Cautious tick and a smiley face sticker

9th June 2000 at 01:00
Professor Gavin McCrone has made his recommendations.Raymond Ross finds out what primary teachers around the country think of the inquiry report

Primary teachers have welcomed the McCrone Inquiry on teachers' pay and conditions, but are critical of the report's failure to limit class sizes and fear that the Scottish Executive will not deliver all its recommendations.

Teachers at Raigmore Primary in Inverness and Ruchill Primary in Glasgow - two of the schools visited by the McCrone Committee - felt their views had been heard. They described the report as "a major step forward", "a new beginning" and "a good framework to peg other things on", but saw its failure to address class sizes as a "major" weakness and a lost opportunity in terms of addressing workload.

They feared that the report would not be taken as a package by the Scottish Executive, that it would cherry-pick the recommendations and not fund them properly.

Glasgow teacher Deirdre Brown said: "There is no real morale boost until we get the response of the Executive. The champagne remains corked until then."

Although salaries were not the major concern of staff at either school, there was relief and optimism that a national negotiating body would be retained and both headteachers were pleased that the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland would be officially involved.

All the staff accepted - and many positively welcomed - the extra five days allocated to continuing professional development being added to the working year.

Most felt the timescale for the implementation of the report's recommendations (April 2002) was realistic, allowing issues to be properly sorted - and costed - rather than being rushed through.

At Raigmore Primary, there was a warm welcome for the idea of training schools. Headteacher Moira Leslie said: "Newly qualified teachers say that at college they get the theory but not a lot is given in the practical sense. They also say there's a variable quality in placements in schools.

"I'd welcome the idea of training schools for probationary and pre-service training. I'd do it here if given the necessary staff and funding in terms of the report, because I feel that it will give a higher base line in the quality of new teachers. It would also benefit our pupils with the injection of new ideas."

Most of her staff welcomed the idea of chartered teachers (CTs) and advanced chartered teachers (ACTs) in terms of professional development and of the ACTs' proposed role in mentoring junior colleagues, and they approved of the proposed national accreditation for the courses.

Nursery teacher Kip Clark said: "They are a bigger incentive than senior teacher posts, because you're upgrading your skills. It's bound to inform training and it keeps the child at the centre. You are keeping up to date and that will inform your practice."

Senior teacher Margaret MacLeod was, however, "a wee bit disappointed" that senior teachers were being phased out. "I've started on a journey that's being stopped. If I was to do the CT and the ACT courses, I'd be ready to retire when I finished. I'll chase the new courses but I wish I was 22 and starting afresh!

"I think it's inevitable that it will be the younger teachers who are chosen."

Many of the report's recommendations were aimed at younger teachers and at encouraging graduates to come into the profession, which Raigmore staff agreed was crucial.

"The profession is ageing and McCrone is addressing this," said depute head Andy Fraser. "There's a real direction here. Recruiting better teachers coupled with improved standards in training, alongside the recognition of collegiality in management, is going to carry education forward in the long term. It's not a quick fix and that's good."

Class teacher Alan Graham echoed staff reaction in his belief that the education system needs to put the pupils first and that the McCrone report is right to emphasise a more collaborative approach throughout schools to raise achievement.

The report's promotion of partnerships with parents was supported in principle by all at Raigmore Primary, though some felt it was not emphasised enough.

Kip Clark spoke for many when saying: "It's a very good framework if taken as a whole and if the resourcing is there. But I suspect it'll prove unrealistic. The public might not go with the amount of money, given that teachers don't have the respect they used to. Teaching is still seen as a soft option.

"Except for the major issue of class size, it is a very good report. But I'm sceptical about the Government resourcing it as a whole thing and instead just picking out what they want."

Similar doubts were expressed at Ruchill Primary. Although the report was welcomed, many were unsure of the details and practicalities of implementing many of its recommendations.

Headteacher Mairi Slessor said: "The proposal for more classroom assistants is excellent but there's no mention of resources or strategies for training them and developing their ongoing competencies.

"Workload issues are not fully addressed and more weight needs thrown behind the call for a review of class sizes.

"The 35-hour week we all work anyway - and more - so it might as well be recognised. In certain aspects like these, the report is a bit of a muddle and not good enough.

"The pay differentials between ACTs and principal teachers could prove divisive, as could the awarding of additional payments by heads to maingrade teachers.

"There are lots of positive things to be said about CTs and ACTs but, like senior teacher posts, there's a real danger it will become a stepping stone to management and so defeat the purpose of keeping teachers in the classroom.

"There's not enough mention in the report of parental responsibilities for their children's behaviour and attendance. I'm not sure if McCrone has come clean on this, whether it's to do with the political climate or whether he doesn't see its importance."

As at Raigmore Primary, the Ruchill teachers welcomed the proposal that staff at training education institutions should be required to update their experience with periodic spells in a school teaching environment. They felt that schools could benefit from the trainers' ideas and experience and, as class teacher Isobel Robertson put it, that "it would be good for TEI staff to have chalk face experience, as many are out of touch with the day to day life of a school".

The idea of training schools received a mixed reaction at Ruchill and many teachers felt it might lead to a hierarchical or two-tier system with extra resources and recognition going to the training schools at the expense of other schools.

Student teacher Frances Kilgower (on placement at Ruchill from Jordanhill) thought they could be an advantage but that there should be a balance of schools in terms of size, catchment areas and urban and rural schools.

"Giving a probationer a place in one school for one year is a major improvement in terms of stability and help," she said. "But my main worry is getting a job and completing probation. I have a huge student debt to pay off and McCrone offers a good starting salary only to those who have completed probation."

Sabbaticals for teachers were welcomed if they were to be properly structured and evaluated. "We have to be aware of public perceptions here," said class teacher Annie MacKinnon. "People still think we're overpaid for nothing and all they go on about is our holidays. Sabbaticals could be another point held against us.

"It's the same with the extra five hours a week, which we all do anyway. People don't understand the workload.

"Friday nights are for forward planning, not for enjoying yourself."

Annie MacKinnon added: "The question of an ageing profession really needed to be addressed 10 years ago. There is a gap. It's too late. The crisis will come."

The proposed new post of senior administrative officer for schools with more than 500 pupils or clusters of smaller schools was broadly welcomed by both headteachers.

Mairi Slessor said: "I'm delighted with the idea in terms of time management to allow me to get on with what I'm trained for, curriculum management and working with children.

"But will it always be just an administrative post or could it become more politicised?" She spoke for many teachers when she concluded: "The recommendations make me happy in general, but I'm not confident the money will be forthcoming. I just wonder if the political will is there."


Saltoun Primary East Lothian

'Our initial reactions are mixed. We are pleased that the need for a more attractive starting salary for new teachers has been acknowledged and that a substantial rise in the maximum salary for unpromoted teachers is recognised.

The proposal for teachers to apply for chartered status has potential to enhance salaries and professionalism and we have no problem with accepting the principle of annual review, which already exists. But we do have some reservations about how this would operate.

The staff are pleased that acknowledgement has been given on a number of points relating to small schools with a teaching head. The teachers also feel that if continuing professional development is to be extended, it must be of higher quality and greater relevance.

Overall, we welcome the report as a starting document to update the professionalism of teachers. The Scottish Executive now needs to show its financial commitment to reforms.'

Burnfoot Community School Hawick, Scottish Borders

'We broadly welcome the recommendations, though we haven't had time to study the full report.

Our main disappointment is the two-year wait for proposals to be phased in. Also, although the salary increases are substantial, they are insufficient to improve the profile of the profession compared to others.

There are a lot of positives, however. The proposals on initial training, probation and temporary contracts all meet with our approval, particularly among younger members of staff, and the queue for sabbaticals has already started.

As a new community school, we are pleased about the insistence that social inclusion measures need to be funded, that information and communications technology needs to be supported and that the classroom assistant programme should be extended.

Everyone welcomes the new career structure, although lots of questions remain unanswered, such as "What exactly do you do to become a chartered teacher?" and "How much will I actually earn?" There is a hope that the status, role and salary of a chartered teacher will be attainable by all, balanced by a concern about the workload associated with extended periods of study. Will anyone apply for headteacher posts in the future?

As regards working hours, we already spend this amount of time in school, including extra days during the holidays, so they would make no difference, though we would want the flexibility as a staff to make our own decisions as to how additional staff development time would be spent.

A cautious tick and smiley face for McCrone.'

Laxdale Primary Lewis, Western Isles

'We agree that students should have quality placements of a high standard and that sabbaticals, early retirement and the winding down options are sensible. Standing teams of permanent supply teachers are also a good idea, as are the proposals that schools should receive additional support when children with behavioural problems are contained in the mainstream.

Improved starting salaries and opportunities to opt for chartered teacher status are also good incentives and the flexible budgetary arrangements could enable heads to employ supply and learning support staff, specialists or classroom assistants according to needs.

But we are concerned that no reduction in class sizes is recommended, that one classroom assistant per three classes is not enough and that chartered teacher status could prove divisive. Will there be sufficient money for all staff who wish to undertake a chartership programme?

It could be a long process before primary teachers enjoy the same non-contact time as secondary staff. We generally teach all day and are expected to accompany specialist teachers.

On teacher workload, there is no definition of the time which could be allocated to preparation, marking, planning and assessment. Most primary teachers stay in school until at least 5pm to undertake these tasks. While there could be flexibility in the extra five hours a week and extra five days a year, it would depend on the head. Teachers could end up with an increased rather than reduced workload.'

Next week secondary schools give their views of the McCrone report

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