Who's left after the great shake-out?

I gave up a while ago looking too closely at the appointments pages of The TES Scotland. That is since I discovered to my discomfiture and chagrin on sending application forms for an appealing position that the thief of time had crept up unnoticed and stolen my eligibility for just about everything imaginable except early retirement.

Retreat into the familiar is a recognised reaction; so it came as a shock to see the number of vacancies advertised recently under my authority's logo. Not that I am sitting with my head in a bag. Too often the pressing urgencies of the immediate moment fudge the visible edge of how much the large-scale, long term movements that we are currently experiencing are shaping our future educational lives.

Quite apart from flip reactions that spread themselves on envy of those who are slipping the backpacks from their shoulders, I had not quite grasped how keenly the City of Glasgow's offer of voluntary severance, with its attractive package of enhancement, was being received. I had thought that the tight time-scale (loathsome expression!) that seemed an inevitable accompaniment to an invitation to take the ultimate career move might deter the wavering, but now see that this was wrong. The groundswell of take-up involving more than 250 teachers, according to the networks of grapevines that entangle all educational activities, has strained administration's seams, but more importantly, the implications for the system as we have come to know it, are difficult to make out.

Recently I attended a heads' meeting in the course of which our senior education officer produced a breakdown of the age patterns of primary teachers. It came as a surprise to what extent it was weighted towards the top end of the scale, and the momentary silence that greeted his overhead made me suspect that a few of the audience were, uncomfortably in some cases, coming to terms with exactly where they were standing in terms of the demographic scheme of things. The large gaps at the bottom end of the scale showed how much the teaching force has become an ageing one, and just how few permanent contracts our late and increasingly unlamented former region handed out.

The appointments pages show a little more than the bare facts that we are in the middle of a massive shake-out and that there are some glittering secondary prizes as the city gears up for a new era in its educational odyssey. Maths principal teachers, for example, have clearly clicked off their abacuses for the last time in large numbers. Do they see some kind of coded calculus on the Higher Still wall that has hastened their progression? With all respect to those who succeed all who have voluntarily severed, it is clear that a lot of experience, knowledge, nous and teaching artfulness and talent have been removed from the city's know-how pool. It will be seriously missed, particularly by our young people and by our young teachers who need and deserve all the help they can get to make their way.

This came home more closely when a member of staff rather hesitantly told me that she intended to open the voluntary severance package. My heart sank. Opinions differ, and each stage of the school ladder can put up a good case for saying it is the most difficult to cope with, but the really smart money, as far as I am concerned, in the Most Difficult Stakes, goes right on the infants' nose. Looking at what comes in, and seeing what comes out at the end of primary 3, convinced me long ago that some kind of alchemy takes place there.

K (she is too modest to be named) has been deeply involved in this special kind of thaumaturgy. Never aspiring to promotion, her teaching abilities and organisation skills made sure that deprived children have learnt. Perhaps most important, she had been an influence for good at a lot of levels. It is ungracious to say I wish she were not retiring, and churlish to deny her the opportunity, but I must be realistic and say she will be sorely missed. The passage of time may help us to see more clearly that the same can be said for the whole peleton of riders which has broken away and made for the finishing line.

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