This crisis calls for a rethink of society's values

8th January 2010 at 00:00

Teachers, parents and pupils are confused as to who is telling the truth about the depleted coffers which we are now facing every day of our working lives. Local authorities are bleating almost flamboyantly about their empty bank accounts. In schools, it feels as if Scotland's education system is in a state of dire uncertainty.

This is terribly debilitating for those of us trying to provide a high- quality experience in the classroom. In staffrooms, the main topic of conversation is lack of money. Who will receive letters today telling them that their jobs are at risk? Will the executioner's axe fall on that textbook order? New initiatives of all kinds, including Curriculum for Excellence, are stymied by the paucity of the budget.

Step forward the Grim Reaper. Stand up and be counted. But who is to blame - the Scottish Government, the local authorities or the Westminster Government?

Peter Peacock's observations on the concordat in the December 11 editon of The TESS make interesting reading. I agree that money given to councils for education should be ring-fenced. The Scottish Government should never have assumed that the local authorities would automatically prioritise education. After all, this is the society which places greater value on big financial institutions than on the thinkers and revolutionaries who are the products of an excellent education system. Never mind that worldwide economic turbulence has been caused by worshipping bankers rather than poets.

Practitioners are locked into a cycle of impotence as we ponder our ageing resources and know that the future will be even tighter. Seeing the very lords and masters who should be united in delivering high-quality education services brawling about blame is an unedifying spectacle.

Our contracts prevent us from speaking out in public about what is happening to education and yet we are the very people who can enlighten the public as to the effects of cuts. Mr Peacock's suggestion of reducing the number of education authorities and extending the remit of the dozen or so well-performing authorities deserves consideration. Most teachers wouldn't be worried about who their employer actually was, provided they had a compelling vision for our schools.

We were already struggling with the vision we've been offered. There was no seamless story of what education was about - just a series of disconnected snapshot images. Bits of jigsaw puzzles were being thrown into the air by unfocused people, while the rest of us tried to catch and assemble the full picture. In the midst of this lack of direction, dissatisfaction with Curriculum for Excellence abounded.

Then the big bomb fell. An already-fragile situation was further destabilised as money evaporated virtually overnight. Further, the propaganda lie is being peddled that we can do nothing about this unprecedented crisis. In consulting members of the public about what services should be cut, some local authorities are rendering us complicit with the fiasco.

Surely we should move this debate outside the tiny arena where it is operating and think more globally. Do we want a huge chunk of our country's resources to continue to be spent on the war in Afghanistan or on maintaining Trident, while we can't afford to resource our schools beyond the bare necessities? We must challenge our society's norms and values and lobby for a radical democratic debate about what is important. Many people will be annoyed with me for saying so, but the alternative is to accept the falsehood that we can do nothing.

Marj Adams, teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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