Teachers – Whose side are they on

Teachers – Whose side are they on? – Teachers need to put their pupils first.

The Express
April 22nd 2008

As our children approach public examinations and begin their revision they must be wondering whose side their teachers are on. Doubtless they will know that instead of helping them on Thursday, in that unique way they can, some teachers will be on strike for more pay.

Last week, following the row about the abolition of the 10p tax band, there were interviews with people at the bottom end of the pile who are suffering. I don’t remember any teachers being interviewed; the pay scale for teachers in London starts at around £23.000 – no surprise. Teachers are not poor and do not merit special consideration. Other teachers will resent this special pleading for it suggests that self is more important for teachers than students. And parents too, especially poorer ones, might well ask what sort of an example are teachers setting.

Pupils should not have to wonder about their teachers’ loyalties. They are put into the hands of teachers and expected to trust them, and we know of course that, without that trust, effective learning is far less likely to take place. Will these teachers explain to students whose examinations are a matter of a few weeks away that they are going to lose perhaps 10% of their remaining revision time in their subject because teacher salaries are more important? Just how would they justify this action to their charges given their union’s views on military indoctrination in the classroom, expressed so clearly at the recent NUT conference?
What about parents, who entrust their children to teachers? They too should consider what seems to motivate theses strikers who will abandon their children on Thursday. What do NUT members really seem to consider important in their professional lives?

Peace in the curriculum – just what would that mean? I do know that without peace in the classroom nothing worthwhile is likely to get done and I am sure that is not what the NUT discussion concerned, but do they know what they mean? Homework is considered to cause anxiety, but the world is full of anxiety, especially for people who have done their homework. This is a lesson that schools could usefully teach.

Inclusion of any children in your children’s schools, irrespective of their behaviour and attitude towards authority, is another NUT enthusiasm that beggars description. Parents should be aware of this for, not unreasonably, they will not expect their children to be left in the company with children who cannot tell the difference between yes and no, yours and mine, who lie, cheat and bully and whose parents do not insist on reasonable standards of conduct when they are away from home.

The NUT would also like to see the abolition of SATs. [Standard Assessment Tests] These are examinations set to test schools, but of course they add to the burdens and pressures faced by teachers and students. I interviewed students from several schools about this, as they approached the end of their school days. They resented not only the tests but also pressure from their teachers who knew that they too were being assessed and wanted their students to show their schools in the best possible light. Does anyone remember teacher unions refusing to implement these pernicious tests? Have teachers ever gone on strike to protect their students from SATs? Are they not prepared to shield their charges from this abuse?

OFSTED, the government quango that inspects schools is also something the NUT would like to see abolished. I too would like to see this happen. As a head and as a deputy head I experienced two inspections at their hands and I would not wish such inspections on my worst enemy. The NUT is right to want to see the demise of the organisation. My only question is why the NUT, the largest and noisiest of the teacher unions, did not persuade its colleagues to refuse to have anything to do with highly paid ex-teachers who were prepared, at the government’s bidding, to sit in judgement on unknown schools, teachers and children all at a moment’s notice. No, when the chips are down, the NUT does not put itself at risk, does not suffer for the sake of its charges.

And it never has. It is as stuck in its ways as it has always been, stuck with its doctrinaire approach to “education” rather than the business of getting on with students and parents so that they can teach well and their students can benefit from time at school that has been well spent. All that has changed is their language, now the language of new Labour – and we know where that is heading. A member reported from this year’s conference and spoke of , “….how these different themes are all inter-related and underpinned by the government’s current ideological approach.” What does that mean? Should parents even bother to ask?
I was once told that I would have to abandon a revision class by the teacher unions in a school because the caretaker’s union was on strike. The only practical upshot was that the school gates could not be unlocked and we were told in no uncertain terms that we should not step over the school fence, all eighteen inches of it, to get into school. The school remained locked and the students excluded. It was an indication of one class’s concern and enthusiasm that all thirty-three sixteen year-olds were prepared to travel eleven miles and squeeze into my front room to revise for their Shakespeare paper that was fast approaching. This Thursday examination candidates in particular will feel let down.

No doubt the NUT expects parents to support their demands for a pay increase which is over the odds. But before that will happen teachers will have to put their students first and then pursue their own interests. Then they could expect to be treated like professionals and paid like them.

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