MPs fiddle and teachers burn

29th May 2009 at 01:00

Politicians and their expenses hover like black vultures above us as principal teachers try to secure adequate funding for their departments. Like millions of others, I am stunned by the shocking tales of claims for bath plugs, paper tissues, chocolate bars, light bulbs, guarding rhododendrons against rabbits, a wrought iron fireplace, antique rugs, supremely luxurious television systems. not to mention the cleaning of a castle moat, the immoral practice of flipping the second home allowance for financial gain and God knows how many dodgy mortgage claims.

Millions of pounds of the country's money is being siphoned off on the expenses gravy train while we, like starving birds in a severe frost, peck for the odd crumb of sustenance.

Consider the working life of the average principal teacher. Too much of our time is spent on paperwork, much of it related to ticking-boxes-in- case-the-inspector-calls. The substantial administrative help promised by the McCrone agreement has failed to deliver.

But the most stressful threat to our capacity to deliver excellent teaching and learning comes from the constant pressure to cut already impoverished resources. No other industry is expected to conjure up developments on the scale of A Curriculum for Excellence with less and less finance. People's health is beginning to suffer as they experience frustration, and then inevitable despair.

Principal teachers now spend an inordinate amount of time running around like headless chickens, searching for the cheapest resources. Quality is simply no longer a priority. I am not talking about trying to get discounts on class sets of textbooks. Most secondary departments can no longer afford such luxury. No, I'm talking about the minutiae of pens, pencils, stationery equipment along the lines of: dare I order two dozen glue sticks but definitely not the well-known quality brand which lasts longer?

Teachers stoke up the dying embers of per capita by buying resources out of their own pockets and not claiming back the money - and how that sticks in the throat in the current political climate.

It's not just about the money, soul-destroying though that is. We are supposedly producing resources to encourage our charges to develop into responsible citizens. How ironic! Did you hear Westminster housing minister Margaret Beckett on BBC's Question Time, earlier in the month, fail to take responsibility for her Pounds 600 claim for hanging baskets by blaming the system which allowed her to submit such blatantly immoral expenses? What a wicked old system.

Regarded as role models for our pupils? What a bitter joke. Scroungers and abusers is what they are, and yet they are making the policies which we are supposed to implement. How can we trust them when they make pronouncements on education when they can't be trusted with our money and then, when caught, act as if they are the victims?

You look around and wonder what happened to honour. Justice, what was that? What do we tell our disenchanted young people? We should tell them to protest against a rotten system, as we should ourselves. Maybe our tarnished elected representatives could enrol in basic citizenship classes to learn how worthwhile members of society behave and what it means to act ethically.

Meanwhile, away from the tawdry claims, it's back to the wretched per capita. It all seems just so much more demeaning now.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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