The fun's back for teachers

15th June 2001 at 01:00
More pragmatic approaches to school management under the 35-hour week brought in by the McCrone review will liberate the classroom, says Kay Hall

he view that doing less can improve quality is not the sort of working attitude that has been revered in Scotland over the past decade. However we, in education, are setting out to demonstrate this point of view as a case in practice.

After years of excess pressure and demoralising workloads we at last have the chance to change our environments. The McCrone report offers us the opportunity to develop a radically different approach - workload control. By doing this we will not only improve the quality of teachers' and managers' lives but those of our pupils. In the long run society too may benefit, for education is an enormous, dynamic network.

For the first time in ages teachers can have the energy and time to place their pupils first. The demands of administration and development work will be reduced and an over-stretched curriculum will come second to classroom priorities.

Professional associations have already published advice. Local authority plans for the future are winging their way to schools while we, at the chalkface, toy with the words - professionalism, transparency and negotiation - and wonder how these will shape the newly defined 35-hour week. Collegiate management means sharing power and responsibility. Workload control means reviewing and prioritising all current systems, procedures and practice.

The first challenge in the primary sector is to systematically remove all non-teaching duties from the classroom. The introduction of permanent classroom assistants will create a totally new level of support. Duties will include collection and distribution of returns, money, paperwork and materials. Photocopying, mounting displays, preparation and care of resources, and practical help will be timetabled. All filing may be devolved and responsibility for computer records delegated.

It may be more difficult to persuade the powers that be about the necessity of cutting paperwork; however, it must be considered and is easily achieved. Anyone who has made rules to control cupboard space at home is capable of rationalising record keeping and plans. If you never use it or wear it, then bin it. Only those records that are necessary for teaching should be continued and any plans that are repeated each year should become typed-up programmes of work Both may continue to be dynamic and accurate by adding comments which are brief but relevant.

Collegiate negotiation will also ensure that school plans prevent burn-out. Realistic time must be agreed and aligned to each priority. Continuing professional development (CPD) will also support school developments although the system may well take time to establish.

In the primary school, class teachers continue to be required to write time-consuming, extensive reports, on all aspects of the curriculum, for each child in their class. The time is right to open a debate on the need and effectiveness of the different models seen around Scotland.

There is an argument that primary teachers are experts in teaching language and mathematics and have extensive skills in presenting programmes of work in other areas. This would support a return to reports which have detailed comments about the child's language and maths progress and their personal and social development. Other areas of the curriculum could stand as an account of the work covered and further detail could be added at parents' evenings, in discussion with the parents and by viewing the child's work. The alternative would be to adopt more impersonal, computerised reporting.

There is an opinion that many of our time-consuming paper trails exist so that visiting HMIs are able to monitor the school effectively. In this instance technology may prove to be an effective friend. Videos and digital photographs are being accepted as visual proof of monitoring school practice and are being used more extensively to provide evidence.

Many of these ideas have already been started. Improved resources and reviews of practice will further the McCrone recommendations. But all in the garden is not easy. The 57 collegiate hours have many hungry demands to satisfy. Primary headteachers are waiting patiently for information about dedicated management time and we wonder how these teaching charges will impact on our already, excessive working week.

And then there's enhanced staffing. McCrone has started the ball rolling for a review of the impact of class sizes on the academic, personal and social development of children. I hope the Scottish Executive doesn't spend too much money on this research. I have 33 years of anecdotal evidence to offer which I am willing and able to share.

Kay Hall is head of West Kilbride primary in North Ayrshire.

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