Lucky ones should now count their blessings

27th December 1996 at 00:00
From Rex Knight

Unable to respond directly to the author of your article "Heaven must wait" (TES, December 13), printed under the cloak of anonymity, I feel bound to do so through your columns.

I am incensed by the implied denigration of the very numerous teachers and lecturers who have been forced to retire early on genuine grounds of ill-health. I quote only my personal situation, but defend thousands against this utterly outrageous disparagement.

I was a head of biology in a state school, teaching enormous classes throughout, in conditions totally inadequate for my subject. Like other ' "foolish virgins" I tried to implement, to the letter, the national curriculum in its original form.

I swept aside the logical advice of one co-head of department: "Don't kill yourself trying to deliver the impossible; the whole thing is unworkable and will therefore fail anyway." How right he proved to be, for the slim-down did of course come, but only after my demise. He would willingly admit that he did not over-exert himself in delivery; he remains fit and is still teaching.

For me, at 54, implementing the reforms broke my health. I would have loved to have continued in the profession in which I delighted and excelled. Even in our present "compensation culture" there is no possible recompense for damaged health.

The most I can manage now is a few hours of part-time activity outside schools. There was no "smirk" on my face when I went; I do not "look 15 years younger". As for the "suntan", perhaps your correspondent could pass on some advice as to how my wife and I might acquire this on a pension of Pounds 11,894 (gross) to support both of us - and many couples have less. We could count the number of overseas holidays over the last 34 years on the fingers of one hand.

Your correspondent, in stating that, as "fortysomethings" he and his colleagues are "too old for promotion" may well have scored a direct hit in the foot for, by that age, promotion is a function of ability, ambition, or both.

Certainly, as your correspondent and his associates are evidently preparing to "dig in" and "dog it out", one feels desperately sorry for their students.

Of course there are many good further education colleges and hundreds of excellent lecturers within them, but the despairing and cynical attitude portrayed, if at all widespread, may not be unrelated to the fact that many FE students are turning, in desperation, to people like me for remedial lessons to compensate for scandalous inadequacies in what is, regrettably but all too frequently, an uncaring environment as measured against what decent school sixth forms have always offered.

Your correspondent and colleagues in similar positions are free to express their wish for an "escape route". In doing so however, they may not legitimately blackball those of us who had no choice. They could, instead, try counting their good fortune; I hope it lasts for them.

REX KNIGHT 18 Raven Road, Stokenchurch, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

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