Drop the dead dominie

8th August 1997 at 01:00
When Brecht dubbed teachers "spineless, bloodless creatures", he implied that those were essential components of the effective professional. Along with the ability to articulate and inspire, those qualities, perhaps paradoxically, created the "good" rather than the "bad" teacher, whose personality did not get between students and their success in learning.

Today the goalposts have been moved almost out of the park. The effective professional, under the regular gaze of inspectors, who pop up in all shapes and guises, has to be an outgoing, organised team member unobtrusively delivering a predigested programme of learning aimed at equipping youngsters for moving further and faster up the league tables of life.

Inevitably, all of the development in UK education takes place in England and Wales, with customised kilts fitted here later on. Labour has swallowed whole the received notion that the child is the valued client, supported now by the media as protector, guarantor of civil rights and shop steward. Christopher Woodhead, the OFSTED supremo, has been confirmed in office, against the better judgment of almost every teacher in England and Wales, who perceive him as no more than a sadistic butcher. Here in Scotland the time-tested dominies have always correlated much more closely with Brecht's model. It follows that they have viewed with even greater alarm than their English colleagues the kilted move to "sack bad teachers". For a start, they cannot comprehend why the teaching professions should be first in the firing line. The public are at least equally aware of bad doctors, dentists, lawyers, bank managers and even college lecturers.

All the above have omnipotent professional bodies which, in the general public view, exist mainly to protect the incompetent professional from client scrutiny. Thirty years ago, the founding fathers of the General Teaching Council had just such an aspiration. Its role was at once hijacked, however, by central government which has manipulated it ever since as a means of overstaffing the profession so that salaries can stay depressed. The GTC was left with the piddling other function of rooting out the criminal element among teachers - drunks, embezzlers and molesters who had already been dealt with in the public courts.

Aha, cry the Scottish Woodhead clones, we know what the GTC could do to justify its existence: sack not only criminal teachers but also the incompetent ones. This hue and cry is led annually by Gordon Kirk, head of a teacher training college - somewhat astonishingly, since entry into the profession is controlled by the training colleges. Did they let those bad teachers slip through the sieve? No, no, comes the pat answer, those were properly trained professionals at the outset of their career. It's just that they have become bad as time has gone by . . . disillusioned, disorganised, neurotic about their ever declining salaries, frustrated by bullying management, driven to rebellious trade union practices, ill unreasonably often.

Mr Woodhead has identified 15,000 bad teachers in England and Wales. The pro rata figure for Scotland must be 1,500. Let the GTC weed those out, Professor Kirk contends, and create 1,500 new recruits freshly trained by us. Two questions arise: who will assess which 1,500, and what criteria will be used? Those who aspire to the role of assessors are usually refugees from the classroom.

The second problem creates much greater difficulty. A culture of quite totalitarian patronage and jobbery has marred the promotion process for most of this century. The first-past-the-post political system creates local authority soviets (as Chris Mason, the Glasgow Liberal Democrat, calls them) which exclude all non-adherents. I spent a number of years on the joint consultative committee of the mammoth Strathclyde soviet drawing attention to the 18 Pounds 50,000-plus members of the education directorate, every one a white, heterosexual, Labour-fan, Christian male. The most illuminating sessions were spent drafting equal opportunities best practice documents.

It would be too much to hope that those criteria were not to be imported whole into the sacking mechanisms. Would they dare sack a late-onset classroom-disillusioned teacher who happened to be masonic, a constituency chairman, a blood relative of a local councillor or an elected member of the GTC? What cynicism.

Kenneth Fee is a member of the Scottish executive of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers but writes here in a personal capacity.

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