The chalkface manifesto: a partnership for change

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
John Gray, principal history teacher at Oldmachar Academy, Aberdeen

"The managerial drift of recent years should be slowed down, if not halted, by paying less attention to the views of managers and more attention to the views of the managed.

"There should be a commitment to channel resources into the classroom, providing money for the curricular materials essential for successful learning and teaching. We should consult on whether local authority education should be centrally funded.

"I would like to see a dedicated central unit whose sole remit should be to cost all proposals before they go out to consultation and consider the workload implications. Higher Still should be subject to early scrutiny and consultation, beginning with a year's delay.

"A line should be drawn under all the initiatives of recent years, particularly 5-14, development planning, and devolved management. Take stock, keep the gains and tie up any loose ends within a year at the latest.

"School league tables should be completely abandoned. There are fairer and better ways of communicating pupil progress to parents that do not encourage competitive marketing and false competition between schools. The Inspectorate should be reviewed to ensure it pursues an educational agenda more in tune with the concerns of the profession. It seems to have become overtly political in recent years.

"If, as is claimed, the real priorities are 'education, education, education', prove it by allocating a higher proportion of national wealth to education. We are well down the league table compared with the expenditure of our European partners."

Judith Gillespie, former convener of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council and school board member in Edinburgh

"I would begin to restore people's confidence in the education system by removing the market approach which makes parents customers and leaves no one quite sure what the product is.

"The value of local schools would be emphasised while statistics on examination results and such like would be made available, but no longer published in a glossy brochure.

"My second action would be to embark on a national literacy drive. Extra money would be directed into primary and secondary schools to support good work which is already being done on reading recovery and to set up new projects. It would be a national campaign involving whole communities not just the education service.

"In terms of current proposals, I would continue the expansion of nursery education but without vouchers. I would drop proposals for testing in S1 and S2 and instead hold an open consultation with headteachers on how they thought these years could be improved and I would adopt the proposal by directors of education to phase in Higher Still by bringing in the Access and Intermediate stages on time but delaying the Higher and Advanced Higher for a year.

"I would bother to abolish the opting-out legislation because, all the time it remains on the statute book, parents can go to a ballot which in itself is damaging. And finally I would work hard to secure extra funds for schools. This would include tackling the problem of school rationalisa tion. However, any combined school would be given extra staff and capital so that rationalisation came to seem an attractive option to parents."

Peter Mullen, Catholic representative on Glasgow education committee and former head of the city's Holyrood Secondary

"It is time to call a halt to the constant changes of the past 20 years. Get Higher Still on the road and make the pledge of 'no more change in the lifetime of this Parliament'.

"There should be no more hype about getting rid of incompetent teachers. They are few in number. The real problem is there are too many burnt-out cases, too many hard-working professionals who have had enough. Schools need an infusion now of young, enthusiastic teachers who are not sickened with short-term, part-time contracts. Make it easier for the over-50s to retire with dignity.

"Follow this with high quality staff training and development. We are stuck with an excessively hierarchical structure of management and we should be looking at our amateur promotion procedures and at removing promoted misfits to other jobs within the system.

"Early intervention is the buzz word in primary schools. Great, but five is too late an age to start making up for the lack of educational stimulus.

Pre-school reception classes for all four-year-olds and nursery schools for all three-year-olds should be an immediate priority.

"Let's get rid of the Mickey Mouse education in S1S2 and restore some academic rigour in maths, science and modern languages. Let's have more flexibility in 5-14: to spend 25 per cent of your time in Easterhouse or Drumchapel on environmental studies is plain daft.

"Last, a plea for Glasgow which needs and deserves support - but not without strings. The tough decisions on school rationalisation must be taken now. I detect a spirit of determination among city officials to end decades of underachievement. It is time to give them some help and encouragement."

Alison Stokoe, student English teacher, Moray House

"Most graduates entering teacher training do so with a high degree of motivation and idealism. Students, however, find the current pressures facing teachers a severe challenge.

"I have found the majority of teachers hard working and committed to raising standards. But they are faced with an increased workload, bigger class sizes, chronic underfunding and constant criticism from both government and public. There is much for them to feel disillusioned and dissatisfied about.

"As education minister, I would listen to and act upon the problems that have and are at present undermining and undervaluing the profession. Any improvement in standards requires the lack of basic resources to be tackled immediately.

"I would shift the emphasis away from national testing and league tables to providing teachers with the resources to create a positive learning environment. We can only achieve this goal if the collective values are centred upon the highest possible standard for each child.

"The role of schools in teacher training needs to be reinforced. During my placement at Glenwood High in Glenrothes, I was fortunate to be involved in weekly seminars which discussed the implementation of various policies. However, in subject departments there are no opportunities to seek advice on planning and implementation of lessons or to tap into the expertise and experience of established teachers due to timetable commitments.

"I would introduce a fully financed and professionally managed mentoring system which would free teachers to give students individual support in their subject.

"Students must also be funded to 'live' which the changes in grants and benefits have made almost impossible. Most students can not even afford to appear in the standard of dress expected of such a high-profile profession.So much for being role models."

Joan Orskov, chair of Aberdeenshire education committee

"The new Government must set educational objectives which recognise that each local authority is unique in geography and social mix.

"The top priority would be to withdraw the nursery voucher scheme. The money top sliced from local budgets would be reinstated as soon as possible with enhancement to allow for some expansion in all authorities with less than 90 per cent provision for four-year-olds.

"Another change is needed to allow councils to charge for school transport beyond the statutory distances. The cost of transport in rural areas should be born in part at least by parents (with safeguards for low-income families) and savings directed into schools.

"The rules on capital expenditure will also have to be overhauled to make a start on repairing school buildings. Councils should be free to borrow on the open market, draw up design briefs, plans and finance packages which could incorporate public and private finance, sponsorship, planning gain, etc. The Scottish Office would scrutinise the packages but leave authorities operational control over the final details."

Jean Lyle, head of Keppoch nursery, Glasgow

"A publicly funded system of free nursery education for all three and four-year-olds should be the bedrock of our education service. It is too important to be left to a market system. The nursery voucher scheme appears to be a particularly ill-conceived and ill-organised first step on the road to privatising all sectors of education.

"Greater weighting in resources should be directed towards the early stages of schooling. Evidence suggests that, by secondary level, it may be too late to reverse patterns of failure and that the early years are of crucial importance in creating successful, motivated learners.

"Nurseries have been too prone to the vagaries of changing ideologies, of political expediency and of staffing and budget cuts. While nursery education needs to be innovative and flexible, curricular and other initiatives need to be phased in so that new and important research findings are absorbed and incorporated.

"Most local authorities in Scotland have a long and successful tradition of funding nursery education of a high calibre for some three and four-year-olds. Their priority should now be to extend this to all of our children.

"Well qualified staff, good staff-child ratios and realistic budgets are key elements, especially in areas of social disadvantage."

George Haggarty, rector of St John's High, Dundee

"The policy-makers must listen to the practitioners, the researchers and the community. Not partnership as a slogan but as a reality. I would give the biggest single boost to effective learning and teaching by letting teachers know we really value them and that their worth is recognised. Education, education, education must mean resources, resources, resources but let's be clear about priorities:

* Staffing standards must take a real account of needs.

* Adequate levels of school funding so pupils don't have to share sets of basic texts when we have such quality in published materials.

* A precise strategy should take us to 'year zero' to clear up the backlog in school building improvements.

* Better support for schools in new technology and proper training for staff.

* Real value for money is needed (and there has to be money to realise the values) to strengthen the quality of devolved school management.

* Staff development has to move away from line management accountability to real empowerment of staff.

"We must also simplify the requirements of 5-14 and Standard grade, and revisit the Howie critique of upper secondary education. The Achievement for All report should be put through a sieve (no, not the shredder). I want the nuggets about good, effective mixed-ability teaching - not the dross about setting."

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