No, comrade, I don't feel your pain...

14th April 2006 at 01:00
The Easter union conferences will be the usual whingefest, predicts Jill Parkin. Normal, sane teachers won't get a look-in

There was a time I when used to pretend that I had seen the Easter bunny in our garden. The children, who were still little and gullible, would rush to the window, claim they'd just caught a glimpse of retreating tail, and dash into the garden to find the eggs I'd planted earlier.

These days, to see lots of seasonal haring about and rabbiting on I can just put them in front of the television, as it gives the usual disproportionate coverage to the conferences of the teaching unions.

Easter's a quiet time news-wise and it seems like half the nation's cameramen and reporters spend the season embedded with frontline classroom fighters in Birmingham and Torquay.

Every Easter we are shown the same few crazed teachers who somehow get to the front of the hall to address a largely normal-looking bunch of people.

They're a bit smarter than they were a few years ago when they all looked like mad professors from a Quentin Blake illustration. The sandals, beards and John Lennon glasses have largely disappeared, but they all still wear that perennial item of educationist's uniform: an outsized chip on the shoulder.

It doesn't matter what the agenda is, those who speak at education conferences (and I have covered Blackpool, Scarborough, Brighton and even Llandudno in my time) have a strange light in their eyes and crystal-clear memories of every affront they ever suffered during their schooldays.

Nobly, they are determined that every child today should be protected from whatever it was. Frankly, they should get over it, but that's never on their personal agenda.

I sometimes wonder - and never more so than at conference time - if some people are attracted to teaching and education precisely because they had such a miserable time when they were pupils. Not content with quietly proving they can teach better than they were taught, they just have to get on a soapbox and share their pain with the rest of us - even decades later.

Forever scarred by failing the 11-plus in 1969? Why then, let us abolish all failure. The grades have been going up nicely for a couple of decades and with any luck medical schools will soon be opening their doors to people who would have failed their 11-plus in 1969.

Slippered by Mrs Fanshawe when you were nine for pouring your free school milk down the drain? An argument for inclusion of all badly behaved children into the mainstream, regardless of disruption. A fair chance for every child (except the other 29 in the class).

Undiagnosed dyslexia, leading to low self-esteem and an inability to appreciate anything harder than the adventures of Dennis the Menace in The Anobe? So we must abandon difficult texts, bring in DVDs, and make performing arts a compulsory GCSE subject.

The trouble is, all this pain-sharing all too easily becomes policy, given the oxygen of publicity and a political elite (sorry, rude word) fighting for the touchy-feely high ground.

So, in the Easter spirit of renewal and fresh beginnings, this is what should happen at the beginning of every conference. Everyone with an ancient grievance from their own schooldays should be sent home, excluded for three days. Tell-tale signs are the old strange light in the eyes and a tendency to foam at key words such as selection, gold standard, special schools, A*, discipline, phonics and Ofsted.

Without the foaming fringe, you'd then be free to discuss what unions are supposed to major on - pay and conditions.

Because teaching is a caring and concerned profession, its big showcase conferences should concentrate on educational issues and providing ordinary teachers with an opportunity to have their say.

This is the Easter story we won't get, because normal teachers don't get to the front in Birmingham and Torquay and the agenda is still being set by yesterday's men and women with yesterday's grievances.

Jill Parkin is a parent and journalist

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