Scruffy? We're too broke to be smart say teachers

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Teachers are struggling to gain respect in the face of television shows which portray them as crazy and poverty stricken which forces them to wear scruffy clothes, a conference of the profession was told yesterday.

While the police and doctors are portrayed as caring and heroic in television shows such as BBC1's Casualty and Carlton's Thieftakers, BBC1's Chalk has a mentally unstable deputy head and teachers who lose their trousers.

At the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in Cardiff, complaints were made about the show during a debate about the need to improve teachers' status. Members were also told that student teachers were teased by pupils because of their limited wardrobes.

Sara Kemsley, from Tonbridge Grammar School in Kent said: "We have a dazzling array of high-quality drama on television: The Bill, Hill Street Blues, ER, Casualty, Peak Practice. And then we have Chalk.

"The police and doctors are promoted as being full of dedication, hard- working people battling heroically against the odds and under-funding.

"They deliver a service which is respected. Then you have a perverse and vapid comedy where you have an empty school apparently run by a mentally unstable deputy head and a witty plot involving a loss of trousers. There are two classrooms in which there are 15 delinquent youngsters and no attempt is being made to teach them."

Peter Smith, the association's general secretary, objected to the show on the grounds that it was bad and unfunny. "I don't take it seriously as a malicious travesty of teaching. It is a lousy show and should be taken off."

The series, by Steven Moffat, a former teacher, features Eric Slatt, played by David Bamber, as the deputy head of a comprehensive. A second series is already in preparation.

Kevin Lygo, head of Independent Commissions Entertainment, who commissioned the series said: "Chalk is a comedy. Just as Ben Elton's Thin Blue Line does not reflect the modern police force nor the Vicar of Dibley the Church of England today, Chalk was never intended to reflect life in British schools."

Earlier, the conference was told that student teachers were too hard- up to look smart. Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, said recently that scruffy teachers should not be in the profession. But a survey commissioned by the Association from Oxford Brookes University revealed student teachers' financial plight.

Caroline Wake, 23, a newly qualified teacher from Holyport Manor School in Berkshire, said that she had been forced to take out three student loans during her training. From next week she had to start paying back her loans because her salary as a special-needs teacher had reached pounds 15,000. Of that, pounds 4,500 a year went on rent, well over pounds 5,000, food pounds 1,500 on tax, pounds 1,500 on telephone, gas and electricity and house maintenance and pounds 1,000 on a car. Paying back her loan at pounds 840 a year left her pounds 160 a year for clothes and everything else.

Ms Wake, wearing a floral dress, T-shirt and cardigan, said: "Am I really expected to look smart at school on that?"

Andy Garner, head of history at Chantry High School, in Suffolk, who earns pounds 25,000 after 25 years in teaching said: "The local Oxfam shop has better clothes in it than our staff room - or it did have until I bought this jacket." He said that when his son joined the school where he taught everyone knew that he was his son because the holes in their clothes were in the same places.

Pupils are still making false allegations of assault against teachers, it was said at the ATL conference. One teacher was arrested though her headteacher was in the room with her at the time of the alleged assault and saw immediately that the allegation was groundless.