Lives are at stake

20th January 2012 at 00:00

This is is about my son, David, a graduate with no job. To have done what he has done - gain a degree in law from a prestigious university - and still have no job seems so unfair. He is not alone, just another victim of the society his elders have created. Eight hours a day are spent online, submitting applications, fighting to be recruited, getting nowhere.

When he was in Year 10 there was a problem in the English department at his school: a long-term absence ended in an early retirement. Presumably the teacher got what they wanted, but things were not so satisfactory for those left in the school. The department made life a bit easier for itself and watered down a difficult class that none of the permanent staff fancied by shipping in a handful of aspirational kids, presumably as role models. They then gave the class to a succession of supply teachers. It all went horribly wrong.

The disaffected set the agenda. To placate them, everything was on their terms. David was bullied for trying to work, for having more innocent interests than car theft and fighting. To his credit, he persevered, but it wasn't easy. He passed English language GCSE with a C, which was a fantastic achievement given the disruption.

But today this is a problem. In order to discriminate in a sea of highly qualified applicants, some employers look at GCSE results, particularly at English. David passed, but he didn't pass well enough. The filter for applicants is a B - nothing below that and no resits allowed. Never mind a master's degree in law, his application cannot proceed.

At the moment his life is framed by this. And you ask yourself why it happened. Were the hopes and ambitions of a group of children really sacrificed to make the lives of teachers easier? And yes, I carry some guilt about it, too. As a professional, I believed what I was told: that everything was fine, that his work was monitored and supported.

As far as the department was concerned, he survived. He got a C. But these were not just decisions about managing pupils, they were life decisions and the teachers got them wrong. I got it wrong, too. I should have kicked up a fuss. I let the school put teacher needs before those of my child.

And so for David the search goes on. The applications, the telephone interviews, the rejections, haunted always by this inescapable shadow from his past.

We must never forget that teachers hold someone's future in their hands, often without realising it. It is a responsibility that must be honoured, always. So why do schools enter large numbers of children for exams a year early? The child will carry that grade with them forever. Resits are irrelevant. A C in Year 10 or a B in Year 11 - how can there be any argument about which is better? So why do it, unless all that matters to a school is quantity, not quality?

Let's reclaim the classroom for children. When schools don't put children first, it is an abuse of a position of trust. When schools put teachers first, they fail. And never trivialise your job. Never say that it doesn't matter. Never say that it is just a job. Because what you do affects lives.

Geoff Brookes, former deputy head of Cefn Hengoed Community School in Swansea, is a part-time quality champion.

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