Testing loyalty to the limit

29th March 1996 at 00:00
A state system loyalist explains why he doesn't regret his decision to go private

For more than 20 years I taught in inner city comprehensives always believing that, despite problems, they had no equal. We were led to believe that "remedial" should be called "special needs", "streaming" called "banding", "reports" called "assessments". We believed that eschewing didactic teaching made us experts in "mixed-ability". Semantics!

My wife and I decided against selective schools for our children and we remained loyal to the state system. But by the mid-Eighties we were feeling let down. Trying to be politically correct, teachers were defending their every move. Children were sacrificed on the altar of market-force funding. I had thoroughly enjoyed my career and had become a deputy head. But by 1992 nothing we did was right. I was 100 per cent angry - and exhausted.

Every missive from the local education authority was a joke: "We know how busy you are butI" they began, before requiring cart-loads of senseless, political statistics, determining what nationality each child's grandmother was, or what language he or she spoke in the holidays.

The last straw was when the LEA offered free self-defence classes to teachers as an answer to violence. And so, after 24 years in inner London schools, I retired. My income fell by two-thirds - a blow in your fifties when you have a Pounds 100,000 mortgage. I applied to teach part-time at a local private school and have never regretted it. We work our socks off but the joy of teaching again is indescribable. I organise theatre trips without having political correctness breathed down my neck.

Then came the comparisons, the realisation that the state sector had been slowly throttled by a government which seemed hell-bent on destroying teachers who cannot create profits; the Sauline revelation that our political masters had got it wrong.

The school I teach at has nearly 80 teachers and 41 support staff, with 830 literate pupils. OK, it is a richly-endowed school and I am grateful for the resources, but scales fell from my eyes.

My inner city school also had 800-plus pupils, many with learning difficulties or no English at all. Dozens were war refugees. Most did not have a comfortable, motivated family behind them and a lot were violent.

We had 72 teachers in 1985. Eight years later we had 49, and had to lose another three. There were 11 support staff who once didn't get their monthly pay cheque when the LEA ran out of money. Yet daily we were harangued for not "doing the job" that was well nigh impossible to do.

Now, from my privileged position, I am angry in the know-ledge that schools are being suffocated by a lack of resources and political will.

Were I a political animal with children again, I would seek maximum publicity to show just how shoddily our children and local authority schools have been treated and funded, and how one of my best friends from college days is now, as a head, a virtually broken man.

I would pray for a bold, generous and visionary gesture by some party or other to resource schools to which every one of us would be proud to send our children.

Eric Jones teaches English, drama and religious education at Trinity School in the London borough of Croydon

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