Have teachers, twiddling their thumbs for years without getting anywhere

, suddenly become dedicated under this administration?

I haven't been a class teacher for more than 20 years, and, although I love my job, I miss the pleasures of daily contact with a class. And if I were in a classroom today, I wouldn't run it too differently from the way I ran it all those years ago. I'd want it to be a stimulating place, filled with colour and interest. I'd want my pupils to enjoy coming to school. I'd want them to interact positively and sensitively, and to feel what they were doing was worthwhile. And I'd want every child to feel the excitement of acquiring knowledge and fulfilling whatever potential they had.

I've met hundreds of teachers during my career. Virtually all share those aims. Like me, they get up early, get to school early and work hard all day - and often during evenings and weekends. But then, teachers always have. Which is why I was irritated by a statement from Estelle Morris earlier this year stating that her government's focus on forcing up standards is changing education year on year, with the "dedication and commitment of our teachers now delivering real improvement".

Have teachers, twiddling their thumbs for years without getting anywhere, suddenly become dedicated under this administration? I think not. Leaving aside the underfunding, the ridiculous salaries, the constant blaming for society's ills on schools, the wasting of millions on the flawed machinery of Ofsted, the Pandas and Picsii's, the changes in curriculum and the constant demands that we appraise or performance-manage ourselves to destruction, just consider any aspect of the primary curriculum and look at how it trundles around in expensive circles.

Take literacy. When I became a head in 1981, misinterpreted Plowden techniques were in full flow and every mark a child made on paper was celebrated. Reading schemes were out, as was structured learning. Children were supposed to choose books themselves and learn to read by osmosis. Grammar or phonics teaching meant you kissed promotion goodbye. Funny how those who bulldozed these methods into schools were careful where they sent their own children to be educated.

Secondary schools received children who could barely write their names. In private, primary teachers admitted unhappiness with the methods forced on them. Many, worried about children's achievement, used reading schemes and hid them when the inspectors descended. The national curriculum appeared, but teachers, bruised and battered by the insistence on "child-centred" learning, were wary of suddenly lurching in another new direction. The Government picked up its sledgehammer, and the literacy hour was expensively born, insisting on grammar, phonics and teacher-led sessions.

And there was Ofsted, with battalions of inspectors running around checking the literacy hour was done in the way the video told you to. (Funny how they always showed tiny classes of immaculately behaved children.) But we've lost something vital. I became a writer because I was inspired by teachers whose enthusiasm and excitement about literature made me want to try it. And looking through the mountains of achingly dull "literacy" crammers in W H Smith's last week made me wonder if we'll ever travel a sensible, middle road.

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark. Email: mikejkent@aol.com

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