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Teachers don't need spoon-feeding, just right tools to get on with the job

Doug Marr is correct in referring to the interim results of the EIS senior phase Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) survey as "dispiriting" and "concerning" ("Why classroom teachers need to step up to the plate", The Herald, February 16).

It is rather disappointing that he then appears to play the blame game by suggesting classroom teachers are opponents of change given that we have done all that we realistically can to promote the aims of CfE and support on-going, effective implementation across sectors while always consistently highlighting the need for change to be properly resourced – and for the implementation timetable to be realistic.

It is not the blame game that lies at the heart of the interim findings or the final results to be published this week. The EIS repeatedly warned the timetable for the implementation of the senior phase was too rushed and there should be a one-year delay in the introduction of National 4 and National 5 qualifications. While we were the only organisation to make this call, the EIS – and Scotland's teachers and lecturers – have done all that we can to support CfE delivery in line with the Scottish Government's timetable.

The clear message from survey responses is that the Scottish Government, local authorities, Education Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority must keep their end of the bargain by delivering the information, support and resources to enable delivery of the CfE senior phase.

And it is not only unpromoted classroom teachers who feel the need to draw attention to senior phase issues. A large percentage of senior managers (including headteachers working on a day-to-day basis with their staff on CfE delivery) highlight in their own survey responses that they too share the concerns of class teachers over the implementation timetable, lack of information and support, workload and the consequential build-up of stress on staff.

What does lie at the heart of these interim findings is how Scottish teachers and lecturers perceive themselves to be responsible professionals whose skills and abilities are indeed crucial to effective implementation. The findings speak volumes about what we really need – not spoon-feeding but the necessary tools to get on with the job of teaching and supporting our pupils and students.

Kay Barnett,

Convener,

EIS Education Committee,

Moray Place, Edinburgh.

I find it difficult to accept a former headteacher could maintain such idealistic views on the potential of the classroom teacher in Scotland.

Doug Marr constructs a picture of increasing expectations from responsive teaching staff based, it seems, on the confidence that if you keep encouraging teachers to believe they can and should be more proactive, reflective professionals they will wake up as if from a dream and it will be so. It seems they are expected to regenerate themselves at regular intervals like Doctor Who.

The fact is the average teacher is often average. A few are very average. Any proclamation that it should be otherwise, without a radical change of input from all sides, has shown itself consistently to be an unsustainable fantasy. I view the dissolution of our Scottish colleges of education in this respect an own goal which undermined the profession and the many aspirations it had.

The modern teaching and learning process is so complex and embedded with accountability that experts are required in each facet of developing areas such as assessment, curriculum structuring and planning. Teachers require specific forms of practitioner support and proven advice and any notion this can be dismissed as spoon-feeding does not help teachers climb their current precipice.

If you go to your GP you would be astonished if they went into a corner with a mortar and pestle and started making up your prescription from raw chemicals. Yet, I believe, the CfE broadly presents the equivalent challenge for teachers and Doug Marr seems in his article to find the situation agreeable. I consider that we expect both as a society and through Education Scotland far too comprehensive a skills range from our teachers.

The issue of pressure on the teaching profession is partly fuelled by the culture of universities ultimately calling the shots. They seem to subtly and ingeniously influence school aims through their implicit claim that success cannot begin without batches of Higher Grade passes. The consequence is that teachers are forced to retail the curriculum as if it were a commodity. Since the curriculum should be the medium for learning and not the other way around, pupils and their teachers are being measured against the wrong units of success. The "step up to the plate" should be a stride not a step at all.

Bill Brown,

46 Breadie Drive,

Milngavie.

Doug Marr uses football to attempt to make his point that the success of CfE rests with classroom teachers. I would not entirely disagree with that premise. Permit me to continue the analogy.

Teachers sitting in the dressing room before being summoned to the football pitch have trained and planned for the game. Now they walk on to the pitch to discover the referee is a cricket umpire and the assistant referees have been trained in baseball. The teams emerge from the tunnel and there is a flurry of missiles launched from the baying crowd. Management can't afford police presence or stewards. They can provide statistics from surveys that demonstrate the improvement in real terms of crowd behaviour emanating from the point at which arresting for assault and breach of the peace was "discouraged". This success story has been built upon by allowing miscreants a free seat in the main stand in the interests of inclusion.

Kick-off and the playing area has not been lined off (this allows free expression). There are no goal areas (this gives less skilled players the feeling of success as they batter the ball anywhere).

In the chaos the manager shouts advice about flexibility, inclusion, attainment, learning and teaching. The words come freely but are not connected; just confident, loud and knowledgeable. The beautiful game right enough.

Alan McKenzie,

Acting General Secretary,

Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association,

14 West End Place,

Edinburgh.

Doug Marr is only partly right that success of the CfE depends on the abilities of teachers to change and learn. Without a suitable organisation, management and premise even the best teachers are limited in what they can do.

A system which requires teachers to undertake large amounts of administrative work, deal with behavioural problems and suffer abuse or harassment, will not attract creative and innovative people or retain those it does. Other professionals are not required to serve people who abuse them or restrain these (they have security staff). Teachers must do so.

Schools have never been a cost-effective means of education. Most of what we learn happens in our earliest years, outside of school, and after we have left it. About 70% of what is learned in school is forgotten within two years and is obsolete. That so few engage in life-long learning, preferring self-indulgence and entertainment, says little for schools.

There is a parallel with health. Despite the huge costs of medical services, levels of good health are low and getting worse. We accept the NHS cannot make most people healthy Why assume schools can educate everyone? Many people don't care about the health of their children. They are unlikely to care about their education.

While the CfE aims to make learning more amenable and useful it may not succeed. Some teachers think about 25% of children are unsuited to schools. Whether that will be changed by the CfE is doubtful.

Depending on schools and teachers to achieve much better levels of education is as unrealistic as expecting hospitals and doctors to achieve much higher levels of health whatever the policies and targets. In both services bureaucracy, mismanagement and low morale are rife.

There is a need to explore other ways of improving education and health, closely linking the two. This needs more thinking outside the box than was required to design the CfE.

John Munro,

68 Buccleuch Street,

Glaagow.

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