When will our directors of education ever learn?

13th December 1996 at 00:00
May I comment on your report (TESS, November 29) of the Dunblane conference of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland?

You report that the ADES "dipped a toe into the contentious waters of staffing and curriculum reorganisation" by unanimously backing a call to scrap the promoted post structure in secondaries and to reform the curriculum in the first two years of secondary. If the conclusions they reach have come about from dipping a mere toe in the water, let's pray that they are not tempted to total immersion.

Bob McKay, outgoing president of ADES, is reported as saying that it was impossible to justify a system geared to teachers and their subjects and not to young people and their learning, and that many pupils were disaffected because of this. Amazingly, far from dipping his toe in the water, he manages to shoot himself in the foot, when he goes on to seek to defend education from "seriously ill-informed" critics who were "driven by ideology and assertion rather than facts and analysis".

Where are the "facts and analysis" to support his assertion that the secondary system is "geared to" teachers and their subjects and not to young people and their learning, and that many pupils are disaffected because of it? And where are the "facts and analysis" to support the reported concern of the directors that secondary staffing is a "major stumbling block to educational progress"?

I acknowledge that there may be teachers who do appear to put themselves and their subjects before the interests of young people and their learning, and where this arises it should be addressed in an appropriate manner. However, having taught in the secondary sector for more than 20 years, I would dispute that one can extrapolate from this to a wholesale condemnation of the secondary system.

It may very well the case that there is a better system than the present promoted-post structure in secondaries, but that case has to be fully laid out before scrapping a system not without its successes. Even the incoming president of the ADES, Mr Travers, recognises these successes when he says in his contribution to the conference that "contrary to critics, schools were making progress".

And yet, to judge from the contribution to the conference by Brian Boyd, it appears that the ADES is not willing to believe these words. For once again, Mr Boyd's contribution, we have a demonstration of "assertion" rather than "fact and analysis" in his comments on the current secondary structure. Assertions such as "it is no longer tenable for 15-16 teachers from 15-16 departments to deliver effective learning and teaching in secondaries", or that continuity between primary and secondary was damaged by "boundary maintenance" in secondaries, where teachers did not trust the judgment of primary colleagues, and that "this is part and parcel of the status differential". Where is the research evidence on which we can judge these assertions? Where is the "fact and analysis"?

Likewise with Mr Boyd's comments on "favouring teams of teachers rather than departments", where such teams "might have specific remits and look at aspects of learning and teaching", and which could operate through several staffing models, including "cluster arrangements". There may well be merit in these suggestions, if only we knew what he means by them. What "specific remits"? What "aspects of learning and teaching"?

At the moment, I already think of departments as teams of teachers - how will his teams be any different? With regard to the call to reform the curriculum in the first two years of secondary, one can only despair at the sheer ignorance of directors of education when it comes to reading the mood and morale of their own teaching forces. How many "reforms" have we had over the past 10 years? How many more "reforms" are we expected to endure over the next 10 years?

When we will be allowed to get on with teaching? When will our young people be allowed to get on with their learning in a stable environment? When will directors of education ever learn? Where is the leadership which the profession has a right to expect from those purporting to direct the education service in Scotland?

Mr McKay rightly condemns central government for creating a climate of "blame and mistrust" with unrealistic expectations and a proliferation of initiatives which have dented the morale of teachers and damaged their professionalism. So why foster the creation of a similar climate at local level?

JOHN GRAY Beechgrove Terrace Aberdeen

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