Ministers need to face a Fresh Start

12th May 2000 at 01:00
IN the last week I have heard from six teachers. All are in their 40s. Five have a track record of excellent classroom work; the sixth is a graduate trainee. All regard the new term with gloom. Two will have abandoned teaching by August. Between them they have around 30 years' experience of senior management. They are the age group on whom our schools will depend when the baby boomers retire and we should ask why they are so disillusioned.

If the national education service were to be judged, as schools are judged by the Office for Standards in Education, it would now be labelled as having serious weaknesses, if not already a failure.

Consider participation rates. A sizeable minority of the population refuses to take part in the national education service. One part drops out altogether. The other takes refuge in private alternatives.

Consider planning. By August, judgments on threshold applications will have to be complete, yet the system on which judgments should rest will not be introduced until next year: ineptly backwards.

The new system of pay has been introduced with no answers on how it will be financed in two years time. The one thing that is obvious is that the present financial systems cannot cope.

Bureaucracy s supposed to be reduced, but the plethora of new duties, little pots of money and switches of plan have increased the volume of administrivia.

Initiative follows initiative without logic or consistency: the precise opposite of the planning which is compulsory for schools.

Consider leadership. Government after government has actively undermined public confidence in schools. Teachers and schools have been made scapegoats for all manner of problems.

The consequences for the service have been low morale and intensifying recruitment difficulties. The consequences in society have been ever-reducing co-operation from parents (particularly in secondaries) and from their children.

Leaders must be judged on how they articulate their vision and spread it to others. The country's sluggish performance against international benchmarks is an indictment of the inadequacy of our political leaders over at least two decades.

A failing school gets a year or two to change, or it is given a Fresh Start. I wonder what the chances are that our national

education service will simply be given a debilitating rehash of the political inadequacy that has blighted it.

Richard Kemp

27 Hillfield Road

Selsey, West Sussex

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