Douglas Chapman

19th October 2012 at 01:00
The education convener of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities talks about ruffling feathers, the changes that will take place under him, teachers' pensions and the devolution of power to heads. Interview by Elizabeth Buie Photography Fraser Band

You are Cosla's education convener, yet you don't take the lead in the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT) negotiations - why is that?

For me, it really isn't a big issue. We have a spokesperson for negotiations on the employers' side and certainly my view was that Billy Hendry (Cosla's HR spokesman) should lead across the board. That doesn't mean to say there won't be any influence from education and I'll be part of the negotiating team. I'll be more than capable of making my views known and adding any weight that I need to in order to make sure that either education is protected or we come up with the best deal that will help to move things forward and create a positive industrial relations environment. I think in the current economic climate that is not going to be an easy task for anyone to undertake.

In the run-up to last year's teachers' agreement, the Cosla submission ruffled feathers when it stated that `the primary role for a teacher should not be to teach children but should be articulated in terms of ensuring the development, well-being and safety of children'. Do you agree?

I think the primary role is for the teacher to lead in the classroom. I think there should be a bit of flexibility in terms of who they can have to assist them.

Was it a mistake to cut the pay of short-term supply teachers, in retrospect?

I can't speak for Cosla on that but it's something we've discussed at a Fife level and there seems to be no difference in the availability of supply teachers. I don't think there's any area that's losing out because they can't access supply teachers when they need them.

In education policy, Cosla has tended to be seen as reliant on the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland for fresh ideas. Will that change under you?

There's a whole range of things I would like to see Cosla take a much more proactive stance around. There is a debate ongoing just now around private schools being seen to accept charitable donations and the tax advantages that go with that - I'd like to see Cosla take a view on that. Access to university for students from a more disadvantaged background - there are areas like that where I think Cosla's view could add to the debate.

Is it sustainable to have a target of 51,131 teachers in the current climate?

As long as it's being seen as a priority that teacher numbers are maintained and that's funded by central government, I think local government would want to look at the actual number of pupils and match up pupils with teachers, based on a formula.

Do you have any concerns that central government might have plans for schools along the same lines as its regional college hubs, or single police and fire services?

I don't think there's any indication of that and I think it's because schools are fairly autonomous communities within their own area. Parents and pupils tend to identify with their local high school or local primary school, and I just wonder where the real benefit would be in having an all-embracing, centralised department that would oversee all that. It's much better to have some local control and influence and allow schools in general to make the most of their local environment.

Do you see more powers being devolved to headteachers in future?

That depends on what power can be devolved and how well we can support headteachers to make sure their staff are well enough trained and motivated to take on that responsibility.

Are you not convinced that all headteachers want more powers?

I need to say I'm married to a primary headteacher and I know what her workload is like. I think if it's supported, then a lot of headteachers would enjoy more freedom to make decisions.

Do you think teachers should have to work to 68 before they get their pension?

I don't think teachers would find that an acceptable position to find themselves in. We're in the unique situation of the overall position being driven by Westminster, and the Scottish government always being caught in the middle. The EIS and SSTA are raising issues like this and I think it's of real concern to everyone, because I don't think it's in the best interests of the child for a teacher to work so far beyond what we would normally think of as normal retirement age teaching in schools.

What was your own educational experience like?

Loved primary, but secondary was less of an enjoyable experience. I think I was in that group where I was never poor at any subject but then again I was never totally brilliant at any subject - where you got caught in the middle. So if there's a plea to teachers, it's to remember the huge group in the middle who don't shout out for attention but maybe need to be taken account of a bit more.

Local authority budgets are expected to get tighter next year - will this compromise the delivery of education?

I'm not sure if compromise is the right word but it's going to make life very difficult. I think it's about the expectations that some people have - perhaps with a service they've always relied on and had, it may be that in some areas that service can no longer be continued.


Born: Edinburgh, 1955

Education: West Calder High; Napier College - studied personnel management

Career: TSB Scotland, 12 years in retail banking, then ran the bank's Youth Training Scheme; Fife councillor 1997-98; elected again in 2007 and served for five years as chair of Fife Council's education and children's services committee; 2012 became Cosla's education convener.

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