Primaries 'can't be run on the hoof'

14th February 2003 at 00:00
National management conference faces up to the realities of the McCrone shake-up

QUALITY management in primaries cannot be done "on the hoof with a sandwich in one hand and a pile of jotters in the other".

Kay Hall, president of the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland, last week told a conference in Edinburgh that in primaries management time was carved out of the staffing complement with heads forced to take regular classes and cover for absent colleagues.

Primary heads should be cleared for their essential purpose under the post-McCrone agreement, Mrs Hall said. Workload for all staff was overwhelming, with 13 subject areas and 34 outcomes.

It was "heartening" to learn that the Scottish Executive had at last recognised that the 5-14 curriculum was overloaded and cannot be covered in 35 hours.

The content of the curriculum would need "major surgery" if underachievement in literacy and numeracy was to be tackled and space released for creativity.

"Three weeks into the term, teachers are beginning to wear down and by the end of the term they are exhausted. We still have class sizes up to 33 pupils and some of them have complex behaviour and learning difficulties," she said.

Mrs Hall, head of West Kilbride primary in North Ayrshire, had no doubt smaller class sizes would benefit young children and allow teachers to address personal and social development.

But she found it "strange" that ministers were now planning to reduce class sizes between primary 7 and S2 when there was no evidence for the move.

"Whatever happened to P4-P6? That is where differences really start and the gap widens," Mrs Hall said.

In the review of class sizes under the national agreement, it made sense to limit classes to 25 if children had complex needs.

"Some children require full-time attention to make sense of mainstream education. In primary schools that means 9am to 3.15pm, five days a week, which isn't 25 hours plus contact time but actually 311Z4 hours," Mrs Hall said.

"These are essential allocations for our most vulnerable children and this has a formidable impact on the hours of support allocated to a school."

Mrs Hall warned against the agreement replacing one mound of paper with another. Elements of the post-McCrone deal were designed to lessen the burdens but the new "assessment for learning" strategy - to beef up primary testing - was likely to run counter to ministers' commitment to reduce and simplify assessment.

Mrs Hall told the national agreement conference, organised by the Centre for Educational Leadership at Edinburgh University, that the wider introduction of personal learning plans would be "a bit of an animal". They were a useful tool but only when focused on a narrower range of pupils.

More widely, she believed that the post-McCrone deal threatened the place of the primary head following the emergence of business managers and clusters and the removal of the legal requirement to have a head after ministers decided to scrap the 1956 Schools Scotland Code.

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