Toast to the talks at the last chance saloon

19th January 2001 at 00:00
Peace and goodwill were unceremoniously shattered in the corridors of Holy Rood High on Christmas morning as a pack of police dogs was unleashed to track down an intruder at large. The panic-stricken brigand raced ahead of his panting pursuers and finally concluded that the only route to freedom was through one of the classroom windows.

Unfortunately, he was not on the ground floor and he plunged, in Icarus fashion, to the concrete playground 15 feet below. He was then apprehended by the police as he attempted to limp off on his injured knees.

We have had to work hard to recruit able staff at all levels and this little cameo of Holy Rood life demonstrates that even high quality burglars are difficult to find.

Our recruitment difficulties may be alleviated by the apparently successful teachers' pay negotiations. Admittedly teachers still have to vote on the proposals, but they are more likely than not to accept the recommendations of their union officers.

The fact that a deal has been reached between teachers' unions and local authorities is more significant than the details of the offer. The opponents were closeted in the last chance saloon and the failure of the talks could have resulted in the ultimate removal of schools from the control of local authorities and the advent of local pay bargaining as currently operated in further education colleges. The nation, and teachers too, would have grown tired of the annual display of snarling and recrimination which has characterised teachers' pay rounds.

Evonne Fitzpatrick, who at the tender age of 23 is the youngest member of Holy Rood's staff, will be whooping with delight and treating herself to an extra packet of baby biscuits as she contemplates more attractive prospects in the years ahead.

At the other end of the age spectrum, Donald Shaw, our principal teacher of computing, will derive comfort from the winding-down arrangements proposed for older members of the profession. Donald has given 30 years to teaching and has recently had to combine the roles of teacher, trainer and technician as new technology has flooded in. At 55, he would welcome the opportunity to extend his skills beyond the classroom but has launched applications for early retiement, more in hope than in expectation given the scarcity of teachers in his subject. The idea of teaching part-time with conservation of pension will gladden the hearts of a few veteran campaigners.

Donald's wife, Teresa, has also expressed an interest in bowing out but I just refuse to believe that she is 50.

For school managers, it is disconcerting that chartered teachers will not have to teach effectively to gain the enhanced status. It will be bestowed on all those who successfully complete a designated course.

The pitfalls of such an approach are very familiar. There is a world of difference between ability to undertake a programme of study and the potential to offer teaching of high quality. Ten years down the line, we may encounter the time-honoured anomaly of a teacher on basic pay working next door to a teacher who is on a protected salary and offering an inferior service.

Time can erode the initial fervour which leads to the additional qualification, and the completion of a course in 2004 may not be indicative of the quality of teaching provided in 2014. Enhanced status should be used to reward superior service, but that would put too much power into the hands of those manipulating scoundrels, headteachers.

The establishment of a single status for assistant heads and depute heads is tantamount to the elimination of depute heads as we know them. There is some reassurance in the concept of job-sizing, which may mean that school managers can be graded at different levels according to the responsibilities attached to their posts. This is an improvement on the initial suggestion of a single grade for all senior staff, other than headteachers.

A better deal is signalled for probationer teachers, which is essential if good staff are to be recruited and retained.

Bursars, paid at a rate commensurate with their responsibilities, will make a huge difference to the operation of schools. Headteachers will sing "Catering no more, cleaning no more, property no more, security no more".

Let's hope that this promising package will encourage young people to come into schools as teachers rather than as burglars.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher at Holy Rood High School in Edinburgh


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