The chalkface manifesto: a partnership for change

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
As a new government takes office, a cross-section of educational opinion offers a shopping list to the incoming education minister


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 rationalisation. 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."


Brian Boyd, associate director of the Quality in Education Centre at Jordanhill, former secondary head, former adviser and Labour's new teacher training guru

"I would build on the traditional strengths of the Scottish system: committed and highly qualified teachers, support of parents for the work of schools, and respect for consensus. New Right policies have threatened these strengths.

"But any 'wha's like us?' tendencies need to be challenged. There is still underachievement, the system has too many discontinuities and a cult of managerialism has arisen in recent years. Testing and 'league tables' have distorted the curriculum, marginalising 'non-academic' activity, and selection seeks to improve achievement for some at the expense of others.

"In my first year of office, I would conduct a comprehensive review of the system, pre-five to post-16, involving professionals, parents, pupils and others. It would be asked to consult widely on the aims of education, the values which should underpin our schools, the conditions which are most likely to combat underachievement, and the need for restructuring the current system to minimise discontinuity.

"I would, at the same time, discuss with the new authorities the steps they have taken to raise achievement for all. I would want to focus on initiatives where professionals, communities and parents work together to tackle poverty and its associated ills of low aspirations, low self-esteem and disaffection.

"I would reclaim the language of excellence, standards and success within a society which promotes equality and social justice, and try to empower our young people to become lifelong learners."


Sheila Campbell, head of Kilbowie primary, Clydebank

"One of my first priorities would be to launch a publicity campaign to raise awareness of the generally high quality of education which children in Scotland have the opportunity of receiving from committed and dedicated professionals.

"Early intervention strategies are all very well but we should stop merely talking about it and demonstrate a commitment to the principle by funding parity between primary and secondary schools. That would include promoted post salaries, the resourcing of materials and equipment and clerical back-up. The whole promoted post system in both primary and secondary schools needs reviewing.

"Primary schools also require a whole range of other measures, such as classroom assistants and more teaching staff so heads can attend to all their other management, curricular, support, monitoring and guidance duties. Pupils in nurseries attached to primaries should be added to the roll when fixing staffing ratios.

"There is also a crying need for more specialist teachers and instructors in the expressive arts to extend education further beyond the acquisition of skills. A focus on support for learning should target vulnerable children in primary 1, and nursery nurses should be deployed in the first two years of primary.

"And finally, the funding anomalies and apparent injustices resulting from local authority reform should be addressed to allow all these other things to happen. Schools would also be in a better position to plan if they knew what their funding was going to be over a three-year period."


Jennifer Parker, English teacher, Kirkcudbright Academy

"I would need to be a dictator rather than an elected minister facing another election in four or five years. For a start, in my utopia I want to knock down all postwar 'matchbox' school buildings. I don't care whether those that remain are like Fettes in Edinburgh or a solid 1920s building like Kirkcudbright Academy provided they allow for pupils' aesthetic development.

"There should be national service for all 18-year-olds who should help in running school classes, coaching sport and music and helping the elderly. Within schools, remember Miss Brodie - education not training is the purpose. That does not mean a narrow curriculum. All schools should offer options in drama, agriculture, horticulture and motor maintenance.

"There should be a 10-year embargo on further reforms, including Higher Still, and abolition of national tests. That is to allow teachers to cope. They would be helped if there was money for books instead of these awful worksheets. And subjects like English and history have to be treated like practical subjects in determining maximum class size.

"This will all mean a rise in income tax (I thought of that long before the Liberal Democrats). Oh, I would also make all schools non-denominational. You see why I have to be a dictator to carry through these reforms."


Keir Bloomer, director of education, Clackmannan

"I would see my first task as restoring the self-esteem and releasing the creative energies of the teaching profession. This means handing back more responsibility and reducing central prescription.

"A good first step might be to clear out the cupboards and throw away some rubbish. Things like the 'yellow peril' curriculum time allocations are what I have in mind. It is time for government - including local government - to focus clearly on ends, not means. Let schools know clearly what aims we want them to pursue and give them freedom to experiment and learn from experience.

"It will be important to press onward with delegation to schools. The point is not, as the Scottish Office seems currently to believe, what proportion of the total resource is notionally included in schools' budgets but whether or not schools have genuine control over it.

"A thorough review of Higher Still is needed, not just a delay but a careful evaluation of whether the programme will really meet the needs identified by the Howie committee. Any new structure must provide a secure rationale for the sixth year.

"Some radical thought is needed elsewhere too. The move from primary to secondary remains too abrupt and the S1S2 curriculum too fragmented. Softer options like better liaison and improved use of pupils' prior learning are insufficient. A planned and gradual transition from a wholly unified curriculum in the early years to a subject-based one in the middle and upper secondary is needed.

"But the answer of the last 20 years that curriculum change will improve learning is not enough. If we believe in the importance of school ethos and creating positive attitudes towards learning, we must put resources behind supported study, extracurricular activities and a whole range of less formal activities."

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