The confessions of Mr Cushy Job

4th February 2005 at 00:00
In my school, teaching's a doddle. Students want to do well and parents are supportive. Then there's my new, air-conditioned classroom and freshly painted, graffiti-free halls. Here, the biggest behavioural concern is the untucked shirt. Yes, I know how lucky I am.

My career began in a working-class north Manchester comprehensive - a place where, on interview day, they hide the students. Many were poorly motivated; my classroom leaked; closing the door made plaster fall off the walls. Two years later, I'd had enough.

Yet I knew that, on the continuum of crap schools, mine was nowhere near the bottom. Its Ofsted report, unlike its GCSE results, was rather good.

And I'd read about far more depressing scenarios in Martin Johnson's Failing School, Failing City - a grim tale of low expectations and staff burnout. Nonetheless, I couldn't hack it. So I discarded all those lofty ideas about cajoling disadvantaged kids to success. Now, I take professors'

kids to debating tournaments at swanky universities instead.

Some readers will be tut-tutting by now, but there are many out there like me - enough for the whole education system to be geared towards us. True, we complain about the middle-class bias of league tables, Ofsted reports and standardised tests, but we use them to pick our next career move and bask in the glory of our own results.

You might think there'd be some kind of retributive justice, that teachers like me would develop, say, strange tics or mysterious skin rashes. We certainly deserve less respect - perhaps even less money - than our struggling colleagues. Yet the reverse is true. We're more likely to be designated super-teachers and more likely to get promoted, whereas back in Manchester, I was too busy being knackered to update my CV.

This simply isn't fair. Why do we get all the spoils when our lives are so much easier? I'm enough of a staffroom socialist to know that the system needs fundamental redistribution. The minority who can handle tough schools should be rewarded. Luckily, this shouldn't be too difficult, because measurement tools are already in place.

Let's start with Ofsted, and schools on special measures. If you teach in such a place, it's fair to say your working life is tough: your inspection report is bad because your students are difficult to work with, and you're in a rundown building in a run-down part of town.

What you need is a boost, not the threat of your school being taken over by some bloke in fancy cufflinks and a Saab. So, if you're dealing with special measures, you should get a cash bonus in recognition of your difficult job, along with more prep time, more sick days to recuperate, and extra time off to take courses that will help with motivating and managing your students.

A building contractor should be brought in straight away to fix your scruffy school. And because your kids struggle with the national curriculum, you should be exempted from it, just like the toffs at private schools. If rich students deserve a specially tailored programme, so do yours.

This doesn't mean that other, not-so-tough schools should be left out - and this is where league tables come in. I propose a funding formula that increases incrementally the lower down the table you go. A bottom-third school such as my old one in north Manchester might get an increased building improvement fund and extra discretionary management points. A school such as my current one where, if asked nicely, the kids would buy their own textbooks, deserves the bare minimum.

Oh, and a bonus prize for any school that has to hire an overseas agency teacher or take on unqualified staff. Such a measure means the school is in trouble because local teachers won't go near the place. How about 100 grand?

Really, such measures ought to be paid for from the general tax base, but in the run-up to an election that isn't likely. So in the meantime, why don't contented teachers like me chip in? Our happy lives are worth a little outlay, and surely we'll feel less guilty if we subsidise our struggling colleagues. For those of us who cry poor, there's always the option of moving to a tougher, more lucrative school. But we won't, will we? Not for a million pounds.

Nicholas Woolley teaches in Toronto, Canada

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