Talkback

23rd March 2001 at 00:00
I recently heard the General Teaching Council's chief executive, David Puttnam, addressing a headteachers' conference. It was compelling stuff, telling me how valuable teachers are, and how future generations will depend on our effort and commitment. It made me want to get back to school and strive to work even harder for the children in my care. A fellow head said the address should have been taped and broadcast in every staffroom in the country. The messages, you see, are not getting to the right people.

My previous experience of Lord Puttnam was as producer of my favourite film, Chariots of Fire. The film traced the story of the 1924 Olympics, and the parts played by athletes Harold Abrams and Eric Liddell. The basic story was that Harold cheated, employing a professional coach in the Corinthian age, whereas Eric was the epitome of the perfect athlete, refusing, despite pressure from the Prince of Wales, to run on a Sunday, and yet still winning a gold medal in his less favoured event.

Abrams progressed to a managerial position, running British Amateur Athletics, whereas Liddell went as a missionary to China, where he died prematurely.

Is Lord Puttnam a Corinthian or a professional? Can he counter the extreme apathy about the advent of the General Teaching Council? Because the majority of teachers, I am sure, don't care. They may care more when they have to pay for the privilege of joining, but at the moment, there are higher priorities. We are too busy battling to do our jobs well.

And there's the rub. We are perceived quite differently by the public than we are by ourselves. Everyone knows what a plumber does. Everyone knows what a teacher does because everyone went to school. Long holidays, sure. But long hours, too.

At the conference, Lord Puttnam said that he hoped the new GTC ould be a force for bettering the public image and countering the negative press that the profession has encountered. I remain sceptical.

The National Teaching Awards are a valiant effort to raise the profession's profile - although most teachers regard them as a nonsense. We do the job every day, without adequate reward in terms of pay or respect - to most of us, respect is more important. I try valiantly to say thank you to my staff, but find that time is a great enemy. Lord Puttnam has told me that what I do is valuable. But who tells the teachers?

The steady drip feed of information about the GTC is not enough. Literacy hour, the numeracy project, Curriculum 2000, performance management, threshold pay - these are immediate concerns, and it is difficult for teachers to see a wider or more forward-looking picture.

The agenda for Lord Puttnam, the GTC - and me - is to make our teachers feel valued as well as challenged. Divisiveness will ruin our chances for success, either in terms of increased kudos or a better standard of living. The teaching unions, rightly, look after their members, but is it coincidence that the Educational Institute of Scotland has, through the McCrane agreement, achieved such a good settlement for its members, whereas we are, as usual, divided and largely impotent, despite the Government's declared intention: education, education, education?

I hope Lord Puttnam can maintain his love for education and fondness for teachers. We need every friend we can get, especially influential ones, if we are to be successful in educating a generation which will determine our future. As Lord Puttnam said, a primary teacher somewhere has a future prime minister in his or her class. I just hope it's not Shane.

John Flanagan is head of Merton Bank CP school, St Helens


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