Rage against the insane system

25th April 2003 at 01:00
"Nice but dim" is how Huw Thomas imagines I see teachers (TES, April 18).

Not at all. It's a pity that your readers seem to have been given a skewed idea of what I'm saying. Ever since I acquired a public voice, I have defended teachers; I have praised their dedication and knowledge; I have argued passionately, in print, on platforms, and recently in person to the Secretary of State, for all teachers to have more time to develop the rich inner life that is so important and so valuable when it's allowed expression in school. I don't think I've got anything to prove when it comes to standing up for teachers.

Three weeks ago I gave a lecture in which I described some aspects of the present situation as I see it. I said that since James Callaghan's famous "great debate" speech 25 years ago, the confidence that was there in schools when I was a young teacher seems to have drained away, and that a culture of nervousness and apprehension has taken its place. The insane insistence on testing and league tables is almost totalitarian in its insistence on conformity.

And what suffers mostly from this is the broad-based, wise, humane teaching that depends on a real intellectual and imaginative engagement with stories and poems and drama; and what results from it is a kind of narrowness of reference, and an apparent lack of intellectual curiosity in some young pupils.

How can they help it? The present system does not reward them for displaying qualities it's not capable of measuring. In a different system, they would be able to develop all the qualities they truly have.

I am sorry if teachers feel that this is an unforgivable slur on them. It really is not. If anyone is interested in reading the whole of what I have to say on the subject, they can look at my website, philip-pullman.com. I hope they will find more to agree with than to criticise.

Philip Pullman (Address supplied)

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