Education letter: Exhausted, underpaid: and that's a good day

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The Independent Online
Anthea Millett (`Why we need to raise our game,' EDUCATION 11 February) needs to come down from her ivory tower and do the very thing she complains teachers do not do: talk to people. Anyone who can assert the belief that the profession is in fair shape is quite simply out of touch. It needs only a small amount of research to demonstrate the reality. The haemorrhage of experienced teachers out of the profession and into early retirement has been so great that the teachers' pension fund is in dire straits and a Berlin Wall has been erected to stem the flood of refugees. Meanwhile, insurance companies have moved teachers into the high-risk band, along with pilots and surgeons. Those are not the signs of a profession that is in fair shape.

It is not promotion which is taking teachers away from teaching. Heads of department usually keep a fairly broad teaching timetable. The blame lies with the ever-increasing bureaucracy imposed by untrusting politicians and the soi-disant educational experts they recruit from their "think" tanks and appoint to their quangos. The time spent on paperwork is stolen from the children.

You cannot write a departmental handbook and simultaneously help your colleagues to work out methods of teaching a knotty topic to a range of classes in ways that fit within their respective teaching styles.

My Oxford English Dictionary not only gives the pronunciation of pedagogy, it also defines it as the science of teaching. Down here in the real world we call it methodology, and we've been talking about it time out of mind. It's what teachers discuss in the staffroom or in their classrooms after school or in departmental meetings. It is the subject of endless courses, it appears in the guidance that arrives with new course books, and these days, of course, we have to write it in our departmental handbooks, possibly under the chapter heading "eggs, grandmothers". Anthea Millett might care to attend fewer conferences and visit some schools. At conferences we tend to clam up: it is hard to talk to those who will not listen.

What has been lacking is funding. New Labour has at last begun to tackle this problem and deserves some thanks for this.

Extra money for schools: at last. Long-overdue repairs: at last. Funding to reverse the decline in music provision: at last. But for teachers, nothing. Nothing but a shabby little contrick of a green paper, promising nothing but the same shabby treatment for the substantial numbers who will not be admitted across the performance threshold, and nothing but extra paperwork and even more overtime for those who do. There is certainly the need to reward performance and offer incentives for success, but flogging a willing horse is not the way to do it. This is just worsened conditions of service, and from experience we know that after a few years the pay will fall away again, but the extra conditions will stay.

Meanwhile, the responsibility for deciding who may cross the threshold may be dumped on the headteachers - hence the sweetener in their recent pay deal - but the financial power will remain with the Government.

No amount of green papers, no number of quangos, no host of new initiatives will avail anybody in the slightest until this, the neglected issue in education, is addressed. Large numbers of teachers, especially female primary teachers, are not coming forward for headship. The TTA proposes to promote the idea of headship as a career in its own right, with a national strategy and yet more training and yet more paper qualifications. Has it occurred to anyone to ask why teachers are not coming forward? Could it possibly be that the job is no longer worth the candle?

Fail to monitor, appraise, assess, evaluate, set targets, get targets and vet targets, and you become liable to the charge that teaching in your school is at the whim of individual teachers to determine in their classrooms. And that, of course, will never do. Who do these teachers think they are: professionals?


Swanscombe, Kent