What grade does good learning come under?

29th November 1996 at 00:00
The staffing structure in schools has defied the pressure for constant change which affects the rest of the education system. It dates from the era of teacher shortages and has its formal basis in a code dating back to 1956. It has been added to in an ad hoc way, with depute heads being appointed in many primaries and senior teachers in both primaries and secondaries. The Government is intent on revising the code, and there is wide acceptance that the present structure needs revising.

At that point agreement ends. The teacher unions are anxious that change does not affect their members' pay, superannuation and status. The local authorities are alarmed by the rash of legal cases around the principle of equal pay. They also find the structure too rigid in an era of falling roles and devolved management. Outsiders would question the need for seven different grades among, say, 80 secondary staff. Other services, public as well as private, have flattened their structures, so why not teaching?

The principle that must govern change was spelled out by Brian Boyd of the Quality in Education Centre in a debate at the directors' conference (page five). Structures have to serve teaching and learning. The curriculum has changed and continues to do so. The the needs of pedagogy and management have to go hand in hand. Would the much debated shortcomings of S1 and S2 be alleviated if pupils were not confronted by so many teachers from separate subject departments? Is there a need for separate principal teachers of history, geography and modern studies?

Dr Boyd said that "hierarchy and status are obstacles to effective teaching and learning". Yet as his fellow debater, Ronnie Smith of the Educational Institute of Scotland, pointed out they are also difficult obstacles to overcome. Countless models for improvement can be suggested, some of them radical: Dr Boyd floated the possibility of raising salaries but lengthening the school day and shortening the holidays for teachers but not for pupils.

The Association of Directors has prepared a starter paper and intends to develop ideas for reform. Understandably it wants flexibility, including the possibility of local options so that not all authorities and not all schools would have the same structure. It is attracted to the notion of a single spinal salary scale, and its paper suggests not more than two tiers between secondary heads and unpromoted staff, with only one such tier in primaries.

Given appropriate incentive, teachers may not prove wedded to current complexities. But they will put an emphasis on dependability rather than flexibility. They will be suspicious of giving too much freedom of manoeuvre to directors of education, much less budget-wielding headteachers.

A few years ago there was an attempt by management and unions to "review" the 1990s. It proved abortive. The pressure for another examination is growing. If it takes place in response to continuing changes affecting pupils rather than as a consequence of local authority funding problems and legal cases, it will have a greater chance of leading to agreement.

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