So why do I feel left out?;Opinion

15th October 1999 at 01:00
A VISIT to the cinema, and Bertrand Tavernier's new film, Ca Commence Aujourd'hui ("It All Starts Today"), about a nursery headteacher in a dispossessed part of northern France. He is struggling against poverty, unemployment, political indifference, officialdom that spins a candyfloss web of excuses for why it can't do more to help, and occasional parental aggression.

It's a sympathetic film but not a romantic one. There are triumphs, but not before tragedies, and the personal toll of doing the job - because the headteacher is interested in the children - is movingly portrayed. He fights all-comers, for what could be called social inclusion. This film and Une Semaine de Vacances ("A Week's Holiday"), about a teacher on the verge of a breakdown, are two of the most accurate pictures of school life that I have seen.

Our own advocate of social inclusion, Sam Galbraith, is reported as being amazed that physics teachers haven't had refresher courses or that French teachers don't read foreign magazines. Why stop there - geography teachers who hate travelling, English teachers who don't read novels, PE teachers who smoke, technical teachers who buy flatpack furniture, home economics teachers who never visit restaurants - should they not all feel the lash of Captain Sam's tongue?

If teachers are all compelled to staff after-school homework clubs, Saturday morning clubs, holiday projects, what happens to their own families? Are their own health problems and troublesome teenagers to be neglected, or infirm parents sidelined because of increased demands on time?

The number of unattached young teachers relatively free from family responsibilities has sharply declined over the past 20 years. This demographic trend, rather than bolshy striking teachers, has influenced the decline in sport over the past decade. Teachers are not primarily the reason why Scotland have a poor football team, or England are bottom of the international league at cricket.

Similarly, directed time means the director's agenda is serviced before the pupils' central needs of teacher correction and preparation, which in turn are shunted increasingly on to an already crowded home timetable. One person's social inclusion becomes another's social exclusion.

It seems to me the employers are the greedy ones. Do the job, prepare for the job, correct the results of the job, retrain yourself on the job and donate your spare time to enhance the job. That way the stress between work and home is compounded. And this is why the Tavernier films have such ironic resonance in my mind.

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