Managing to find a way out

16th January 2004 at 00:00
Here's a riddle which will not have been found in anyone's cracker at Christmas: "which is the most important stakeholder group in a school?"

Choose from A.Parents B.Pupils C.Teachers D.Support staff.

Give up? The answer is C. Teachers. Why? Because, without teachers, a school is not a school, merely a convenient daytime holding pen for children. A shopping mall would fulfil the same function. In fact, for some pupils it actually does.

This question and the answer, was given to me some time ago by (and much to his credit) a headteacher. I mention it now as part of another riddle: what's the connection between the Strathnaver Clearances and a comment made by another colleague recently, this time not a headteacher, that classroom teachers in Scottish secondary schools are becoming increasingly marginalised?

Marginalised? Shurely shome mishtake? The 21st century agreement was all about putting teaching at the very heart of our education system, was it not? Which brings us back to the Sutherland Clearances.

If adolescents know about anything, they know about status and pecking orders. When the subject of the destruction of Gaelic culture came up, my pupils quickly realised why the importation of sheep pushed the language towards oblivion in Sutherland. They could see why Gaelic speaking tenants would not wish their children to speak a language which was not associated with the higher status but Anglophone sheep herders and their feudal superior, the Duke of Sutherland.

As it was in Sutherland in the 19th century, so it is now in 21st century Scottish secondary schools. The perception that teachers are being marginalised springs from the fact that high status individuals in these schools are increasingly divorced from the classroom.

Not only is it now rare for senior managers to appear in a classroom but, when they do, it is often as part of their "monitoring and evaluating function" and this of course merely reinforces the perception that classroom teachers are of a lower status. Even the new principal teachers (curriculum) only teach a maximum 50 per cent timetable. The other 50 per cent is presumably devoted to far more important matters.

No wonder my colleague feels marginalised. Given teachers' concerns about pupil behaviour and social inclusion, it would now appear not merely that the lunatics are taking over the asylum but the medical staff are being put in straitjackets also.

So here's a New Year resolution for senior managers in secondary schools: get into a classroom and teach a lesson or two. You may then even remember why you became a teacher in the first place.

Peter Wright

Falcon Road, Edinburgh

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