Revamp pupil support system

20th March 2009 at 00:00

My friend Paul has just been promoted to the post of principal teacher of pupil support. Aged 29, and in a profession which now has limited promotion opportunities, he has done well and is delighted with his new status.

In addition to a more generous salary, Paul has also received an additional 10 non-teaching periods to perform his pupil support duties.

Some of his new workload involves talking with pupils, but most of the time he is kept busy filling in records, sending emails, attending meetings, liaising with external agencies and phoning parents. It is, in my opinion, a misuse of his considerable teaching talents. Half his classes have lost an effective and inspirational teacher.

Certainly, teachers are well placed to provide pupils with advice on learning matters, but less so with highly delicate and complex issues involving, for example, drugs, alcohol abuse, clinical depression and family break-ups. Our preparation for the teaching profession does not involve dealing, adequately, with any of those problems.

Scotland's pupil support structure was established during the 1960s to deal with issues which are quite different from those that are interfering with learning today.

Paul's step up the career ladder also suggests that our promotion structure doesn't attach sufficient value to good classroom teaching.

It just isn't sensible for young teachers who show considerable ability in the classroom to be promoted to posts which involve so many non-teaching duties.

It is, naturally, vital for pupils and parents to have someone to turn to for advice and support and yes, of course, there has to be an effective link between the school and the home. My own view, based on what I have seen in schools in this country and in several other countries, is that a small team of counsellors and a nurse, working with teachers, and supervised by the school's senior management team, provides a more effective means of support for pupils.

It is also better in a practical sense. Our pupil support teachers are being asked to perform two entirely different jobs: that of classroom teacher and pupil counsellor. The latter role frequently impacts on the former.

Pupil support teachers are too often asked to deal with emergency situations or are taken off their normal timetables to deal with pupil support. Lessons are disrupted, and there is a negative impact on pupils' learning, which is easily avoided by having full-time counsellors.

But if we are to choose to retain the idea of teachers as counsellors, would the system not function much better if pupil support posts weren't part of the promoted post structure? Would caring teachers struggling in the classroom, and with no hope of being promoted, not benefit from having a chance to prove themselves at pupil support work?

Would schools with, say, six part-time pupil support teachers not be better off with three full-time pupil support teachers? Our pupil support system is outdated and it is time for some new ideas.

John Greenlees is a geography teacher.

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