Pardon me if I stir my witch's cauldron

27th August 2004 at 01:00
Well, that's it then. The glorious summer is over and the winter of our discontent looms. I pause. This is one of the times when I know that my fingers should be poised to tap out several hundred words of cheery stuff but I am struck by gloom. Ahead, the new academic year menaces and, far from seizing a carpe diem approach to school life, I see lining up, in Shakespearean tragic mode, doom-bearing apparitions.

Teacher shortage headlines screamed at home while I was admiring an endangered species of protected turtles in Turkey. Many schools will be starting the new term minus their quota of subject specialists.

Headteachers are having to employ the "hey, fingers crossed" routine, that supply teachers will materialise miraculously out of the mist.

Sometimes the situation is so desperate that schools knowingly take on supply teachers they know simply do not cut the mustard. It is surprising that there are not more parent complaints.

Why are we not attracting sufficient teachers? The salary is now pretty acceptable and holidays continue to surpass those of any other profession.

Supposedly we now work a manageable 35-hour week. Not true, though. I work at least 50 hours a week, often more.

Therein lurks a problem - unequal division of labour. Lazy and incompetent teachers continue to play the system, immune to the disciplinary procedures to which other professionals might be exposed. Potential recruits see this and understandably do not want to be part of such duplicity - one law for the teachers and another for the pupils. In simple terms, how can you chastise a kid for being late if you are regularly late yourself?

Another stalking threat. Inadequate per capita. Despite avowed financial commitments by our political masters, allocation of finance to schools remains pitifully low. Naturally, this has a knock-on effect on achievement and attainment. It's difficult to manage without enough textbooks but often that is the bald reality. Schools run on peanuts and goodwill.

In Moray, we are currently engaged in an exercise to make improvements as a result of a recent HMI inspection. Of course, the most helpful thing HMI could do is recommend that the Scottish Executive increase monies for Moray so that the authority can allocate per capita commensurate with the financial demands of 2004.

A daunting prospect at the start of any new term is the lack of support for learning staff - another occasionally spotted species, usually looking after pupils with records of needs. The tendency to educate all pupils in the mainstream, regardless of their needs, has meant that pupils with less obvious learning difficulties, such as mild dyslexia, are simply sacrificed on the altar of inclusion. This is an increasing source of stress for all of us and something we should be protesting over.

But the biggest and goriest apparition of all has to be discipline.

Teachers are frequently accused of exaggerating declining standards of behaviour. Various statistics are flashed to demonstrate that things are not as bad as the media depict. Yet the majority of teachers will have been on the receiving end of unacceptable impudence over the past year and there is zero evidence that things will improve this session.

For myself, I am completely fed up with disruptive pupils and their unsupportive parents who screw up the learning process for everyone else.

I am bound to say that writing - words being the major currency in which I deal - about these problems is valid because we must confront the issues.

These comments come not from a surly cynic who has had enough of the classroom - far from it. I am possibly more committed than ever to teaching and I enjoy being with most of my pupils.

Naturally, there will be a bit of flak but, for some of these critics at least, non-speaking parts would be best.

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

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