Hard times make it feel like a bad time to leave, but the profession will bounce back

5th August 2011 at 01:00
My last weeks spent on staffing and budget plans made retiral all the more difficult

I could not have imagined in advance my last weeks prior to retiral. Despite knowing for a year that the endgame was approaching, each event hits hard: the last school disco, assembly, even the last lunch duty, each one peeled another layer from the professional veneer, stripping me to the raw essentials.

Leaving school was always going to be hard, but it was the structural challenges which made June 2011 hurt even more. In schools across Scotland, budget-driven decisions were reducing teaching posts. In my own school, two staff were retiring (under VERA, voluntary early retirement arrangements) and another five moving on and not being replaced. In Edinburgh the number of depute heads has been reduced in many schools and principal teachers have been reduced by creating faculties. Bursars' posts are about to vanish. There could scarcely be a more difficult period to be leading schools, but far from that making it easier to go, it makes departure hugely more depressing.

When headteachers retire, the speeches tend to the optimistic, an endorsement of change as both inevitable and good. Not in 2011. At a time when the big issues should be, first, getting Curriculum for Excellence right and, second, the possibilities of the profession being refreshed by the Donaldson review, headteacher time has focused on budgets and staffing.

I spent most of my last weeks working on new staffing plans. Even that traditional June ritual, the writing of the standards and quality report and improvement plan, had to take a back seat. Of course, heads do always work a significant part of the summer holiday. This year, even for those heading to retiral, July was spent writing new faculty PT job descriptions.

The other issue, however, which has dominated these last weeks has been McCormac. After a decade, McCrone certainly requires some fine-tuning. It will not, however, benefit education if the fear and insecurity generated among teachers by pay freezes, pension changes and job losses are used as levers to undermine further teachers' professional conditions.

There is limited potential for successful industrial action by teachers today but the employers should beware, for this too will pass. The demographics are about to change. Pupil numbers will rise. New teachers will be required and whether it's in three, four or five years, a new generation of teachers will be well able to challenge any diminution of professional conditions imposed today.

I wish my own successor and all who manage and work in our schools well. I hope in this column and elsewhere to continue commenting on education, perhaps with even less restraint than I have been required to exercise in the past.

Alex Wood was headteacher of Wester Hailes Education Centre until June.

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