Executive under fire over 'centralised' Bill

29th October 1999 at 01:00
THE Scottish Executive's efforts to raise standards are in danger of becoming too centralised, and are driven by short-termism, narrow performance measures and unconvincing rhetoric.

This rebuff, as the official period for consultation on the Education Bill draws to a close next Monday, is made starker still in that it comes from a number of leading Labour education authorities. The unions express similar reservations while insisting along with the councils that they back ministerial policies demanding "continuous improvement".

The Educational Institute of Scotland and the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association both take a robust line on incompetent teachers arguing that other teachers, heads or parents should be able to pass cases to the General Teaching Council.

The Government, anxious to keep the authorities on side, is proposing that only the names of those already dismissed for incompetence should be passed to the GTC. The council would then decide if the incompetence merited being struck from the register.

Barbara Clark, assistant general secretary of the SSTA, believes the GTC and education authorities could operate parallel regimes to deal with incompetence "given the tiny numbers which are involved, numbers which could be reduced still further if the authorities got their act together at an earlier stage and supported struggling teachers before their performance became irremediable".

Fred Forrester, the EIS's depute general secretary, points out that professional bodies dealing with dentists, nurses and doctors allow direct referral which does not rely on prior decisions by their employers, and he saw no reason why teachers should be different.

But both the EIS and the SSTA say their position is conditional on the GTC continuing to have a majority of elected teachers.

Meanwhile Glasgow, Fife and West Dunbartonshire, all controlled by Labour, remain unconvinced about the Executive's rhetoric of partnership in setting its proposed "improvement framework". Aberdeenshire, partly controlled by Labour's Liberal Democrat partners in the coalition, expresses similar doubts.

Most of the submissions say there is little clarity on how the performance of schools and authorities is to be assessed. Glasgow makes a plea for relevant judgments between comparable schools and for measures which go beyond exam results and attendance to include pupils' personal development, citizenship and preparation for working life.

West Dunbartonshire is also worried about "spurious comparisons" between it and less disadvantaged authorities.

The authorities in particular express concern that the plan for them to set "improvement objectives" each year is too short for any progress to be meaningfully analysed. Glasgow prefers a three-year cycle in line with the Government's own practice, while West Dunbartonshire and Aberdeenshire suggest that policies on early intervention and new community schools might take a decade to be established.

Glasgow and Fife say more definition is required over the Government's proposal to take action in the case of schools "not yet reaching the standards of the best". Glasgow says this is too close to "naming and shaming" while Fife asks: "Which standards?"

Fife points out that target-setting, school development planning and devolved school management have been put in place by councils voluntarily following national guidelines.

"The case has not been made for extending statute to cover areas well served by existing arrangements," it states.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers suggests that some of the Executive's targets appear mutually exclusive, such as raising attainment and reducing exclusions. It opposes "unqualified inclusivity" if it means retaining highly disruptive pupils or those with very specialist needs.

The unions inevitably suggest ministers' vision for a world class education system will not be realised without adequate resources. If there are to be national targets and measures of performance, expenditure must reflect a level playing-field across the country, the NAS states.

All plans for school improvement should be fully costed, the EIS states.

Failure to do so in the past "has been a main cause of excessive teacher workload, lowered morale in the teaching profession and a consequent deleterious impact on the intended outcomes sought from the reforms."

Leading article, page 14

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