The Celtic Comparison
By Bill McGregor, General Secretary, Headteachers' Association of Scotland (HAS)
One of the great joys of working with SHA is to hear about parallel, or divergent, lines of development on both sides of the border.
Or to put it another way, there's always pleasure to be had listening to other peoples' moans and thinking that perhaps our problems are not so bad after all.
This process works both ways of course. In Scottish educational circles we call it collegiality.
The relationship between HAS and SHA has always been convivial but I am delighted that recent times have seen increasing discussion and hopefully mutually advantageous debates on issues. This has allowed a Scottish perspective to be given to major issues. For instance:
The 35-hour working week
Not to be touched with a bargepole if you can help it. At least we were guinea-pigs here. The Scottish Executive believed that the price to teachers of the salary award at the time of the national agreement was a minimum 35-hour week.
In fact, teachers, and in particular senior managers, were already working far in excess of this voluntarily and so this condition was met with derision within the profession. HAS subsequently measured the average senior manager's working week as 57 hours.
A constant complaint in both north and south. We have been relatively unsuccessful in finding out how the Scottish local authorities have used the cash allocated by the Scottish Executive other than to note the huge discrepancies in allocations to schools of similar size in different authorities.
We have also been fascinated to discover that the minister has fared no better and indeed has asked our assistance in this matter.
Working with local authorities
We have 32 of them for a population of five million and a hint of Stalinism still exists in the traditional Labour heartlands of the West of Scotland. Many are hell-bent on restructuring school senior management teams, this being a euphemism for reducing them in size.
There is a perceived need for reform here but the Scottish Parliament has no taste for the war within the Labour Party that would inevitably ensue. Perhaps it prefers that our frustration continues to be targeted at the monkeys rather than the organ-grinder.
Initial teacher education
We don't have enough students in training to meet our educational minister's rash promise in the last Labour parliamentary manifesto to reduce class sizes to 20 in English and mathematics in the first two years of secondary school by 2006.
There are not enough school experience placements for the present cohort and no one yet has a solution for the demographic time-bomb of teachers approaching retirement age. There is a recognition that something must be done. But the clock is ticking on this one with no progress to date.
Cover and supply staff
We can't get them for love or money. This is a particular problem in the furthermost corners of our kingdom but is a general nightmare for schools in Scotland. Until now the official Scottish Executive line has been a recognition that there may be difficulties in local areas.
However actions by heads to send pupils home because no teachers were available has started to focus minds wonderfully and perhaps, just perhaps, some positive action will result.
The national agreement
This is worth an article or ten on its own. The national agreement was very quickly put together and signed by the then education minister, Jack McConnell to head off potential political embarrassment prior to an election.
HAS did not have meaningful input into this process and the profession now repents at leisure because of the imprecise nature of the agreement.
Some excellent examples of theses weaknesses have been the job-sizing exercise which failed to measure the real areas of work, the aforementioned collegiality for staff and the failure to meet the cost implications of the agreement, in particular with reference to additional administrative support for schools.
You are welcome to Ofsted and son of Ofsted, but are we really better off? Perhaps we can look at the Scottish HMIE inspection model at a later date.
This gives you a flavour of the issues which can be related to affairs north and south. My list is by no means exclusive and can be extended quite considerably without great effort.
With this in mind, I leave you with two final thoughts: We all work, throughout the UK, to maximise learning and teaching for the students in our charge.
And we love to be seen in our kilts at your conferences.
© 2017 Association of School and College Leaders