Time for a good clear-out of policy clutter

26th November 2004 at 00:00
There are various times in the school year when headteachers take stock and November is one. I've always thought, if it's not done by the end of November, it'll never get done, since December is a very busy month, followed in January by prelims and the run-up to exams.

Along with most secondary schools in Scotland, we have undergone a substantial structural change and are now evaluating the impact.

Some plates are spinning well, but some are very wobbly. This is inevitable when, through our early retirement scheme, so much talent and expertise bade us farewell in June.

I'm now working with one less depute and feeling the pinch. It's fine when there is nothing special on. But I've been posted missing for various reasons while my other deputes have frequently had out-of-school commitments related to their remits. Add a year group workshop or two and, hey presto, we are fraying at the edges.

Our heads of year have established a high profile with their year groups and are getting gold stars for their efforts from their colleagues.

Thankfully, we've not had to go down the "faculty road", apart from science and languages. I look forward to hearing from colleagues in schools who have had to do this. Is it working?

It has been an exhausting time for all; interview after interview, introducing and supporting new staff, developing the new posts, making sure that we don't lose previous good practice and generally keeping those plates spinning, especially the wobbly ones.

And then, just when we have done all that, lo in the east a new star appears in the shape of a "Curriculum for Excellence".

We are told that we are going to have our curriculum decluttered. This reminds me of those television programmes where gurus fly in to do your "life laundry" or large ladies appear at your door with rubber gloves and mops.

I wonder, however, having moaned for so long about the progression mismatch at the various stages in the secondary or the overcrowded primary curriculum, whether we'll try desperately to hang on to it all. I suspect we will.

My only hope is that the new 3-18 curriculum will be designed with the end in mind, unlike our present patchwork quilt. Think back to Higher Still and our naivety in assuming that the various writing teams were talking to each other! Think back to our suggestions and concerns voiced and studiously ignored during the consultation phases.

Mr Peacock reassures us that we will be in the driving seat this time and so, colleagues, it is up to us. If we have to change the curriculum again, let's make it much better. Interestingly, of the 19 members of the curriculum review group, only three are at the "chalk face" (and I'm stretching this when I include two headies in the three). I'd like to have a life laundry or decluttering of a headie's job. Out would go all of the stuff that keeps me from doing the real work. First would be my Standards and Quality report. Next would be the piles of returns that we have to do, followed closely by wodges of policy documents. I'd probably hold on to my improvement plan, but perhaps I would like to reduce it to one page of A4 or a mind-map. That way I could be out and about around the school and in classes where I should be. I might even manage to reduce my working week to about 50 hours.

Such is the stuff of dreams but, colleagues, back to reality. My eye catches an ominous statement on page 5 of Curriculum for Excellence referring to recording the achievement of young people. While I applaud this, my heart sinks a little as I think back to the days of the "wine menus", boxes of maroon plastic records of achievement which cluttered up every guidance office in the land.

Own up. How many of you still have some lurking at the back of your cupboards? Well, get them out and dust them down. We're back on that road again.

Linda Kirkwood is headteacher of Oban High

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