I am very proud to be elected as President, particularly at a time in education when our voice needs to be heard as loudly as possible.
We know that educational leadership is well and truly in the spotlight at the moment. Decisions made at national, regional and local levels over the coming weeks and months ahead will have a huge impact on our role as headteachers, deputes and principal teachers. We need to make sure that we voice our opinions with courage and conviction.
I have always wanted to be a teacher and I began my career back in the mid 90’s, graduating from Heriot-Watt University. I have taught in both the independent and state sectors and have had a secondment to the Scottish Government as a Professional Advisor, advising on early years and primary matters. The passion, energy and enthusiasm that I felt in the early stages of my career has never left me, even as my role has changed. The opportunity to make a difference to children’s lives continues to be a real honour. 8 years ago, I was appointed to my first headship as Acting Headteacher of Clovenstone Primary in Edinburgh and then 2 years later, I was appointed to my current role as Headteacher of Paradykes Primary and Family Learning Centre in Midlothian. Earlier this year, I was awarded a Fellowship to the Scottish College of Educational Leadership.
I love my job and I’m very lucky to lead a very committed, supportive and caring team who work hard to provide a nurturing environment for our children to learn, thrive and achieve.
However, in the past few weeks, I have been a janitor, cleaner, dining supervisor, playground assistant, social worker, councillor, behaviour therapist, nurse, learning assistant, finance assistant, receptionist, and supply teacher. What about you? Just like every other member, I spend each day checking in with children, parents and staff to see if they are ok and whether I can do anything to help them. But how often does somebody ask us how we are? And, if a member of our team asks if there is anything they can do to help us, how often do we say no because we know that they already have too much to do themselves.
Colleagues, none of us get up in the morning and plan to do a bad job however due to the ever growing demands upon us, how many of us go home at the end of the day and give ourselves a hard time for not getting our To Do list completed or in fact, even started. I do! Sometimes I wake up in the night and remember that I promised a child that I would catch up with them later to read a story that they were really proud of writing or, that I wanted to check in with a member of staff who had recently been absent and then I found, due to other demands, that I ran out of time to do just that. And then, I give myself a hard time about it. That’s not acceptable is it? We shouldn't have to work like this. Something needs to change and we can’t go on like this for much longer. It is now time for our employers and our Government to take our wellbeing much more seriously. Without that focus we will continue to struggle to recruit and retain school leaders and we will surely fail to achieve the Government’s aspirations for a step change in pupil outcomes.
Now you may have noticed when I listed all of the roles that I have been carrying out over the past few weeks that there was one key role missing. What I had very little time for was leading learning and teaching - the very thing that the government wants us to do.
As the Government states, ‘headteachers should be able to focus on their key business of learning and teaching’. As an Association, we agree with this aspiration of a reformed education system. After all, at the very heart of who we are lies a teacher. Leading learning and teaching must be our number 1 priority if we are going to continue to make a difference and improve the education and life chances of our pupils. The government says that they are determined to provide the support necessary to let us do just that. Well, let's wait and see because I see competing demands ahead such as the role of the named person, the powers and accountabilities within the Head Teacher charter and the increase in inspections to name just a few.
We are a forward thinking, solution focussed association, with a growing membership and an excellent reputation for our support to members and, for our professional learning opportunities. Through the work we do whilst I am President, we want to maintain this reputation and continue to provide appropriate support for each and every one of you. We will continue to work productively and positively with organisations and partners that clearly have the best interests of children and young people at the heart of what they do. The journey ahead will no doubt be rocky and we want to know your views in order that we can represent you as we navigate our way forwards.
If we are going to meet the Government’s aspirations, there are a number of key elements that we require:
Firstly, we deserve the right levels of support to enable us to do our jobs effectively and to prioritise the leading of learning and teaching.
Secondly, we must have fair funding in our schools including the levelling up of our management teams to the same levels as our secondary colleagues, in line with school rolls or, at least we should have the resources in our budgets and the power to decide what roles are most important in our settings. To be clear, I am not saying that secondary schools are ‘over-staffed’, but rather there is a real need for an increase in staffing for nursery and primary teams. A good example of the difference between the sectors is that a colleague recently explained that they had accidentally been sent the staffing formula for a secondary school and, for a secondary in their authority with the same pupil roll as their primary, they would have had seven additional promoted post holders to share the load. Just imagine what improvements could be made with 7 additional promoted staff or in fact, even just 1 more would make a difference.
Another key element that we require is that our terms and conditions should be updated to reflect the ever growing and changing demands of our role and, the acceptance that our wellbeing is vital, if significant improvements are to continue to be made in our schools.
And finally, we know that the 35 hour working week is a fallacy for all of us. We will always go above and beyond to help our children and their families because we care and we want to make a difference. However a natural consequence of the planned changes ahead must be a pay review – I think it is about time isn’t it ?
So colleagues, I look forward to working with you all over the coming months to ensure that our voice is heard loud and clear in our ever changing education system. Whilst we use our voice appropriately to make a difference, let’s not forget all the good work that we already do.
There are thousands of children who turn up each and every day ready to learn. They are taught by inspirational and motivated practitioners who deliver high quality learning opportunities and these staff are led by outstanding deputes and headteachers. Let us not lose sight of the high quality leadership that is already in place in Scottish education and the difference to young people that we are already making. After all, we should never say that someone is just a depute or head teacher, it’s like saying that Clark Kent is just Superman ! When it finally arrives, have a very happy Christmas and a relaxing New Year !