The positive and the negative

17th February 2006 at 00:00
There were a trio of related issues in last week's TES Scotland. On integrated community schools, you took a negative (or perhaps resigned) stance on changes to the Scottish Executive's target.

The change was a realistic and brave move by the Executive (knowing they would be criticised for moving the goalposts). The principle of the policy - child-centred services - remains intact but, by removing schools as the centre point or physical manifestation of the policy, it becomes much more achievable in the short term.

There are lessons for the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers from this bold and realistic approach. The committee will need to look hard at whether it is right to press ahead with the second phase of class contact reductions in August this year (stated as "at the earliest" in the agreement, but it seems to have become a deadline).

This is a positive development but, due to differences in implementation and a scarcity of supply, school leaders have been the glue holding the agreement together. My fear is that headteachers and deputes will be further relied upon to deliver the next phase of the reduction in schools, by taking classes in addition to their normal duties, and that this will have a negative effect on their health and welfare.

Delay will inevitably bring criticism but, provided there is a clear timeline for implementation, I believe it will be to the benefit of Scottish education.

Your report on one-year teacher training echoed the position of the Association of Headteachers in Scotland has held for some time: one year is not long enough to prepare students for life as a primary teacher. But, to quickly bring about the welcome increase in teacher numbers, it is inevitable that there must be greater reliance on the one-year route.

The evidence from the General Teaching Council for Scotland shows that there is a need to re-examine the content and length of initial teacher education. In the meantime, mentorsupporter training for all who work with students and probationers would be a welcome step to support our new teachers.

Your third item on teachers in nurseries gives me the opportunity to make it clear that AHTS firmly believes there continues to be a need for teachers in Scotland's nurseries. Even if we accept the arguments as set out by the Executive that it is the level of qualification rather than the type of qualification that makes for good nursery education and that it is not the "policy intention" to phase teachers out of nurseries, the reality is that nursery teachers are increasingly rare and they are not being replaced by people with higher levels of qualification.

When there is research evidence which highlights that early years is the most crucial stage in terms of child development, and best in terms of return on investment, why are we, intentionally or otherwise, taking steps which dilute the quality of input into nursery education?

Greg Dempster

General secretary

Association of Head Teachers in Scotland

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