Into the holidays with high hopes

27th June 1997 at 01:00
Being out of synch is all right at this end of the holidays but there is nothing more galling than for Scottish teachers to continue to see references to the "school holidays" in the second half of August when they are wrestling with new timetables and putting names to 32 strange faces. Most of Scotland locks the school gates today, but in six authorities - the three in former Tayside, Borders, Highland and Shetland - work goes on for another week and the sentiments of Joseph Kelly's column on the opposite page are premature.

In wishing readers a restful period, he says it has been an especially fraught session. Glasgow heads know how fraught life can be. No doubt for many teachers it is hard to compare one year's pressures with another's. Those that come from within a school - or arise from one's own circumstances - have to be pitted against the demands from outside. Gauging the last of these is at present hard. Far from ending, term has just begun.

That is because of the election. The Government has not yet signalled enough of its intentions for these to be measured in terms of teacher pressure. The climate has certainly changed. There is a greater sense of optimism, not that money will be channelled towards necessary resources but that the powers-that-be are willing to listen to professional opinion rather than denigrate it on the simple ground that it is professional. Gestures have been made towards teachers' concerns in the postponement of Higher Still, abandonment of compulsory tests for S1 and S2 and removal of the pressure for universal assessment. Ahead, however, lie ministerial proposals to re-emphasise the importance of standards and tackle problems of underachievement by teachers as well as pupils. The Government's insistence on high standards - given practical expression south of the border but only promised in Scotland - is welcome. The impact on teachers, most of whom are doing a good job, is unclear.

Teachers about to depart on holiday have no clear idea of the external demands which the Government will impose once it has got into its stride. Nor can they guess at the impact of the working party on conditions of service being set up by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the unions. Next week's budget may affect their personal finances. They already know that it will not release new money for the public services. But the holidays should not be spent second-guessing politicians. There will be ample time for that come the autumn.

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