Using specialists to take physical education and expressive arts classes is one idea being tried so that primary teachers get their agreed non-contact time while the pupils still cover the curriculum, says Douglas Blane.
There is nothing new about staff - either in schools or elsewhere - being unsure what their management is up to. However, the confusion surrounding teachers' non-contact time seems greater than usual.
The post-McCrone teachers' agreement is national but implementation is local: authorities and schools across Scotland have their own ideas of how to use the time.
"Heads being heads, they will want people to cover classes in their time out and will make life hard for those who don't," was one view expressed at The TES Scotland online forum. It is to be hoped that he is wrong; this shouldn't happen.
The national agreement is quite clear. From August 2006, all teachers in both primary and secondary sectors will work no more than 22.5 hours of class contact time during the school week.
The agreement also specifies an interim reduction in hours from August 2004, so that now no primary teacher should be in front of a class for more than 23.5 hours a week, which is in line with their secondary colleagues.
Although teachers' class contact time is being reduced, pupils' teacher contact time remains unaltered. So cover in useful-sized chunks needs to be provided to allow every primary teacher 1.5 hours away from her class every week, increasing to 2.5 hours a week from August 2006.
This has given school managements headaches. "I just wish they had left us alone," said one headteacher. "I don't think any gains will be worth all this upheaval."
"It feels like having to pull rabbits out of hats," said another.
But some managers are more positive and pragmatic. "Of course it creates some challenges for management," says Sheilah Jackson, headteacher at Queensferry Primary in Edinburgh, "but nothing we can't solve."
Edinburgh is one of many education authorities that have delegated the details of organising non-contact time to their schools, merely providing additional funding for the necessary cover.
"We decided what we wanted was two teachers at the same stage to be off together," says Ms Jackson. "That means the teachers will be able to do planning together, not just correction on their own.
"I have one very good person who will take the kids for art and I'll be using PE for McCrone cover at the same time."
Ms Jackson foresees substantial benefits for the children and teachers.
"Put yourself in their place: it's refreshing to get someone new and different for an hour and a half a week, as long as they are good. The teacher gets two 45-minute breathers, which means she is better able to do her job.
"So what if it is all a pain in the neck for management? It's our job."
Elsewhere school managements are trying other variations on the theme. Kay Hall, headteacher at West Kilbride Primary, North Ayrshire, and president of the Association of Head Teachers in Scotland, says that school managers are still feeling their way and the best solution for individual schools may well emerge after one or two have been tried.
"More and more I'm coming to the view that specialisms are the long-term answer. It makes sense that whoever you put in takes responsibility for part of the curriculum, both to reduce the load on the class teacher - which is huge in the primaries - and to enhance the children's education.
"It's important to realise that these specialists don't have to be secondary teachers. One of my teachers is very musical, so she will be doing a lot of music and a bit of Spanish as well."
Another idea being tried in several schools, including her own, says Ms Hall, is an enhanced assembly for 45 minutes a week, using support staff to give teachers time out of class. "You can integrate a lot of aspects of the school: awards, celebrations, children presenting their work, singing.
We're going to try it out this year, see how it works, find out if kids and teachers enjoy it."
In Clackmannanshire, an additional 10.2 full-time equivalent physical education teachers have been recruited to deliver the full 1.5 hours reduction in class contact time for all teachers in the authority's 19 primary schools. A mix of PE specialists and primary teachers with an interest and expertise in the subject now deliver 90 minutes of PE a week to every primary pupil.
If this initiative is successful, and evidence that these levels of physical activity lead to better behaviour and learning as well as improved health is confirmed, the model will form the basis of the full reduction in class contact time to start in August 2006, with some of the time used for the expressive arts, says the authority.
Another initiative based on visiting specialists operated last year in Falkirk among Grangemouth primaries. Expressive arts specialists delivered art and design, music and PE to every stage in 30-60 minute blocks, releasing all the teachers at Moray, Bowhouse and Beancross primaries not just for 1.5 hours a week, but also from all the preparation that before would have accompanied that teaching time. Although liaising with the class teachers on pupils' reports, the specialists did all their own planning and assessing, as well as attending parents' evenings and talking to the parents.
"It has been wonderful and has taken a good slice out of our workload," says Sheona Keay, who teaches P1 at Moray Primary. "Nowadays we have to be specialists in language, maths, art, science, as well as being a mum to the infants. This has given us one less thing to worry about. It has led to a much calmer staff.
"I used to be a middle school teacher years ago and that was how it worked then: the children stayed with you for the basics and went to specialist teachers for music, PE and so on. That was such a civilised era in my life."
"Timetabling all this was a huge exercise," says Moray Primary's headteacher, Sheena Wright. "The authority provided a timetable expert from the secondary sector but then we had to explain to him all our constraints - broadbanding for language and maths, assemblies, music tuition, swimming time. That was a huge exercise and different for each school."
Once completed, the integration of the specialists yielded considerable benefits to the pupils as well as teachers, says Beancross Primary headteacher Brian Gillies.
"We had no real idea to begin with how it would work out and we did have a few hiccups at the start, especially with the timetabling. But the comments we were getting after only a couple of months were very good. By the end of the year the children, the teachers, the specialists and the managers were all extremely positive.
"The specialist teachers got to know the children in a way they never could before and that had lots of benefits for learning and teaching. By getting to know the staff and pupils better, they became keen to promote the school and develop its ethos, through concerts, for instance, and working with parents."
Ms Wright says the arrangements meant teachers at the same stage with the same non-contact times were able to work constructively together if they wanted to. She smiles. "Of course, it also meant they could all come together to my door if they had any problems."
Unfortunately, say the Falkirk teachers, the pilot only lasted a year. In the session now starting the specialist teachers will again have to be spread more thinly among the authority's schools, with the extra cover needed to release teachers for 1.5 hours a week being delivered by additional normal staffing. Some of the benefits gained during the pilot study by using autonomous specialists will, therefore, be lost.
"There just aren't enough specialist teachers to roll this model out to all the schools in the authority," says Cecilia Hamilton, a P2 and principal teacher at Moray Primary.
"Last year was like a ray of sunshine in our working lives and now we are back to reality. We've been very fortunate, I know, but we are disappointed it couldn't continue. In a way the job is going to be harder now, because we have had a wee glimpse of what it could be like."
Examples of more pilot projects - particularly in Highland and Renfrewshire - and good practice in releasing teachers from class for 1.5 hours during the school week are outlined in Primary School Issues: Class Contact Reduction, a briefing paper published by the Teachers' Agreement Communications Team in July.
The paper also summarises the policy adopted by every education authority in Scotland to achieve the 1.5 hours class contact reduction from this session. It can be downloaded from the internet at www.scottishcouncils.orgtact. Click on "TAC Team briefing papers" and selecting the item dated 1 July 2004, entitled "TAC Team Class Contact Reduction Paper".
The team is a joint initiative of the Scottish Executive and local authorities and is based at COSLA in Edinburgh. It provides a continuing strategic focus on the 2001 national agreement A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century.
The team aims to ensure accurate information on the agreement is communicated and good practice and the exchange of ideas are promoted. It aims to identify barriers to implementation and ensure appropriate action; and to review, monitors and report on implementation of the agreement.
Other team briefing papers cover post-McCrone report topics such as continuing professional development, school leadership and collegiality, guidance, management structures and timetabling.
The website also has links to other information on the national agreement, including local policies and agreements and resources on the chartered teacher programme.
CHANGES TO WORKING HOURS
In the wake of the 2001 agreement A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century, a teacher's timetable has several distinct components: Working week: 35 hours from August 2001
Class contact time: 23.5 hours from August 2004, 22.5 from August 2006 Personal allowance: one third of class contact time, to be used at teacher's discretion, mainly for preparation and correction Non-contact time: 1.5 hours from August 2004, 2.5 from August 2005. Might all be used as personal time or planned at school level or be a combination of the two, depending on agreement between management and staff at school level.
Remaining time: working week minus class time and personal time. Planned at school level to include activities such as parents' meetings, staff meetings, curriculum development, forward planning, preparation of reports and records, professional review and development, additional supervised pupil activities and further preparation and correction.
The transition arrangements specified in the post-McCrone agreement for the components of a primary teacher's working week are: From August 2001
maximum class contact time 25.0 minimum personal allowance 8.5 non-contact time 0 remaining time 1.5 hours From August 2004
maximum class contact time 23.5 minimum personal allowance 8.0 non-contact time 1.5 remaining time 2.0 hours From August 2006
maximum class contact time 22.5 minimum personal allowance 7.5 non-contact time 2.5 remaining time 2.5 hours