The price of stopping the ballots

16th October 1998 at 01:00
As the EIS's secondary and FE members start voting on a Higher Still boycott, George MacBride, the union's education convener, looks for lessons THE Educational Institute of Scotland (with others) has ensured that the proposals for post-16 reform accord with sound comprehensive principles. As a result, we are further down the road to the extension of a comprehensive education system to the 16-18 age cohort than almost any other country in Europe. This has been an aim of the EIS for more than a decade.

The assessment system maintains rigorous standards through external assessment while recognising the professional judgment of teachers through internal assessment; this system ensures the certification of a wide range of outcomes through the use of a variety of assessment techniques and pays due regard to equality and special educational needs.

And yet we have no option but to recognise the disaffection of the profession as a whole from the programme. How has this come to pass?

Classroom teachers feel little sense of ownership of the reforms; they perceive themselves being treated as passive operatives who will simply implement it. Within the programme this can be attributed to the almost total dependence on cascade models of staff development which allow almost no opportunities for feedback from teachers to the planners.

Brian Wilson, when Minister for Education, responded to these concerns by inviting education authorities to provide two additional in-service days to allow all teachers to participate in Higher Still staff development. Amazingly, some education authorities have shown themselves unwilling to make use of this provision or have arranged it at times of the year when it will be of least value.

But there is a more fundamental reason for this feeling of disaffection. Over the past decade teachers have been the recipients of reams of supposedly authoritative advice from policy-makers in Scottish education. They have noted the extent to which this advice is internally inconsistent; they have noticed the extent to which it is driven by partisan political agendas; and they have noted the general tenor that it is teachers who are responsible for the alleged failures of the system.

Given the recognised successes of the Scottish education system and the public support it so clearly receives, teachers have reacted badly to hectoring and to the, at best, grudging acknowledgement of their work.

Many members are concerned about assessment: workload for themselves; workload for students; pressures on them to "pass" students whose work does not merit it. While the Scottish Qualifications Authority has done much to allay these fears, the Government has done nothing to relieve them.

If we are to progress towards Higher Still, the Government and education authorities must act on a number of fronts. They must also ensure that the monies identified by Helen Liddell, the new Education Minister, are directed into schools and colleges in ways that allow teachers and lecturers to make use of them effectively.

The concerns that remain about assessment require that the Government and education authorities make it clear to teachers in schools that internal assessment carried out in accordance with SQA procedures will not lead to pressures on teachers to afford candidates passes. Education authorities must make it clear now that if such pressures ever arise they will robustly defend their employees.

The pressure to introduce multi-level teaching to meet financial constraints on schools must end. Bi-level teaching must be no more than an option available to teachers who think it one suitable means of meeting students needs. HMI and education authorities must make it clear that they will themselves exert no pressure on schools to introduce multi-level or bi-level teaching where this will damage students in the view of the staff involved. Equally they must make it clear that they will oppose any inappropriate pressure arising elsewhere to introduce such practices.

The demand for phasing the introduction of the programme is a natural response from teachers who feel they are precluded from introducing the new Higher course because they have had little or no opportunity for staff development, have inadequate funds to purchase teaching materials and may as yet not have been informed of the availability of appropriate teaching materials. Such a response is only reasonable.

The Government and education authorities must address these professional doubts and recognise that, if they choose not to do so in the next few weeks, then there will be no alternative but to set up some system that will allow teachers with genuine concerns to delay the implementation of the new Higher in their department for a year while these concerns are addressed.

But all such actions by the Government and education authorities will be of little value unless there are clear indications of longer-term change. There must be a commitment to recognise that the whole funding basis of Scottish education must reflect the real demands of the system, as called for in the recommendations of the joint union-management Millennium Review.

As importantly, the Government and education authorities must take action to end the discourse of derision. They must recognise that teachers have a wealth of experience which can be drawn on as programmes are developed and implemented rather than expecting unquestioning obedience. They must reverse the attacks on teacher morale that arise from the attitudes that too often they express publicly and privately; they must stop the cheap sneers at conditions of service and at their professionalism.

If we were to permit the Higher Still programme to fall into place with skimped resources we would be failing the young people currently in our schools and colleges. It is EIS members who wish to improve the education system; it is those who refuse to invest in the education system who are short-changing those students and our society.


The union has welcomed the commitment by Helen Liddell to deploy additional monies for the implementation of Higher Still; we have welcomed her commitment to ensure that these funds reach schools and her commitment that expenditure will be raised over a three year period.

However, teachers' attitudes to these additional funds are affected by their experience of years of cuts under both the last and present governments.

We cannot fail to notice, for example, that, while every Edinburgh secondary school will presumably receive the Education Minister's average sum of Pounds 7,500, the city council's political leadership has simultaneously chosen to remove an average of Pounds 7,000 from every secondary school's budget.

Platform, page 14

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