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Portfolio Education Colleges

Winds of change

Cera Murtagh Education Correspondent

Reform was top of the agenda at the Scotland’s Colleges conference

Amidst the many voices at the Holyrood

Scotland’s Colleges conference this month, one message came through loud and clear: maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. Colleges were commended all round for

the vital service they provide to learners and communities across Scotland – and for maintaining that service in the face of a 10 per cent cut to their budgets this year. But that praise came with a caveat. Colleges are not immune to the economic, social and educational changes sweeping the world, delegates heard. To continue to serve the needs of learners, the way they operate will need to adjust. Chief proponent of this message was new Minister for Learning and Skills, Dr

From the chalk face: a teacher writes The death of optimism

I’m generally a glass-half-full person, after making allowances for age-related grumpiness and occasional rants about the stupidity and shallowness of this 21st-century world. I’m penning this on a Saturday morning with the rain coming down – not helping my mood. Three things are on my mind – my pupils’ pessimism about their futures, my NQTs’ pessimism about their job prospects, and my own pessimism about the value society seems to place on education. Talking to a group of my S1 pupils recently – bright lively young minds who have been infected by the malevolent prospects of university fees, fewer jobs, longer working lives and who are already worried about their own and the planet’s future. Life should not be like this when you are 12. I’m just as saddened for the current crop of NQTs – bright lively young minds who desperately want to teach in their own country’s schools. I had over 50 applications for a Mathematics post recently and would have taken four of the seven interviewees without hesitation. Yet I hear that only 20 per cent of our NQTs are in full-time employment. That is a national scandal and a colossal waste of talent – they’ll head off to other climes and other occupations if we don’t get this sorted. Anne Ballinger, General Secretary of the SSTA, suggested a moratorium on recruitment till this is sorted. I think that is not practicable – university departments would have to close and the demographics do mean that an ageing workforce will need to be replaced.

And here we come to a supreme irony that we are proposing public sector staff, including 36 Holyrood 27 June 2011

Alasdair Allan. “Most of what I will say will be about

college reform,” Allan told the room of over 150 sector representatives in Edinburgh. “Not a description of what reform will look

like, but rather a clear indication of why, in our view, reform must be at the top of the agenda.” In his first address to the colleges sector since being appointed, the Allan certainly made an impression. Te newcomer was keen to show that he understood and respected the value of

“Colleges are having to

reposition themselves, in some cases, dramatically so”

the sector to Scotland. He paid respect to the “thousands of years of collective experience” in the hall “in delivering learning opportunities to those who need them most”. “As your minister, I recognise and value that

hugely valuable resource,” he added. But even in this debut, Allan was not afraid to spell out his vision for the sector. And against the current economic backdrop, that involves

new ways of working to deliver maximum efficiency. “Like every other area in these very

difficult economic times, colleges are having to reposition themselves, in some cases, dramatically so, and having to look at how they can make significant efficiencies,” he said, acknowledging the difficult decisions institutions are facing. Te need to do the same with less should

now be “self-evident”, Allan added. He pointed to two “beacons” exemplifying this approach: the merger of three colleges last year to create City of Glasgow College and the recent moves towards merger by Stevenson College Edinburgh and Jewel & Esk College. And with that he issued a subtle warning: “Tis is an area of activity in which ministers will have no option but to take a much closer interest. “Past administrations have allowed huge

latitude to colleges on their approach to merger, consistent with the economic circumstances of the time. However, we might need to seriously question whether the same latitude is quite so affordable in current circumstances, particularly if it leaves open the possibility that we might not always be identifying and pursuing opportunities for

teachers, work for longer till their retirement, keeping these younger staff out of jobs. Do you really want 5 year olds and rowdy teenagers taught by struggling 65 year olds? Not so much Goodbye Mr Chips as Stay On Creaking Hips. There is no doubt that children respond better to younger staff. A national change fund to allow a number of staff to go early would help our NQTs. I’m also shaking my head at several submissions to Professor McCormac. COSLA appears to think that it is open season on teachers’ conditions of service and Glasgow raised eyebrows when it suggested that NQTs should only be paid £10,500 a year. This is not the way to attract people to the profession and raise standards. Feelings are running very high among EIS members that they should not have signed up to the last SNCT agreement and their recent conference decision to hold a ballot on industrial action in November should be of concern to everyone in Scotland. School is not a form of unpaid childcare – it is the foundation for all our futures. We need a highly qualified and flexible workforce in an era of globalisation. If COSLA does not value teachers in their workforce, they should realise that many teachers will question if local authorities should remain in charge of education – how are you adding value? The Cameron review on Devolved School Management posed some very pointed questions about inequalities of funding to schools across authorities. Schools in Scotland do not just deliver education but also social policy and glue a lot of communities together. I do not know what the new SNP administration intends for education nor what Professor McCormac will recommend. I do think that we all need to take a collective deep breath and ask how the present antagonisms can be resolved or the benefits of the last ten years will be needlessly thrown away – and my S1 pupils’ futures will get ever bleaker.

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