A pledge lacking in principals

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I write in response to last week’s article entitled “SBC ‘breaking demoted teachers’ pay pledge”, dealing with Scottish Borders Council’s attempts to renege on assurances given to former principal teachers (PTs) stripped of their promoted status during implementation of the Transforming Children’s Services (TCS) initiative.

My partner is one of the unfortunate former PTs in question and I was a teaching employee of SBC for around 15 years, having worked as a full-time member of staff and latterly as a supply teacher, and have witnessed the fall-out from the TCS initiative in a number of schools and within various faculty departments.

The former PTs are the innocent victims in an ill-conceived and badly-managed cost-cutting exercise who appear to have been misled from the outset.

Within my partner’s school, PTs sought and were given assurances from the head teacher that salary status would remain unchanged, regardless of whether they were successful or not in applying for the new faculty head posts, or indeed if they took the decision not to apply for these new posts. I believe similar assurances were given by head teachers throughout SBC’s secondary schools, and one can only conclude that this was the council’s stated position.

When rumours of a U-turn on this position were first mooted, due to similar restructuring taking place in other regions where conservation of salary was not being promised, council leader David Parker wrote in a letter to then MSP Jeremy Purvis that despite what may be happening in other local authority areas, “salary conservation secured as a result of TCS or other Borders-specific initiatives will remain in place”. In addition, education director Glenn Rodger wrote to Michael Moore MP stating that he was “happy to confirm” that “salary conservation secured through this process will be honoured”.

For Councillor Parker to now say that he made an error “in good faith”, as if he did not know any better is appalling. Surely “good faith” involves honouring a commitment made in writing, not rescinding a promise made to staff undertaking enormous changes in their work status and reversing promises previously made with complete clarity.

I am concerned also that there may be a perception that these former PTs have landed on their feet and are now sitting pretty with inflated salaries for doing the same job as unpromoted colleagues – a gross misrepresentation which, I’m sure, SBC would be happy to propagate.

The reality for my partner – and others in the same position that I am aware of – is that they find themselves in the most unenviable of positions and are, of necessity, still effectively doing the job of a PT rather than see subject departments which they have worked hard to build up over many years deteriorate.

This is a very real outcome in many cases under the realities of the TCS faculty system – and I have personally witnessed numerous examples, some quite horrendous, of what is an inherently-dysfunctional system. This is not to undervalue the work put in by the faculty heads – I have seen for myself hard-working faculty PTs giving 110 per cent in striving to make the new system work.

But with the best will in the world the remit and scope of the job is unrealistic. The disparate and sometimes downright illogical subject groupings under the faculty system create this situation through the flawed core assumption that a non-subject specialist – i.e. the faculty PT – can effectively manage the day-to-day running of a subject department distinct, sometimes glaringly so, from their own.

It is quite clear that vital areas such as curriculum development, internal exam preparation, mentoring and supporting student teachers and NQTs, and providing guidance and material for supply staff are areas at risk of being neglected, or at best loaded onto the shoulders of already-overworked unpromoted staff.

It is against this background that where a former subject PT is still present – as in my partner’s case, and I know of others in the same position – they find themselves, as professionals, with little alternative but to continue with these PT duties while operating in an information vacuum, with the added pressure of being on the minimum free time allowance for unpromoted staff and with no recognition of this situation by senior management.

The implications of TCS have been hugely demoralising to these former PTs.

Notwithstanding the loss in both status and prospects for career advancement, the salary cut is the final kick in the teeth and no doubt represents a looming financial crisis for many of those concerned, including my own family. The scale of the salary cut in question puts at risk our mortgage and we are now being forced to actively seek employment outwith the Borders, with the attendant upheaval that this brings.

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