John Cairney hears of growing anxieties from guidance teachers about future support for pupils as the career structure in secondary schools faces its biggest upheaval ever
"IF a Martian looked at the McCrone report to find out about Scottish education, the best he could hope to be is a guidance agnostic - open to the possibility that guidance exists, but with no clear evidence."
This analysis by one adviser describing her concerns about the implications for guidance arising from the teachers' settlement found a sympathetic resonance at the Scottish Guidance Association's annual conference, held at the weekend in Dunfermline.
Loretta Scott, guidance adviser in Glasgow, said: "McCrone apparently envisaged no change in guidance. My question is - how can you make so many changes to the structures which fundamentally affect how schools operate and how teachers work without affecting guidance? This is really stretching credibility."
Ms Scott is one of an ad hoc group of guidance experts from 11 authorities set up to advise the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland. The association has a small team chaired by George Gardner, depute director in Glasgow, to look at the implications of the agreement.
One of the big issues is what happens to the caseload of assistant principal teachers, who form half of the guidance force. Most are expected to become chartered teachers in August 2003, earning pound;31,299. Some will move on to the principal teachers' scale depending on the outcome of "job-sizing" reviews.
She asked: "How do we ensure the continuity of guidance and, equally importantly, how do we ensure continuity of the service from a pupil's perspective? At worst there must be no diminution of service to pupils and at best we have the opportunity to see an enhanced service, better organised, better trained and involving all staff."
Ms Scott, speaking prior to the conference, was not a lone voice. Guidance teachers expressed concern at a possible end to national provision of guidance, whether authorities would use the settlement to cut back on staff, how jobs would be affected and even if their posts would remain at all.
Alex Edwards, a leading SGA member and principal teacher of guidance in Dumbarton Academy, said: "We are already struggling with what we are being asked to do. Most guidance teachers build up a number of activities which they are responsible for. Any school with an APT guidance is a concern. Who is going to take on the jobs these people are currently doing?" Terry Ashton, adviser in guidance in Aberdeen, warned: "The increasingly complex, specialised nature of guidance and the time required to undertake these tasks would have been issues even without McCrone."
Mr Ashton found it "difficult to envisage" the situation in Aberdeen beoming worse. The city attaches a high priority to guidance and since it is the responsibility of principal teachers with no APT involvement, Mr Ashton foresaw no diminution in the service. But he was less optimistic about the national picture.
Mr Gardner agreed that the future of the guidance caseload in secondary schools required clarification, particularly in light of the fact that APTs will become chartered teachers within two years. "The key issue is how to provide the most effective support for pupils that we can," he said. "Speaking for Glasgow, we take the guidance and pastoral function in our schools very seriously indeed and we see it being maintained in whatever form that might be."
The teachers' agreement assumes that class teachers and chartered teachers will provide "advice and guidance to pupils". Principal teachers will have both curricular and pastoral functions.
Leader, page 24
HARD DAY'S LIFE OF A GUIDANCE TEACHER
* Received three phone calls from parents about absence - sent notes to register teachers.
* Issued three and checked eight behaviour timetables.
* Collected and collated weekly whole-school discipline reports.
* Chased up four pupils about truancy.
* Sent four letters to parents about attendance.
* Contacted attendance officer.
* Referred one pupil to attendance council.
* Carried out three pupil progress interviews.
* Dealt with two cases of alleged bullying, including phoning parents and reference to assistant head.
* Several visits by distressed pupils who had to be calmed and time arranged to see them at interval or period changes.
* Attended readmission interview with assistant head after exclusion.
* Phoned five parents about forgotten PE kit, late return of homework, missing a submission deadline in English.
* Wrote two references for a part-time job and for a college application.
* Prepared and carried out mock interview with fifth-year pupil.
* Weekly meeting with assistant head about ongoing discipline matters.
* Attended review meeting at behaviour base.
* Completed four careers report forms.
* Interviewed six pupils about options choice.
* Wrote feedback on all forms received from class teachers.
* Attended lunchtime inter-house badminton match.
* Phoned tenpin bowling alley to book house after-school event.
* Read material for next day's guidance meeting.
* Taught one PSE class.
* Recorded all today's actions on each pupil's profile sheet and filed all paperwork.
* Three periods of geography.
* Tried to keep smiling.
* Home at 6pm to mark Higher essays and prepare work for tomorrow's classes.