Teachers expected to give and take

16th September 2011 at 01:00

It's an important week in Scottish education, with the McCormac report on teachers' terms and conditions published on Tuesday (page 5). It's not radical, and it doesn't contain any surprises. What is impressive is the way it chimes with the Donaldson report on teacher education and with Curriculum for Excellence.

You can see how they could fuse together to advance the Government vision for children's learning: the scope for teachers to work in teams; the opportunity to timetable creatively; the flexibility for heads to pay staff for extra responsibilities. It could be very exciting.

That, of course, is the view from the outside. How it feels to teachers on the inside is very different when morale is low in the face of a two-year pay freeze and costly changes to pensions (page 36). Where McCrone focused on the teacher and building the self-esteem of the professional, McCormac concentrates on what is best for the child. If that means keeping teachers in school for 35 hours, so be it; if it means not giving them "McCrone time" this week and next, because they are required for some collegiate professional development, then they can reclaim it later. As one wit on the TESS website retorted: "I'll just do my marking in three weeks' time, kids, don't fret ."

It's difficult not to sympathise with some of the cynics, for what McCrone gave with one hand, McCormac wants to take with the other. Where the former tried to boost teachers' professionalism and reduce their workload by removing menial tasks like photocopying, McCormac wishes to drop the list of duties teachers should not do. In one fell swoop, he threatens not only to burden teachers with more chores, but to put at risk the support staff who work with them. If Cosla is seeking savings, here surely is the opening.

The teachers who probably stand to gain most are the young ones: the probationers who could benefit from a lighter teaching load at the start of the year, building up to a full timetable; the enthusiastic ones dying to experiment with the new curriculum; the ambitious ones who could get an early taste of leadership with a short-term promotion to principal teacher. Those who could lose most are the chartered teachers who have paid to study for higher status, only to find it is not rated.

So what next? Government meetings with Cosla and the teacher unions, and a long negotiating process to see what will be put place by August 2012. More immediately, teachers can express their views to the Education Secretary at next week's Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow (page 12). With up to 6,000 expected to attend the biggest talking shop of the teachers' year, it's hard to imagine McCormac's ears won't be burning.


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