Uncertainty at the chalkface

2nd May 2003 at 01:00
With the election over, The TESScotland talks to teachers and heads in the front line and to education leaders, who all have some forthright messages for the new Scottish Executive

THE thoughts of Douglas Malcolm, principal teacher of history at Mearns Academy in Laurencekirk, probably echo many in the classroom when he professes uncertainty about the Scottish Executive's contribution to classroom life.

Extra money has come from Chancellor Gordon Brown and the Higher Still programme predated the Executive. However, Mr Malcolm concedes, initiatives in dealing with disruption in schools are probably taking hold.

That is not a view shared by Bill Gorrie, principal teacher of guidance at Lawside Academy in Dundee, who insists rising indiscipline is the big issue.

"Task groups and so on are not the solution. I wish I knew what was. The problem lies in society condoning poor behaviour and even supporting pupils when schools attempt to use sanctions," Mr Gorrie says.

Douglas Malcolm says that ministers have yet to sort out grey areas of McCrone, such as the status of probationer teachers who are looking for their first jobs. "We also need greater clarification from the Executive to address staff perceptions that changes to the management structures are not finance-driven and uncertainties that the decision-making process is not public enough," he says.

Mr Gorrie echoes these concerns. "Some local authorities are using the McCrone settlement to restructure school managements and guidance structures. With the loss of subject leaders, who is going to have responsibility to take forward changes in Standard grades, Highers, and so on?

"The problem becomes more acute as the experienced staff retire and are replaced with young staff, many of whom have never had to undertake major developments and there will be no experienced staff to guide them," he insists.

Mr Malcolm picks up familiar themes such as poor liaison between primaries and secondaries and the lack of understanding about what is expected of each in relation to the 5-14 curriculum.

"Internal assessment still presents outstanding difficulties in terms of pressures and demands on pupils and there remains inconsistency in assessment arrangements across different subjects. The Scottish Qualifications Authority has lost some authority and staff are still uncertain about the rigour of the external exam marking system - are all markers suitably qualified?"

Yet there is no suggestion exams are getting any easier and that standards are dropping. Quite the opposite. "Standards in terms of academic results are increasing due to improved preparation, the teaching of staff and the hard work of pupils," Mr Malcolm says.

Mr Gorrie believes ministers have to look at the resourcing of social inclusion, the age profile of teachers and their imminent mass retirement, and staffing structures.

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