For the many - and the few

19th May 2000 at 01:00
IT SWEPT in low over the East Lothian countryside, the low drone of its engine at odds with the simple grace of its smooth outline. For once, the East Coast haar relented, at least for the duration of the five- minute flypast by a Battle of Britain Spitfire, so it was seen at its best against a background of blue skies and green fields.

You wouldn't need to be a plane spotter or a history buff to be moved by the sight of a Spitfire in flight, to acknowledge the young men who were part of "the Few", or to recognise their iconic role in 20th century history.

Driving home, I thought ahead, as teachers do, to the coming week. Apart from the seasonal preoccupations of exams and time-

tables, I also had a child protection case conference to attend. I knew the vocabulary at this meeting would consist of words like neglect, abuse, and violence.

It would catalogue an ongoing disaster for a pupil whose life outside of school is a nightmare which few teachers could begin to contemplate. Despite this, her attendance at school is excellent and she will sit all of her Standard grades this month - in itself a minor miracle.

There have been suggestions, pre-McCrone report, that it's about time teachers stuck to teaching and remembered they aren't social workers. A recent contributor to these page longed for the certainties of the sixties, and referred to those teachers who seek to work with the socially excluded as "care bears".

While it's doubtful that Mr Gradgrind's view of pupils as "pitchers to be filled with facts" was ever a particularly effective approach to education, it is clear that the society served by today's teachers has changed dramatically, as have the pressures on staff and pupils.

Clearly the idea of going into a classroom and "just teaching" is superficially attractive. However, we demean our profession if we seek to abrogate responsibility for the "whole child". Inter-agency initiatives show that with the necessary level of resourcing and co-operation, the vast majority of "troubled" pupils, though not all, can gain from mainstream education.

It would be nice to think that, similarly, the vast majority of teachers, with the requisite support, would want to make these pupils' education a positive antidote to the rest of their lives, and a springboard from which to escape to the normality that the rest of us may take for granted.

That Spitfire over East Lothian reminds us that the greybeards in power have never been slow to make high demands on the young in pursuit of their dreams. As teachers, surely we should support the few as well as the many.

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