Still some distance to go on McCrone

26th May 2006 at 01:00
The report from Audit Scotland offers both encouragement and challenge, says George Haggarty

With the McCrone agreement, we could achieve all the milestones and never get to our destination. Audit Scotland's report on the cost and implementation of A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century is helpfully a mid-term report and a first-stage review. There is clearly unfinished business: many developments, while making good progress, are still incomplete, and further evaluation will be needed to establish the long-term impact of the agreement.

Jack McConnell and the Scottish Executive were completely right to commit public money to a huge and unprecedented investment in Scottish education.

The increase in salaries, and the four-year settlement which followed, were sorely needed, both to raise the attractiveness of teaching as a career in order to attract the new entrants to renew the profession and to provide a period of stability.

There are real success stories: the negotiation of clear and challenging professional standards (although we still need to develop a standard for curriculum leaders); major progress with the universities in developing initial teacher education; the better supported one-year induction; workforce planning to increase numbers of teachers; the assistance provided by additional support staff; the promotion of continuing professional development and its uptake by most teachers; and the fledgling but growing partnership between the executive, local authorities and teachers.

A significant majority of teachers have done CPD work on the most effective use of ICT to improve learning; the Assessment is for Learning programme is steadily impacting on classrooms; growing numbers are using more diverse methodologies such as self-empowered learning; teachers are increasingly aware of pupils' perspectives on learning and motivation. The potential for a significant transformation through the Ambitious, Excellent Schools programme is there if we consolidate and deepen the impact of the agreement.

However, as all good golfers know, what counts is the follow-through to the swing and a readiness to continue to change and develop the approach. Right from the start, there was much in the agreement, and in its early implementation, that received a defensive response from teachers. The focus on defending conditions and putting limits on additional demands meant that there was less consideration given as to how the changes would strengthen the strategic capacity of schools and their operational effectiveness to the benefit of learners. There are many positive practices emerging, but they need to be evident across more schools and authorities.

The Audit Scotland report is right in challenging us to develop both quantitative and qualitative performance measures, not just of what has been achieved, but of what has still to be fully delivered. As a profession, we owe it to the wider public to show that continuing investment will have a real impact and will make Scottish education world-class.

So what business remains unfinished? Job-sizing is a real irritant. It has not just been unfair in the past to guidance staff, some principal teachers and many deputes and headteachers, but its narrow use and its evident lack of transparency have meant that many teachers are locked into outdated evaluations. The lack of differentials has led to a serious drop in applications for depute and headteacher posts. The job-sizing toolkit and the salary scales need to be reviewed as a matter of urgency.

The report recognises the continuing pressures on senior management. Due to differences in the level of funding and the present budgetary constraints, there are variations across 32 authorities in the salary levels of headteachers, the quality of support, the degree of delegation to the newly structured posts and the levels of strategic and operational support and empowerment from authorities.

We certainly need to revisit the concept, structure and funding of the chartered teacher programme. Many dedicated, experienced and effective teachers are already working too hard to have the time and energy to commit to the present model. We need to move away from the original concept of the chartered teacher and leadership pathways being distinct. They do and should overlap in a number of ways: they require headteacher involvement and support, and both should involve a leadership role in schools.

Finally, is collegiality the elusive holy grail? Or will it be the keystone to the outcomes of the agreement? Initial defensiveness and narrow interpretations of the 35-hour week have led to limited concepts of collegiality; limits on headteacher and senior management; limits on time given by staff to the wider school and whole-school developments; and misinterpretations of the autonomous professional - as in "it's not my job and you can't make me do it".

There is much more to collegiality than the emphasis on consultation and union rights and the 35-hour week, although these are important stepping stones. In continuing to build professional flexibility and a broader collegiality, we need to balance three key principles:

* Leadership matters, but this must be delivered at all levels of promoted, unpromoted and support staff, who can all make an invaluable contribution.

* Collegiality means getting decision-making as close to the grass roots as possible, and also shared ownership and responsibility for the achievement, challenges and problems of our schools. It means a real shift to a culture of engagement of all staff.

* Empowerment, in educational terms, is ultimately focused on the needs of our young people in terms of growing up happy, secure and fulfilling their potential. All staff, including headteachers, have the same needs and the same rights to be empowered through mutual care, support and professional collaboration. The days of headteacher, teachers, or support staff working in any sort of isolation from each other should be rapidly disappearing.

The trouble with milestones is that they remain static by the roadside.

Even stepping stones are of little use if we do not keep taking the next steps. Our profession should feel both encouraged and challenged by Audit Scotland and by the forthcoming HMIE report.

Together, we should be confident that the next stages in the journey to improve Scottish education are essential and should bear fruit to the benefit of young people and the wider community. We are challenged to show the wider society that major investment in education continues to be real value for money.

George Haggarty is president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland and headteacher of St John's High in Dundee.

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