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Back to basics for the EIS;Opinion

THE DAY following the Helen Liddell climbdown agreement victory compromise sell-out on Higher Still I received the offer of my Educational Institute of Scotland Mastercard in the post.

The EIS and I go back 30 years now without any remission for good behaviour but today I find myself wishing that it would stop concentrating on selling car insurance and respond to the increasingly virulent and irrational attacks on teachers.

Press harpies (of both sexes), politicians on the make, inspectors flexing MacOfsted muscles - all line up to beat the teacher. True, the institute has abandoned the practice of including a price list of perfumes and unguents as an insert in the journal ("Is that Tommy you're wearing, sir?"), but it really needs to become more proactive in defending teachers.

Newspaper adverts, not just at a time of industrial action, could publish comparative European holiday entitlements, or show rates of pay and hours of work in different countries. Publicise the fact that an English teacher with five classes of 30 pupils will have more than 12 hours' correction if homework taking five minutes to mark is issued weekly.

Recent experience struggling to obey the official exam guidance on marking Higher English reports has affected me deeply. Three hours took me from making notes on the prelim paper to writing a finished version (the pupils get one hour) that was 50 per cent longer than the recommended length. Another 30 minutes reduced my attempt by 100 words. I then confronted the criterion-referenced gobbledegook.

How to differentiate among "skilful", "confident", "effective" or "sensible" reordering? Judgments to be made about "flawed linkage", "poor linkage", "occasionally flawed linkage" and "little linkage" - but when I came to the box saying "thematically connected items are grouped to provide a loose but recognisable structure", I couldn't get my bowels out of my head, if you'll pardon the expression. Meanwhile, the 91 reports, untouched, sat smiling at me from the top of the bookcase.

Perhaps literacy levels have declined. But take one recent source of teacher bashing. How comparisons can sensibly be made between Korea, the United States, Denmark and Scotland escapes me, when the contexts are so different.

But, leaving that aside, if the past 20 years have seen an exponential growth in computer availability and video games and television, and if that period has had a parallel funding shortage of textbooks and library books, is it any wonder that pupils lose expertise in reading and writing? Time for the fightback to commence.

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