Putting a price on change

12th May 2006 at 01:00
The Audit Scotland report on the teachers' agreement has a clear message: the deal has palpably benefited teachers although not yet demonstrably benefited teaching. In some ways, the report is confirmatory rather than revelatory. But, while the conclusions may advance our knowledge only a little about how the agreement is working, the imprimatur of an authoritative body provides reinforcement.

It was already known that primaries have embraced the new dawn more readily than secondaries, that younger teachers are better disposed towards it than older colleagues, that support staff and class contact targets are among the weakest links and that funding pressures could rein in some of the ambitions.

While teachers obviously saw immediate value in the agreement - and why wouldn't they, with a 23 per cent pay award? - headteachers had a more difficult furrow to plough. In short, they found long-standing rhetoric about greater flexibility and more control over their school coming home to roost. They were given new responsibilities with a vengeance - to negotiate with their staff, to forge new career structures with often reluctant teachers, to deploy support personnel, to balance the CPD needs of the school and its teachers. These were major departures which, inevitably, some heads handled more successfully than others. Collegiality has not always been the watchword.

Now, Audit Scotland is demanding measurable improvements in pupil attainment, school leadership, teacher recruitment, workforce morale and teacher workload. This may be the age of accountability and value for money, but to attribute improvements in all these variables to any single source and then to make judgments about the wider impact of that source is well-nigh impossible, if not fatuous.

If nothing else, however, Audit Scotland has demonstrated that the agreement is a complex and ambitious undertaking. Turning around the culture of every school in the country was never going to be a five-year or even a 10-year programme, but a generational challenge. The auditors will have to be a little more patient.

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