School diary - More of a jaundiced eye than an appraisal

20th November 2009 at 00:00


Our CPD budget has been slashed, along with every other budget in the school. At least three of our senior management team were due to go on externally-provided courses before Christmas, but all have been told to cancel. Our head, Mrs Slater, cites unprecedented pressure on funding and has announced that all of this session's continuing professional development will be carried out in-house.

She is even claiming that our annual review process is part of continuing professional development, a moot point if ever I heard one, especially as the appraisal procedures set in motion by our faculty head, Madeleine Nichol, seem more akin to the methods developed by the Spanish Inquisition than a professional dialogue about improving educational attainment. Madeleine is due to observe me on Wednesday, and - given that it will be the first time I've been observed since I left college over 25 years ago - I am not looking forward to it.


Our authority has instituted new procedures for photocopying preliminary exam papers. With immediate effect, they have to be duplicated at the council offices at least a month ahead of the exams.

The news was delivered in Mrs Slater's all-staff email this morning. "So why are they doing that?" I asked Kevin Muir.

"They probably think they can save money, what with the bulk copying deals they've got at headquarters," he replied. "Either that, or they've got too many staff who haven't got enough to do ."

"That's a helluva sight more likely!" chimed in Davie McManus of biology. "And how the hell dae they expect us tae get a prelim taegether a month ahead o' the exam? Ah've never goat mine ready more than a week before!"

At least the procedures may instil a little more professionalism in the biology department.


I had the dubious pleasure of being observed today, and I found it highly off-putting to see Madeleine Nichol at the back of the room, clipboard in hand and lips tightly pursed for the duration. And 1N didn't help matters.

"Hey! Surr!" exclaimed Ryan Moore. "Urr youse getting' a Teachin' Test today?"

"Shut it," Chelsea McFarlane rasped across the classroom. "Ye know he is. That's whit he wis oan aboot yesterday when he told us he wid up grades fur the report cards if we behaved today!"

"Ha! Ha!" I squeaked. "You will have your jokes, 1N, won't you? Talk about confident individuals, eh?" I slipped in a CfE reference and hoped that Madeleine would notice, rather than Chelsea's ill-advised reportage.

Despite my pleas of yesterday, they were boisterous, but I think I dealt with most of the interruptions in a manner that demonstrated my "firm but fair" approach to discipline. The only exception was Aaron McPhee's constant confectionery consumption, and his eventual success in spitting a piece of semi-chewed toffee onto a nearby wall, a trick I haven't seen since the days of Rose McShane, a former pupil of some mis-renown.

So, perhaps it wasn't my best ever lesson, but it wasn't my worst. I think Madeleine will agree.


Mrs Slater is reviewing our prelim procedures, an adjustment which stems from the fact that several SQA appeals this year were rejected due to "invalid" prelims. In particular, the biology department has come under intense scrutiny, which has revealed that Mr McManus has traditionally compiled his from publicly-available revision guides and a mix of items from 20-year-old exams and some A-level books whose relevance to the Higher syllabus was tangential, to say the least.

Thus, when asked to "source his questions" by the SQA Appeals team, he has been found wanting, and his pupils' appeals rejected through no fault of their own. Fortunately, no parents have yet learned of the reasons behind the failed appeals.

Conversely, the physics department had used a commercially purchased - but guaranteed "secure from public view" - paper, whose validity had been equally rejected owing to its complete lack of quality control and a grading system that awarded hopelessly optimistic predictions of final performance result. Again, Mrs Slater is desperately hoping no parents get to find out why their appeals were rejected.

So it's understandable that she wants every department to compile their own, private, secure and quality-controlled prelim papers, and with greater attention to detail than Davie McManus has. However, given the immense recent clear-out of senior staff, there are a few departments which are going to struggle in this task, especially geography, where we have two probationers and a supply teacher who took early retirement two years ago.

Plus, apart from anything else, who's going to guarantee their security if they're all being copied by an administrative clerk at council headquarters? I'm not sure Mrs Slater's thought this through.


Madeleine Nichol's feedback has thrust me into depression. Aside from criticising my classroom control and my lesson preparation with 1N ("Most of your notes were dated from the late 1980s," she commented, having stolen a look at my lesson folder), she also chose to bring up my public criticism of council spending on education last month ("It's given me enormous headaches, Morris.") and rounded it all off with the complaint that I "didn't use any ICT in the lesson".

"But I couldn't," I complained. "My projector bulb's broken and I'm waiting for a replacement."

That stopped her, even if the respite was brief. "Well, I've still got to tick a box," she looked down at her report, "so I'll have to put down `should use more ICT' - but I'll add that there were mitigating circumstances. However," she warned, "I hope to see improvement all round when I come back with your fifth year next month."

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. And I thought appraisal procedures were supposed to stimulate and motivate.

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