Traditional ways for young teachers

RE students do not like the faculty system, preferring departments and specialist managers

Henry Hepburn

The common perception is that older teachers are the ones who drag their feet when it comes to educational reform, while newcomers to the profession embrace the latest innovations.

One might expect, therefore, that the rise of the faculty system since the teachers' agreement would be welcomed by young practitioners, eager to break down the boundaries between subjects and champion cross-curricular working.

Far from it, if research from Aberdeen University is to be believed. In fact, young teachers yearn for a return to traditional departments and the support of line managers who share their subject knowledge.

The research also posits that smaller departments may be feeling "marginalised" by the faculty structure, a management system now used in the majority of Scottish local authorities.

The survey canvassed religious education practitioners in 2007-08, analysing questionnaires from 43 students and nine probationers. Little more than a third of students based in faculties thought the system worked for them. In contrast, 69.5 per cent of students working within traditionally discrete departments returned positive comments.

Several concerns about faculties were identified by Graeme Nixon, a lecturer in religious, moral and philosophical studies at Aberdeen University's school of education, who carried out the research with Bathgate Academy's principal humanities teacher, Cherie Anderson.

Some students thought RE lacked profile or respect within the faculty system, and one said it was "not taken seriously by many teachers".

Some were unhappy about faculty heads' lack of RE subject knowledge. One head was allegedly not interested in the subject, and another was "very unsympathetic" towards RE.

Where the faculty head was the immediate line manager, students tended to feel communication was poor. One student had "no involvement with the faculty head"; another complained that the faculty head did not observe work with pupils or offer any advice about progression as a trainee teacher.

A number of students believed the faculty system was not working because, in practice, RE still operated as a separate department. One observed that an unpromoted colleague was fulfilling the role of principal teacher without being paid for it.

"I found nothing positive about the faculty structure," the student said. "The main teacher was doing all the work of a PT and the faculty PT had no idea what the RMPS (religious, moral and philosophical studies) classes were doing or should be doing."

In contrast, those working within traditional RE departments, with a subject specialist as a line manager, found this worked well.

"Having a PT in the department at all times, I found the support I was given to be incredibly efficient," said one respondent.

Some stressed, however, that the traditional management structure could be risky since their experience was based largely on relations with one member of staff. One said that "if the PT isn't too supportive, as I experienced, then it can be quite a discouraging environment", while another complained of limited involvement in cross-curricular activities.

The researchers believe that RE, and possibly other small subjects, may be experiencing "marginalisation" within faculty structures.

They also find that there has been little educational research to justify faculties, and that the drive for this system was "masked" in the teachers' agreement. They conclude by calling for more research into faculties' effectiveness, "while the memory of the discrete subject model still persists".

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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