Hasta la vista, naysayers: teachers will save the day

People like to contemplate disaster, to anticipate the worst. Just look at the media hyperbole about bad weather, the satires that imply every politician is venal or incompetent, or the confident assertions that any major sporting event is going to be an over-budget disaster.

Hollywood panders to this fascination with catastrophe through its long-lasting love affair with dystopian futures. The 1980s classic Escape from New York envisaged that out-of-control crime would turn Manhattan into a vast, lawless prison by 1997. According to the Terminator franchise, nuclear annihilation and the rise of a new order of unstoppable killer robots was to have taken place in 2004. The Running Man may yet be right in envisaging a television reality show where contestants lop each other's limbs off with chainsaws, but a 2017 deadline seems tight.

In reality, things rarely turn out as badly as predicted.

This time last year, Scotland was not short of predictions of doom. Some said the new National qualifications could unleash disaster akin to the exams debacle of 2000. A workload tsunami was going to overwhelm teachers and budget cuts were about to devastate schools and colleges. The independence referendum, meanwhile, loomed above everything and, to some, heralded an unprecedented period of divisiveness.

Thankfully, teachers' resourcefulness knows few bounds. In the year leading up to the Nationals staff were inundated with opaque information from the powers-that-be. But they made a huge effort and helped to ensure that the first pupils taking these new qualifications were not disadvantaged.

The referendum, too, defied sullen predictions that the long campaign would put Scotland on hold for two years. Instead the country became, and still is, a beacon of political engagement, with that energy now directed at the general election in May.

Some of the momentum came from lowering the voting age and the campaign debunked a lot of myths about teenagers: 16- and 17-year-olds emerged as committed to political debate and eloquent in explaining their beliefs. But teachers could have told you that.

Workload and budget cuts remain live issues, and the next few years may well induce unprecedented stress levels at the front line of Scottish education. But if you believe deeply in your job, as teachers tend to, you find a way of getting things done.

Next year looks like being even tougher than 2014. Councils' budgets will not be pretty, the new Highers present their own headaches, non-teaching staff are melting away and local authorities have insisted that teaching jobs no longer deserve special protection. But one thing will not change: whatever the impediments, teachers will continue to improve the life chances of hundreds of thousands of pupils across Scotland. Because that's what they do.

Merry Christmas to our readers, from all at TESS.


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