Experience comes at a price

1st April 2011 at 01:00

Experienced teachers have long-developed skills in areas which are vital to the development of effective teaching. They recognise when pupils need additional support, deal effectively with disruption, support colleagues through challenging times and identify a sudden change in behaviour which signals a pupil at risk.

Generations of teachers develop these skills by observing colleagues. Co- operating with an experienced colleague is by far the most effective method of learning how to teach new courses. The sharing of experience and new methodology provides added value to both partners.

Recent comments in the media have suggested that experienced or "old" teachers are a major problem which has to be solved. This week it was suggested that proposed changes to the payment of temporary staff are being made simply to remove old teachers from the supply pool. Apart from the obvious problem of unlawful discrimination, this comment indicates a complete failure to understand the reality faced by schools across Scotland.

There is a reason we pay experienced teachers more, the clue being in the word "experience". Many experienced supply teachers have chosen this route after career breaks taken to care for elderly relatives or to raise children. Some have made the decision not to seek permanent posts which could be filled by a younger teacher at the start of their career.

Local and national politicians also grow old - or, rather, become experienced - but clearly feel no need to suddenly declare themselves incompetent and resign. Nor should they. As a society, we respect the ability and experience of older politicians as an "added value" to their role in both local and national government. The experience, judgment and breadth of knowledge of older teachers should also be regarded, not as flotsam and jetsam but as the anchor against the transitory in the politics of education.

Ann Ballinger, general secretary, Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association.

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