22nd June 2001 at 01:00
Something is missing from schools - fun and teachers, and the two are connected. Like schools in many other parts of the UK, we are suffering from teacher shortages. We have not had to send children home yet, but lack of supply staff has forced some teachers to miss various courses.

In our large primary, senior staff and the special needs co-ordinator have had to jump in at the last minute to cover staff sickness. We are now contemplating the prospect of splitting classes or sending children home.

Staff shortages have also led to a phenomenon usually associated with seedy estate agents - gazumping. Two of our teachers have been lured to pastures new not only for the challenge, but also for the considerable temptation of three management points on the pay scale - worth pound;5,343 more a year. Their new schools are in an education action zone and so have the ready cash. The new teachers who will replace them offer to teach only after negotiating management points of their own. Market forces prevail. Money does not just talk, it shouts.

We've received very few applications - those we have are mostly from NQTs. We're lucky to have a well-balanced staff with a wide range of skills and experience, but other nearby schools are less fortunate. They are grateful to have any teacher at all, but complain that those they have are nearing the end of their careers or are totally inexperienced. The invaluable middle group necessary to the healthy wellbeing of any school is conspicuous by its absence.

Without this body of stalwarts, omething is missing from a school. Occasionally cynical some may be, but these teachers are those who entered the profession in pre-national curriculum days. They have enjoyed the sense of exhilaration that comes from devising their own lessons, free from the constraints of an externally imposed curriculum. They have tasted the heady freedom of untrammelled spontaneous creativity.

Young teachers have not had those opportunities, and lack the confidence to depart from the script. Many are used to following prescribed curricula because they have known nothing but the culture of compliance. Such timidity does not allow them to welcome the unplanned. And yet it is the occasional quirky, original moment developed spontaneously by a confident teacher that can truly fire the imagination of a child.

Charles Handy once wrote of "the golden seed", when there is a connection between child and teacher which cannot be measured. It may not show immediately but can lie dormant until the right moment and then have a profound effect on that child's life. Such seeds do not flourish in over-regulated conditions.

As we have been through the dark valley of Woodheadian criticism, about to emerge on to the gentle sunny uplands of Tomlinsonian approval, perhaps our youngest teachers will develop their own eccentricities and a sense of fun will return to schools. Then that uneasy feeling of "something missing" will vanish, together with the all- pervading fear of failure.

Bob Aston is head of a junior school in Medway, Kent

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