Can't teach, won't listen

27th February 2004 at 00:00
MP Clare Short gets appalling report from teachers and pupils following her stint as an NQT. Adi Bloom reports

The head of the inner-city comprehensive where former Cabinet minister Clare Short spent a week as a teacher has said that she would not employ the MP on a full-time basis, because of her inability to listen to advice.

Pupils at Southfields community college, south London, said they were bored in Ms Short's classes as she told them the same 'irrelevant" story about her trip to Indonesia three times.

Having resigned as Minister for Overseas Development last year, in protest against the war in Iraq, Ms Short agreed to spend a week filling in for a newly-qualified teacher, as part of a BBC documentary. She joined the geography department at the notoriously challenging comprehensive.

In addition to teaching a range of pupils, she was expected to fulfil a number of pastoral duties.

The programme was screened on Wednesday evening, but it had already garnered enormous publicity, following media interviews in which Ms Short said that she had been given a far harsher regime than any genuine NQT.

But Tracey O'Brien, the head of humanities who acted as Ms Short's mentor, denies that there was any conspiracy. "NQTs usually teach 19 hours a week, but she taught 12," she said. "We were not giving her extra work."

In fact, Jacqueline Valin, the school's head, said that Ms Short failed to work as long or as hard as her full-time staff. She said: "Our day starts at 8.20am, and most teachers are in between 7.30am and 8am. But one day Clare came in at 8.15 because she couldn't find her hairdryer. My staff don't behave like that.

"She needs to listen to advice given by more experienced colleagues. But all politicians like to speak, and don't particularly like to listen. I wouldn't employ her."

Ms Short's failure to take advice was particularly evident in her attitude towards school discipline. Condemning Ms O'Brien's insistence on total classroom silence as "harsh", her lessons quickly descended into near chaos.

"One child had done no work for half an hour and Clare just said that some of the boys have special needs," said Ms O'Brien. "Because our school is quite low in the league tables, people have low expectations. But our pupils are all expected to work for the whole 60 minutes of the lesson.

Cajoling them isn't going to be effective."

This is especially the case with streetwise pupils, quick to identify and exploit any signs of weakness. Fifteen-year-old Christopher McLaren claims to have learnt nothing at all during his three geography lessons with Ms Short.

"She picked out one boy, and asked him every single question, because he was the only one whose name she could remember," he said. "She told us the same story three times about her trip to Indonesia and it wasn't at all relevant."

His classmate, Ellis Street, 15, agrees: "Her lessons were really boring. I looked at the clock five times in five minutes, just to see when the lesson would finish.

"I don't think she's cut out to be a teacher. She should stick to what she does."

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