Time to blow the whistle on Mr Major

28th July 1995 at 01:00
For a short time earlier in my life I had a desperate urge to become an MP. For about four years I took active steps to try to secure a place among those people who sit and pontificate about the way we live and how they can bring about change.

I like to think that I was moved by a desire to improve the lot of the underprivileged but if I am honest baser motives can be identified. The pay was reasonable and the holidays were far better than even teachers could ever contemplate. However, on reflection, what appeared most attractive about the work of an MP was the virtual absence of any personal accountability for your party's decisions. With a shrug of the shoulders you could always claim that circumstances were beyond your control.

Memories of my youthful flirt with politics surfaced recently as I was observing the Prime Minister launch his national initiative on sport. His performance oozed sincerity and concern about the decline of sport in schools and some of the electorate might have been suitably impressed. Yet, as I listened to, and read about what was being said, I did not come across one word which overtly suggested that the ruling party of the past 16 years might have been a major player in the decline of school sport.

In his introductory letter in Sport - Raising The Game, Mr Major does write one sentence which gives some semblance of hope that he is about to come clean, put up his hands and shout "Fair cop guv, it's down to us". Reflecting on the problems for sport, he writes that some of them have been ". . . created by misguided attitudes and mistaken policies over the last generation". But reading what follows shows that "Honest John" is more intent on creating a smoke screen to cover the negligence of successive Tory governments when it comes to school sport.

For sport to be a thriving concern many teachers have to give up many hours outside the normal working day. When this time was given freely, sport was never "relegated to be just one part of one subject in the curriculum" as Mr Major says it is now. In schools up and down the country much of this voluntary teacher time has now disappeared and Mr Major ought not to fool himself when asking why. Nowhere has he mentioned teacher morale and how it has been systematically eroded by what has been done to the profession by politicians.

Has Mr Major forgotten the thousands of words that members of his party have used telling the public how bad and lazy our teachers are? Has he forgotten that it was his party which considered teachers so lazy that they had to stipulate a 1,265-hour minimum working year without considering that most teachers worked far more anyway? Has he forgotten that it is his party that has largely presided over the fall of teachers' pay in the non-manual earnings league table?

If he can face up to reality in considering these questions, Mr Major ought to be able to come up with some truthful answers to the question of why sport has had to "compete for time in an increasingly crowded school day".

Again it was his party that so distrusted the competence of teachers that they had to legislate heavily to dictate what was to be taught. Such a pig's ear was made of this legislation that teachers had to spend all of their time trying to make a quart fit into a pint pot. No wonder extra-curricular sport took a back seat.

Above all Mr Major is a politician, and it is not in a politician's nature to admit previous mistakes. Much better to become involved in sleight of hand, blaming other people and being the knight in shining armour riding to the rescue with a bold initiative. Such action does not have to become bogged down with details because it is the overall impression of firm action that counts. Forget that there is only Pounds 4 million of new money on the table for schools. Just fob them off with the old line "I do not believe every problem needs a financial answer".

Being a bit creative with the truth will also help the cause. Let the punters think that positive action has already been taken. Despite the fact that few in schools know about it, tell the electorate at large that from August: "The curriculum sets down a minimum of two hours each week of formal games lesson time" (The Sunday Telegraph, July 16). It doesn't matter that this bloke Dearing, who dug us out of the last hole we created, only recommends that physical education should take "about 5 per cent of teaching time" (1 hour 15 minutes) for 14 to 16-year-olds and even less lower down the age range. Forget that it was promised the curriculum would not be changed by legislation because of Dearing's work. A week is a long time in politics and people have short memories.

Oh how good it must feel to be in politics. You can have such fun telling people what to do and then changing your mind and telling them how foolish and naive they have been for their ill-thought-out actions. Even that young Mr Blair has joined in the jolly japes. He has told his followers how stupid they are for being anti grant-maintained schools - a stance which he himself had previously endorsed.

I think I could have enjoyed strutting my stuff in the House of Commons. Yet then again, perhaps I might have been out of place. Especially when I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Anthony Bevins of The Observer. He was writing about Tory MPs, but I believe his comments were applicable to the individuals who sit on both sides of the House. Bevins wrote that: "With some very honourable exceptions it includes the most lying load of two-faced shysters assembled outside of one of Her Majesty's prisons."

As I pack my rods for my fishing holiday I think I might drink to that.

The author is the headteacher of a south London comprehensive.

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