McCronyism must go

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
The old pals' network in recruiting staff to schools often leads to a stilted and mediocre conformity in teaching, says Colin Allan

As a tyro teacher, I once walked into a room to find the school's headteacher and a colleague having what would now be called a "full and frank conversation".

It transpired that my colleague was being offered a "sabbatical" to make space for an unemployed teacher. By an incredible coincidence, the potential recruit was closely related to a member of the education directorate. It was my first brush with the McCronies.

It astonished me at the time that a head would have been prepared to consider such a squalid proposal. Ah, the naivety of the young. The same head later interviewed several teachers for a promoted post. Some staff were later astonished to learn that the successful candidate was in fact a close friend of the headteacher's first-born and had attended a family wedding only a week before the interview. As it turned out, he was an excellent teacher and possibly the best person for the job. It's a pity his first promotion came in such circumstances.

Over the years, like so many colleagues, I have seen with increasing cynicism these amazing coincidences which pervade Scotland's relatively small education pond. The promotion of one person from a particular school is often followed, for example, by a series of promotions from the same school. In one case I know of, three promoted teachers from the same school were further promoted, in turn, into a higher position in the same recipient school.

To lose two teachers like this may be coincidence. But three? It's the McCronies again. Then there are the indirect transfers which often affect the partners or close relatives of a successful candidate. For example, in a case known to me, school A receives a new head from school B. The partner of a depute at school B then proves to be the best qualified person of all those who have applied for a promoted post at school A. Coincidence? Come on, it's the McCronies at work.

Astonishingly, those who benefit from this mutual washing of hands sometimes try to justify it. A depute I knew once referred to a promotion courtesy of a headteacher friend as being part of a "dream team". There appeared to be no awareness that this might just be a breach of public trust.

I can also remember the same person at a staff social function, drunkenly lambasting a colleague for sending her child to a private school.

Apparently this was immoral and reduced opportunities for others. That's another thing the McCronies lack - any semblance of a sense of irony.

Even if the team-working justification were true, such behaviour would still be unacceptable. The most effective teams surely contain people with a variety of skills and attitudes.

It may be that the chartered teacher programme and the re-vamped Scottish Qualification for Headship will stymie the McCronies. I would like to think so, but I have my doubts. The SQH, with its inbuilt peer mentoring, seems wide open to nepotism.

The chartered teacher programme is open to all who reach the top of the unpromoted scale, but again, I suspect there will be those who receive extra encouragement because of the old pals' act.

Indeed, at a recent leaving "do" for a newly appointed depute, staff were astonished to hear the heidie bid a qualified farewell - qualified because, according to the head, the departing depute was fully expected to return as headteacher one day. That kind of imprimatur would be simply unacceptable elsewhere.

McCronyism encourages the selection and promotion of individuals who place conformity before quality of teaching and independent thinking. It is the enemy of genuine collegiality, which can only ever thrive in a culture of openness. It stifles vigorous debate among fellow professionals about the effectiveness of various pedagogical or administrative systems. It is part of a system which tolerates mediocrity.

And it has to go.

Colin Allan teaches in a secondary school.

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