We need to worry about the 'refuseniks'

20th October 2006 at 01:00
At last, we have an acknowledgement at government level that the post-McCrone agreement did headteachers no favours when it came to the adjustment of promoted staff salaries through the jobsizing exercise and that it is still having a detrimental effect on their recruitment.

Peter Peacock asks: "Why would you take a headship if you are only getting a few thousand more?" (TESS, September 15). A few days later he identified, unintentionally I think, another compelling reason for not coveting the job. War is to be waged against the "old order" of "refuseniks" and "staffroom cynics" and, once these teachers are dealt with by retraining or removal, pupil performance will presumably soar to previously unknown levels.

I doubt if Mr Peacock intends for this miracle to be performed in time to influence the outcome of the elections to the Scottish Parliament but, along with other rhetoric from the First Minister about rigorous tests in English and maths for all pupils before they leave secondary school, it should keep the spotlight sufficiently on education to get politicians safely past the May 2007 sell-by date.

No detail is supplied about who will be in the front line of the above-mentioned war, but it doesn't take much brainpower to work out that promoted staff in schools will be expected to take up Mr Peacock's cudgel and beat teachers over the head with it. We may see a sudden plethora of practical leadership training on offer, such as Hone Your Skills, Cut out the Dead Wood and Shape Them up or Ship Them out.

These courses would have a very different tone from the past, much-lauded soft approach to staff development, based as it was on sharing vision and common goals and then co-operatively moving the school forward to the sound of happy singing and tapping on tambourines.

We know that teachers being described as the "old order" are not those who will ever be found guilty of professional misconduct. It is relatively simple, if extremely painful with all of the associated press attention, to sack those.

No, the "refuseniks" are much more difficult to deal with. In the past, I would have called them "nodding dogs" because they reminded me at staff development events of the car ornaments with loosely-connected heads. I knew that cranial motion would be their one and only contribution to anything in the way of change in the school, largely due to their unshakeable belief that they knew better and that the advice they were hearing was wrong.

With the introduction of monitoring learning and teaching, it has become possible for promoted staff to see for themselves, albeit occasionally, at a pre-arranged time and with an agreed purpose for a classroom visit, to what extent a teacher may not be delivering the goods to the kids. Doing something about it is not for the faint-hearted.

Supporting an under-performing teacher in class can be a long, thankless and fairly unsuccessful task. Usually it brings about short-term improvement in one or two areas and often at significant cost to relationships. Sustained intervention can result in absence due to stress-related illness, and then a new, lengthy scenario unfolds for the headteacher.

At worst, it can result in resignation and then an appeal to an employment tribunal, with all the accompanying internal strife for the school, which can take years to mend. Little wonder that the "staffroom cynic" level of disaffection is not tackled more vigorously.

We need time to build the fully professional teacher through improved training programmes such as Scottish Teachers for a New Era, more collegiate responsibility at the probationary stage for identifying those who have chosen the wrong career and more co-operation from teacher unions further down the line.

With more collective accountability for preventing incompetence in the classroom, the job of headteacher may become more attractive, whatever the salary.

Joan Fenton is headteacher of Dyce Primary in Aberdeen

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