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February 8, 2011

Thinking the unthinkable

Keir was on Newsnight Scotland again yesterday, together with Ross Martin (Centre for Scottish Public Policy). It was supposed to be about thinking the unthinkable, but actually the film report (which mentioned the idea of a 4-day school week, or children not starting school until age of six) wasn't really discussed in the studio. Compared with the Lockerbie discussion that preceded it, the interview was a model of rational discourse, but it's still hard to get across novel and radical ideas in the space of a few minutes with many interruptions from Isabel Fraser.


You can (until 14 Feb when it's due to be taken down) see the interview here, the film running from minutes 13 to 17 with the studio discussion following. Some interesting facts were presented about Scottish spending: Northern Ireland spends £2544 per primary pupil whereas Scotland spends £4638, and overall Scotland spends £1200 more per head on schooling than England does. These numbers reflect smaller class sizes, which teachers understandably prefer, but they do not result in measurably better pupil performance.

Ross Martin and Keir Bloomer put forward some interesting and workable ideas. Budget cuts need not be entirely negative: they could get people to discuss ideas that would otherwise be unthinkable. But the constraints of broadcast TV make it really hard to pursue difficult ideas. Keir put forward a radical rethink of the management of schools, suggesting grouping Scotland's 2500 schools into clusters which could be managed with greater coherence and much less expense. Savings would be much more scalable than the widely-punted idea of reducing the number of councils. Ross suggested having 4 terms of 10 weeks each and abolishing the random inservice days that disrupt the present schooling.

There is a huge discrepancy between the average hours worked by working parents (35-40 hours for about 46-48 weeks a year), and the maximum pupil contact time of the teachers (now only 22.5 hours per week for 39 weeks a year). Since McCrone, which brought a phased 23% pay rise, teachers get 65 days of paid annual leave as well as preparation time, professional development time and other benefits. The number of attendances in a school year has dwindled to 190 out of the 365. So teachers are teaching children for a maximum of only 7% of the 24/7/365 hours potentially available. In a country where most parents work from perceived economic necessity, not from choice, schooling also has a child-minding function.

With talk of an all-Masters teaching profession, maybe it's time to consider hiring more non-teaching staff in schools, to lead children in activities such as art and crafts, drama, geo-cacheing, music and team-building? Non-teachers may have fewer bits of paper but more specialist enthusiasms and skills – and certainly fewer restrictive practices. Maybe the number of highly trained and qualified teachers needs to be reduced drastically, with more flexible, more available and less expensive adults. "Dilution" is the obvious knee-jerk reaction, but children can learn from lots of different sources, and the old assumption that teachers are the only people from whom children can learn has itself become unthinkable.

About February 2011

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in February 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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