Peacock has a mountain to climb

6th June 2003 at 01:00
CALL it post election fatigue if you wish, but I am finding the endless hearty posturing about the aims of Jack McConnell's new cabinet rather depressing. Maybe I'm being too pessimistic but the real trouble seems to be that we just don't know where we are going. Peter Peacock, the incoming Education Minister, has a mountain to climb and, while all the talking is going on, precious time is trickling away. The list of priorities is clamant for attention.

Thanks to the recent Educational Institute of Scotland survey on provision for pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD), we now know that almost seven out of 10 teachers have serious reservations.

However, the good news is that teachers and parents are throwing political correctness to the four winds and are prepared to complain vociferously about how disruptive children (yes, I do realise that there is more to SEBD children than disruption) are ruining their lives. I applaud - as I have previously said in this column - parents who go to court to have their children protected and their rights upheld to achieve their educational potential.

A corollary of this for the new minister, and again this was identified in the EIS survey, is the lack of rights for well-behaved children. They are often ignored because SEBD pupils demand all the attention. Even more disturbing are the burgeoning numbers of pupils who are operating just below the referral level for SEBD support.

Want ideas, Mr Peacock? Get the parents of offenders into schools and let them be confronted with how their offspring are destroying the aspirations of whole classes.

The most imminent problem to hit the minister? The results of the post-McCrone job-sizing exercise, due in mid-June. This should be interesting. Apparently, according to the booklet issued by the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers, "job-sizing is an analytical means of determining the size of the duties and responsibilities of the post that you hold".

Fair enough. Mysteriously, workload is not considered. When I mentioned this to a successful business executive, he said that he didn't understand how "size" and "workload" could be separated. In fact, he speculated as to whether this could be challenged under industrial law. But what is most disturbing is the dark secrecy of the exercise.

Weightings are applied to all the information by the expert advisers from PricewaterhouseCoopers but we are not allowed to know what these weightings are. Why not? Not exactly conducive to the claimed open governance of the Scottish Executive.

Naturally, principal teachers and others are suspicious. Will the job-sizing kit take account of individual circumstances? Take my own position. I am responsible for three subjects. Will my job size recognise this unusual, although not unique, situation?

Finally, on my list, is the cost to students of higher education. I raised this matter with Mr Peacock during the election campaign at a hustings meeting in Elgin. My question was this: is it acceptable that some young people can no longer afford to attend university? (I have evidence of this from some of my own pupils.) The soon-to-be minister initially fed me a potage of statistics about increased numbers of students attending university.

Eventually, I was forced to demand that my question be answered. He actually admitted that the situation wasn't acceptable and his comments were subsequently reported in our local paper.

So I hope that it's on his priority list: to go through secondary school having your education disrupted by SEBD pupils and then to discover that you can't afford to go on to higher education even if you have the qualifications - well, isn't that a bitter blow?

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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