Education: No longer a family affair

Howard Salisbury is the son of two dedicated headteachers, but there's no way he will be following them into the profession - not with the long hours, the underfunded facilities and the lack of respect
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The Independent Culture
AS THE son of two successful headteachers, one of whom was knighted for his services to education, you would think that I would be attracted to a career at the chalkface. In fact, like many contemporaries who have just completed A-levels, I cannot think of anything worse. My friends and I have three dreamy years at university to look forward to, and perhaps we have started to think more seriously about what we want from our lives. Why is it then that the idea of becoming a teacher seems so unappealing?

My own first-hand experience of how hard teachers work, or at least good teachers, has helped to dissuade me. My parents leave the house early and return late most days. They deal constantly with peripheral issues which seem far removed from teaching or raising achievement. Often they appear handcuffed by the way education has traditionally operated and though my parents are the type who become more determined when faced with hostility or complacency, the present system must anaesthetise many teachers from doing their best.

My friends agree the job appears to entail too much work for too little reward. Their own experience of uninspiring teachers seems to be a major influence on how they feel, and that is also true in my case. There were a number of teachers at our old school, a generally middle-class comprehensive in Nottinghamshire, who appeared to have drifted into the job without any real love of young people and what they can achieve. I sometimes regret persuading my parents never to apply for jobs at my school as many of those who taught there helped to prove George Bernard Shaw's adage that "those who can, do and those who cannot, teach" - a maxim that has never ceased to annoy my mother and father.

It will continue to be the case that as long as bright, creative and dedicated people turn away from education, their places will be filled by those who use this crucial position as a means of getting by. Surely, in any sensible society, the ones who teach should be those who are the very best at their chosen subject.

The most dedicated member of the profession I know is my mother, who has been the headteacher of King Edward VI school in Nottinghamshire for 18 months. The job, particularly at this early stage, can be all consuming. When I rang my parents the other evening at 8pm I discovered my mother was still at work trying to persuade an architect to assist her in gaining a lottery grant for repairs to the dilapidated, 16th century building at the school. Conversation around the family dinner table later revealed a day that required one or other of my parents to deal with a violent 11-year-old, negotiate a finance meeting, handle an irate parent and then judge an Ugly Bugs fancy dress contest, where any decision is bound to cause tears.

Attracting people into teaching probably does involve money. We tend to judge the importance of a profession on how much we think people earn from it - sad but true. As teachers earn less than doctors they have less status than doctors. Perhaps performance-related pay would be an answer, rewarding work done outside the normal day, such as extra music or sport sessions.

There is a great deal that one can get out of the job: the pay is reasonable, the holidays are good and the gratification from knowing you have significantly changed a child's life is immeasurable. This last reward is by far the most significant. It is estimated that a good teacher can positively influence 15,000 lives in a career. I have lost count of the times I have been shopping with my parents only to be stopped by an ex-pupil, sometimes with a family of their own, who tells my mother or father how much they affected their lives.

The sadness is that I struggle to think of a teacher who I would bother to speak to if I saw them in Sainsbury's. "You never forget a good teacher!" goes the slogan, but equally you never get over a bad one. It's not the best recipe for encouraging the next generation of teachers.