Rebirth of hope?

21st April 2000 at 01:00
THERE are at least two ways of working out whether it is Easter, and one is much simpler than the other. You can either check that April 23 is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox - or you can open a newspaper and look for teachers' conference reports chronicling the tribulations of classroom life.

This weekend's conference headlines may be the biggest since 1995 - the year that NUT hotheads made the mistake of jostling David Blunkett and (more importantly) his guide dog Lucy. There will be strike calls aplenty, but they should not be dismissed as mere rhetoric. This year, the unions really are aggrieved about workload and plans for "modernising" the profession. Mr Blunkett can enumerate the many ways in which he is improving the lot of schools and teachers. But it appears that his Government has so far failed to achieve the right balance between pressure and support.

In today's Friday magazine we provide some insight into the excessive hours that teachers are working (heads often have to turf staff out of school at night). But it is harder to convey the stress and despondency that many teachers are experencing. Union leaders are concerned about their members' plight (Analysis, page 19). And even Carol Adams, chief executive of the General Teaching Council - which wants to make teachers feel "10ft tall" - acknow-ledges that morale is at an all-time low.

The GTC may one day offer teachers a miracle growth hormone. But it is the unions who currently hold the floor. The Government should listen carefully to what they have to say - even though some of it will be contradictory - and make overdue adjustments to teachers' workload.

It must also review the demands made by school inspections. It would be naive to respond to the death of Pamela Relf and previous OFSTED-related suicides by calling for an end to inspection (no one suggests scrapping A-levels when teenagers kill themselves at exam time). There can be no easing-up on expectations. But the perceived harshness of many OFSTED judgments must be reduced, and more pastoral support provided during inspections. If that happens, the apparently pointless death of Ms Relf will have offered teachers some hope of better things to come - an especially appropriate outcome at Eastertime.

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