McCormac triggers divide over teacher 'flexibility'

23rd September 2011 at 01:00
Review brings split between unions and directors' groups

The McCormac review's call for teachers to be "flexible" has created a clear division between teaching unions on one side and education directors and parents' organisations on the other.

"Frankly, we don't think flexibility will improve outcomes," said Jane Peckham, organiser of the NASUWT in Scotland, during a debate at the Scottish Parliament's education committee.

"The vast majority (of teachers) are already very flexible in their approach," said Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association.

Unions fear that removal of Annex E in the 2001 teachers' agreement, which specified tasks not to be done by teachers, such as photocopying, indicates that flexibility is a euphemism for heaping more work on them.

But John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said flexibility would "lead to better outcomes", a sentiment echoed by East Ayrshire Council's head of schools, Andrew Sutherland, representing Cosla.

Rather than a precursor to increasing teachers' workload, Mr Stodter said the call for flexibility chimed with a "culture shift" away from rigid tasks to what actually worked for pupils.

"We see no problem with flexibility," said George Jamieson, who leads the National Parent Forum's policy group; in every other profession it was the norm to "react to changing circumstances".

Unions had serious concerns about McCormac's recommendation that primary teachers need not be in class during all pupil hours, and the green light for non-teachers to take classes.

"It's open to being misinterpreted by people who are seeking to diminish the role of teachers," said Drew Morrice, assistant secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, recalling Renfrewshire Council's recent plan for non-teachers to cover non-class contact time.

The demise of the chartered teacher scheme drew a variety of responses.

Mr Morrice bemoaned its loss: "If this is about improving outcomes, then by and large chartered teachers have done that," he said.

But Mrs Ballinger said the scheme had "huge flaws".

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