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Inside Track Focus

“I think it’s another example of central action of an ignorant nature,” he says. “I’m not saying paraprofessionals are not useful, in fact I think they are. But I think the idea of introducing an untested idea on a national scale is not smart. And what we’re seeing is the wholesale destruction of teaching assistant posts. Tese are the kind of decisions which are much better taken at a local level. Headteachers can judge for themselves what the appropriate balance is between professionals and paraprofessional staff.” Te report does recommend headteachers should decide whether the specialist should be left alone with a class. But it stops short of giving full autonomy to schools with the inclusion of the provision that the GTCS – funded by teachers – should go some way to vetting these experts. While the report insists “external experts” are “not driven by potential financial savings”, others would disagree. Earlier this year the decision by Renfrewshire Council to suggest volunteers could supervise certain lessons in primary schools instead of teachers, sparked outrage. Te plan was dumped after teaching unions and parents described it as a “disgraceful” way of saving money. Revitalising Continuing Professional

Development (CPD) was always going to be one of the biggest challenges for McCormac. Under McCrone, a contractual annual 35 hours of CPD was introduced, to keep teachers abreast of developments like other professionals. Former HMIE head Graham Donaldson, in his January review of teacher education, endorsed the McCrone approach, saying this element of teachers’ contracts made them the “envy of their counterparts internationally.” It was to lead to continuing improvement of their skills, but Donaldson said implementation had been “patchy”. With the Curriculum for Excellence CPD is

even more relevant today. In a leaked COSLA submission to McCormac in May, and to the dismay of unions, the umbrella body proposed an extension of the teacher year, but not the pupil year. It wanted extra CPD days delivered in a block, rather than individual days which may cause disruption to parents. At the time, Ronnie Smith slammed the proposal, saying: “If [councils] think they can slash and burn CPD budgets and then ramp up the volume of CPD by lengthening the working year for teachers, that’s a cul-de-sac taking them nowhere.” McCormac considers the teaching year quite long enough. Instead he says teachers should engage in a “revitalised process of professional review and personal development which should be implemented consistently and on a national basis.” Also, he has kept the guaranteed year for all new teachers, implemented under McCrone. “I think CPD for teachers was a major step forward in professional standards ten years ago, but it does need to be reenergised,” says Lord McConnell. “So on those and other issues, I hope this report produces action.” Te worst fears of unions and teachers have

30 19 September 2011 Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale

been allayed by McCormac’s remarkably diplomatic report. But as Ronnie Smith says, its launch came at an “inauspicious time” when teachers feel “increasingly beleaguered.” He continues: “Te profession is feeling pretty bruised from the spring ‘Agreement for Jobs’ which decided to prioritise jobs, but knock £45m off the payroll. And proposals to reorganise pension packages, which will potentially make a £38m hole in teachers’ pockets – at the end of three years we’re looking at something like an additional £90m contribution programme for teachers. If you take that in the context of the two-year pay freeze, while inflation is as high as it is, it means a real reduction in living standards. Te Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA)

Excellence. Te SSTA has been at loggerheads with Mike Russell over one or two issues. Tere’s not a particularly friendly atmosphere at the moment. I have a little sympathy for the unions because things have to change – I think there’s a lot of pressure on them. But at the same time, I totally refute that any form of industrial action helps anybody at all. I think it just worsens the situation.” Negotiations will now begin, although any changes to conditions will have to be agreed by the Negotiating Committee for Teachers. Unsurprisingly, Education Secretary Mike

“I think CPD for teachers was a major step forward in professional standards ten years ago, but it does need to be reenergised”

dismissed McCormac’s report as “plain silly” and a waste of taxpayers’ money. Its head, Jim Docherty, said the union rejected the review’s findings, saying it indicated the committee had little real understanding of a teacher’s role. Indeed, while the evidence was being collated grumbles from other camps were heard over the absence of a practising classroom teacher on the review panel.

Later this month, the EIS will begin balloting its members on strike action over changes to their pensions. “Te unions are quite fractious now,” says Liz Smith. “Te unions feel they’ve undergone considerable change in the last five years, not least because of the Curriculum for

Russell welcomed the report and said he had already contacted the various interested parties to discuss the findings. He said: “Tese recommendations need to be given full and careful consideration as I believe they can make an important contribution to the work to develop our teaching workforce.” And Professor McCormac himself seems confident that his investigation will influence the education sector in a positive way.

“Our recommendations reinforce good practice,” he says. “Our advice on contact time will increase flexibility in the teaching profession, and revitalising professional development will enhance teacher education, further improving the quality of teachers in Scotland.” But as with many independent reviews, the unions remain suspicious of the findings. Tere is no attempt to force teachers to work longer and councils have been given short shrift over plans to get teachers to slash some of their holidays for training. But some of the more controversial strictures could blow in a cold wind for the Government as it prepares to negotiate with unions over McCormac and pensions this autumn.


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