A different world but the same old problems

10th August 2007 at 01:00
John Sutton is a pseudonym. He teaches in North Wales

A teacher who had been in the school since it opened retired at the end of term. Thirty-six years in one school is quite astonishing.

I prepared my speech for his retirement function and looked at the school log, a dusty old ledger in which earlier headteachers recorded the main incidents of the school. As I read it, an image emerged of imposing heads with swirling gowns and stern expressions, rushing along the corridors with piles of paper thrust under their arms.

My predecessors didn't spend their time staring at a computer and I suspect they were better off overall, but they would certainly recognise other elements in my working day. Times change but apparently issues don't.

It was all logged. Stroppy parents refusing to accept what is still blindingly obvious that their son actually did it. The transport police coming into school to talk about railway safety because children were playing on the line, yet again. In 1978, the head went on a course about teaching immigrant children.

There were also familiar problems with the heating system, the fire alarm system as unreliable then as it is now and break-ins and fires.

Traditions were established that we have tried to preserve, such as the annual community carol singing. On one occasion we raised as much as pound;20 10s 11d.

Visits to the cinema were a big treat and the pupils went off to see Antony and Cleopatra. And then there were far more overseas visits too. They went off to Interlaken and took cruises. The rugby team went off to play a series of games on the island of Elba. Typical of the Welsh, they'd go anywhere for the chance of a win.

What you get from reading the ledger is the sense of a vanished world where school had a lot more freedom and individuality. Now we have more responsibility to meet national targets and to build a workforce that can shape the future.

Of course it still rained back then and people got grumpy. And while the status of teachers was higher and less frequently challenged, they were nonetheless expected to know their place. So it was a much more confrontational workplace and there are frequent entries about industrial action.

Perhaps the saddest detail of all is that teachers didn't have the opportunity to retire as early as they do now and there are a number of awful references to some dying unexpectedly in service.

It seems to have been a much more innocent time, but I don't suppose any of us would want to go back there.

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