Rejection by members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) of possible changes to working conditions surprised few in or out of the profession.
To most onlookers, the proposals for greater flexibility must have appeared innocuous. However, 59% of those who took part in the consultative ballot on changes to the 2011 McCormac agreement on teachers' duties and conditions felt sufficiently threatened to reject the proposals.
Leading up to the ballot, the EIS website was even-handed in carrying the cases for acceptance and rejection of the proposals. However, the case for rejection suggested the proposals were "potentially the thin end of the wedge ... the door is open for our employers to come back in the near future seeking ever more flexibility". Since when did flexibility become a dirty word? The world is changing so rapidly that those in the education profession need to be among the most flexible and lightest on their feet if they are to effectively prepare our young people for a world that becomes unrecognisable in ever-shorter cycles.
The proposed flexibility could have resulted in teachers, at times and depending on circumstances, teaching more hours than contractually stipulated. Those extra hours would be "paid back" in the weeks to follow. In days gone by I have had the unpopular task of "inviting" colleagues to cover for absent staff. Most were very helpful.
Occasionally however, a teacher would decline the invitation to cover a class in his/her own department because to do so would have taken him/her below the non-contact threshold for the week. There was little alternative but to extend the invitation to a non-specialist with hours left on the clock. It was the youngsters who were the losers.
I sometimes fantasised about the non-flexible teacher reporting to hospital to be told that the cardiologist who was to carry out their heart surgery had reached his maximum hours for that week but a dermatologist had a couple of spare hours. The aversion to flexibility has implications far beyond conditions and duties. We are in the midst of curriculum change that could and should have a major impact on what goes on in classrooms, particularly in the secondary sector.
Despite the importance of the reforms, there is little sign of transformational change in what and how young people learn. Former colleagues are frustrated that professional dialogue about learning is stuttering in the face of recurring debates on how many assessments can dance on the head of a pin.
Without too much imagination the secondary sector can be likened to the restrictive practices and demarcation of British industry from the 1950s to the 1970s. The subject curriculum is still something of a closed shop. The curriculum is still largely organised and delivered in traditional, watertight compartments.
Too often youngsters are unable to transfer and use learning between one compartment and another. I recall one youngster telling me he didn't use a graph to record experimental data because that was "maths not science".
Attempts at curricular integration have usually foundered on inadequate rationale, low teacher commitment and backwash from the exam system. We have yet to recognise that people other than teachers have valuable knowledge and skills of the outside and modern worlds that would strengthen learning in school.
While recognising teachers' fears about "dilution", there is surely scope for them to work beside professionals from other walks of life with unique and specialised skills. Who knows more about the oil industry, for example? The person who has spent a lifetime in that industry or someone who has gone from school to university and back to school?
If our children are to receive the education they require and deserve, boldness and, yes, flexibility are required. The education system cannot stand immune from global social, economic, technological and demographic change. After all, even the handloom weavers eventually accepted that there might, just might, be different and better ways of doing things.
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