Let's leave 1965 in the past

27th June 2003 at 01:00
It was disappointing, if not altogether surprising, to read in The TESS (June 13) of the General Teaching Council for Scotland's opposition to the Scottish Executive's initiative to address the well-documented problems which surround primary-secondary transfer and the performance of pupils in S1 and S2.

There should be no dispute about the very real problem which exists in Scottish schools today, particularly the stagnation which takes place all too often in S1 and S2. And if the Executive is proposing to consult on a radical means of addressing it, then its proposals should be considered on their merits.

Knee-jerk reactions based on the standards and practices of a by-gone age should be disregarded.

Traditionally, S1 and S2 have been low-priority areas for secondary schools. They get fitted last into timetables, and are assigned teachers only after the certificate classes have been provided for. As for homework, well, teachers have lives too and Higher marking takes up so much time...

Primary teachers have, by and large, had a better press. But there are complaints about an over-crowded curriculum and the strains on the class teacher of having to cover the same range of subjects as is done by as many as 14 teachers in S1.

The obvious response in all of this is to construct a bridge so the culture of achievement in the primary schools can be grafted on to the S1-S2 experience and secondary subject staff can bolster primary staff in addressing the diversity of their curriculum.

Need the General Teaching Council for Scotland be concerned about this?

At the time when the GTC was established in 1965, almost all primary teachers were non-graduate diploma holders, and secondary staff were university graduates. There was a widely perceived difference in status - though it is very questionable if that difference was ever apparent in the classroom competence of the practitioners. Yet the shibboleth of "dilution" was to be heard even then. Does anyone still remember the Honours Graduate Teachers Association?

Nowadays it is all so different. Teaching is a graduate profession and almost everyone seems to have an honours degree. For the GTC to remain rooted in the thinking of 1965 is to ignore the realities.

Sensible deployment of resources must allow for secondary trained teachers to work in the primary schools on a timetabled basis with their primary trained colleagues. Not only will that provide scope for the sharing of expertise, it will allow the secondary teacher an insight into the abilities and competences of the P7 pupils far beyond anything that emerges from current efforts at liaison.

In all its years of existence, the contribution of the GTC to respond to and address the issue of the S1-S2 experience has not been significant. It remains defensive of the status quo even today and that, simply, is no longer acceptable. Change must and will come and the GTC must choose whether to play a constructive part or not.

It is to be hoped that the Executive will recognise the professionalism of all Scottish teachers and look long and hard at claims for "specialist subject expertise" (which may be based on two years of university study done 20 or more years ago).

Does that really count for more than the skills and knowledge gained during four years of professional training?

David Nicholson Bowfield Road West Kilbride

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