Official platitudes belie a deep sense of professional fatigue
Since retiring last year, I've observed schools as an outsider. I feel nothing but solidarity with my old friends - 2011-12 has seemed one of the hardest years ever - a subjective perception perhaps. I asked some former colleagues for their view of 2011-12, and what emerged partly confirmed - but also challenged - my perceptions.
There was a divide between primary and secondary views. One primary head decried the demise of the chartered teacher grade and feared a reduction in teachers' professional status. Beyond that, primary staff from Lanarkshire, West Lothian and Edinburgh all spoke optimistically of Curriculum for Excellence, new school partnerships and exciting continuing professional development. One highly respected colleague did, however, indicate that she was wary, asking: "How on earth can teachers keep up the momentum?"
But the secondary response was more grim. One Midlothian head spoke of a "really tough year". Budget problems and issues arising from staffing restructures were common in Edinburgh, but even beyond the capital the year was seen as a "maelstrom of attacks on conditions of service, the management review and CfE".
The secondary view of CfE was mixed. One principal teacher in a Highland school saw the worst aspect of the year as the "debacle over the new exams, especially our staff seeking the promised help with Nationals and then the head being told by the authority that we weren't allowed to do this! Also, attending regional training days to help us move forward, only to come away more baffled and angry, and then having to listen to education secretary Michael Russell announce that most teachers in Scotland were ready to embrace the new exams". Yet one Edinburgh head was sure that "pupils have had the best learning and teaching since I have been a head. This is due to CfE, active learning, focus on literacy".
One West Lothian PT summed up classroom views: "This has been the worst year in a long time. There is a real sense of stress and graft, of not getting the new courses designed, more documents just skim-read, more essays to mark, bairns cracking with pressure, staff off ill and the exam machine grinding us all to dust!"
Every teacher I spoke to affirmed their pride in the profession and the pleasure they took from their work with youngsters. Neither the cabinet secretary nor the local authorities, however, should misread this commitment. There have been too many platitudes and assurances that all is well, when this is clearly not the reality. There is a weariness and a scepticism, which are not conducive to the far-reaching reforms which CfE presages and young people deserve.
Alex Wood works at the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration.