Michael White says it's time to see what other professions can do in schools to take the heat off teachers
"What about the workers?" was a familiar cry in radio and film comedy programmes of the Fifties and Sixties whenever industrial relations were the theme.
Well, what about the workers in education? We are familiar with PIs - performance indicators - but we need another set of PIs; Pupils Interested, Professionals Inspired, Parents Involved and Property Improved.
Teachers are reeling from what seems like a never-ending onslaught on their professionalism, and the increasing premature retirement interest (another PI) is a worrying indication of low morale.
Instead of the three Es of effective, efficient and economic, most teachers would welcome enthusiasm, enjoyment and excitement. Career stagnation is a problem facing the profession. As school rolls decline and the effects of promoting so many young teachers in the Seventies begin to take effect, many staff face repetitive experiences. Education authorities need to address career issues if we are to have a vibrant workforce.
Staff want interesting work, job security, leadership, involvement, good working conditions and appreciation. Unless we address these basic career issues, it may not be just the pupils who are asked, "Why don't you want to go to school?" Too much is expected of teachers and there is an urgent need to see whether other professions could have a role to play in school. Teachers alone cannot deliver the health agenda, the drugs agenda, the sports agenda or maybe even the present education agenda.
In Africa there is a saying, "It takes a village to educate a child". We need to see if a "professional village" can be created in our schools involving health, social work and support services to let teachers focus on their role; teaching and learning. Why are we continuing to take our best people out of the classroom and into administrative tasks which are in many cases fairly low grade? The training of a physicist or a historian is not essential to organise prize-givings or parents' evenings.
Improved teacher-parent relationships have led to a greater understanding of the roles of key adults in the development of children, but the idea of partnership calls for a better balance of interests. Teachers want to work with parents but don't relish being told by them how the partnership will work or what they should teach.
Research has shown that most formal systems have failed pupils from disadvantaged families. There are many examples of successes from a genuinely comprehensive system with real opportunities to make a difference to people's lives. Yet we still have cycles of deprivation and underachievement and a generation of children who don't really have a chance.
Teachers feel real frustration at not being able to become involved in prevention and positive intervention. The waves of initiatives and paperwork still come, and another opportunity is missed.
The signs are there - social exclusion, deprivation, youth disaffection, health issues, but are we able to do something?
The early intervention strategy could make the biggest difference if we intervene rather than writing about it, reporting it, measuring it and then forgetting it. Education is our biggest hope for breaking the culture of failure. It can be the biggest instrument for social progress, and we do not need to go on as we have done. We have the talent to improve matters and many decision makers agree on what needs to be addressed.
In August thousands of new nursery pupils will enrol. Many of them could be still active in 2100. What framework for lifelong learning can education authorities or the Scottish Office produce which can really improve their lives and help them, in the words of a recent promotion, "Be all they can be"?
Michael White is director of education and recreation for Aberdeenshire. This article is a preview of a speech he will give at the Making the Connection conference