Flouted the length of the land but still vital

28th April 2000 at 01:00
Fred Forrester warns that hard-won rights are at risk if the small type is not scrutinised

THE Schools (Scotland) Code 1956 is a set of regulations which at first sight are hopelessly outdated. Many have been repealed over the years to the point where only a few civil servants know for certain which are still extant.

Yet some are still important for teachers and are often referred to in local negotiations. In some cases, the regulations are blatantly ignored; in others, they are interpreted to meet the needs of whoever is doing the interpreting.

The code sets out a staffing standard for nursery education which nursery teachers and teacher unions have striven, mostly unsuccessfully, to uphold. Classes should have a maximum of 20 and there should be one teacher, holding the additional qualification for nursery education, and one nursery nurse or helper.

These regulations have been wrongly interpreted by authorities as allowing for an overall adult:pupil ratio of 1:10, without regard to the number of teachers and nursery nurses.

This has led to a gross distortion in which one teacher and numerous nursery nurses form the staff of a nursery school. In the case of the increasingly common option of a nursery unit attached to a primary school, the unit is often staffed exclusively with nursery nurses, with a teacher (sometimes the headteacher) in the mainstream school being deemed to provide the teacher staffing, although only present in the unit for a small part of the school week.

In the secondary school, the code lays down a class maximum of 20 for practical instruction in a range of subjects identified in the quaint language of the 1950s and including typewriting, cookery, laundry-work, dressmaking, housewifery, agriculture, gardening, dairying, navigation and seamanship.

However, the inclusion in the list of science, art, art-crafts, mechanics, benchwork and technical drawing has resulted in virtual consensus that all classes in any science subject, in art and in technical education, are subject to a maximum of 20. There has been long-standing discontent at the exclusion of musi and PE.

The consultation paper makes frequent reference to the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee. The argument is that many of the code's provisions have been superseded in the SJNC Scheme of Salaries and Conditions of Service. It is implied, wrongly, that the SJNC has the ability to decide on management structures, thus making certain code regulations redundant. This is disingenuous. The SJNC fixes the salaries applicable to the various posts. It has no role, or a very limited role, in staffing structures.

There is still uncertainty about what will replace the SJNC, but it will clearly not be a statutory body. While it will "inherit" all current SJNC agreements, it will have the ability to alter these and this may not depend on approval by both employers and teachers. A non-statutory SJNC seems ill-suited to providing the kind of regulation contained in the code.

The consultation paper makes the case for having little or no regulation in some fields. Examples are the separate class maxima for composite classes (already threatened in the Millennium Review), the possibility of a headteacher being responsible for a number of linked schools (already being piloted in South Ayrshire), the removal of restrictions on FE lecturers working in secondary schools, the use of secondary teachers to teach subjects in which they are not qualified (alleged in the paper to be legal at the present time) and removal of the qualifications demarcation between primary schools and secondaries.

So we have a consultation paper purporting to look at technical anomalies but, in reality, raising important educational issues. The closing date for submissions is June 30, after the McCrone report.

The Executive would probably be happy if the issues were subsumed in the post-McCrone discussions. But many of the details are unlikely to receive adequate attention in what is likely to be a period of passionate argument over teachers' pay, conditions of service and professionalism.

Next week: Douglas Weir on teacher education.

Fred Forrester recently retired as depute general secretary of the EIS.

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