THIS is the tale of Mr and Mrs Smith. The Smiths earn their living by facilitating the learning of others. Crusty old traditionalists would no doubt insist on calling them teachers.
Although they work in different educational sectors, the Smiths have a lot in common. Both are now past the first flush of youth; both have a lot of years in the classroom under their belts.
Both too have become wary, of late, of certain educational innovations in their sectors. For instance, however hard they try, neither Mr or Mrs Smith can see how having to do 101 silly things outside the classroom can help their performance (or that of their charges) inside it.
To the horror of their superiors, the Smiths persist in refusing to acknowledge that the real work of the teacher these days is in meetings and on the computer. Somehow they cannot get it out of their antiquated heads that it is what happens in lessons that counts.
Despite all their experience, Mr and Mrs Smith have come to realise that they do not know very much about getting the best out of their pupils after all.
The true wisdom, in both their sectors it seems, is held by 25-year-olds in suits who have never taught anybody anything and go by the name of educational advisers.
Notwithstanding all that they have in common, however, the Smiths are still quite different in some areas. In the old days it was Mrs Smith who earned more money. That was not surprising given that she had been awarded her corporal's stripes, while hubby was still a private soldier in the great educational army.
Now though it is Mr Smith who earns more, despite the fact that their roles have not changed. Mrs Smith does not begrudge Mr Smith the extra few thousand - it comes into her household after all. It is just that whenever she thinks about it she tends to feel a tad undervalued.
When the teachers pay initiative (TPI) came along Mrs Smith thought that might help. Sadly it was not to be. Mr Smith and all his colleagues got their pound;2,000-a-year as expected. It is true they had to spend a weekend filling in pointless forms, but in the end they got their money. At Mrs Smith's workplace, however, things were different. Her bosses used most of the money to finance their pet staffing projects. And what was left over went to a selected group of teachers: she was not one of them.
This year Mr Smith's employers have not been hugely generous on the pay front. Somewhere between 3 and 4 per cent is all he has been offered. Poor Mrs Smith has not even been that lucky. She is having to make do with considerably less, despite the fact that she is already lagging a long way behind. Mrs Smith's boss keeps telling her how much he would like to do more, but unfortunately the nasty Government will not let him. Mrs Smith thinks that is all well and good, but wonders how many TV dinners fine words will buy.
The other night Mr Smith came home with some really good news. He had just been appointed to a new post as an advanced skills teacher. The idea of this scheme is to keep excellent teachers like Mr Smith in the classroom, and to enable them to share their expertise with others. Once selected, they go on to a whole new pay scale, which allows them to earn something like what a skilled professional should earn.
Mr Smith was so pleased with his good fortune that he took Mrs Smith out for a celebratory meal. He even paid for it. In the restaurant Mrs Smith told him her news. In her sector they just laughed at ideas that gave teachers more money for experience. Instead her employers had decided to "flatten out" their lower tiers of management.
That, said Mrs Smith as she watched the bubbles burst on her celebratory Cava, meant that she was being demoted. Naturally her conditions of service would worsen but, as a special favour, her pay was not going to be cut just yet.
Rather insensitively, Mr Smith went on to say that he had been given a laptop to enable him to do his new job. Mrs Smith said that she had as much chance of being given a penthouse suite in Docklands as a laptop.
By now I suspect the discerning reader might have twigged the truth about Mrs and Mrs Smith: that one of them works in a school and one in a college of further education. I suspect they will have worked out which is which too.