Message to McCrone: you've got a job ahead

25th February 2000 at 00:00
Dear Gavin, I hope you don't mind me calling you Gavin. You must understand that teachers around the country regard you as a close friend, who offers the only possibility of a lasting solution to the age-old problems of teachers' pay and conditions.

A couple of chaps called Houghton and Main have tried in the last 25 years to fix matters, but the ground gained was eroded with passing years. Our employers and the teaching unions have convened each year for a good snarl at one another. The antipathy has been such that both sides pledged not to concede an inch, and the result is poor pay, antediluvian conditions and demoralised teachers. Moreover, the ludicrously divided professional associations have annually hijacked negotiations to create an arena for displaying their macho credentials.

Meanwhile, back at the Ministry of Innovation, a private army of Balkan proportions has beavered away to wring the last ounce of energy from the ageing troops with targets from heaven, appraisal, Higher Still, devolved management and more new product lines each year than Tesco. Unfortunately, in education there are no bonus points.

I know fine, Gavin, that Sam will expect you to do the whole job on a shoestring, but try not to be knobbled by government. Andrew Cubie and his chums, including my old pal David Dimmock of Standard Life, have given the politicians food for thought over student finance, and their conclusions are about to cost a few bob. You too need to reflect radically on what is needed and justified, and not only what is economical.

The biggest challenge facing Scottish education in the 21st century is recruitment of teachers. Who is going to enter the profession as things stand? A young graduate in information technology, business studies or design, graduating in the boom-town of Edinburgh, can find better prospects elsewhere. The high quality of entrant we do manage to recruit against the odds indicates that there is a rich seam of talent available, if only the pay and conditions were more attractive. You must do something imaginative with the basic scales, if the young and gifted are to give teaching a second glance.

It is invidious that salary in no way reflects a teacher's total contribution. Dn't misunderstand me, Gavin. I'm not suggesting performance-related pay, which crudely links salary to exam results, with massive rises for those in Bearsden and Newton Mearns. It does grate, however, that a teacher who takes on all manner of additional tasks and responsibilities receives the same remuneration as the guy who tholes rather than teaches his classes, enjoys his annual winter week on the sick list, and whose exit at the end of the day is worthy of Formula 1.

I don't envy you the job of disentangling the labyrinthine puzzle of promotion structures. Of course we will need senior staff to lead and manage broad curricular areas, but no modern organisation can function without autonomy and flexibility at local level. Promotion structures should reflect school needs, and staff should have options for paid short-term secondments, one-off commissions to undertake development work alongside opportunities for promotion. "Stepping-down", available but rarely used, may provide release for those who have given their all, and a dignified exit for those who have fossilised in situ.

While acknowledging that my expertise on cleaning contracts and catering specifications has been wonderfully enhanced by recent involvement, I would prefer to be focused on classrooms and the educational experience of pupils. Janitors' overtime can be stimulating, but may not be the most productive target for my attention.

Could you spare a thought for headteachers and find ways of relieving the burden of peripheral duties, freeing us for the real job we were appointed to do?

Forty years is too long an innings, and retirement at 55 should become the norm. Superannuation arrangements could incorporate this for new recruits, but something special will have to be done for the baby-boomers, who are now reaching for their Saga brochures. I know that you will put in a word for my contemporaries, when you speak to Sam. I am acutely aware of this issue, Gavin, as intruders on the Holy Rood campus have recently reclassified me from "big bastard" to "auld bastard".

All the best for your inquiry, Gavin. If I can help further, just dial 'S' for Sweeney.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher at Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh

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