Education is bureaucratic, not intellectual

26th June 2009 at 01:00
Should LTS and the General Teaching Council for Scotland be abolished?

I was speaking recently to a group of headteachers and one of them surprised me by expressing the view that Learning and Teaching Scotland and the General Teaching Council for Scotland should be abolished. A few days later, I mentioned this to a former director of education of my acquaintance - I'm afraid, I sometimes keep rather dodgy company - and he was in complete agreement.

What, you might well ask, had prompted such hostility to two of the leading institutions in the Scottish educational firmament? After all, LTS has had a central role in promoting significant innovations such as Assessment is for Learning and A Curriculum for Excellence, and GTCS has introduced measures intended to raise professional standards in teaching.

The headteacher, whose school has an impressive reputation for both the academic and the wider achievements of its pupils, felt that many of LTS's activities did not impact positively on schools and that, in fact, local initiative was sometimes stifled by the desire to impose centrally-driven policies. In this regard, he also had some robust things to say about Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education. As for GTCS, his complaint was that some of the more exciting possibilities for creative work opened up by ACfE - for example, interdisciplinary approaches to learning - might be made harder by current regulations on subject qualifications for teaching in secondary schools.

A broader perspective was offered by the former director of education. He saw LTS and GTCS as symptoms of the tendency in Scottish education to favour bureaucratic systems over openness to ideas. There was a fear of grass-roots developments, a desire to control and a lack of trust in staff in schools.

Of course, these are merely the views of two people and may not be representative of wider opinion. In any case, I do not think that the respective chief executives of GTCS and LTS, Tony Finn and Bernard McLeary, need rest uneasily. There are too many vested interests at stake to put their organisations at risk. LTS provides very convenient "arm's length" function for government. Its agenda is kept under careful watch by senior civil servants and HMIE but, if things go wrong, it is left to carry the can. In this regard, it will be interesting to observe evaluations of the success or otherwise of ACfE a few years down the line.

In the case of GTCS, it has the distinct advantage, from the perspective of government, of being a self-financing organisation, gaining its income from the Pounds 40 annual fee extracted from all the teachers on its register. Moreover, its desire for professional "respectability" means that it is unlikely to create any serious policy waves. For both these reasons, the expansionist tendencies of the council in recent years, evident in various moves to extend its sphere of operations, have been tolerated by government.

However, although the call for abolition is unlikely to be heeded, the comments by the headteacher and the former director of education should prompt serious reflection. For some time, I have felt that Scottish education is over-managed in bureaucratic terms and under-led in intellectual terms. This causes a damaging dislocation between policy- makers and practitioners, in which the efforts of those organisations which should inspire respect are treated with indifference or cynicism.

Walter Humes is research professor in education at the University of the West of Scotland.

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