Send for the kryptonite;Opinion;News amp; Opinion

26th November 1999 at 00:00
Is it a bird, is it a plane? Sam Galbraith's 'expert' is superteacher reborn, says Janet Law

LEADERS of the Educational Institute of Scotland are said to be baffled by the Education Minister's pronouncement on the creation of an "expert teacher". In fact, the mystery of what is the resurrection of the "superteacher" can now be revealed from beyond the grave of the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee. As with so many bright new stories in Scottish education, the sordid and unglamorous truth is yet another unfulfilled new Labour pledge.

Somewhere long ago in the soundbite mills on the banks of the slow and murky waters of the river Thames an idea was genetically modified until it was strong enough to take root in the favourable English climate.

Then Tony spoke. He committed his Government to the creation of a race of superteachers to go into our failing schools and turn them around. As we now know superteachers emerged in education action zones south of the border and started to earn considerable salaries beyond the wildest dreams of EIS negotiators.

Responsibility for considering how such an idea could be implemented in Scotland fell to the Millennium Review. This band of intrepid teachers, ex-teachers and others with an interest in listening to teachers talk about teachers met on uncountable occasions. They undertook to see who could talk for the longest, thereby inducing sleep in the rest. The idea was to produce a secret report that no one would read. This led to the ill-fated pay negotiations in the SJNC, whose imminent demise is now awaited.

A little known fact is that the Millennium Review did publish an agreed report. Agreed and then buried in the vaults of Moray Place. But the secret words may be lost for ever, unless a copy or two has escaped the Best Value shredders at the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

So strong was Tony's wish to see his superteachers rise in Scotland it was predicted that the money to pay the huge salaries would be given to Scotland, if only we would agree to exclude nearly all of Scotland's teachers from ever earning anything like as much.

It is my duty now to confess that I did discuss this possibility. We discussed how to exclude the many teachers to allow a few to earn the really big salaries.

We discussed whether some really difficult test could be set to allow some to pass and many to fail. (As teachers we knew just how easy that would be.)

We discussed whether adverts could be placed in The TES Scotland for posts with very challenging person specifications. We discussed whether everyone should have the right to be a superteacher some day if enough money could be found. We discussed whether super-inspectors should be sent to look at all the teachers in Scotland, tap the chosen on the shoulder and ask them to follow. These and many more ideas were discussed. We also discussed whether we could just give any extra money the Government had to spare equally to all teachers.

The problem was that if we wanted to get the money, whether we shared it out equally or not, we had to come up with a soundbite for the tabloid press that would convince Tony that superteacher had emerged in Scotland. If we didn't, this might make Tony look a little foolish for having said that it would be so in the first place, and he might refuse to let us have the money after all.

We did not know then, we could not see, that in the future a minister would come along who would with a stroke create that soundbite. Sam spoke and the press knew that it was good. The minister has chosen. He has said that superteachers will be those who pass a test. And so that every teacher can succeed, there will not be a reward of a big salary. Even better, teachers will have to work hard into the long dark Scottish nights to pass the test. And when Tony asks, Sam can say: "Yes, there are superteachers, even in Scotland."

As these "expert teachers", as we must learn to call them, stumble from their darkened treadmills into the light of the new millennium, they will know that they are really the superteachers that were promised by new Labour in the campaign for the last election, given life by the hand of the new minister. The mystery of the "expert teacher" is revealed.

Janet Law, a former SNP councillor and for long years a member of the various phases of the Millennium Review, can now communicate, without having to declare an interest, from a secret location in the voluntary sector.

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