Carluke's loss is Kenya's gain

4th October 1996 at 01:00
It's a "going back to a favourite topic" one today, readers. No, it's nothing to do with the image of scientists or why my Skoda is like the 5-14 initiative. It is my other hobby-horse.

Did you see the last-but-one of the General Teaching Council's Link magazines, the one with a terrible picture of me above the title (it was the only one my wife could find in the time it took to get a courier van out from Edinburgh - that's where teachers' subscriptions go) and my guest article on the back page? It was about the lot of newly qualified teachers and so is this piece. I am going to preach again and the lesson is from the book of Ruth.

I first met Ruth when she was a biology student at our place. We lived in the same town and I ended up giving her a lift every day. Impressive was her ability to tolerate the dissection of the previous night's Top Gear programme I regularly conducted with another fellow passenger. More impressive were her developing skills as a teacher. She left with a superb report, new friends and an invitation to the Christmas bun-fight.

When she qualified two years ago she went on the supply list. To boost her chances she visited all the local secondaries and introduced herself. This strategy was reasonably successful in that it landed her some work, but it was not until later in the session that she had anything that could be described as long term. This was in Shetland, or maybe Orkney. Whichever it was, it was too far to commute from Carluke.

In her second year of teaching, Ruth had some longish-term work in another barren, distant part of the country. This time it was Shotts, or maybe Armadale. When that was over, work became patchy. She covered one of my classes when I had my Grannie's funeral to attend.

It was my first-year social education group. I prided myself that I had built up a special relationship with them, but when I got back to work next day they all asked if they could have Ruth again. In vain I waited for someone to add "she wis a great laugh, we got away wi' murder". The truth was that they had genuinely warmed to her.

Ruth appeared in the staffroom a couple of days into the new session. She had come to invite her former colleagues to a party in Carluke Masonic Hall. After the usual rammy of funny-handshaking and rolling-up of trouser legs that greeted this invitation, we were left to ponder the nature of the event.

It was a farewell party. Ruth had landed a two year job teaching her own subject in a school where her service would be GTC-recognised. Farther than Orkney, Shetland, Armadale or even Shotts, the post was in Kenya.

And so someone with a clutch of glowing reports, someone with the guts and initiative to seek out any work, even supply work, has been lost, at least temporarily, to the profession in the country that trained her. It galls me. I do not want a tax-cut bribe before the next election. I would rather have a tax hike to get class sizes down and put the Ruths of this world into jobs where, with luck, they might end up teaching my own kids.

And I find myself wondering if it should not be easier to get rid of those few teachers - there are none within a mile of me just now and I have met fewer than a handful in 12 years - who not only are not doing their jobs but won't accept that they are not doing their jobs.

Make your counter-arguments to Ruth - if she comes back.

Gregor Steele offered to video Top Gear for Ruth.

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