Cuts will hamper our efforts where they are needed most

26th August 2011 at 01:00
Against a bleak economic backdrop, we must strive to instil hope in young people

First full week done, then; only 38 to go! Normally I look forward to the start of term but somehow, for a variety of reasons, the year ahead fills me with foreboding.

The McCormac review is one. Ronnie Smith, EIS general secretary, commented recently that teachers await publication of the report with "trepidation" and I think that is true. The much-publicised Cosla submission certainly seemed to be setting teachers up in the sights of local authority hit-men and, yet, what disappointed most was not the cuts agenda the submission was predicated upon, but the appalling lack of insight into how education works.

It was, however, only one submission, and it is unlikely that McCormac will produce a report so unbalanced as to endorse the singularly blinkered view of local authority mandarins.

Elsewhere teachers have returned to find their own numbers shrunken and their class sizes larger. Teachers in England have been involved in strike action over pensions and it seems only a matter of time until Scottish teachers are forced to do likewise.

I had the opportunity to address the Scottish Parliament's education committee this week on pre-five education, instrumental tuition and looked-after and accommodated children. These were all important areas to be considering, but the recurring theme of my presentation was how economic cutbacks were undermining everyone's efforts in these vital areas.

"We are all in this together," we are told - but that's simply untrue. As teachers, most of us enjoy the benefits of employment and stable careers, but in our classrooms on a daily basis many of us witness the impact of poverty and inequality on the aspirations and hopes of large numbers of children; and things are getting worse.

The recent disturbances in England saw children as young as 12 indulging in theft and vandalism. Politicians were quick to condemn the greed we witnessed on our screens, but in a period dominated by the parliamentary expenses scandal, bankers' bonuses and media corruption, there needs to be a sober reflection about the models of citizenship we present to our youth.

That's not to condone or excuse the violence and theft, but for many alienated youth it was an exercise in opportunism that revealed how small a stake they have in our communities.

But perhaps this rather bleak backdrop to the session ahead is a reminder of the importance of schools and education and our social mission to develop young people with a sense of their own voice, a sense of community and citizenship, a sense of hope even in difficult times. Qualities we can all invest in.

Larry Flanagan is EIS education convener, Educational Institute of Scotland.

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