Portrait of the teacher as a poor man

23rd June 2000 at 01:00
YOU probably know the Van Gogh fallacy: "He was impoverished and misunderstood in his life, yet Van Gogh is now recognised as a great artist: I am impoverished and misunderstood, so I too will eventually be recognised as a great artist."

Such reasoning can be seductive to wishful thinkers, and never more so since the McCrone report hit the decks of Scottish schools. Yes, I know you probably thought everything to be said about McCrone has been covered, but you would be wrong.

Listen to the Van Gogh fallacy re McCrone: "People spend money on their priorities. The Government's priority is education, education and education, so the Government must spend money on education. The McCrone report is about education, so the Government will fund its recommendations."

The politician's answer has dominated any "Scottish Executive response" to McCrone. I am hacked off with the rhetorical technique which avoids giving direct answers to questions. Why has Sam Galbraith not said that the Government will fund the package? Is that not what used to happen? Governments set up working groups to examine all manner of things but usually agree to finance the results.

In the 1980s, for instance, I was a member of a working group investigating maternity services in West Grampian. Michael Forsyth, who needs no formal introduction to readers, stated that he would fund our recommendations regardless of the cost. Most crucially, he said so when he set up the group. I am not being party political here, but alluding to good old-fashioned . . . integrity, I think is the word.

The slippery slope argument comes into play. Sam Galbraith should note that, if you take one step down a slippery slope, you run the risk of sliding ever faster until you crash. The farther down the slope you go, the more difficult it is to stop. Eventually you can't stop even if you desperately want to. And if the McCrone report is not funded in full by the Executive, te crash at the bottom will be immense, not least in the depth of irony it plummets to.

What evidence is there of improvement in education since Tony Blair and his team took over? As with the ailing health service, there is little concrete evidence of radical change. Poorly-maintained school buildings, little change in class sizes, immeasurable chaos on the Higher Still front, a social inclusion policy on the cheap, are but some of the factors by which one might judge the success of educational advances. Many issues are just waiting to explode. The implementation of McCrone might just turn down the heat.

Take teachers' salaries. Many of my colleagues of a certain age find that their children are earning more than themselves before the dust has settled on the graduation photos. We must have more attractive financial incentives to ensure that young graduates take up a career in teaching.

But it's not just the new recruits who are badly served. My brother, as a non-teacher, is by far the most wealthy member of the family. He asked me what headteachers earned and was utterly shocked to find out. What? In a school of 1,000 pupils with responsibility for so many staff? You can imagine the rest of our chat, especially when he told me that his car salesmen earn substantially more than the average headteacher.

So where does that leave McCrone? Back to the Van Gogh fallacy? That and another well-known diversionary tactic aptly termed "shifting the goalposts". This is when the Education Minister will change what is being argued for in mid-

debate, and money will come into it. It reminds me of Lewis Carroll's Through The Looking-Glass. Humpty Dumpty rather scornfully says to Alice, when she disputes his definition of a word: "When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more or less." That's exactly what I am afraid of with the implementation of McCrone. Especially when the word is money.

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