Fat is not an educationist issue

It's enough to make you burst out of your lederhosen in indignation. The state of Bavaria, home of the killer sausage and the foaming stein, has barred the employment of teachers with a body mass index of over 30: that is stout ones. Teaching is civil service employment, and claiming to be fearful of the high costs of illness and early retirement, Bavaria has put its foot down.

Lard and learning, says the state authority, do not go together. They can't do much about those already holding civil service status who have spent their careers swelling to majestic proportions, but trainees and short-contract staff aspiring for permanence must get the weight off. The individual cited in the TES report, Gisela Neubauer, is very annoyed. At under 14 stone with an index of 33, she is being told to lose one-and-a-half stone, although she does a sport three times a week and feels fine.

I don't know enough Bavarian teachers to pass a judgment (though it has to be said that the further south you go in Germany the less space is left on your train seat) but this seems to be going either much too far, or not far enough. To be logical, you've either got to police everything or nothing. Heaviness and unfitness are very subtly related, as God knows: some fat people are scant of breath, puffing and perspiring from the mere effort of getting up on the stage for assembly. Others are bouncy and flexible and walk with a spring: think of the Roly Polys tap-dancing. Some thinner people are indeed fit and toned and set to live forever; others are weedy chain-smokers, or following high-protein diets so mad that their breath would knock a horse over and their livers will pack up any day now.

If Bavaria is only weighing its pedagogues, in this carefree hit-and-miss way, it is missing a lot of tantalising health-screening opportunities. Granted, the very stout have disadvantages as teachers, particularly when they obscure the whole whiteboard or crash through the podium and have to be freed by the Year 8 PSE group. But there are plenty of other, less strictly visible little human problems that should be worrying an enlightened state just as much if not more.

What about the smokers, coughing their way through maths exams and putting the children off their stroke? What about the sex addicts, with their chain of debilitating infections and their tendency to yawn uncontrollably through the morning? Or the spookily flexible yoga-bunnies who feel a need to wrap a leg round the back of their neck in sixth-form seminars, thus causing intense distraction from the topic in hand and possibly costing their pupils several A-level points?

Why not screen out the dangerous sports enthusiasts who limp in from piste or rally-track on Monday morning with so much adrenalin ripping round their bodies that they can hardly string a sentence?

And then there are the incurable romantics, who sigh and dream and look out of the window and get platonically distracted by the timeless beauty of Mavis McGorgeous' long blonde hair. Screen them out, before they start setting far too many sonnets for homework and messing up French dictee by choking tearfully at the sad bits. And what about the careful hypochondriacs whose bodies are temples, and who are thrown right off their stroke if they happen to have forgotten their lunchtime fix of ginseng or the staffroom has run out of herbal teabags? And how about the fitness freaks whose ability to teach economic geography with conviction is seriously compromised by their secret indulgence in Pilates abdo-crunches and pelvic-floor contortions behind the desk? And what about the young parents, eh? Covertly phoning the creche every 10 minutes from the stationery cupboard, and trying to transmit the culture of centuries on an hour's sleep a night and a diet of leftover pureed parsnip?

No, give me a cheerful fatty any day, full of sausage and sauerkraut and self-confidence. This screening philosophy just won't work. Teachers are human beings, and share the vast, fascinating, struggling diversity that goes with the terrain. A good teacher is a good teacher, however many legs, arms, chins, spare tyres, quirks and private neuroses come in the package. A good teacher is far too precious to waste, and shouldn't be quibbled over.

The Bavarians, frankly, are lucky to have enough choice to be so damn fussy. Over here, from recent news of the supply agency world it would appear that heads are supposed to be grateful for anybody who knows the subject, turns up in the morning, and more or less keeps her hands off the tequila slammers and the Year 10 boys.

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