Reservations and reactions to McCormac
Last week, we had the publication of the McCormac report; this week, we've got teachers' reactions (News Focus, page 12). One message that comes through clearly, if you compare the teachers in the staffrooms we visited with those on the TESS online forums, is how much their responses depend on the atmosphere in their schools and the way they are treated by their heads.
One of the risks with McCormac's recommendations for devolving more power to heads, giving them greater control of promoted posts and flexible use of staff time, is, as Larry Flanagan of the EIS points out (page 34), the promulgation of patronage. A lot of teachers are uncomfortable with the idea of their head being given more power, and some heads would inevitably use it more wisely than others. If you're young and positive, or respect and get on with your boss, as appeared to be the case with the teachers we spoke to, you could imagine new possibilities opening up for you. But if you don't see eye to eye, your prospects could shrink - which makes it all the more imperative that heads are subject to the kind of 360-degree review McCormac proposes.
There has been a marked change in culture over the past 10 years, regarding continuing professional development (CPD). Where some staff resented its more systematic introduction, the younger generation now expects it. How much they - and their pupils - gain from it depends of course on the quality. One interviewee, like many other teachers no doubt, was hopeful that CPD would become more meaningful (page 13). The type of professional review and personal development McCormac proposes is not unlike the kind of model which runs in many of today's businesses. Managed well, there can be benefits all round.
The quality of teachers is central to the policies being moulded by the current triumvirate of McCormac, Donaldson and Russell. At a time of financial hardship, a strategic recognition of its importance is allowing the Government to ease up on costlier policies like class sizes (page 5), as research like McCormac's conveniently advocates teacher quality over marginal reductions in pupil-teacher ratios.
The ultimate goal, of course, is a rise in pupil attainment. Last week, we reported on Education Secretary Michael Russell's handpicked group of heads who have to come up with recommendations on how to raise attainment across all age groups and abilities; this week, we hear that Glasgow has appointed 15 "leaders of learning" to raise attainment and achievement in all its schools (page 7). At the same event, Graham Donaldson, author of the report on improving teacher education, counselled school and authority staff that placing a focus on professionalism would give teachers the "confidence to be flexible". If only Gerry McCormac could have put it that well.