Summer of discontent

14th July 2000 at 01:00
AS the summer holiday beckons, can it ever have seemed more welcome? Heads and teachers, already drowning under waves of bureaucracy and the ever-rising demands of targets and the OFSTED, also experienced this term the tidal bore of 200,000 threshold applications ripping through schools. Inept performance management training for heads as the year ended was, for many, the final straw.

The TES reported some years ago that heads were turning Prozac. So it is no surprise to learn from a survey of headteachers in one well-run local authority that 40 per cent of those responding had consulted their doctor and 30 per cent are under medication (page 5).

School leaders who apparently prefer to become lorry drivers or bartenders are not exceptional; as The TES reported last week, vacancies for heads are 40 per cent up this year. For those remaining, even the end of term promises less respite than normal. In addition to summer schools and the dramas of exam results and university entrance which are increasingly moving schools towards a 52-week operation, many teachers face returning in September without a full complement of colleagues to back them up.

Wit the recruitment failures clearly reaching crisis proportions in some areas, advertisements from schools seeking maths teachers have risen by two thirds, far outnumbering the maths specialists qualifying this year.

Croydon has had to send a delegation to Australia to seek staff. And training salaries have not improved recruitment of graduates.

Last week in The TES Michael Barber, the Government's standards guru, spelt out passionately and at some length the rationale for Labour's reforms and its determination to see them through. Many in schools would support its laudable aims even if they find the "high challenge" of government strategy more evident than its "high support", moral or material. But as Barber pointed out, "World-class standards will elude us unless we can recruit, retain and develop teachers and school leaders of real quality."

The Government has assumed unprecedented control of education. It cannot escape, therefore, full responsibility for the failure to ensure that there are enough teachers willing and able to achieve the standards it has ordained, in the very schools it has declared a top priority for improvement.

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