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Politics

How to Wind Teachers Up Daily Mail/ Gove Style

GoveIf ever you find yourself in a pub with a group of teachers over 40, then there is only one possibility as to what has happened. A cruel and vindictive God is punishing you for voting Lib Dem.

To liven matters up and to make things interesting, pose the following statements as fact. Undeniable, empirically proven fact. You read them, in the Daily Mail is your clinching argument.

Exams are too easy. Teachers can’t control kids. A Level is no longer the Gold Standard, and for good measure pay and conditions make the profession the ultimate doss.

On the last point, (assuming you haven’t been chucked out of the door by a bouncer who has been told you are dealing drugs to kids by said teachers) any teacher under 35 won’t remember how exploited their older colleagues were. Until the late 1990’s the pay was absolutely dire. Starting salaries of less than £10,000 in the early 1990’s saw the Major Government use the recession to drive down wages and it wasn’t until the usual pre election giveaway in 1992 that teacher’s pay was brought forward as an issue, and finally in 1998 matters were properly sorted out. This writer saw his take home pay (excluding promotions) increase by nearly 1/3rd in real terms between 1998 and 2003. Rightly so teacher’s salaries finally began to catch up with similarly qualified fellow graduates.

But the best thing that the Blair Government did was to get rid of the mind numbing and economically none sensical tasks that teachers were expected to undertake. Minor administrative tasks such as collecting and counting money, photocopying, typing, putting up displays and chasing attendance plus covering absent colleague’s lessons were a monumental irritation. Collating reports, example could take up a whole weekend, as living rooms became no go areas due to thirty separate piles of paper being complied from hundreds of separate subject reports. Instead New Labour provided cash to employ lots of extra support staff to free teachers up to actually prepare and teach lessons.

The old holiday chestnut is another one if you want to bait a teacher for hours of free entertainment. But the truth is, as any spouse of a teacher will attest to, the working week is totally full on with the average day for a busy person being 7.30 to six with the probability of two nights minimum working at home. Factor in meetings and the such like and you will find over the course of a calendar year teachers do more than their share.

The exams issue is a tough one. If you compare a 1980’s O Level paper with a modern GCSE, and A Level papers from different eras, then yes “standards” are different. But the problem with the old system, and one that Gove wants to re introduce, is that the test was set up to fail all but the brightest. What’s the point of that? As an employer you surely want to know what a potential staff member can do. Otherwise you are taking a punt. The system enormously benefited the lucky few as it ruthlessly eliminated our competitors and actively excluded anyone with a sniff of problems from any chance of success. But it also meant that the UK’s skills base was critically eroded and our overseas competition sailed past us as we explain in the history section of this book.

Gove’s constant carping is like a drip drip torture for parents, staff and students alike. If you are told often enough that something is substandard then you, and everyone else will believe it. The ultimate self-fulfilling prophesy.

This is what The Association of College and Schools leaders had to say regarding Gove’s chipping away at morale. ‘It’s potentially very dangerous to undermine confidence in the system,’ he said. ‘They are working really hard and taking exams that are rigorous.’ They shouldn’t be told that their achievements are not good enough.‘It’s just wrong, it’s morally wrong to undermine their efforts.’ 

Why should a school leaver in 2013 be branded as average when their 2003 counterparts sat the same exams and had their achievements celebrated by a supportive Secretary of State, in this case Charles Clarke, “Today we applaud these good results and praise the candidates and their teachers who have worked so hard to achieve them.”

“Discipline” always goes hand in hand with, “In My Day” and other such hackneyed statements. Ian Botham’s otherwise admirable autobiography contains this ultimate fill in the blanks phrase. “We had corporal punishment back in the day and…”. Yes, you got it first time. “It never did me any harm”.  Those arguments brook no discussion here but it is our experience from both sides of the fence is that kids are no more badly behaved than we were in the 1970’s, it’s just that teachers abilities to deal with smart alec boys and surly girls has diminished. Teachers are taught to plug in their laptop to the interactive whiteboard, deliver a funky lesson and expect the kids to work at full tilt for every single period in the school day. When little Johnny and Janine challenge this inflexible approach, the default position is to appeal to the fact that they are “professionals” and deserve respect based solely on that fact. The best advice is simple. Be yourself and talk to the kids, not at them. Just as you expect from management.   

But above all, keep the faith, don’t listen to the staff room cynics and enjoy working with young people who are, for the most part fab

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About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.

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