Price of democracy

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
The school was used as a polling station yesterday and was therefore closed to pupils and staff. Voting took place in the school hall, entry to which is gained by two side doors. Ninety or so classrooms and other teaching spaces were unused. The principle behind this "overkill" is clear: situations in which the voting process might be subverted must be reduced to an minimum. But it does seem a pity to deprive all those pupils of a whole day in school.. . not to mention their teachers.

* "Would I mind giving my view about a pupil's state of mind? Would some of the members of staff mind doing the same thing? Such informed perceptions might well help the court in making appropriate decisions." Thus spake the local solicitor.

"Well, of course we'd be happy to oblige." Except that an odd couple of dozen teachers might be called; and we're not sure when or for how long. Staff who were consulted were not best pleased with the prospect - unlikely as it turned out to be. The democratic process comes with a price tag.

* The Easter services went well this year, with our chaplains hitting the right note in leading the assemblies in worship. And our orchestra played well. It's a pity that many of the pupils present at each service had little understanding of the elements of an act of devotion, standing up and sitting down at the wrong times, in spite of being briefed; nor did they seem to know the words of the Lord's Prayer or the hymns. If there's blame to be apportioned, it must be passed all round: parents, teachers and community.

There seem nowadays to be few "givens" in terms of conventions we can automatically assume will be observed. It is probably unacceptably authoritarian to say so, but I rather suspect that it is actually more important that a community has conventions and values, than that those values are the "correct" ones.

* Number of pupils in my first year as rector: 1,750. Nineteen years later: 1,120. Many fewer pupils, too many subjects and not enough teachers. Cuts in staffing are taking place at the margins, where those who most need extra help are unfortunately going to find that commodity in fairly short supply. The reference to "too many subjects" relates to a somewhat jaundiced view I have of the present concept of education in secondary schools. There seems to be a lack of guiding principle, coupled unfortunately with a vigorous practice of adding any new subject which happens along, willy nilly, to the already over-extended lists of subjects which may be taught in secondary school.

Another effect of diminishing rolls is the need to rethink the promoted post structure. Over the years, 18 guidance posts have become eight. Are there still those among us who remember senior housemasters, housemasters and assistant housemasters? I don't think I would want to reduce the eight, although it bears favourable comparison with elsewhere. But the crunch has now come (if we keep the eight) with promotion relating to subject management. Do we lose three APTs or one PT (or possibly an AHT - we have four)? Well, no. These things should not be done piecemeal. The whole structure should be redrafted.

How many senior staff are needed? What cognate subjects could or should be managed by one PT, with satellite APTs? Do we need, can we afford to have all the subjects we presently profess in delivering quality education?

Should I retire now, or later?

Charles Smith is rector of Airdrie Academy, North Lanarkshire

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