Save our schools from the seeping stench of decay

15th May 2009 at 01:00

School stinks. It's a waste of money. The pupils hate it; the parents hate it; the Assembly government obviously hates it; and, of course, teachers hate it, too. We all hate it, so let's scrap schools and do what the Assembly government does best - spend a few years consulting everyone on getting rid of it. I'm in charge of this consultation because I'm out of a job.

And, of course, just like the government, I won't take the slightest bit of notice of what the results are because I have already made up my mind what's going to happen.

Here are my findings. First, 99 per cent of pupils think school is a place to go to meet their mates and have a laugh. Second, 99 per cent of parents think school is somewhere to leave their kids for as long as possible so they can go to work or get on with their lives. Third, 99 per cent of government ministers think school is a place to put people to keep the unemployment figures down. Fourth, 99 per cent of teachers think all of the above, but teachers get paid and the holidays are pretty good, so be it.

School has very little to do with education then, which is just as well because schools in my county, Powys, are deprived of funds. Education is no longer always a teachers' priority: thinking about how they can make a living when they lose their job is much more important.

This isn't good for morale, of course, but perhaps teachers are just beginning to feel what life is like for the majority of the rest of the population. Life is hard, times are tough, and no one is guaranteed a job for life anymore.

Teaching used to be a vocation; now it's just a job. We can get hired and fired with very little warning. Whole schools close, of course, and teachers and heads know there is no guarantee of finding another teaching job within a hundred miles.

The danger is that all the goodwill that keeps schools going - from the teacher who gives up an evening, to the teacher who buys their own resources and never asks for remuneration - will slowly ebb away, causing a further drain on each school's diminishing resources. Money is running out fast and schools are facing a funding crisis the like of which none of us has ever seen. I cannot afford to replace basic resources. I tell my staff we have no money - none at all - so I tell them to look after those smelly, tattered books because we are not able to replace them.

Schools are starting to smell. Our resources, furniture and carpets are beginning to look distinctly tatty. They are beginning to whiff. Schools have always smelt, of course. When I was a small boy, my first school always had a distinct odour of sick and disinfectant, but somehow this new smell is worse.

Our computers are looking the worse for wear. With no money to replace them, I'm wondering if we should learn the benefits of the abacus. We are going backward, not forwards, unless, of course, it is to feed the government's data obsession. My local authority recently gave me three weeks to spend Pounds 700 on an office computer - a machine that is used primarily for sending data to the Welsh Assembly. Three weeks to order and pay for a new machine. But Pounds 700 represents about a third of what my school spends on resources every year. Money can be found when the stream of government data is threatened, but not when a child's learning is at stake.

What is going on?

The bureaucrats have taken over the asylum. Meanwhile, children sit in classes that get bigger and bigger, sharing resources that get tattier and tattier, smellier and smellier, taught by teachers who are expected to take on more and more and who spend their evenings not searching for new and exciting ideas, but looking for a new career in preparation for when the axe falls on them or their school.

Isn't this depressing? No, not really, because we all know it's true - we just haven't got used to the idea. School budgets are so stretched it is impossible to see how we can go on. We are still expected to plan ahead, of course, and we see the rafts of new initiatives crashing down the rapids towards us as we tread water, trying to get a breath.

I'll listen to experts, I'll listen to people who know what they are talking about, but our leaders have created a system in which Estyn, the Welsh inspectorate, has one direction, the Assembly government another, and over there, in the corner, squeaking like a helium intoxicated mouse, is the General Teaching Council for Wales. What are they going on about? Who cares?

Meanwhile, schools are in cardiac arrest. Instead of sending for an ambulance, the government sends us another box of glossy booklets, complete with gurning teacher on the cover, telling us something or other that is of no real consequence to anyone.

I used to laugh and fling them into the skip. These days I think twice before I chuck them out. I have found a use for them. They give off the delicious smell of new stationery, so I've placed them carefully in the school foyer, by the main entrance where, I hope, they'll cover up the damp and dismal smell of the rest of the place.

Andrew Strong, Headteacher, Llanbister Primary, Powys, and a children's author.

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