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Last month Edinburgh’s Education Committee discussed its reorganisation of secondary school management structures.  By March 2013, the council will have reduced its the 408 Principal Teachers, who previously constituted school middle management, to 206 Curriculum Leader posts.
Savings of £2.4 million are estimated, partly achieved by early retirements, partly by individual PTs not seeking appointment to the new posts.
The authority claims that the move will support the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence.  That remains an untested hypothesis.
It is also claimed that pupil attainment has remained ‘positive throughout the period of implementation’, a meaningless assertion in respect of future outcomes.  Since most of the teaching which supported the sustained attainment was under the traditional subject system, it might be argued that it should take the credit.  It asserts that it will provide job opportunities for newly qualified teachers: possible but, compounding McCrone, with decreased promotion opportunities.
In larger schools, with a higher allocation of Curriculum Leader posts, the faculty system can work reasonably well.  Science or Social Subject departments have been common for some time.  In smaller schools however, with minimal allocations of promoted posts, the problems are real.  This move may well be another nail in their coffins.
There are other issues.  Joining PE and Home Economics under the spurious connection of health and well-being or linking Religious and Moral Education with Pupil Support (on the basis of the content connection between social education and RME), create faculties with little rationale other than managerial convenience.
The move to faculties is occurring across Scotland, indeed across the English-speaking world.  The de-prioritisation of the traditional subject department is part of a greater epistemological shift, a move away from an emphasis on specific areas of knowledge and towards the application of skills across intellectual boundaries.
By and large, we should welcome that.  For too long teachers defined themselves by their subject area.  They were physicists or historians or artists who happened to teach rather than teachers with a specialism in physics or history or art.  Schools require to link learning across intellectual disciplines, not just for Curriculum for Excellence but such links should transcend faculty arrangements.  As an English teacher, I wanted, at different times, to connect what I was teaching with learning in science or art or history, none likely to be in a faculty with English.
My concern centres on the development of teachers and of their intellectual expertise.
I recently addressed Edinburgh University’s post-grad secondary students.  I was impressed by their bright, enthusiastic and professionally reflective approach but they will miss out on what was a key element in my early professional development, a supportive, informed Principal Teacher from the same intellectual background as myself, whose professional routines and daily experiences were the same as mine and who understood my job (and its problems) in detail.
The move to curriculum leaders emphasises management skills as the essential criteria for promotion.  Teachers do require skilled managers but the essence of our professional integrity is that school managers (middle or senior) must also be skilled and insightful teachers and unless we move, in secondary schools, to generalist teachers, much of the skill will be rooted in the subject discipline.
It parallels the UK government’s reform of the benefits system, something essential but for which worse timing – when jobs are scarce – could not have been imagined.
The move to faculties has been impelled by the need to cut costs.  Otherwise local authorities might have devised a more holistic scheme, geared to educational improvement rather than managerial and budgetary convenience.  Some serious thought is still required to get this one right.
The above article was first published in Holyrood Magazine on 11 February 2013 

One Comment

  • Hi Alex
    there has been a bit of chat over on twitter about your blogpost – folks who are in the role seem to wholeheartedly agree with you. For me I can see how the FL/CL/CM role can have a place within a new CFE school structure, but perhaps in addition to, not in place of subject specific PTs. The practice of randomly aggregating departments for management convenience with no explicit pedagogical rationale seems to be questionable, to say the least – but school leaders have the power and autonomy to make these decisions pretty much regardless of any other bodies; parent councils, local authorities etc if push comes to shove, and even if it doesn’t!
    My other concern is how can early leadership be supported and developed – when the experience gap between an early stage teacher who shows an interest in taking on and developing leadership responsibility, and a faculty/curriculum leader or manager is so wide? What should the less experienced teacher be aspiring to in the way-stages along the path of leadership development, and – an awkward but important question – how should they be rewarded for any extra responsibility they take on that their peers may not?
    The FL/CL/CM leadership development path is also constraining, especially when there may be, for example, an “unpromoted” teacher who may have fulfilled a developmental role outside the school environment at local or national level. Their leadership, pedagogical and professional knowledge and experience are likely to have been enhanced by this role, but how can that professional learning gain be then capitalised upon back in school, if there are no way-stage roles for them to fulfill, and be rewarded for between class teacher and faculty manager?
    I think we might be reaching a time where budgetary strangleholds at local authority level, (who are straight-jacketed by council tax rise embargos from government, let’s not forget)are disabling the profession from doing what we are signed up to do – engagement with policy (TSF – every teacher a leader/CfE/ etc) maybe everyone just needs to come clean about it. Not that that would help much – anyone else got any other ideas? 🙂

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