The greatest resourceis a teacher

22nd March 1996 at 00:00
The experience and background noise of human nature gained from part-time work in a very working-class pub years ago gave me hitherto unfamiliar cultural and social insights. People were the catalysts. One in particular, a shipyard pipe-coverer, told me: "Anybody can do the job with tools. It's a real workman that can do it without the tools." He was probably right for the dangerous, unhealthy job he did. For us in education, the advice is not.

Education's exponential growth has obscured just where its real foundations are. The pyramid stands on its head, and when we peel off the layers of administrative juggling, management ballyhoo, occupational gobbledygook and professional obscurantism, ultimately the behemoth balances precariously on what goes on in the classrooms of primary schools up and down the country. These are the most important places. Children learn the basics there. And unlike my pipe-coverer friend, primary schools need the tools to do what they do best.

Topping the incantation charts of every profession is the plea for resources. It is a mantra. Educationally, it has Alicean touches because it means what you want it to mean. Resources are a kaleidoscope that can shake into more computers, more technology, new reading schemes, cleaned venetian blinds, leaks in the roof fixed. You name it, that's resources. Stripped down, though, it has only one meaning. Teachers, the people whose business it is to ensure learning takes place, are the basic resource.

The new Glasgow authority, while it has its eyes on a glorious future, remains tethered to reality and is dogged with a distinctly unpleasant present, while haunted by a feather-bedded past. Forced to pare services to the bone to keep council tax demands down to merely impossible levels, even nature dropped in an apocalyptic calling card that has strained already stretched budgets to invisibility. Malcolm Green's Platform article (TESS, March 8) said most of it, and for the Dear Green Place's real masochists, the dessert has been a council tax rise of 19 per cent.

Behind the gloom, though, there is a gleam. Last October, the education committee accepted a paper from Ken Corsar, the director, that pulled no punches, outlining fully, forcefully and comprehensively major issues in education that have to be addressed. One of these, if not the major one, is the extent to which achievement in the city in both primary and secondary sectors falls below national averages in attendance, in examination results and in 5-14 targets.

Mr Corsar observed that "deprivation can have a depressing effect on school achievement, but nevertheless it is expected that Glasgow children will achieve high standards". When crunch time came, the guardians of the educational purse rounded up the usual suspects for treatment - which the education committee summarily dealt with. One which the councillors snatched from the tumbrel, however, was the allowance for areas of priority treatment.

Glasgow's necklace of deprived schools are allowed an additional full-time teaching post where the number of pupils attending from areas of priority treatment within their catchment area exceeds 90 per cent of the total roll. These schools depend on that teacher to supply in part the learning support that underachievers need, and which report after report verifies is necessary for them.

Had that allowance been pared down to the levels envisaged, then the provision of learning support would have become correspondingly more difficult to provide, and inevitably more narrow and incomplete. The goal of higher standards remains. My pipe-coverer friend would probably have shrugged off the prospect of doing without that additional teacher. Schools cannot. If they tried to make more bricks with less straw, they would not be shooting for the impossible, just aiming at the near unachievable. In these days of pharaonic decision-making, the underachieving underdogs drew a winner this time.

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