Losing Our faculties?


This Thursday teachers in Scotland who are members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) will be taking strike action in pursuance of a pay claim. Some, in the world outside teaching, may mutter “You’re aye on strike, you lot,” but that would be quite incorrect. Scottish teachers have not taken strike action over pay since the 1980s. Some others might also mutter that teachers are already well paid. My salary at the point of retirement last month, after 38 years in the profession,  was £42k p.a. I leave it to your judgement as to whether or not that it ‘well-paid’. I suppose it depends who you compare it with.

In my experience, though, teachers’ complaints about pay are often a bellwether of their general feelings as to how they are valued. They often reflect a sense of general dissatisfaction; that teachers are, to use a fine Scots word, scunnered. Why, you might ask, are they scunnered? I think there are several inter-related factors and it may take me a few blogs to unravel them but today I’d like to deal with the faculty structure that has been introduced by many local authorities into secondary schools.

A little history first. Until about fifteen years ago secondary schools were organised in terms of subject departments, each of which was managed by a Principal Teacher (PT). I was a Chemistry teacher so I was a member of a Chemistry department managed by a promoted PT of Chemistry. Likewise for other subjects on the curriculum. The PT was responsible for ensuring that course materials were available for teachers, for dealing with disciplinary referrals, for making sure that all was in readiness for pupils taking SQA exams and so forth. The PT was invariably a specialist in their departmental subject.

Then things changed. In most local authorities subjects were grouped into faculties with one Principal Teacher in charge of a number of subjects. Sometimes the PT is not a specialist in any of the subjects taught in their faculty. Local authorities claimed that this would result, as if by magic, in improved educational outcomes for students and greater autonomy for teachers. Research reported in  recent article  in the Times Educational Supplement, however, calls such assertions into question and the interim edict sought by the EIS to prevent the introduction of faculties by Dundee suggests that all is not well.

Some possible causes of dissatisfaction around the faculty system are not hard to intuit and centre around workload. Where, under the departmental system, there was a PT for each subject, under the faculty system a single PT is responsible for several subjects. Inevitably, then, the workload of a faculty PT is significantly greater than on a departmental PT. They have a greater number of disciplinary referrals to deal with. They have a greater number of reports to read. They have a greater administrative load. They have more classroom observations to conduct, more teacher interviews to conduct. The list, if not endless, is lengthy. On a personal note, I unsuccessfully applied for a faculty PT post when they were first introduced. I now feel I dodged a bullet there and, having seen what the job entails, have never applied again.

The problems with workload, though, are not restricted to PTs. Unpromoted staff have also been clobbered with more to do. As the PT of a faculty is not a specialist in most, or any, of the subjects taught by those they manage, responsibility for dealing with subject-specific aspects of what used to be the subject PT’s job have now been devolved to unpromoted classroom teachers. In particular, but not exclusively, tasks involved in creating and managing subject resources, arrangements for examinations and so forth have tumbled onto the desks of classroom teachers. 

The upshot of all this is that PTs are overwhelmed, especially as recommendations from HMIE etc regarding the tracking and monitoring of students has increased their administrative burden, and that unpromoted teachers are carrying out duties that used to overtaken by PTs without promoted status and without additional remuneration. Far from granting classroom teachers greater autonomy, they are now overwhelmed with a workload that limits their time to be creative, to reflect on their practice and to plan interesting and innovative lessons. 

A few months ago the Scottish Government launched its National Discussion on Scottish Education. The organisation of schools, the workload and career structure of its teachers, and the way in which they are managed  must, in my opinion, be part of that discussion. Maybe we should lose faculties and return to departments. For my part I felt from the beginning that moving to a faculty structure was a mistake on the part of Scottish education. I have seen nothing since to alter my opinion.