Don't treat us like the hired hands

31st October 2003 at 00:00
Scottish secondary schools need 'reculturing', say Don Ledingham and the staff of Dunbar Grammar

The remit of the McCrone committee was clear and unambiguous: "To inquire widely into how teachers' pay, promotion structures and conditions of service should be changed in order to ensure a committed, professional and flexible teaching force which will secure high and improving standards of school education for all children in Scotland into the new millennium."

It is worth restating the remit. In the preoccupation with structures, the intended outcome of Professor Gavin McCrone's report, changing the way we do things in Scottish schools, has been lost.

Stepping back from the mechanistic, structural elements of the teachers'

agreement which followed the report, we find the concept of "reculturing" (if such a word really exists beyond American management psycho babble) a useful one in that it captures the essence of the challenge facing Scottish schools.

Schools are essentially comfortable with structures - timetables, curriculum plans, school calendars, departments, senior management teams, examinations. Structures lend themselves to diagrams, tables and charts.

They appeal to the technical aspect of school management. They can be manipulated, modified and examined.

So what of culture? Culture defies representation on any chart or diagram.

Aims, objectives, rationales, policies and statements of intent all go some way towards attempting to describe the intended culture of a school. But the gap between intention and reality means that they cannot be taken as an accurate yardstick. Perhaps the best way to exemplify the differences between culture and structure is to reflect on the fact that it is possible for two schools to have exactly the same structures but have radically different cultures.

If restructuring is not the way to improve Scottish education, why should reculturing be any different? Surely a school's culture is shaped by its staff, its management, its environment and its community. Why should it be necessary to change the way we do things?

By building on the fundamental McCrone premise that "teachers are committed and talented professionals who play the central role in the quality and effectiveness of learning in school", we can begin to establish a different culture in Scottish schools based on trust in teachers as accountable professionals. Such a starting point changes the subsequent perspectives on quality assurance, monitoring, staff development, leadership and collaboration.

To adopt a simplistic model, school structures and systems can be characterised by a continuum that represents the perspective which management can adopt towards teachers. At one end, teachers can be considered to be a group of individuals who cannot be trusted to work independently. They require intense monitoring and checking. For ease of reference, we will call this end of the continuum "hired hand".

At the other end of the continuum, teachers are seen to be self-motivated, reflective professionals, who will do anything to support pupils and colleagues. They are driven by a sense of obligation and sense of duty and work as much for personal satisfaction as they do for their salary. We will call this end "professional".

Rather than adopting a lowest common denominator, whereby systems and procedures are established to catch the few who may be operating more at a "hired hand" level, schools should set out to develop systems and structures aimed at sustaining and nurturing a professional culture.

If one builds from this perspective, a clearer picture emerges for the role of teachers, principal teachers and senior managers. The key role for teachers will be the delivery of effective teaching and learning, curriculum development and contribution to departmental and school review.

The role for principal teachers flows from this to effective organisation and leadership at subject level. Schools should therefore make best use of existing principal teachers as leaders of their subject specialism.

However, if effective teaching and learning is our goal we should not be limited by adherence to an "approved" structure. Instead we should explore the potential of a mixed economy model within schools, where there could be big PTs and wee PTs (through job-sizing), faculty headscurriculum leaders (with some cognate relationship between subjects), responsibility-sharing PTs and short-term rolling responsibilities - all working together effectively within the same school.

Such a reculturing changes the way in which schools operate. The role of senior management would be to enable, encourage and sustain such a professional culture. All we ask is that we are allowed to develop structures that will complement such a culture.

Don Ledingham is headteacher of Dunbar Grammar. This article reflects the views of all the school's staff.

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