Stuck in a rut and we can't get out of it

19th August 2005 at 01:00
School structures have to keep pace with the fast moving world outside, says Roger Stewart.

". . . it would be desirable to provide for variations in the complement of posts to allow different solutions to be applied to meet the different needs of schools"; ". . . these differences in need arise not only from the particular social circumstances of the school but also from differences in approach to organisation and management and possible future developments".

Claims that changes to the organisation of our secondary schools will lead to the end of civilisation as we know it seem a trifle exaggerated. The case for change is lucidly and succinctly made in the briefing paper available at www.scottishcouncils.orgtact. At the start, let us agree that existing structures designed in the late 1960s have served many generations of some Scottish pupils very well indeed. A significant number of our children, whether at the S1-S2 or S3-S6 stages, have been less well served.

Societal, technological and pedagogical changes have increased at an ever faster rate over recent years.

The post-McCrone settlement has provided a unique opportunity to deliver a confident and an enhanced profession with hugely improved induction, maximum 22.5-hour class contact within the 35-hour working week, additional 35 hours continuing professional development and five days of quality in-service. Any specialist working co-operatively with colleagues would wish to seize these opportunities to pursue individual and collective goals.

In addition, the post of chartered teacher will be within the reach of a significant majority of teachers. Rewards for remaining in the classroom will, ultimately, be only short of the top principal teacher salary in our average secondary school.

Early work I have carried out in benchmarking schools would suggest that there is little correlation between the percentage of promoted posts and outcomes for children. Why, under these changed circumstances, do schools require promoted post structures whereby 49-68 per cent of secondary teachers are in "promoted" posts? Better surely to promote the opportunities for the class teacher to enjoy the freedom and responsibility for their own classes. The idea that, say, a history department with three staff, including an enhanced professional of three to four years'

experience and a chartered teacher, needs a PT to lead them is, to say the least, questionable.

The 1970s structure, and in particular the post of PT, undoubtedly produced some quality leaders, but this was by no means a universal truth. These middle management posts were often restricted in their "management" and whole-school role. This was sometimes because the individual chose to define the role as such, or because the hierarchical senior management structures stifled the post, not deliberately but in organisational terms.

Across all management posts, insufficient time was allocated to carry out "management" tasks, particularly at a time when a concern about ensuring the quality of classroom interaction was growing. Similarly, the amount of time teachers spent on non-teaching tasks was well documented by the report of 1999 from HMIE and Accounts Commission, Time for Teaching.

Two clear conclusions of that report were that schools and authorities should review who does which tasks within schools and that they should question current staffing structures and develop alternative models. These conclusions were fully endorsed in the McCrone report. At senior management level, the historic part-timetabled depute or assistant head speeding through corridors with piles of discipline "tabs", juggling between class teaching and management duty, is only too vivid.

To support schools in addressing these challenges, it is possible to identify a number of design principles which could be applied across all authorities in Scotland. It seems self-evident but there will be no single monolithic model for school organisation across authorities or, indeed, within an individual authority.

Let us also try to agree two prime factors which contribute to the continuous improvement of our education services. First, the classroom teacher must have the key role in leading the learning environment. Second, decisions about curricular and organisational design should be made on the basis of what best meets the needs of children. The individual professional who has and takes responsibility to work co-operatively with colleagues and others to pursue overall agreed objectives has to be at the centre of what we do. Any structure must provide appropriate levels of support and challenge to the classroom teacher.

School managers at all levels must have the time and opportunity to contribute to the overall management of the school as well as to their areas of specific responsibility. They must be given the opportunities for training, support and development to enable them to carry out their current duties and, critically, to prepare them for senior management roles at school or service level.

No one should underestimate the huge cultural challenges facing the profession, of which social inclusion and flexibility in the curriculum are only two examples. Nor should we underestimate the desire of our society to see improvement in the way we do things - pound;2.5 billion of education expenditure is commitment in anyone's terms.

A school executive of headteacher with a smaller cohort of non-class committed deputes working as a collegiate team, and supported by other professional management staff, can provide the strategic leadership required. Crucial in such a model is the strengthened middle management role of principal teachers.

Some in the profession have repeated frequently the refrain that all this is about cost-cutting. All the evidence flies in the face of this assertion. Across Scotland, in varying degrees, timetablers and leaders have shown that much of the above can be delivered and leave space for investing released resources in a way that suits the individual school.

This article has concentrated on only one aspect of freeing up a system that has metamorphosed to the extent that, for some, even consideration of improvement in provision for young people and changing the culture in our schools by organisational development has become an anathema. The drivers of change are already at work in our society. Schools need to prepare all our young people for a rapidly changing world. This requires flexible learning environments in organisations that live and learn.

And the unattributed quotation at the beginning? This is from Scottish Education Department circular 826 in 1972. Maybe it is time for us now to deliver on this, 33 years on.

Roger Stewart is head of education in Fife.

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