Facing the challenge

28th October 2005 at 01:00
Your edition last week provided ample evidence for anyone wishing to label the mind-set of the schools sector as perhaps the most prominent example of the attitudinal barriers facing those of us who seek to reform our public services.

The front-page lead on how mathematics teachers have surrendered to the centralist tendencies of the Scottish Executive was an excellent example of the task facing those the Prime Minister described this week as the "change-makers".

This defensive, disenfranchised mind-set, developed as a natural reaction to a sustained period of decreasing resources, has stripped bare public sector professionals of their ability properly to plan their own, and their service's, development.

Your report that the Scottish Mathematical Council "has been concerned about the lack of support and leadership for mathematics teachers."

Leadership should surely come from within the profession but, when maths teachers "lament reduced opportunities for sharing ideas with colleagues because of cover difficulties and time constraints", the non-teaching public (which enjoys on average four weeks' annual holiday) does look on aghast.

Why, for example, can't professional development opportunities be timetabled into a more flexible school year (say four terms of 10 weeks as a core), a more flexible week or even a more flexible day (8am-6pm)?

John Connell's excellent Platform piece last week, explaining the clear professional thinking behind the schools' digital network, surely offers all teachers the opportunity to come together over the network without the need to waste time travelling across or within each local authority area.

And what of the professional body charged with the task of promoting teaching as an attractive self-regulated career option, the General Teaching Council for Scotland? Your news that turnout for the annual council elections has dropped below even that for local authorities is yet another indicator of a membership lacking the energy or the will to fashion a future for itself.

This is perhaps the inevitable result of the confusion amongst teachers regarding the respective roles of the bodies that seek to represent them.

The union side is split, refusing to offer a clear and singular direction.

The management side is still in disarray in many parts of Scotland with a fair number of headteachers either refusing, or never given the opportunity, to play their rightful role within that team. Even the parent body is fragmented, as your Jotter item last week made clear.

If the teaching profession is to stake a claim for its own future, then it must be in a position to direct the unprecedented levels of investment in education in ways that will reap rewards for the pupils. The non-teaching public still awaits the benefits of the billion pound pay award and the equally well-funded school building programme.

The teaching profession has a responsibility to shift itself on to its front foot, to positively embrace reform and to shape the school service in its own image, nationally and locally. Only by taking on that challenge of change can teachers begin to regain their professional integrity and influence.

But where are the local leaders within the teaching profession to meet that challenge?

Ross Martin Chief executive Centre for Scottish Public Policy (and supply teacher)

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