Capital punishment

17th November 2000 at 00:00
London is the last place we would want to work, say Leeds teacher trainees. But, asks Mick McManus, is their view based on a false image of the city and its pupils?

TEACHING in London is a nightmare: a long daily journey to a run-down school with large classes and unruly pupils. Learning and motivation problems are worsened by language deficiencies arising from the wide social and ethnic mix. The pace of London life leaves you too stressed to enjoy it - in any case, you are impoverished by housing costs.

This is the typical view revealed by a survey of teacher- trainees at Leeds Metropolitan University.

The students, who come from all over the country, have negative views of not only London's schools but its quality of life.

Their perceptions are affected by four major factors: the high cost of living, inadequately compensated by higher salary; linguistic, cultural and ethnic diversity, making teaching more difficult; less favourable working conditions, including larger classes and poorer funding; greater discipline problems, with unfriendly pupils, unhelpful teachers; and more stress.

The vast majority of the 51 final-year BA students surveyed rated these four factors as roughly equal. Two other issues were mentioned: poor transport, leading to longer, more stressful journeys to and from work; and a less attractive environment - the capital was polluted, and lacked trees and parks.

On the positive side, a small number thought London offered more job opportunities and swifter promotion; a few thought recreational opportunities would be better. A matching survey of 24 first-year BA students indcates that students come to teacher-training courses with these attitudes fully formed.

The few Londoners in the survey, unsurprisingly, challenged the majority view. One laughed out loud at the suggestion that transport in the capital is worse than in Leeds. He said that you have to stand in the rain for 45 minutes at a Leeds bus stop to really appreciate the luxury of a tube-train every three minutes.

So how did this damaging, and often misleading, picture of London originate? The capital's media may be partly to blame as they have told the entire country of the supposedly terrible tube system as well as other woes.

Higher pay alone, our surveys suggest, would be unlikely to attract teachers from other parts of the country; the image problem must also be tackled. So what can London employers, who face the most acute teacher-shortages in the country, do?

The picture of a wholly urban capital, bereft of greenery, must be challenged. The public transport system - by far the best in the country - needs to be celebrated. Most importantly, recruitment brochures need the facts, figures and photographs to show that the capital's schools are resourced as well as any others, with learning and language problems properly supported, classes no larger and pupils no less well-behaved.

London boroughs wanting to co-operate in a scheme to bring students' perceptions in line with reality and expand their pool of applicants should contact me.

The writer is a lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan university, who says he is "half in love" with London. Email: M.McManus@lmu.ac.uk or ring 0113 283 2600 ext.3673


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