Not bad for a poisoned chalice

16th June 2000 at 01:00
The McCrone committee visited Hillhead High School during its inquiry and the staff felt they had been heard. But now that the report is out, they wonder whether the Scottish Executive will listen to McCrone. Raymond Ross reports

"Education is when you read the fine print. Experience is what you get if you don't," American folk-singer Pete Seeger once remarked.

While there was a general welcome for the McCrone report at Hillhead High School in Glasgow, it was often low-key and sometimes hesitant.

What seemed to trouble staff at the 1,200-pupil school was not so much the fine print, but the lack of it.

The absence of detail to fill in the broad brushstrokes of the report's recommendations over a range of important matters relating to career structure, continuing professional development, workload issues, "extra" hours and days, the implications of social inclusion policy and the funding of the package left many wary.

There was a healthy dose of scepticism over whether McCrone would be listened to, and the vagueness of the report added to their doubts.

Ken Cunningham, headteacher Current salary pound;50,184 transitional range pound;54,199 new range pound;57,913

'In the absence of the nitty gritty, it's a report to move education forward. McCrone has flagged up serious concerns over social inclusion, discipline, administration and bureaucracy.

In fact it's an outstanding report given that it was a poisoned chalice to hand anybody. The committee obviously listened. And I think there are ways through for the Scottish Executive to take it as a package.

The good points include reasonable career and salary progression and a more structured approach to continuing professional development (CPD). I welcome the simplification of the career structure in principle.

I think he's addressed the morale of the profession from the inside and its perception from the outside to attract people into a proper career structure.

What's missing includes any detail of funding. What is the long-term formula? And, for example, how many members do we need on a senior management team?

Any problems with the five hours per week (for collective activities) should be overcome through a collegiate approach. I welcome the extra five days a year (for CPD to be arranged beyond school hours or beyond the pupil year) in terms of cover, though the management of it will be difficult, and the report actually increases workload in terms of the proper management of continuing professional development, chartered teachers (CTs) and advanced chartered teachers (ACTs), which are all going to require significant time and staff resources. I fear this is where the Executive will crash.

I like the bursar idea but not at the level of senior management. You have to distinguish between the mechanics and the ethos of running a school. Good financial management is important, but policy, delivery and ethos are far more important. It's up to the Executive to respond and the profession to give and take. I'm optimistic and I hope consultation and open debate continues. Whatever happens, a Pandora's box has been opened and it's going to be difficult to shut it.'

Keith Morley, depute headteacher Current salary pound;38,688 transitional salary pound;41,783 new salary pound;45,100

'In terms of salary and status, the assistant headteacher comes up, but in reality the status of depute headteacher is effectively demoted and that's unfortunate.

I've been a depute for 15 years and the report won't make much difference in management style in our school because our pattern is collegiate anyway and we work very much as a team. But the question that will arise is who deputises when the head is out of school, as heads often have to be? Is it on a rota basis? A daily rota?

A lot will depend on the headteacher's relationship with the management team, but rotation will give rise to difficulties. Senior management has to deal with confidential problems. Rotation will obviously make confidential matters less confidential.

I agree with McCrone that the situation for probationers and supply teachers is scandalous. I'm responsible for the in-school training of probationers and for supply. It is dispiriting to try to help train a probationer who will be in 40 different schools in their first year! McCrone's recommendations here will help establish a new professionalism.

He fails, however, to address medical facilities, which are very important in a school with 1,200 pupils.

We have 150 staff, including ancillary, but no paid medical ancillary. Our two first aiders are a principal teacher of home economics and a librarian, who have to be called away from their other duties to administer first aid.

The one-off early retirement offer interests me as I have a few years to go, but this will have to be balanced, to be phased in over a few years in a planned fashion if it is to work to the benefit of all.'

Peter Maclaren, assistant headteacher Current salary pound;33,708 transitional salary pound;36,405 new salary pound;45,100

'I liked the blunt and direct tone of the report, that it was jargon free with a distinct lack of civil service speak, which suggests a measure of independence. McCrone has told it as he found it, rather than as some people might have wanted to hear it.

But how much effect will his words have? McCrone shows an understanding of the teacher's job but the Executive, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the teachers' unions will all want to cherry-pick. It won't be paid for as a package.

I also think McCrone is right that the plight of probationers is scandalous and this should be prioritised in the Executive's response.

Workload is the major disappointment. McCrone has walked away from this and it's a real failure.

There's an inequality in workload in schools he should have recognised. An English teacher with classes of more than 30 pupils has a heavy marking commitment which might prevent him or her from being able to offer services for extra-curricular activities or any of the activities that might be recognised as over and above the call of duty.

Retaining principal teachers is good. They are essential to the running of a school, especially in the face of subject-based reforms such as Higher Still. How could you possibly deliver Higher Still - or any major curriculum reform - without principal teachers?

The assistant headteacher depute headteacher merger won't affect my job. I'll have the same responsibilities, though of course there might be others not yet spelled out.

The money will be better. When I moved from being a principal teacher in a large department in a school with 1,300 pupils to become assistant headteacher here, I was only pound;550 better off. So, yes, I welcome that.'

Brian Rennie, principal teacher of guidance and PE teacher Current salary pound;29,808 transitional salary pound;32,193 new salary pound;35,875

'The emphasis on social inclusion means more and more work for guidance. Most of our time is spent dealing with a few problem pupils when you're supposed to be offering guidance to all pupils. The clauses on social inclusion and pupil indiscipline are not specific enough to address discipline problems.

Making other professionals available has implications which may not ease the burden. Will we have to be available to them one or two hours a week? It will have to be done in concentrated periods and that's going to be time-consuming.

The report is unclear on the extra five hours, whether it will be spent in school and how it will be monitored, and I'm also a wee bit concerned that teaching and preparation times are left unclear. I work 35 hours anyway, but if the five hours is directed for preparation and so on, then are we to go on and do extra-curricular activities with the kids after that? Or, if it is included in the five hours, some teachers might just be doing it as part of their contract, for the money as it were, and that would be wrong.

I don't know if it's a fair trade on conditions for pay. It does bother me losing the five days of holiday. Are they going to organise the five days for CPD for the whole of Glasgow together? That would be an immense task!'

Larry Flanagan, principal teacher of English Current salary pound;29,808 transitional range pound;32,193 new salary pound;35,875

'The big question is will the funding be there for the package to be realised? And the biggest issue yet to be resolved is workload.

The financial side could stack up if the conditions prove acceptable, but the definition of the 30 hours of core activities has been left deliberately vague. Some headteachers might try to use some of that time for directed work, which could add to workload.

McCrone doesn't resolve the issue of professional autonomy, being able to direct your own activities, nor the workload involved with the Higher Still assessment burden, which has a knock-on effect with regard to development work.

I'm glad principal teachers have been retained and professionally I'm attracted to going along the charteredadvanced chartered teacher lines, which avoid the mistake of linking continuing professional development with promotion. I think it will benefit schools where ACTs can take responsibilities in areas they might specialise in, such as special needs.

I don't think CTACT status will become stepping-stones to management if they're genuinely open to all teachers, but I think there's a big shock coming in terms of professional development, because the framework isn't there to implement this at the moment. One-day in-service courses aren't enough and I think more recognition should be given to distance learning and Open University courses.'

Catriona Ness, assistant principal teacher of modern languages Current salary pound;24,021 transitional salary pound;26,698 new salary pound;28,956

'The recommendation that existing assistant principal teachers in general are absorbed into a main grade for classroom teachers, incorporating all existing unpromoted teachers and senior teachers, though some, "where their posts carry significant management responsibilities", might be assimilated into the middle management grade, means it is not clear what's going to happen.

I'd welcome the latter more, but if most APTs are absorbed into the main grade, who is going to do their jobs? Who is going to take on their administrative and management tasks? The report isn't clear and it is worrying PTs as well, because they rely on their APTs. There is a workload issue involved here, as well as my concern that my promoted post will disappear.

I welcome the brief mention of training modern language specialists for primary, because in terms of 5-14 it would mean better continuity and higher standards.

The idea behind the chartered teacher status of rewarding good classroom teachers without them being promoted into management and administration is good.

I didn't expect McCrone to address class sizes, but we still need smaller classes.

The report, however, did show a real understanding of the intense pressures teachers work under, pressures which are not recognised by the general public.

As for the extra five days, I don't think there is anyone who'd like to give up their holidays.

I think the two-year timescale for implementation is optimistic in terms of resourcing and financing. I'm not confident funding will come forward when there are other causes needing addressed, such as the state of the National Health Service.'

Kirsty Ross, music teacher Current salary for a classroom teacher starts at pound;15,249 transitional salary pound;17,862 new salary pound;19,475 assuming completion of probation

'The situation for new graduates is pretty grim and I'm pleased McCrone recognises this. I was only made permanent full-time a year ago after completing my probation, a year of which was spent on supply. A two-year probation only makes sense if you're in one or no more than two schools in that time.

I think it's essential that teacher education institution staff get more chalk-face experience, as recommended by the report, so that they can show students the realities of schools. At the moment they don't know these realities.

The extra five hours per week being officially recognised has positive implications for our orchestra, jazz band, wind band, ceilidh band, choir and guitar group. I work with them at least an hour after school four days a week, but to have this timetabled officially would ease the pressure on teachers and pupils. You need extra-curricular activities to attract kids into music.

Having music specialists in primaries, as suggested, would help us implement 5-14 in S1 and S2, because at the moment some of our intake have no basis - or very little - on which to build because they've had no specialist training at all.

I'd be interested in chartered teacher status as it offers development and recognition for those, like me, who've no interest in senior management promotion.'

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