GTC revolt on school targets

26th December 1997 at 00:00
Scottish Office 'long on statistics, percentages and data and short on concern for children'

As the Scottish Office wrestles with developing a more sophisticated approach to setting targets for schools, the official watchdog of teaching standards has delivered the rudest riposte yet to its plans.

The General Teaching Council goes so far as to claim that the Government's initiative is anti-child and anti-education.

The rebuke comes as the council is trying to win friends and influence in the corridors of power in its bid to strengthen its powers over teaching competence and training programmes. Members met Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, three weeks ago in an attempt to overcome his scepticism.

Mr Wilson will not be delighted to be told by the GTC that his targets represent "a mechanistic and unprofessional approach which is unlikely to commend itself to the majority of members of the Scottish teaching profession". Its response - which it says is delivered "with regret" - continues: "The council feels that, if the proposals are implemented simpliciter, a disservice will be done to Scottish education."

The GTC fears that the emphasis on literacy, numeracy and examination results "will lead to an unacceptable narrowing of the primary curriculum with an undue concentration on language and mathematics and with the marginalisation or even exclusion of other curricular areas".

It accuses the Scottish Office of being "long on statistics, percentages and data and short on concern for children. It could even be argued that (the approach) challenges the whole basis of education. Is education not about more than ticking boxes and calculating percentages?" The GTC response was drawn up by its teacher-dominated convener's committee. Five members of the committee were absent and the remainder consisted of four leading GTC figures.

They were Mary Rose Caden, the GTC's convener, who is a guidance teacher at St Augustine's High in Edinburgh and a past president of the Educational Institute of Scotland; Wolseley Brown, an Airdrie primary teacher and also a former EIS president; Compton MacLeod, head of Brediland primary in Paisley and an EIS office-bearer in Renfrewshire; and Mary Shand, an EIS activist and a teacher at New Elgin primary.

The last three are also, respectively, conveners of council committees on exceptional admission to the register, finance and general purposes, and communications.

Their influence is evident in the GTC's conclusion: "If the Government is serious about raising standards, the employment of more teachers would be a step forward in that it would result in an improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio and smaller classes."

The GTC also says standards would be improved by a better physical environment in schools, better discipline, and better support for school development planning.

The council's parting shot to ministers is a call for high-quality staff development, an investment which it suggests "would bring a return out of proportion to the original outlay".

But it reminds the Scottish Office that the end of specific grant support for in-service courses makes training a "soft target" when local authorities are searching for budget cuts.

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