Thanks Philip, but I like my staff

18th April 2003 at 01:00
Nice but dim. This is the impression of teachers paraded on the front page of The TES two weeks ago.

The author, Philip Pullman, commends our niceness but notes: "The most able people, on the whole, do not go into teaching", adding that we are "not intellectually adventurous".

One suggestion he mooted was whether we shouldn't be allowed to teach until we reach 35, having "lived a bit".

In fairness to Mr Pullman, let me start by saying the news article drew on one-fifth of an otherwise supportive and inspiring critique of education.

However, I take issue with that fifth.

OK, on the intellect side I admit I was a bit of a school flunky. I also know that when I found the job I wanted, I studied to became a good teacher. On my staff I do not want MENSA members or PhDs. I want educators who can gently manage 30 infants, explain war to seven year-olds and sex to a 10-year-old.

Coming back to Mr Pullman's other point, I'm 38 and my staff average 30-something. Have they lived a bit? Our inner-city primary incorporates 18 languages. Every social challenge of the inner city is the stuff of our life. Who will battered mum confide in? Who steps in when families are being evicted?

When the first crop of refugees emerges from the Gulf, the people who will first connect with those families, care for and listen to them will be in their local primary. I sometimes just hope my staff have not lived too much.

Primary education may not seem like an intellectual hotbed and young teachers may seem lacking in experience. Yet I stand in awe of the way they garner experience and apply it.

Thanks for the concern Philip, but scarcely a day goes by when I don't look round the staff room and give thanks for the intellect and experience of my bunch.

Huw Thomas is head of Springfield school, Sheffield

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