Mired in sentimentality

20th July 2007 at 01:00

Here's a sure-fire way of annoying schoolteachers. When you meet one for the first time, don't let on you're in the same game.

Once they start bellyaching about pay (as they surely will), point out that they have secure jobs, long holidays, index-linked pensions and a timetable that ends at 3.45pm every day. Oh, and just for good measure, you can remind them that they earn on average 10 per cent more than those doing similar jobs in further education.

By now they'll be baffled as to quite where you're coming from particularly as regards that wage differential. So then you hit them with the killer blow. You look them in the eye and ask, with all the sincerity you can muster: what are you doing to ensure that every child matters?

Now watch and wonder. You might have lit the blue touch-paper, but do not retire. All their previous wrath will be as nothing compared with the storm to come. But why, you might reasonably ask? Who could possibly argue with the basic tenets of the ECM initiative, launched by the Government three years ago in the wake of the report into the death of Victoria Climbie?

In schools, this means such things as "helping each pupil achieve the highest educational standards they possibly can" or "dealing with bullying and discrimination". If you're against that, then you're for sin. And, of course, no teacher is.

What they are against, however, is all the pious claptrap that goes along with it. Just think about the phrase for a moment. It reeks of New Labour. It's a brand an image designed to summon up a picture of a cosy, rose-tinted world that even Charles Dickens at his gooiest would reject as being too sentimental.

If you've been unlucky enough to sit through the first 20 minutes of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, you'll know the sort of thing I'm talking about. ECM (should that read EHM?) is The Shire Hobbiton where the little fellows laugh and sing all the live-long day, and Sir Ian McKellen, aka Gandalf, smirks through his whiskers at the honeyed charm of it all.

But that's only the half of it. Because what really gets up the nose of the schoolies is the suggestion that every child mattering is something new. By implication, they have plodded through the whole of their teaching careers to date with only some of their pupils mattering. No doubt they had T-shirts made (perhaps when setting off on those long holidays) proclaiming that "Every other child matters". Or, more likely, for the month of August at least: "Sod off, the lot of you!"

Just because the Government has only recently woken up to the fact that nasty things happen to children and that there's a long educational tail of underachievement, doesn't mean that it has only just dawned on teachers. Most would argue that they came into the job in the first place because they thought children mattered.

In colleges, we know that what happens first in schools is also likely to happen to us some way down the line. Given that this is the case, the first time some fresh-faced dork with a laptop touches my arm and says with deepest insincerity: "But, Stephen, don't you know that every student matters?" I just hope I'm nowhere near any sharp, pointy objects. Come to think of it, perhaps I hope I am.

In practice, it's already too late. The genie is out of the bottle. Colleges haven't bothered waiting for the Government's army of consultants to come up with the phrase they've already coined, proclaimed and T-shirted it for themselves. Just give Google a spin if you don't believe me.

In the UK alone, you'll get more than 600 hits. Top of the parade comes Thanet college, Kent. Under the banner of you've guessed it Every Student Matters, they proudly tell us: "we believe that every student has the right to: be healthy; stay safe; enjoy and achieve; etc etc etc."

Well, whoopee! After 30 years in the college classroom, I'd never have thought of that myself.

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