McCrone means nostalgia is not necessary

29th June 2001 at 01:00
They say that as you grow older you turn into your father but I have become much more concerned that I may be turning into the backward-looking teachers I tried to avoid in early staffrooms. They huddled in their private corners and shook their heads disapprovingly at those of us who chose to provide PE lessons for our classes, since this deprived them of sessions with the riches of The Essentials of English.

Recently I have been growing nostalgic for whole-class teaching, or questioning just why modern children will only work or behave well with points-win-prizes incentives. What happened to doing something because it is the right thing? So, in fear that my once progressive reputation has all but disappeared, I have decided that for one week this column will be positive and find an encouraging future for primary education.

To my surprise, it has been our school negotiations for implementing the 35-hour week which uplifted my spirits. I had anticipated them as an unwelcome end of year problem, but I now regard the new hours as a possible springboard to a better school life for all.

Many established activities are finding difficulty in claiming a place. Choices are being made between the amount of time which is reasonable for planning and the demands of frequent staff meetings. Attention is being drawn to planning formats which are too time-consuming, unwieldy agendas and pupil reports which do not meet parents' needs for straightforward, helpful information.

School development plans were supposed to be tailored to each school so that only a few initiatives were undertaken but they failed under the weight of additional national and local pressures. The 35-hour week may be just what we are seeking. There is no time to cope with floods of initiatives and those adopted must make a strong case for their inclusion. The uncertainty of rapid change has destabilised schools and the new limits are our best opportunity to bring the pace of legitimate change under control.

But the teachers' settlement has other provisions which could revolutionise Scottish primary education. The reduction of pupil contact time to 22.5 hours for all teachers is still some years away but it could be a development of ground-shaking proportions for primary schools.

Permanently sharing responsibility for a class with one or more others will bring a culture shift to primary teachers. Some will be sorry to lose their status as sole provider but others will welcome the opportunity to assign part of the curriculum to colleagues for two and a half hours each week and that is only a short step from another overdue development with primary teachers specialising in science, physical education and modern languages.

The primary school where teachers are not burdened with unnecessary paper and have decent preparation and marking time, and where pupils are taught by teachers with their own specialisms and enthusiasms, is not far away and will be a major step forward from the confusion, uncertainty and paper chase of the past 20 years. The remaining blight upon the landscape is the growing indiscipline shown by many children. It has the power to cancel out other advances and our faith is pinned upon the government task force to come up with workable solutions.

My nostalgia is not necessary. The future is bright if McCrone is allowed to deliver real improvements for schools.

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