Reeling from decades of unbridled change;Management

22nd October 1999 at 01:00
In a not too distant age of cornucopia, each of Scotland's regions had an army of advisers and curriculum development officers, all beavering away at a very similar agenda. There was Standard grade to be delivered, TVEI to be exploited, and the 16+ Action plan to be rolled out. The 5-14 programme sat broodingly on the horizon of teachers' consciousness. As an adviser in Lothian, I was unfailingly impressed by the willingness of teachers to appear for courses and meetings. Authorities spoke euphemistically of twilight courses, which meant that it was pitch dark by the time the teachers got there.

No profession has been so deluged with innovation. Aspects of the curriculum have been introduced, abolished, revised and amended. Teachers have toiled to equal the pace of change, but have been unable to remain in step with the innovation machine blasting away at the road ahead of them.

Modern languages staff had just adapted to the view that oral work was all important and writing could be reserved for the cognoscenti, when they were suddenly told this was the road to ruin and writing was paramount. Science teachers had no sooner organised their materials into neatly colour coded trays for resource-based learning than direct teaching was trumpeted as the order of the day. The received wisdom of mixed ability and the taboo surrounding setting were swept away by voices crying the virtues of ability groups.

The Government now concludes that teachers have not kept themselves up to date and have neglected their professional development. They are in fact reeling from decades of unbridled change, during which they have struggled to retain a sense of direction or perceive any managed overview. We could cover the walls with brochures from colleges of education, local authorities and consultancies touting a bewildering array of staff development to teachers. Yet the target is often missed and opportunities are not always related to needs.

The disproportionate emphasis on courses, awards and validation has sometimes blinded teachers to any opportunities to share approaches with colleagues in their own schools in other departments - and to investigate what distinguishes the best from the rest. In Holy Rood we currently have three colleagues seconded to the senior management team, with real responsibilities and a significant allocation of additional non-teaching time. All three regard this opportunity as contributing to their professional development, although it will cost us no course fees nor lead to any paper recognition of their efforts.

Another unpromoted member of staff has developed a particular interest in behavioural difficulties. She has notched up some spectacular successes without the formal training which she will now pursue. A young teacher who has just completed her probation has taken responsibility for the school's participation in the Edinburgh Summer School. Her interest in dance has enabled her to have an impact on aspects of school life far beyond her subject discipline.

The urgent need for staff to concentrate their energies and attentions on the latest exigencies of their subject can obstruct their professional effectiveness as teachers. In secondary schools Higher Still currently soaks up the lion's share of staff development time and resources. Information and computer technology training is also labelled urgent and virtually compulsory for every teacher. These needs have to be accorded their place in the pecking order - alongside countless other national preoccupations such as child protection, drugs education and social inclusion.

Teachers will welcome the Government's emphasis on continuous professional development, and will have no quarrel with the list of qualities which will be required. Headteachers will support the Scottish Qualification for Headship and the implicit recognition of the skills essential for their job. All will be united in the fervent hope that those who control our destiny at national level also exercise the much vaunted management skills of planning, timing and evaluation.

In future staff development will have to be tailored to individual needs, with specific provision for staff at such levels as classroom teacher, professional leader and school manager. This should reduce wastage and eliminate the arbitrary selection of development opportunities, which could be described as course fishing.

Patrick Sweeney is headteacher, Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh

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