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What next for advisers?

Recent conferences of the advisers have been gloomy occasions. Behind the customary bonhomie has been genuine concern about members' futures and indeed that of the advisory service itself. This year's conference, which opens today (Friday) in Dundee, will be a bit brighter although there are still clouds on the horizons.

The state of local government and the outlook for the advisory service are closely linked. The concept of advisers blossomed after the reorganisation which created large regions capable of sustaining advice-and-help structures for schools and teachers. At least in the larger authorities, specialist advisers looked after the main secondary subjects, and there were teams helping in primary schools. Gradually, however, a changing climate and tighter money meant that the role of advisers was altered. Some had to become inspectors as much as counsellors. Reduced in numbers, their role in developing support materials - for use nationally or regionally - declined.

The ghastly neologism "adspector" was born but fortunately did not catch on. Relationships with quality assurance and planned activity time did, however, mean a permanent shift in emphasis.

Last year's council revamp was awaited with trepidation - hence the conference atmosphere. Would the 32 authorities be able to support an advisory service? Would they want to, or would the only call be for quality assurers? In the event, the worst has not happened. Most advisers have found a home somewhere. It is true many have lost their old niche: roles have now to be generic. They are thin on the ground, and a few councils manage to do without them at all.

But in most areas there is still a helpful link between the directorate and teachers. A glance at the agenda for change shows how much the link is needed. From the 5-14 programme to Higher Still teachers are being asked to take on board new curricula and methods of assessment. They need materials and advice. Staff development can benefit greatly from an input by advisers, and schools look at least for quality reassurance. But the financial clouds have not lifted. This year's tortured budget negotiations affect advisers. In a well staffed authority like Fife, they fear they will be victims of cuts. The money for 5-14 in-service has shrunk. The budget for Higher Still cannot be put to the best use as long as the inadequacy of staff development is allowed to continue, whatever the rhetoric coming from the Higher Still Unit.

As delegates gather in Dundee, the mood of the conference is likely to be: we have survived but where do we go from here?

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