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Tipping Point

An incredible thing happened last week. The General Teaching Council of Scotland sent its members an email informing them that the fees had been increased by £15, from £50 to £65 a year. And suddenly the world of social media went ballistic with rage. Apoplectic teachers unleashed a firestorming mix of criticism, disbelief, abject disappointment and dejection. They were unhappy at a 30% increase in the fees despite their own meagre pay awards decreasing in value compared to the rise of living costs in the wake of Tory austerity drives. They were angry at reading about how 5 key employees of GTCS all earned above £70000. They were angry at forking out the same cost despite some being part time and being offered no option for a monthly direct debit (one of the excuses given was that it was only an extra £1.25 a month). They were angry because not everyone even used the GTCS professional update system and those that did, didn’t rate it very highly. But also, many were angry because  they simply didn’t seem to know what the GTCS actually does. The GTCS had carried out legitimate consultation and had passed the fee increase with a committee board with teachers in the majority. But that didn’t matter because 1000s of teachers had completely missed it. The only regular engagement that most teachers seem to have with the GTCS (beyond professional update and perhaps achieving professional recognition in an area of teaching) is the wee pint sized magazine that lands on their doormat 5 times a year.

Swept along by this tsunami of discontent I organised a wee snapshot survey using Microsoft Forms on our national Glow network. I wanted to know just how many teachers felt the same way. In a matter of hours the survey hit capacity at its maximum of 5000 responses. Here is a summary of the responses. A full version of the survey is here.


It’s not a positive read. Now, the survey itself is deeply flawed in its architecture (I created and posted it in the space of about a minute before the 9am morning bell) but the manner in which it was pounced on seems to suggest a general malaise within the teaching profession far beyond a ‘mere’ 15 quid. What are we upset about? Well, I can only speak for myself but I’m sick of the continual top down approach to improvement and change since the introduction of the National Improvement Framework. Top down and politically motivated changes are sadly common place in education but the last year has seen a rapid redirection of core educational values. These include the unstoppable momentum towards the death throes of standardised testing and the statutory centralised paternalism of the Governance Review. Matched with vast cuts in local council spending, cuts in support staff and a complete inability to recognise and include teaching grunts (like myself) in the process. Consultations were held during school days (which teachers can’t attend because we are working or there is no supply – and there is no supply because we made supply teaching a second class profession a few years ago. Wow, did they get that wrong!) and Glow Meets were organised (despite the fact that streaming video is often a nightmare for school networks and some LAs don’t even use Glow).

National agencies like the GTCS, Education Scotland and SQA (now, I’m primary but I can tell from Twitter that they’ve not been greatly popular either recently) just can’t seem to engage effectively with their core followers. And the more they dictate, the less we listen. Teacher Leadership is a key driver of the NIF (and there are currently some marvellous efforts from people like the Scottish College of Educational Leadership to raise the bar on this front, and the GTCS’s heart is certainly in the right place with regards to this too) but I just don’t see it on the ground. It’s taken 15 of our Earth pounds to shake a teaching profession, perhaps guilty of sleepwalking into the abyss, to realise the extent to which we may have reluctantly lapped up these changes and constant criticism of our skills and professionalism in the wake of PISA and SSLN results, to say WHIT!? NAE MAIR O YER SHITE! We had reached a tipping point.

There was a hell of a lot of pride mixed in with the indignant outpouring on (predominately) Facebook. I shared and felt their pain. These are teachers who in the same breath were helping a student teacher in the next thread with ideas for their first P7 class or sharing fantastic Robert Burns inspired artwork. We love what we do and given the right rules and conditions of engagement we will share and magpie our skills and ideas to the best of our ability. Professional update happens everyday on Facebook and Twitter.

It will be interesting to see what happens next. I hope the GTCS are listening and stop offering futile excuses like ‘it’s only an extra £1.25 a month’ and ‘many other professions pay much more.’ I actually have a high regard for much of the work they do. But the magazine is unnecessary, the professional update section of My GTCS is paper exercise that no one else sees and the Chief Exec’s salary of £95000 does not reflect an educational culture which is supposedly about ‘equity.’

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Season To Leave: let’s go exploring

Tell your tales, set yours sails, you’re on your way

In January 2001, I left my job as a projectionist at the Cameo Cinema in Edinburgh and set off for the bright lights of Bottrop, Germany to work as a British Council lingua-assistant in a Grundschule (primary school).

I played this song by The Guthries on repeat before I left.

It was a transformative experience. Overnight I became the exotic teaching legend of Herr McLauchlan (not my own definition). As soon as I returned I started the Primary PGCE at Moray House, Edinburgh and the rest, as they say… I have loved my job from day one, and in all honesty have never looked back. Although, I still miss the lazy endless days of watching and discussing films from dawn until dusk.

But another turn is further up the road.

I recently got married and I am moving to China.

It’s a mental sentence to absorb but I do like saying it out loud. People either guffaw out loud thinking I’m joking or just stare awkwardly in disbelief. My partner is a journalist with the BBC and has got a new job in Beijing. In March of this year the family unit is moving out to start a new chapter. I’m giving up my job and becoming a house dad for a bit. I’ll write about the marriage bit another time.

Truth is, I can’t wait to leave. I’ve been at my current school and house on and off for nearly 10 years. It’s the longest I’ve lived or worked anywhere. The past decade was broken up with a year spent travelling the globe, an 18 month stint as a Development Officer with Education Scotland and a year as a Principal Teacher. I’ve wanted a change of school for a long time, purely because this is a good thing and also because my usual period of living and working anywhere has never been longer than 4 years. Since last June I have applied for lots of promoted posts and had 8 interviews. I was unsuccessful at each and every one of them. I’ve had glowing feedback and been told often I was a close second, which is flattering and soberingly uncomfortable in equal measure, a bit like being told you are only good enough as boyfriend material! It’s a funny old process / ordeal to put yourself through. You feel like part performing monkey (I have amazing answers on the NIF), part fraud (all this stuff I said I did, how good was it really!?), part charlatan (whenever I wear a suit to school, fellow staff assume I am either at a funeral or a job interview) and part reject (here we go again, this is the one, chin up, big smiles, think of your family, this is your day…) More about this another time.

I don’t believe in fate and I hate it when people try to comfort disappointment by saying something was just never meant to be. But I do believe in opportunity and just going for things when they come along. I’ve always been thankful to be in a profession that is flexible and adaptable. I still love being a teacher more than anything else I know, other than being a dad. I’m genuinely not sure what is different about being a husband yet. Too soon to tell on that front! But I can’t wait for a fresh challenge. And I can’t wait to leave.

Days are getting longer
The season’s almost here
It’s the season to leave
but there’s no time to grieve.

I’ve not set any grand goals for blog posts, book reading, album playing for the year ahead. Life is too unpredictable and I’m not sure we genuinely need to set ourselves goals all the time. I’ve been looking backwards (sometimes in anger) for too long recently, cursing my luck and my steadfast inability to change my course. Now I’ve got a reason to leave I feel confident and self assured again. It’s not about the credentials or the salary. It’s all about the challenge and the next steps. It’s a magical world if we want it to be. Let’s go exploring.

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Lochgelly Tawse

 

I started school in 1980. My p1 teacher’s name was Mrs Tullock. I thought she was lovely. At the end of p1 I placed a penny in a tictac box to remember her.

I only remember 5 things about primary 1.

1. I remember getting a gold star for the neatest colouring in of a circle.  It was the most perfectly coloured in circle in the history of that forgotten sport.

2. I was the only person to get an orange snow plough tractor when Santa visited. The rest of the boys got a bus but I was the only one to get a snow plough. Chosen one. Special.

3. Alistair Broadley pooped his pants sitting next to me in class. It was nearly 3 o’ clock. Apparently he couldn’t hold it in and apparently neither did he wish to ask to go to the toilet. So he let it go. The stench and the expression on his face (a mixture of shame and relief) are vividly engraved on my memory to this day.

4. I missed my first ever school trip (to Arbroath) because I had the mumps. Wearing my medical balaclava I stood at the window and waved slowly to my classmates as the bus passed my house. Mrs Tullock even started crying when she saw my sad wee face (or so the legend goes).

5. Mrs Tullock had a Lochgelly tawse in her desk drawer. The tawse was the Scottish education system’s corporal punishment weapon of choice. The Lochgelly tawse is a leather belt with a fringed end. A bit like a bastardised bookmark. Lochgelly is the town in Fife where it was made.  And Mrs Tullock had one in her drawer.

How do I know this? Well, whenever the class got too noisy or chatty she would resort to the one classroom management strategy that she knew worked. In the manner of a benevolent despot, she would slowly open the desk drawer, extract the tawse and place it supremely carefully across the edge of her desk. Then she would slam the desk drawer shut with a confident BAM. The class became acutely sensitive to this sharp awakening and would turn around on our seats to meet our leather nemesis staring us down from the front of her desk. I never received the belt and don’t actually remember Mrs Tullock using it, but all throughout p1 I remained mortally terrified of that bloody tawse.

The belt was banned in all state schools in 1986, remaining legal in private schools until 1998. Next time you moan about the quality of ITE remind yourself that there was never a class dedicated to corporal punishment for teachers who wielded the tawse and other weapons of mass pupil destruction. Buying a tawse was something you did after graduation. Restorative evil.

You can still buy a tawse from the original leather manufacturer in Lochgelly. www.johndick-leathergoods.co.u…

I wonder if Mrs Tullock still has her tawse? I lost the tictac box years a go.

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Let’s get on with it, shall we.

My name is Athole McLauchlan and this blog is my new professional portfolio.

I had a short lived one previously here http://video-school.blogspot.co.uk and a slightly better loved travel blog here http://furry-boots.blogspot.co.uk

I live and work as a primary teacher in Glasgow with my partner Kathy and our two amazing young children, Jamie and Rosalyn.

Why is it called ‘through the windae’? (Through the window)

25851277.jpg-pwrt3One of my favourite Scottish films is Gregory’s Girl, a beautifully observed and hilarious film about teenage awkwardness and football, set in the near-future vision of Cumbernauld in 1980. In one of the scenes, Billy, a school leaver who has returned to the school as a window cleaner, shouts out to his former teacher,

‘If I dinnae see you through the week, I’ll see you through the windae!’

The logo for the site is borrowed from a classic BBC TV programme of my early years called Play School, where each day you had to choose a window to enter and were treated to a short documentary style clip of a biscuit factory, children playing or watching fish in a fish tank.

As a teacher I love the sense of shared adventure and enquiry that teaching and learning can bring. Inspired by Calvin and Hobbes, ‘It’s a wonderful world, let’s go exploring…’

final-calvin-and-hobbes

I am also fascinated by memory. What we remember and why we remember it. What are we doing when learning sticks and what are we doing when it doesn’t?

I also think that play is paramount in learning. Taking risks, getting messy, problem solving, taking your time, experimenting, inventing, creating, collaborating, sharing, day dreaming, thinking, discovering; all the good stuff.

So ‘through the windae’ could mean lots of things: a window to another world; a portal to the internet; different ways to connect; different ways to learn; different ideas to discuss; memories and experiences to share and future visions to dream up.

I have two big brothers. One of them, Neil, died of cancer at the age of 46 in 2010. He also used the catchphrase, ‘If I dinnae see you through the week, I’ll see you through the windae.’ I see him all the time in my thoughts. And miss him still. The last film we watched together was Withnail and I. To quote Withnail,

‘You’re not leaving me in here alone. Those are the kind of windows faces look in at.’

He’s never far away.

Two Christmases before he died, Neil edited and gifted a slowed down version of the colour 16mm footage of my Christening. You can see it here:

The last slide reads:

To Athole

Long life and happiness. Be aye true tae yourself.

As a loving partner, a devoted dad and a dedicated teacher I rejoice in success and learn from mistakes every single day. But I also know that there is work to be done. Another education system, another Scotland and another society for my kids to grow up in is still possible. Let’s get on with it, shall we. Because we’re not there. Yet.