Watching the clock

6th April 2001 at 01:00
Even with Easter on the horizon and in the current (shortlived?) period of amity post-McCrone, reality reminds us that teachers are traditionally suspicious of authority at many levels - not just the Government but local authority employers and even headteachers. The many loose ends of the McCrone settlement that need tying together involve local negotiations, and it is timely as well as heartening that representatives of two power groups, the heads and the directors of education, should independently have warned (page three) of the dangers of over-prescriptive arrangements for how teachers spend their professional time.

Donald Matheson, president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, fears that a "son of PAT" might be born if there is too tight control. Gordon Jeyes, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, looks for flexibility and diversity. In the recent past, teachers were not trusted to use their time out of the clssroom profitably. Their bosses - some heads as much as the employers - felt that they needed supervision through specifying the hoops they must jump through in the name of planned activity time. Like small boys they didn't need to be accomplishing anything useful. It only mattered that idle hands did not make mischief.

Such an attitude bred resentment not just at the lack of trust but at the waste of hours that could have been used in the interests of pupils or of teachers' own well-being. There is a chance now for a fresh start but it will demand a different mindset. Just as teachers mustn't be clock watchers, so those in authority shouldn't be over-fussy shepherds. The new contract ought to encompass a wide range of activities, some desirable for pupils, such as sports coaching, and all acceptable within a wide definition of professionalism.

Just as in the national negotiations at the beginning of the year, mature judgment will be at a premium.

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