The unmeasurable nature of teaching

2nd June 2006 at 01:00
oor Audit Scotland has found that reading the barometer on the post-McCrone agreement was no easy ride. It was a pretty safe bet that Scotland's spending watchdog would find it almost impossible to assess fully the effectiveness of the 2001 teachers' agreement. Any suggestion that it might have been able to do so was crazy.

Some areas of the new deal can be analysed. Pay increases have finally brought us into line with some of the other professionals, although we are far from the giddy financial heights of general practitioners, for instance, and we don't have the luxury of saying to our clientele: "Sorry no appointments left today, try Friday."

Enough of this lingering bitterness. Yes, McCrone has brought some benefits -increased administrative support has been helpful, but it is spread thinly by the time it's divided up across the whole school. The chartered teacher scheme may be attractive in theory, but many potential candidates are put off by the cost and indeed the lack of hard evidence that the courses offered have the rigour which is claimed for them. But classes remain far too big and schools still function on a shoestring budget which has a detrimental effect on achievement.

Forgive me for the finger-wagging tone, but do we always have to leap on the bandwagon for quantifying everything? Anyway, consider how the goalposts have moved since 2001. The seismic shift has been the deterioration of pupil behaviour right across the board. This is not the hysterical view of a few non-dysfunctional teachers but the measured response of experienced, motivated and successful practitioners. Schools are standing on their heads to find solutions, but society outside yawns collectively and nods off.

For a long time, teachers have accepted their multifaceted, roles as social workers, police, psychiatrists, counsellors, therapists, childminders, nurses, entertainers and any other role you might list. But never have parents been so directionless in the nurturing of their children as they are now.

Might Audit Scotland or any other body consider adopting performance measures for evaluating parental input? Every time a parent fails, that's another drop of water in the ocean on which we are all desperately trying to keep afloat. Another problem is that we continue to turn out hordes of individuals who chronically lack literacy and numeracy skills. We pretend that standards haven't fallen. Yet there wasn't a single word of vocabulary in the 2006 Higher English close reading paper that could be described as testing.

We can't then measure the whole picture if we are not looking at the whole picture. The media hype up the 35-hour week and the public swallow the notion that teachers are clocking off after they hit 35 hours. Before 2001, there were hard-working and inspirational teachers. In 2006, there are still hard-working and inspirational teachers. What these teachers have is a certain empathy with their pupils which the children feel and respond to but it cannot be expressed in terms of a mathematical figure.

I listen to Peter Peacock talk about how teachers are now better prepared for their lessons because they have more time. Quite apart from his conclusion being a non-sequitur (another good example for the Higher philosophy critical thinking unit), the Education Minister is not taking account of how the stresses of the job have burgeoned since 2001 and that time, for most teachers, equates to vastly more than 35 hours. Teachers work many hours at home. Quantify that, Audit Scotland!

Meanwhile, teachers are overwhelmed by the endless bowling of googlies in the shape of ill-thought-out and incoherent initiatives. The backdrop is a bleak society which has rising teenage pregnancy rates, an increase in youth crime and drug addiction, to mention but some depressing realities.

In the face of all that, how then can anyone measure how schools are performing?

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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