No time to teach;School Management

20th November 1998 at 00:00
Is it right that talented teachers, seeking promotion, should be taken from the classroom to become pastoral guides? asks Calum Stewart

My school has just had a spate of promotions which resulted in six young, talented and enthusiastic teachers becoming assistant principal teachers of guidance. They will all do an excellent job.

As guidance teachers, they will deal with problems such as late-coming, truancy, under-achievement, misbehaviour and petty bullying. They will spend time filling out reports, writing letters, dealing with external agencies, interviewing pupils and telephoning parents. Administration and paper work will become a bigger component of their working day.

The promotions provide the teachers with a deserved boost to their careers and gives them a salary which is commensurate with their qualifications and talent.

But is this the best way to deploy talented young classroom teachers? Each of the six will have five additional non-teaching periods in which to fulfil their guidance commitments. In each case this means giving up five periods of classroom teaching. Fewer pupils will benefit from their considerable skills.

The additional non-teaching periods guidance teachers receive are never sufficient for the duties they have to perform. The six new APTs of guidance in my school, like thousands of other guidance teachers, will have to use large parts of their own time to satisfy the demands of their new role.

Their subject responsibilities, while not neglected, are unlikely to be given the same level of attention and priority they formerly received.

Principal teachers of guidance have even more non-teaching periods and much heavier guidance workloads to distract them from classroom teaching. The working week of many PTs now involves more time in the guidance department than in their subject departments. Some of our most effective teachers have been virtually withdrawn from the classroom.

So, are we taking too many talented teachers out of the classroom and diverting them into routine administrative and counselling work? And are we failing to offer alternative promotion incentives for talented young teachers to remain in the classroom?

In response to the second question there are of course senior teacher posts available, but these tend to be allocated to older teachers with many years of experience rather than to younger teachers not long in the profession. Promoted posts in subject departments are fewer and more difficult to obtain. For many young teachers guidance offers the only opportunity of early promotion and a decent salary.

The problem dates back to the Sixties when the guidance Green Paper put the job into the promoted post structure of Scottish secondary schools. Since that decision was made, the demands and pressures on guidance teachers have changed considerably and increased manifold.

The publication of exam results, and the increased pressure on schools to secure better exam results, has resulted in a higher number of under-achieving pupils being referred to guidance. Similarly, the introduction of more rigorous homework policies has meant increased guidance involvement, in some schools at least, in dealing with pupils who are reluctant to do homework.

The increase in the number of pupils going on to further and higher education and the approaching juggernaut of Higher Still have also drastically increased guidance workloads.

The growing popularity of offering two APT posts, in place of one PT post, has meant that the number of guidance teachers in schools has also increased. Many large secondary schools now have guidance departments with eight or more teachers. With so much change, and so many teachers now involved, it is time for a major review of guidance and its impact on teaching and learning.

There are many new ideas worth considering for guidance, including an expanded role for first-line guidance teachers and the increased use of personal and social education classes to help meet the pastoral requirements of pupils. The introduction of administrative assistants and counselling specialists also offers compelling advantages. Administrative assistants could deal with much of the form filling and other routine paper work which is presently overwhelming guidance departments, while trained counsellors, with more specialist training than that given to a guidance teacher, could help deal with pupils' personal and social problems.

By helping to reduce workloads there would be less need for so many of our best teachers to be taken out of the classroom for posts in the guidance department. A revised pay and promotion structure could, and should, provide alternative rewards that would enable effective and inspirational teachers to be kept in theclassroom where they do the greatest good for the greatest number of pupils.

Calum Stewart is a geography teacher in the west of Scotland

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