Inner-city ideals ripe for our country

17th August 2007 at 01:00
Almost all of my adult life has been spent teaching and living in London more than 30 years. But in 2003 I exchanged easily accessible theatres, cinemas, concert halls, museums and galleries for the breath- takingly beautiful scenery of home in West Wales. On my return, I would often stop and wonder at the aerial acrobatics of a Red Kite or watch two young rabbits playing in the middle of a narrow count3ry lane.

Teaching-wise, I'd been lucky enough to work for the Inner London Education Authority during the 1970s and 1980s. ILEA operated on a wonderful financial pooling system that enabled children attending schools in poor boroughs to have the same educational opportunities as those in richer ones. As a result, these poorer boroughs had a considerably better level of resources than equally deprived ones outside ILEA.

Also scattered over the ILEA were specialist subject centres. As teachers, we could tap into this expertise to the benefit of the children we taught. When ILEA was abolished in 1990, I felt the best of teaching in inner London was behind us. Resources in poor inner London boroughs were never the same after that. So much expertise that could not be replaced had been dissipated, while other so-called "educational reforms" exacerbated the problems.

The ones who lost out most, of course, were the children in these deprived areas. On the night of the House of Lords' vote on abolition, the peers ensured that those who upheld the rights of the weak were defeated. It still makes me angry.

ILEA had been led by a brave group of elected politicians who had seriously tried to change society for the better via its excellent equal opportunities programme. Anti-racist and anti-sexist policies had been put in place. Educational resources had changed accordingly as had staff attitudes. Children were being educated in a more enlightened environment, where diversity was respected.

But ILEA wasn't given the opportunity to implement its more far-reaching policy on class. Blairite policies such as the introduction of city academies reintroduced selection through the back door and served to further polarise society.

Now, unlike in England, exciting things are happening in Wales under the auspices of the National Assembly. Comprehensive schools are being retained as the lynchpin of secondary phase education though it has to be said that some have operated like watered-down grammar schools and still harbour undesirable attitudes. The task should be to develop a truly comprehensive system of education.

The introduction of the play-based foundation phase curriculum in the early years is the most exciting development for a long time. Playing is such a natural way for young children to learn they have been doing it for millennia, after all. The world of education is finally catching up developing the whole person.

But as I travel from school to school across several counties, in my capacity as a supply teacher, I see quite a contrast in the level of resources a by product of the so-called postcode lottery. In a classroom in one county there may be a PC operating on Windows 95 but no electronic whiteboard, while in another classroom in another county there will be the latest electronic touch screen Smart board, with Windows XP installed on every computer.

Books are sometimes in short supply too. At times, sadly, it reminds me of poor London boroughs without ILEA.

The children of Wales would benefit from having an educational pooling system for the whole country, so that everyone could be given the same resources.

Rhydwyn Ifan is a supply teacher

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