The class divide;Leading Article;Opinion

11th June 1999 at 01:00
THE LITTLE exchange at the General Teaching Council about secondary teachers taking classes outwith their subject (page six) has messages for the future. It has long been a strength of Scottish education, compared to south of the border, that secondary graduates should work within areas they have intensively studied. Such is the intellectual acumen of most staffs, however, that faced with a "please take" the physicist would acquit himself well on the provisions of the Great Reform Act while the historian need not flinch at differential calculus. The GTC, however, does not concern itself with polymaths.

Nor should teachers feel that they have to demonstrate knowledge on the canvas of Sir D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, the biologist and classicist who, it was claimed, might have held a chair in any of six subjects. At most, as secondary schools change in nature, they might have to take only S1 and S2 classes in areas beyond their immediate expertise.

Whatever GTC purists say, the walls of Jericho are not at risk, for three reasons. The first is hardly new: pupils who can be entrusted to a teacher of all subjects in primary 7 do not need up-to-the-minute scholars when they move into the lower secondary. They continue to need skilled teachers per se.

Second, availability of good materials through modern technology means that although teachers will never be redundant, their specialist presence can be supplemented at times by that of colleagues. Finally and most important, the identified problems of S1 and S2 will never be solved if teachers remain in subject huddles.

An almost inevitable consequence of reducing the number of teachers confronted by a 12-year-old is that some of their mentors will not be operating all the time on home ground. But in the interests of better pedagogy they can put up with the occasional English lesson where expertise in distinguishing metathesis from metaphor is not immediately to hand.

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