If you were in charge of education portfolio...

13th April 2007 at 01:00
The TESS has convened a panel of teachers, selected to represent differing views, sectors and part of the country, who will respond to the educational issues as they crop up in the campaign. Fiona MacLeod listened to their initial thoughts

Douglas Simpson is head at Fortrose Academy on the Black Isle. He votes Liberal Democrat.

Investment should be the politicians' priority, he says. "For many years, our budgets have been 'reconfigured' and next year will be no different - we will have about pound;50,000 cut from our budget."

He praises the Scottish Executive for its target to reduce class sizes in English and maths in S1-2, but would like to see that expanded to other subjects. A Curriculum for Excellence is a positive feature if it puts the impetus for change in schools' hands. He is pleased there is a better relationship between the Government and the profession than when he began teaching.

On the negative side, Mr Simpson feels there are too many initiatives - and two need reviewing. "The faculty organisation of secondary school departments is diminishing the role of the subject PT, the backbone of Scottish education. And the chartered teacher model is thoroughly flawed and should be re-examined."

Finally, he says, support for good classroom discipline should be a priority for any government.

Gill Graham is a teacher at Hanover Street Primary in Aberdeen. She voted Labour last time, but will not decide who to vote for in this election until she has examined each party's policy.

She believes the next Scottish Executive should focus on: additional resources for schools to help deal with children who disrupt lessons; and continued support for projects which give parents and families opportunities to learn.

For her, the current executive has made a difference by providing more teachers and resources, and by beginning to improve school buildings.

"These need to be supported beyond the election," she adds. "I wouldn't want to see big changes in the wrong direction just because we had a new executive."

Scrapping up-front student tuition fees received her backing, but it was tempered by the fact that loans and compulsory graduation fees had done little to widen access to higher education for all.

The single thing that would make the biggest difference to teachers' lives would be financial support to allow them to focus on teaching the new curriculum.

Alasdair Simpson is a first year student in primary education at Strathclyde Uni-versity's Jordanhill campus, specialising in PE.

This will be the first time the 20-year-old has been old enough to vote in the Scottish elections, although he did vote in the Westminster election two years ago. He wouldn't reveal who he voted for then, but admits he is tempted to switch parties. "There's more choice this time and certain parties haven't done well," he feels.

Cutting class sizes, he believes, should be the next Scottish Executive's education priority. "Classes are too big now, and you get better teaching when you can work one-on-one, which does help teachers," he adds.

Although he has been impressed by the executive's support for inclusion and extra funding, Alasdair is disappointed some of the extra money has not gone towards PE and extra-curricular activities.

And the single thing which would make the biggest difference to teachers? "Teachers have to have more autonomy as regards the curriculum and what to teach."

Surindar Bhopal is a chartered teacher in the biology department at Hillhead High in Glasgow.

He voted Labour last time but is swaying towards the Liberal Democrats because, he feels, their role in the abolition of tuition fees shows a commitment to education.

But the top priority for any incoming executive should be a focus on the early years of secondary, he feels. A new national certificated course for S2, when pupils would have got used to secondary, would be a good way to increase the pace of learning.

He said: "Many can begin to feel unchallenged by the relatively easy work and this may lead to some under-achievement and therefore disenfranchisement later on."

The school building programme, higher levels of investment and the teachers' agreement are positive legacies, Mr Bhopal believes. But the one thing the next executive could do to improve teachers' lives is tackle classroom disruption and indiscipline. "Constant low levels of disruption hamper teachers' efforts to deliver high quality teaching and learning," he says.

Judith Fryer is a P3 teacher at South Parks Primary in Glenrothes. She voted Liberal Democrat in the last Scottish election and, at the moment, is not tempted to change parties.

Priority for the incoming executive should be less piecemeal funding for inclusion, and reducing class sizes. She fears it may have taken its eye off the ball when it comes to these issues.

Ms Fryer believes the teachers' settlement has had a positive impact on class teachers. "It gives us some time to undertake all the assessing, planning and record-keeping," she says. "However, this benefit has often come at a cost to management. Teachers can increasingly feel that a majority of children in their class suffer while a disproportionate amount of time and energy is spent managing more challenging students."

She said the issues that are im-portant to teachers would depend on where they lived. "In some places, it would be cutting class sizes; in others, better support for inclusion; and elsewhere, ongoing behaviour support. I don't think there is a universal single thing."

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