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Another day, another policy change?

It would seem that the Scottish Government, and its Education Secretary John Swinney, are brimming with structural and systemic ideas for change in Scottish education. With their avowed aims of raising attainment and improving equity, they seem determined that they are the ones that will come up with the ideas of how to achieve this, rather than anyone actually working in schools, like teachers and headteachers for instance.

Yesterday, at another run-of-the-mill education conference in Edinburgh Mr Swinney stood up and seemed to promise that, within the new  statutory Headteachers' Charter currently being envisioned and drawn up by the government and Education Scotland, headteachers will no longer have to accept compulsory transfers of teachers, who are displaced from other schools, into their own. In answering a query about what he had said from Keir Bloomer, the chair of the Reform Scotland conference, Swinney stated  that headteachers would be given the ability to choose their own staff in the new Charter, which would mean they were not 'obliged' to take such staff, as was currently the situation in most local authorities.

This is a major change of policy and direction in terms of both education, and workers rights for teachers. There are many reasons why teachers may be subject to compulsory transfer, such as falling school roll, changes in structures and closure of schools. When teachers are employed on permanent contracts with local authorities, they are entitled to be redeployed when employment or personal circumstances change that are beyond their control. Like many headteachers, I have been frustrated by this procedure at times, when I have had to take people into schools I led, who I knew were not the best-fit for the roles I was seeking to fill. But, I accepted that as part of my system responsibility to the local authority, and to the teachers involved.

Sometimes, teachers were subject to compulsory transfer because of a breakdown in relationships, usually with senior leaders, but also maybe with other teachers. Those were more problematic, but if the decision had been taken that the best course of action was for them to have a new start somewhere else, probably for their own wellbeing, and that of their current school, I still saw it as a responsibility to take them, then work with them to help them get back to delivering the best learning they could for their new pupils. Such compulsory transfers should rarely be about underperformance, though I know some headteachers have been guilty of using the system to help teachers 'decide to move on' when they had identified they were not what was wanted in their establishments. To me, this is an abrogation of our professional responsibilities as school leaders to work with all the staff we have, and to ensure their continual development as teachers. Where there are issues of 'underperformance' these should be dealt with using support and procedures laid out by each local authority and the GTCS.

Getting back to Mr Swinney, I wonder if there was any consultation with local authorities, the GTCS, unions and other partners, before his announcement yesterday. After all, it is they, and headteachers, that would have to make any change like this work. Given his past record regarding 'consultations', I would suspect not. There are massive implications for Human Resources and local authorities as teacher employers. Given the government's apparent desire to reduce the influence of local authorities in education, this is hardly surprising.

The trouble with coming up with new ideas, which then are turned into statutory policy, or Charters, someone has to make them work. They need to be ethical, moral and work for everyone, not just some. There are headteachers who constantly moan about the staff they have, but who never look at themselves and what they have done to support and develop the staff they are talking about. I am sure there can be no-one who doesn't recognise the impact of teacher shortages at the present time, and the fact that there are not hundreds of teachers waiting to step into vacancies. as Dylan Wiliam has said before we need to 'love the one your with' in terms of teachers, and school leaders. That is, we have to accept where we all are, and work collaboratively to assist  everyone to get better at what they do. Not one headteacher appoints all the staff they have in a school, unless it is a complete new-build, in an area where no schools have been before. We all inherit staff as we take up post, then may have the opportunity to appoint one or two as we are longer in post. Yes, we all want the best people we can in our schools, but it is our, and the system's, responsibility to develop the people we have, not turf people out, or send them elsewhere, if we feel we can get somebody better.

As it was described yesterday, I don't feel this change is workable within current regulations and guidelines. Pronouncements like this one will just add more pressures and frustrations to headteachers, and they hardly make teaching any more attractive to new entrants. I do wonder if this strategy is yet another step towards more 'Englishfication' of the Scottish system, designed to create issues that will lead to more headteachers and parent councils getting frustrated with local authorities, and becoming an encouragement to push for schools to become more independent, as down in England. I have spoken to headteachers in England who have told me that they can get rid of a member of staff in 6 weeks, if they decide they are 'no longer suited' to the school. This is not a scenario that exists in Scotland and I feel our system is all the better because of it.

Should Mr Swinney's latest proposal go forward, I predict a whole raft of 'grievance' procedures and employment tribunals, which will clog up the system further, divert headteachers and local authority staff, and prove very costly, whatever the outcomes. If we can't behave ethically and treat all our teachers fairly and properly, what messages are we sending out about our values to our learners and our parents?

I have said it before, and I will say it again, if we are serious about improving what we do, we have to support teachers and school leaders to be the very best they can, not introduce less trust and more threats into the system. People are key to what we are all trying to achieve, lets move on a little form low trust, high accountability and a preoccupation with structures and systems.


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