Russell: tell me your troubles

29th January 2010 at 00:00
Government announces plans to canvass teachers' views on Curriculum for Excellence

The Education Secretary, together with Scotland's second-largest teachers' union and the two headteachers' associations, is to hold a survey asking what needs to be done to support implementation of Curriculum for Excellence.

The largest union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, was due to decide yesterday - after The TESS went to press - whether it would take up Michael Russell's invitation to participate in the online survey of union members.

Mr Russell toldThe TESS in an exclusive interview: "One of the key jobs that needs to be done with Curriculum for Excellence is not just to reassure people, but to listen to what they think needs to be done."

The detail of the questions has yet to be finalised, but it is anticipated that primary and secondary teachers will receive different questionnaires, reflecting the disparity in the two sectors' views on the reforms.

Mr Russell made clear that the Government would be pressing ahead with implementation of CfE, but stressed that he was in listening mode about how it could be improved.

"The quality of what we do will be directly proportional to the ownership that people take of it and therefore, if we're going to do it as well as possible, we need to have an ownership of Curriculum for Excellence right across the educational spectrum," he said.

Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said the joint survey had emerged from a meeting of her union with the Education Secretary at which the SSTA raised a number of concerns.

She expects the survey to gauge how ready secondary schools are for implementing CfE in August, but stressed the survey should not be a platform for teachers to gripe about the changes.

"We are saying to members, `This is your chance to influence what happens - you have to give us examples and say this is what you need'. Hopefully it will reduce the voices saying, `I just don't like change'."

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, said: "If Mike Russell is genuinely trying to seek views and does not attempt to colour the issue in any particular way, then I think it's a good idea."

His counterpart at the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, Greg Dempster, said he expected primary heads to respond that as long as the 5-14 bank of testing materials was still online, there would be a brake on progress towards full delivery of CfE.

Ronnie Smith, EIS general secretary, said: "While it is important to be properly informed of the views of teachers, no amount of surveys can substitute for a commitment to provide concrete and traceable additional funding, which we all know is necessary for successful implementation."

Mr Russell revealed that he was in discussion with local authorities not just about a one-year figure for implementation of CfE but about "a number of figures over a number of years".

Under the concordat agreement between local and national government, such funding could not be ring-fenced as such, he conceded. Nevertheless, "everyone would agree that that money has to be spent on this (CfE) - it won't be offered otherwise", he added.

Since becoming Education Secretary, Mr Russell has come under political attack for abandoning his party's previous commitment to achieving class- size cuts within this parliament.

He told The TESS, however, he still believed the commitment could be met over a period of time.

"I think the bulk of it should be achieved by the next parliament, but it's proved more difficult than we expected: some people haven't done it and because of the concordat, we're not in a position to insist that it's done."

He added that when he formulated the policy in 2002-03, it was always his view that it should start in areas of the greatest deprivation. "I think we lost sight of that at some stage. We need to get back to our view of a gradual implementation."

Minister to target inspection `mismatch'

The Education Secretary wants to improve the inspection process - particularly of small schools - to try and eliminate the "mismatch" between local authority evaluations of their schools and the inspectorate's.

The case of the Borders teaching head Irene Hogg, whose suicide after a difficult inspection of her school was examined in a fatal accident inquiry, was "on the extreme end" of the problem, said Mr Russell.

Nevertheless, it had raised more general questions about the inconsistencies between local authority and HMIE evaluations, he said.

"I want to address that issue with the inspectorate and they know I do, and I will be taking forward the issue of `what does this teach us?'," said Mr Russell.

Inspections were often conducted to "the smell of burnt-out photocopiers and smell of fresh paint", he said - a process of preparation which could be "very stressful".

Inspection was of necessity an intrusion, he said, but particularly so in a small school. "When I was a shadow minister I was critical of the inspectorate. I think it has improved and there have been a lot of reforms since then.

"I've asked to see a lot of material that's been done on post-inspection views of schools. But I will be taking forward a system that develops and improves the process of inspection in Scotland and takes account of criticisms that exist. Inspection is meant to be supportive and should be supportive. I think they (HMIE) are still not there," he added.


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