Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Schools Part Deux

As promised, some solutions to the problems besetting our schools. But first - a disturbing anecdote. Whilst the BBC's Newsnight was reporting on the teachers' conference season, they recruited a Teacher of the Year to commentate. The reporter told us how one teacher had been “mooned” in class - a la Bart Simpson. Teacher of the Year's comment: he thought it was fairly funny! Well, in my book, that just about sums up the worth of the Teacher of the Year Awards.

Teaching is hard work. Very hard work. On a day when it was reported that GP's are making 100,000 a year, teaching looks less and less an attractive career to graduates. Unlike most professions, teaching has actually become more difficult as the years roll by. Exhausted, over-age teachers are (quite rightly) queueing up for early retirement. Why should this be so?

Sociology - in one word – and demographics – a bit. The world had changed beyond recognition, sociologically, since my generation was at school. Since the 1960's parents have been able to regulate their reproduction in a way never thought possible by their parents. In the 40's and 50's family size was governed by the vagarities of human reproduction. Invariably families were larger.

What effect did this have on schools? Children arrived at school from the late 60's, 70's, 80's and onwards with a completely different idea of their position within the family and society. Because there were fewer children per family; children became, by definition, a much more precious commodity. Of course, all children are precious. But, this is a recent phenomenon. Previous generations did not become so “attached” to their children for the simple reason that they knew that most of they would die before they reached the age of five. I'm not talking about the Middle Ages! Before WWII and the advent of mass produced antibiotics children died by the millions from diseases now thought to be just an inconvenience. When a child dies of measles today - it's a tragedy. Millions died from measles, influenza, whooping cough, polio, and mumps only 90 years ago and it was an accepted part of the human condition. Children died from blood poisoning after falling down and scratching their knee.

In those circumstances it is not uncaring or reprehensible to contemplate parents who simply could not afford to become too attached to their children. It was not abuse or neglect - simple survival skills. Grief-stricken parents make poor providers for the rest of their offspring.

Teaching the children who did survive in school was, by comparison, an easier task; for they had no real concept of their “importance”. They did not think of themselves as particularly special or unique. They were much more likely to view adults as “law-givers” rather than as objects to be mooned.

Society viewed the children of the 30's, 40's and 50's as raw material to be shaped by the teachers into useful members of the community. After the 60's parents began look on their offspring as unique and a reflection of their own worth. In this new regime teachers were on a loser. Criticising children became synonymous with criticising their parents. Whilst parents could afford to have a few “also-rans” in the family success stakes this was not a problem. But, as soon as children became fewer and more precious, criticism was out. If there was a problem, it was the teacher's fault. Teachers lost their most valuable asset in the classroom - the parents.

I promised solutions. Here's a simple one: put CCTV cameras in every classroom and hold pupils and parents responsible for what the camera discloses about pupil behaviour. Following agreed guidelines and procedures expel permanently pupils who can not meet a minimum of sociability – and do not provide any alternative educational provision. Might get the parents back on board!

No comments: