'Nonsense' diet leaves no room for respect

31st January 1997 at 00:00
Frances Rafferty examines the election wish-list of the Secondary Heads Association, and samples three individual views

"More money, less meddling" is a possible slogan for the Secondary Heads Association manifesto for the general election.

The document itself is a more sober, studied affair that deliberately avoids the politician's soundbite. John Sutton, the union's general secretary, is already sick of what he calls the educational nonsense the pre-election period is producing.

He said: "This diet of nonsense includes the ideas politicians have which they think will sound good to voters, but have absolutely no bearing on reality. This includes the cadet forces idea, the latest pronouncements on homework and the idea that selection increases choice when it patently does the opposite. "

The union believes politicians should respect the profession. It says: "SHA members have proved themselves adept at coping with change in recent years. They have taken on a series of reforms, many ill-thought-out, some beneficial, have mediated them to school circumstances and introduced them in schools. .. The association believes that a period of relative stability is now needed in order that the more positive reforms can take full effect. If further radical reforms are to be contemplated, there should be full and genuine consultation ..."

Funding, as ever, is the main bone of contention. The manifesto says: "There is a crisis in schools - not of behaviour, but of funding." A poll of SHA council members shows that in many cases the health and safety of pupils and staff are at risk because of dangerous buildings caused by underfunding. Some of the greatest problems are with schools built in the 1960s and 1970s which have leaking roofs and rotten frames.

The report says there are numerous examples of vermin and even wild animal dangers, which on further investigation turn out to be mice, rats, foxes, badgers, rabbits and pigeons.

The overcrowding of children in temporary classrooms is widespread. Michael Stewart, head of Westlands school in Torquay, can confirm many points of the poll. In a recent Office for Standards in Education report, inspectors said there were several important matters that could affect the health and safety of staff and pupils. It said: "Despite the best efforts of staff to provide an attractive learning environment, the quality of the accommodation adversely affects the quality of education and the standards of attainment."

The school is on a split site with the playing fields on a third.Thirty-two classrooms are huts, all in a dilapidated state with damp seeping through the walls, torn carpets and broken furnishings. The changing rooms were described as particularly dangerous by OFSTED, with broken walls and filthy floors.

Mr Stewart says this is the result of years of underfunding. "If it is raining there is nowhere for the children to go and they have to wait outside getting wet. The OFSTED report, while saying the school is friendly and doing its best, adds the accommodation means progress will be slow."

The report tries not be party political but SHA does single out Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector, as acting against the interests of education. The manifesto calls for a "revised OFSTED organisation, genuinely independent of political influence."


* More funding and maximum delegation with a national funding formula based upon needs-related, activity-led models

* Probationary year for newly qualified teachers

* Establishment of a General Teaching Council

* Repeal of collective worship legislation

* Reform of the inspection service and the introduction of a system of school self-evaluation which is externally monitored and supported

* Local education authorities should support schools, and not run them.

* Schools should be able to shop around for services.

* Right of teachers to leave profession with dignity and a pension after 30 years' service

* End of the automatic requirement to hold an annual parents' evening

* End of "raw" school performance tables

* Greater emphasis on the continuity of the curriculum from 14 to 19 with a unified system of courses and no artificial separation of vocational and academic education.

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