Winding up for Christmas - and changes

Staff at Queensferry Primary started this session with enthusiasm but also with a little caution, promising ourselves that we would not take on too much this term. Does this sound familiar?

My introductory presentation had the very grand title of "State of the Nation" speech. After summarising the educational priorities nationally and describing the City of Edinburgh Council's priorities, I came to the school's action plan and negotiations about fine detail.

In the spirit of not taking on too much this term, we asked ourselves whether we should have the nativity play as a two-yearly event. "Absolutely not," came the unanimous reply. The children and their families look forward to and expect a Christmas fair, Santa's grotto, parties, a ceilidh and the nativity play. And so, we will be winding up to the end of term, as usual.

This is the session when we will learn much more detail about the winding down to retirement proposal as described in the McCrone report, A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century. To recap the situation, the committee was told that by the time some teachers reach their mid-50s they are exhausted and would wish to reduce their workload without this adversely affecting their pensions.

Twenty per cent of teachers in Scotland are aged over 55. If a significant number of these wished to move to part-time working, the possible effect on school staffs would be huge.

Before headteachers look around for a possible job-share partner to help with managing their schools, points made in A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century that are worthwhile exploring are:l "A promoted teacher may feel he or she has spent long enough in management tasks and wish to return to classroom teaching for the last few years of a career."l "Older teachers might be interested in giving up their full-time jobs but continuing on a part-time basis."l "Older and more experienced members of the profession have a major contribution to make in the area of mentoring and staff development."

The report adds that it would be better for some older teachers to transfer to supply work rather than have this work left to new entrants.

It is so important to make the best possible staffing decisions in order to support our pupils as well as we can. Council staffs did their best to place probationer teachers as quickly as they could last term but the process is very likely to be even more complicated in the summer term of 2003. At that stage there will be this year's probationer teachers and a new wave of probationer teachers looking for positions, perhaps some teachers who wish to wind down and in 2004 all primary teachers reducing our weekly class contact time from 25 hours to 23.5 hours.

In order to plan for this and to try to be strategic, I asked the Queensferry Primary pupil council what changes they would most like to see. Not surprisingly, they wanted an art teacher added to the staff. It's not surprising because we had an excellent art teacher covering while appraisal meetings were on a couple of years ago and what the pupils wanted was that particular art teacher back.

Staff here would welcome a music teacher because some feel less confident in teaching music. I would welcome a French and German teacher for part of the modern languages programme, leaving our staff to follow up work which the specialist had started. I should add that it would be wonderful to consider having a science specialist to work at all stages. This opens up the whole question of visiting specialist support and perhaps ideas about schools specialising in areas of strength.

I would like to know whether the teacher education institutes are being strategic in preparing for shortages which might lie ahead. Would secondary-trained science teachers be trained to work in primary schools? Are there lots of drama teachers looking for posts?

I understand that East Renfrewshire is running a pilot programme to look at ways of enhancing staffing in primary schools to address just these very issues. Now that's a pilot programme I would love to volunteer to join.

Sheilah Jackson is headteacher of Queensferry Primary in EdinburghIf you would like to comment, e-mail week: John Mitchell, headteacher of Kilsyth Academy, North Lanarkshire

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