for teachers' pay and the additional resources for schools demonstrated that the Government did not undervalue teachers.

But, and there is always that caveat, Mrs Liddell said: "We don't shy away from the problems." One of those was modern languages, about which she remarked: "I don't blame teachers for the problems that exist because there are fundamental problems."

She recognised that staff development and appraisal was another misunderstood policy. "Continuous professional development is important not because teachers are not doing things well but because they have a right, as professionals, to that."

Mrs Liddell left the secondary heads having made a clear impression - and the impression was rather different from the image. Pat Cairns, headteacher of Firrhill High in Edinburgh, delivered a vote of thanks in which she praised the Education Minister for the many positive things she had to say about education. Some mistake surely?

RAISING A CHEER

l "The report (Standards and Quality in Scottish Schools) shows that there is much to be proud of in Scottish education."

* "Headteachers make a major contribution to the ethos and the culture of a school, and I know that doesn't come easily."

* "I am under no illusions as to the many demands on headteachers. Pupils, parents, staff, the dreaded paperwork all make legitimate demands on your time."

* "I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of teachers will be able to meet the agreed standards (for teacher assessment).In most cases, underperformance can be successfully remedied through support, advice and training. Only if that fails will formal disciplinary procedures and, ultimately, dismissal need to be considered."

* "Measuring performance accurately and confidently must be an essential underpinning of any scheme to reward good teaching. And this will not be simple or straightforward - I am under no illusions about that."

* "But while it is right that we focus on improvement, measur-ing performance must not become an exercise in counting for counting's sake."

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