A light at the end of tunnel of darkness

7th June 1996 at 01:00

by Peter Woods and Bob Jeffrey

Open University Press

Pounds 40 hardback, Pounds 12.99 paperback

This is an account of the bureaucratic machine that has stolen teachers' time, and made them hired hands rather than professionals. It is informed by a coruscating anger. A teacher called Grace, for example, questions inspectors with vigour, "Why have we got to collect these bloody samples? Just go and look in their books for God's sake. Why are we photocopying out of the books to stick in the folders? . . . Who cares what's written in that box? . . . "

I have not read so honestly expressed what nearly every state school primary school teacher in this country thinks. Their time has been colonised. They are becoming clerks rather than educators. And Grace speaks for them: "Heavy-duty accountability is destructive. We all come in on Monday and we're ratty as hell because we're too tired. It takes me longer to eat my vitamins and pills than it does my breakfast . . ."

The authors note how the meaning of accountability has changed in the past 16 years. What was once a "moral obligation" is now a "disciplinary technology". What a damning epitaph for years of educational reform!

This is a sad story, because it is about the attempted murder of a kind of teaching the authors call "creative". Words like "innovative", "humane" and "imaginative" will also serve. But I am encouraged, because the vigour of the teachers' words, and the acuteness of their analysis suggests ways of surviving with spirits intact.

Woods and Jeffrey talk about a new "educational discourse". I suspect it is essentially an old one, about understanding the boxes for what they are and concentrating on each child and teacher, and their humanity; and on justice and truth.

I wish the title was better and the hardback cost less than Pounds 40. But this book should be bought and read. It will help to see us through the dark.

* Fred Sedgwick is co-author of Art Across the Curriculum.

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