Cuts to contact time run deep

28th January 2011 at 00:00

The introduction, in England, of new league tables based on pupil performance across a selected band of subjects (English, maths, a science, a foreign language and a humanity) has been controversial. At a stroke, this new baccalaureate sought to relegate to the margins all the previous efforts to bring parity of esteem to vocational subjects and to provide curriculum choices that met the needs and aspirations of young people.

My jaw dropped when I watched BBC News as English Education Secretary Michael Gove attacked opponents of the new arrangements as "elitists" who would deny to "poorer" students the equal opportunity to aspire to success in these valued traditional subjects. The performance could have defined Orwellian doublespeak.

Not for the first time, I celebrated the fact that I teach in Scotland where some sense of consensus exists about what is important in education.

Then I reached for my EIS executive papers and came across item 4: Renfrewshire Council's proposals regarding a "Revised Model for the Delivery of Primary Education" or, as it turns out, the non-delivery of primary education for 2.5 hours of the traditional 25-hour school week. Michael Gove, step aside - you have met your match.

Basically, the proposal is to cut the teaching and learning week by 2.5 hours and to fill this up with an activity programme, thereby saving the cost of 60 teacher salaries (full-time equivalent). The paper has the audacity to call this an "enrichment programme". The word "enrichment" means to enhance or improve, not to remove and cheapen.

Essentially, in order to save money, Renfrewshire is introducing part-time education for primary pupils. It is seeking to implement a 10 per cent cut to the time that pupils share with teachers, although no rebate to local council tax payers appears to be on offer for this reduced service.

What galls most of all, perhaps, is the claim that this slashing of service is designed to deliver Curriculum for Excellence. Having served on the CfE management board for over two years, I can categorically state that the partnership arrangements associated with the new curriculum have never been predicated on cutting the number of teachers, teacher-pupil contact time or the school week.

CfE does envisage schools working more closely with bodies such as Community and Learning Development but as genuine enhancement to the provision currently on offer, not as a cheaper substitute. Frankly, I would resign from the board and rail against CfE if I thought the Renfrewshire misinterpretation were the game plan.

The key issue, of course, is the 2.5 hours non-class contact time which was introduced by the teachers' agreement. Primary staffing entitlements had to be raised to allow schools the flexibility to cover this time - which is the whole point. The time is covered by qualified teachers who deliver the primary curriculum framed around the experiences and outcomes of CfE. It is not "extra-curricular", as some papers have mistakenly called it; it is the curriculum. The subjects covered are planned for by teachers and assessed and reported to parents by teachers.

Delivering CfE in a 25-hour week is challenging enough - doing so in 2.5 hours less will be impossible. Renfrewshire's SNP-led council should think again.

The SNP might want to consider if it is in its own best interests to alienate teachers and parents with this ill-conceived, flawed and politically-dishonest proposal.

Larry Flanagan is education convener of the Educational Institute of Scotland.

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