Interview: Gerry McCormac

16th September 2011 at 01:00
This week saw the publication of the eagerly-awaited McCormac report on teachers' terms and conditions. Here, its author explains why teachers need to be more flexible

Was your committee unanimous in its recommendations?

Yes.

The Cosla submission to your review suggested the primary role of teachers was not to teach children. Does your call for teachers to have a more detailed understanding of other services, such as social work, endorse this view?

No, our view is that the primary role of teachers is to teach but also to contribute to the wider educational community. I would not subscribe to the suggestion that the main purpose of teachers is not to teach.

What will you say if you meet aspiring chartered teachers who have been prevented from achieving that status?

That their commitment to enhancing their professionalism was welcomed but the scheme has not delivered in terms of providing the desired outcomes.

What should happen to existing CTs?

The SNCT (Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers) should negotiate the salary aspects of that. They have invested much in their own development and we would recommend that in any talks, efforts are made to ensure that is used.

What was the fatal flaw in the CT system?

There were a few things. Implementation at the early stages was not necessarily the best, allowing teachers to get there by two routes. The idea was that CTs would become the very best and contribute to pedagogy. It didn't pan out that way. Some teachers embarked on the CT route, but they didn't want it to be known within the school that they had that status, lest they get additional responsibility. We didn't think that was helpful.

You call for a clearer link between investment in education and outcomes. Does that mean teachers are not held sufficiently to account for their performance in the classroom?

No, but when you are using public money, the objective is to produce high- quality outcomes, so it's vital that in professions where public money is used, they develop that capacity. We have CPD (continuing professional development) and PRD (professional review and development) systems to improve the quality of teaching and check against the performance of others in the profession. We think for the most part these are adequate but, in some instances, the system can be too slow to respond, so we are recommending that efforts should be made to improve that.

If teachers fail to meet the standards you recommend, what should happen to them?

In terms of the actual detailed process, that is something the GTCS should take on.

What is the advantage in devolving more budgetary control to headteachers to create temporary promotions?

Devolvement of responsibility to the head for temporary promotions and structuring the senior team allows schools to respond to their own particular needs. Heads are in the best position to decide what structures can provide flexibility in terms of responsiveness to the particular needs of the learners within it. One of our suggestions is that there would be teacher mobility - perhaps under CPD arrangements. Heads' mobility is as vital as teacher mobility in terms of the education system.

Having had some level of autonomy in how they deploy their non-class contact time for the past 10 years, will teachers not resent being told they have to remain on school premises during the pupil day?

We use the word "normally". It's about utilising that time during the school day to work with others and develop CPD. We say in the report that that sort of activity needs to be carried on outwith school premises at times.

Teachers in Renfrewshire came close to striking over local authority plans to use non-qualified teachers to cover "McCrone time". Are your proposals on similar lines likely to provoke a national backlash?

In terms of Curriculum for Excellence, it's important that all those who have the capacity to work along with teachers do so. Our report described this as a teacher-led process where the teacher is in charge of the learning for the full pupil-week and deploying external resources or experts as appropriate to improve educational outcomes for the children. It is not about substituting others in the classroom to replace teachers.

For example, the Scottish Government is committed to having two modern languages in addition to English, but we know the capacity of teachers to deliver languages is rather limited, so they could bring in someone with specific language skills, utilising them in a planned learning programme by involving these individuals in the educational process.

What has been the greatest weakness of the teachers' agreement?

Its inflexibility.

And its greatest strength?

It did move the profession on and it did further professionalise it. It also contributed to bringing pay levels into line with similar professions and created a period of stability that was no doubt beneficial to children and young people going through school.

Do you think teachers will vote for your recommendations?

We had 3,200 teacher responses to the call for evidence and a wide divergence of views there. I expect there will be divergent views as a response to our recommendations.

PERSONAL PROFILE

Born: Belfast, 1958

Education: St Kevin's Primary and Christian Brothers' Grammar, Belfast; Ulster University and Southampton University.

Career: Scientist specialising in space physics and carbon dating, including a spell on the NASA Dynamics Explorer satellite programme; 2001- 10, pro-vice chancellor, Queen's University, Belfast; 2010, principal, Stirling University; January, 2011, appointed chair of the review of teacher employment in Scotland.

[Picture credit: Douglas McBride]

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