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Portfolio Education


the announcement of the Commission on School Reform, headed by Keir Bloomer, suggests Smith recognises the importance of wider support for opposition agendas, such as her call for more decentralisation of school management. Her new leader took this as far as a call for


free schools to be introduced in Scotland. Does Smith share her leader’s ambition? “I hope so. It’s been our direction of travel for four or five years in Scotland and that was not just because we were taken with what Michael Gove was doing down south. Tere have been lots of studies of European countries, particularly of some of the Scandinavian countries. “Tere should be no reason whatsoever that


every local authority and community should have good schools within it,” Smith says. “Tere should be no reason at all – but at the moment I don’t think that the local authority structure is the best provider, because we’ve doubled our spending on schools since 1999 but we’ve not really seen an accompanying improvement in attainment levels.” Another significant reform from south of the


border that Smith would like to see adopted in Scotland is one introduced by the last Labour government – Teach First. Te programme places graduates who wouldn’t normally consider teaching into challenging school settings, while


From the Chalkface Lessons in management


Jim Thewliss of School Leaders Scotland recently opposed the pruning of promoted posts in Scottish schools and the intolerable burden placed on the remaining staff. The process hasn’t been uniform. Several councils


have reduced Depute Head posts in secondaries. Some have also reduced Principal Teacher posts. Dave McClure, Headteacher at Buckhaven High, reckons that Fife has hit the right balance. “The new management structures can be a better arrangement but only where the combination of duties makes practical or educational sense. In Fife we have been working towards a new management model for some years and I do not feel a loss of learning or a loss in the quality of care as a result of our changes.” Edinburgh, however, has forced major changes


through over the last year. The EIS has grave concerns about the impact of restructuring on pupils’ learning, especially at a time when Curriculum for Excellence is radically changing teaching and learning methods. The new public sector managerialism has led several


authorities to establish ‘faculties’, amalgamating traditional subject departments under one (although sometimes more than one) Principal Teacher. The rationale was that it would challenge the secondary subject silo mentality. That certainly was an issue. Some secondary teachers saw themselves as teachers of physics or history or mathematics rather


38 www.holyrood.com 12 December 2011


supporting them to gain the qualifications needed to stay in the profession. It has become one of the best-regarded graduate employers in the UK, and Smith thinks that the time is right, in the wake of the Donaldson review, to bring it north. “Te two attractions are that, firstly, we can attract people to education who can bring a slightly different dimension, especially to youngsters who are perhaps not the most


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a debate about it.” With so many England-based reforms on


Smith’s Christmas list, it bears asking whether she gets frustrated with the education debate in Scotland. Does she feel it is bogged down compared with the rest of the UK? “Yes, I do,” she replies. “I get frustrated for two


“There should be no reason whatsoever that every local authority and community should have good schools within it”


engaged with the education process. Te second thing is that if you look at the success rates of what’s happened in other countries, it has resulted in a great deal of improvement for people from disadvantaged backgrounds,” Smith says, adding that she has lodged parliamentary questions to “ask the Cabinet Secretary if he will consider introducing some [of it], or at least start


reasons; I think the system up here, which is very much a local authority system, where you’ve got 32 local authorities all delivering education on a one-size-fits-all basis, I think that that has seen its time. I think that’s something that came through in the devolved school management report that David Cameron [delivered]. “If you speak to head teachers themselves and


to some of their senior staff, there is a desire to ensure that if you want proper devolved management, you need to give more autonomy and flexibility to heads, particularly at a time when you’ve just introduced Curriculum for Excellence, where the very principles are to allow greater flexibility and greater planning by the school.”


If the school is small to begin with, amalgamated departments are then inevitable. The big change, however, has been economic. The


than teachers of children. Some even saw themselves as physicists, historians or mathematicians rather than teachers and rejected any concept of management since, unless the managers understood their particular subject, they could not gauge how well they were teaching it. These were all problems, but Curriculum for Excellence offered solutions and the old guard, anyway, was a dying breed. The new faculties, rather than challenging subject


silos, are undermining the expertise which secondary subject teachers bring to the job. In some cases, faculties with no intellectual rationale are being created. There has also been resistance from parents, as in the protracted battle over the appointment of a successor headteacher to John Low, who opposed the imposition of faculties at Linlithgow Academy. The issue has been complicated by the


consequences of falling rolls. Many secondary schools, including my former school, have had promoted posts cut because of their falling rolls.


financial cuts have been partly implemented by reducing ‘costly’ DHT and PT posts and by cutting or amalgamating bursar and business manager posts. Fewer people are therefore fulfilling the key management tasks which support and facilitate teaching. My own former school, which once had a head, four deputes, a business manager and a bursar, now has a head and two deputes, a business manager and a bursar but with the bursar post about to disappear also. Senior staff who regularly worked 50 hour weeks now work substantially in excess of that. Rory MacKenzie, recently retired head at Balerno High School, puts it simply: “The extent of the management tasks which require to be done in a school are not determined by its size.” Exams, administration, financial and buildings management, need done in all schools. If the senior staff are reduced they will spend their time on these tasks, and not on improving learning and teaching. The results will be that senior staff will return to


managing schools rather than leading learning; school leadership posts will be increasingly unattractive; young, ambitious teachers will have no realistic hope of promotion; subject content will be further deprioritised; and many of the curricular reforms which the Government has encouraged will fail. Surely not what it or even the councils want.


Alex Wood, a retired headteacher, is an Associate at the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration and a freelance writer


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