Out with the old, in with the young

29th August 1997 at 01:00
New blood for old". There is a confidence in facing the new millennium and a bullish taming of the new frontier touch about Glasgow's newest engaging little soundbite that fits in quite snugly with "Education, education, education", the catch-phrase that helped catch Tony at Ten mega votes in the election. Glasgow, in line with the city's now deeply embedded aspirations to sweep away underachievement, has come up not just with a slogan, but with its Barbarossa: a plan to revitalise the demographic structure of its teaching force, and that force's enthusiasm for the task ahead.

Anyone over 50 can face the open door before August 31, with up to five years' enhancement. Anyone, that is except headteachers.

Whenever I hear expressions like this, I reach for my history books and worry beads. It is easy to be flip, and suggest that the perpetrator got it a bit wrong and meant to say new lamps for old, in the style of Aladdin, the theme being passing on the flame of learning, not letting it sputter out, as all reports seem to suggest it might just be trying to do. No, I have a deeply ingrained suspicion of any initiative that uses "blood" in its terminology to describe aspirations. Quite frankly, it is like hearing a chorus of the Horst Wessel song coming from just over the horizon.

There is a touch of the half-full, half-empty thing about this interpretation. Putting the plan into action can mean that it may be either a transfusion or a purge, so I was glad to read Neil Munro's report on new blood (TESS, July 11) because he made clear that a cause cited by retirees can be difficulty coping with the pace of curricular change.

I hope, however, that none of the take-ups have cited it, for their own sake - and in the long run, for the sake of the authority - because there is a hint of purge in it.

Teachers putting their thumbprint on that particular escape clause run the risk of tacitly admitting that the alleged failure to achieve has been in part due to their failure to cope. Farther down the line, when responsibility for an ongoing situation may be splashed around (what happens if achievement still keeps going under?), it can then be conveniently shrugged off from where it should be, and placed on their doorsteps. I fully respect the strains that carrying out what has become a very difficult social task can produce. They are not good reasons though for volunteering to stand in front of the responsibility firing squad.

A commonplace expression in the upper reaches of the educational demographic pyramid is that during the course of service practitioners have suffered the heats and burdens of the day. Though scripture based, personally I loathe the use of that particular saw, but for many over-50s there is a lot of truth in it.

All will have given nearly 30 years to education, a tenure of service that has seen more curricular change than any other period in our educational history. Their going should be dignified and graciously effected, because they are the teaching force that took curricular change face on, and altered a system that was running the risk of sclerosis to one that was ready for change. New blood for old should mean that a transfusion is needed to staunch the haemorrhage that their passing will cause.

"New blood" does not refer to headteachers, an omission that has inspired some hot words, hot collars and a little resentment. Words like equal opportunities persist in allowing themselves to be bandied about. I suppose it is at the absolute limit of lateral thinking to presume that the authority wants really, really old heads on much younger shoulders.

Whatever the rationale, today's the day the new regulations come into force and the day, yet again, when we bid ad multos annos to some more seasoned, though not grizzled, veterans. I keep getting flashbacks to the new lamps for old line, though. The genies that were in them have gone for good. And their magic has gone with them.

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