Don't miss the chance to change

31st August 2001 at 01:00
Last week a secondary head vented his frustrations over the post-McCrone negotiations. Roger Stewart puts the director of education's perspective.

TO change or not to change. That is most certainly not the question as far as school organisation is concerned. It is clear that a number of drivers of change have now been firmly placed and activated at the heart of school education within Scotland. These will inevitably ensure a very different shape to our educational structures within a very short period of time.

It is absolutely essential that developing structures are moulded by an improving understanding of how young people learn. Our overriding responsibility is to ensure that each and every child is enabled to achieve their full potential. The challenge, then, is to reflect on how we can work with others in creating a structural model that will allow adaptation at any point now or in the future.

Flexibility, which can incorporate new research into how young people learn and how professionals can assist the learning process, is essential. Critical to this vision is the role of the informed, enhanced professional working in an increasingly focused way. The measure of our success will be the extent to which the needs of our customers, as individuals, are met by the nature and diversity of the experience we provide.

It is somewhat disappointing to note, therefore, the significant amount of energy that has been expended across Scotland prior to the summer recess on negotiations at a local level on the 35-hour working week. We all appreciate the need to build trust and confidence, but I would suggest that any outsider would be profoundly disappointed at this disproportionate expenditure of time when the opportunities for debate and positive change in other areas are so great.

The concept of the enhanced professional, in particular the role of the chartered teacher and collegiality, demands the replacement of an over-elaborate line management structure designed largely in the mid to late sixties. It is aged, inflexible and inappropriate. Most obviously, this applies to the secondary sector where the structure is rigid and does not encourage classroom teachers to remain up to date with learning methodologies.

Job sizing does have the potential to demoralise and destabilise but, taken positively, provides an opportunity with other factors to redesign schools, moving them positively towards their real function: moulding structure to the needs of young people not vice versa.

Teachers should be freed to concentrate on learning and teaching. This is the claim the profession has been making for some 20 years. It is welcome that this is now accepted and actively promoted. A combination of the additional funds available and efficiencies produced by redesigning existing structures should allow a level and quality of support well beyond that available at the moment. In West Lothian our own design model, although at an early stage, indicates that a secondary school of 1,000 pupils has the ability, in terms of timetable and budget, to build considerable support structures into the system within the resources available to us, or anticipated through the money being made available for support staff. Defensive positions based upon demarcation arguments or on the use of other professionals or paraprofessional staff within schools are totally unacceptable.

An emphasis on communities and corporate working and a desire to utilise all the knowledge and skills available within a local area should underpin the delivery of a comprehensive education. Many local people and other professionals working in the area know the families and the needs of the area as well as, if not better than, teachers. This knowledge has to be sought and utilised in any model that is designed to raise attainment and foster social inclusion.

We need as a profession to embrace the challenge now. Local councils and the communities they represent have a duty to provide frameworks both in terms of time-scale and design models for change. These, however, must allow maximum flexibility to staff, parents and pupils to create a model that best fits their school and community. Within such a framework diversity should be encouraged, not seen as some form of threat.

Roger Stewart is director of education in West Lothian.

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