Two heads together are better than online

17th January 2003 at 00:00
A couple of months ago I received the circular inviting headteachers to apply to join the Heads Together online network. I declined because I felt that I was already involved in enough panels and working groups .

Two weeks later I received news that I had been nominated by North Lanarkshire to become a member of the network and implying I should be grateful.

Some weeks later I was trained to use information and communications technology to allow communication with other headteachers to share problems and good practice. It was an interesting experience and is an interesting concept. Heads Together can only be accessed by headteachers and in the forum they can discuss, moan and whinge about any topic they wish, electronically.

In November I attended the annual conference of the Headteachers'

Association of Scotland, the union for secondary headship teams. Primary colleagues have the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland, whose annual conference performs a similar function. At these events headteachers, and others, can discuss, moan and whinge about any topic they wish, face to face.

More than 200 secondary heads, deputes and assistant heads went to St Andrews. We had a varied and informative input from a variety of educationists, experts and politicians. Their contributions were first class and provided plenty of material for subsequent discussion between union members from all over Scotland.

Almost every free minute was spent in discussions about education. Because of the poor weather, those people who had arranged a round of golf had to cancel, thus reducing to almost nothing the other main topic of discussion at such conferences.

The similarity of problems from school to school, combined with the variety of solutions to these, led to plenty of stimulating discourse. Not surprisingly, the most common topic related to the post-McCrone agreement A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century and in particular to the consequences of job-sizing and the restructuring of promoted posts. The biggest difficulty in this area relates to the delivery of pastoral care and guidance to young people.

The solutions proposed were many and varied and reflected the amount of thought and consideration which had gone into planning for change. No authority seemed to have fully structured proposals to put to staff; indeed, some did not seem to have even realised there was a problem.

Solutions ranged from giving every teacher, promoted and unpromoted, a tutor group for guidance, with a single principal teacher of guidance as manager, to the conversion of all assistant principal teacher of guidance posts to PT posts.

The variety of solutions in between included using "cheap" social workers instead of "expensive" teachers, dispensing with guidance for everything but curricular matters, using volunteer teachers to care for young people with few background difficulties and guidance teachers to look after the rest, increasing the guidance role for senior management teams and reducing the guidance role for SMTs.

Cathy Jamieson, the Education Minister, was asked if she had a solution and gave a standard Scottish Executive answer that everything was as laid down in the agreement. She later asked for information from HAS about the perceived problems and agreed to consider these.

The length of time spent in such discussions by some colleagues made our 35-hour week seem irrelevant. Some started their discussion before an early breakfast and were still deep in meaningful conversations at 2am the following morning. Such dedication surely deserves inclusion in job-sizing.

Back at school, I joined principal teachers to receive the job-sizing presentation and questionnaire, accompanied by advice about ways of interpreting some parts. Questions were answered openly and constructively. Each question led naturally to discussion and debate. The face-to-face nature of these was helpful to everyone present.

We all work in schools networked to provide easy electronic communication. The Scottish Executive has grand and commendable ideas for the future of ICT in delivering learning. I cannot help but reflect that if headteachers communicate better face to face, why should we assume that children do not do the same? Somehow electronic guidance does not appeal to me ... although it might be cheaper.

John Mitchell is headteacher of Kilsyth Academy, North LanarkshireIf you have any comments, e-mail

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