Whose vision for Fife?

16th September 2005 at 01:00
Changes to school management are driven by a desire to cut costs, not to provide better schooling, says David Farmer of Fife EIS

No one can accuse Roger Stewart, Fife's head of education, of not being open about his intentions regarding the management of the authority's schools.

From his earliest meeting with staff (and these meetings were held in most schools or cluster groups), he has made it clear where he intends to take the education service in Fife.

What has not been so clear in Mr Stewart's presentation is his ability to provide a rationale based on clear evidence of benefit to the teaching profession and the pupils in our schools.

In a recent article in The TES Scotland (August 19), an article we would commend to every teacher in Fife, he attempted to provide a case to support his ideas. This proposal closely resembled the unlamented "millennium review", which was rejected totally by classroom practitioners following a national ballot.

Throughout the article, Mr Stewart continues to try to link his version of management restructuring with the post-McCrone settlement. Other than the inevitable consequences of losing the posts of assistant principal teacher, senior teacher and assistant head, there is no such link in the settlement.

In fact, there was an awareness that the profession valued its subject principal teachers, one of the posts now subject to drastic cuts in the new Fife model for staffing.

So what kind of justification does Mr Stewart provide? A reference to a benchmarking exercise claimed to show little correlation between promoted posts and outcomes for children. No evidence from this exercise is provided and the nature of the outcomes referred to is not clear.

Another claim was that almost half of the secondary teachers were in promoted posts and that this took away the opportunity for the class teacher to enjoy "freedom and responsibilities for their own classes". Most of those promoted post holders were still classroom teachers. They had distinct additional duties to help with the day-to-day running of the school and a small amount of additional management time to assist with this. The removal of these posts meant that many of the duties being done devolved on to the subject principal teachers - yet Mr Stewart wishes to take most of these posts away as well. Who will then carry out these duties?

The question has been asked as to why several experienced teachers in a department need a principal teacher to lead them? In posing this question, Mr Stewart reveals the fact that it has been a long time since he was in the classroom, a reality affecting many senior education managers.

He does not know the key role played by subject principal teachers in managing educational change over the past 30 years, of the time required to deal with the administration of Scottish Qualifications Authority material under the "Higher Still" banner.

He is unaware of their involvement in supporting staff faced with ever increasing challenges from pupil behaviour and attitudes. He is not able to judge the amount of bureaucratic manoeuvring which descends on a subject department during the course of a week.

In doing away with subject specialist principal teachers and substituting a few high salary curriculum leaders, each overseeing several different and sometimes disparate departments, most serving teachers see a future where subject principal teachers will find themselves with more to do in terms of organisational and bureaucratic demands and less, not more, time for teaching.

Finally, Mr Stewart dismisses valid objections and concerns about his management structure changes with a scathing reference to objectors "repeating a refrain about cost-cutting".

There are certainly plenty of teachers who consider that cost-cutting is at the heart of these changes. We have still to see evidence that this is not the case. If a secondary school loses two or three depute posts and anything up to 12 PT (subject) posts with no change in overall staffing levels, or even a reduction in staffing if the roll drops, who can deny the financial gain to an authority seeking to make savings in the face of continuing government demands for further cuts?

Mr Stewart is to be commended for his candour in attempting to justify his vision. Sadly, his vision seems driven by factors other than the best interests of pupils, parents and teachers alike.

David Farmer is publicity officer of Fife local association of the Educational Institute of Scotland.

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