Tramps and trollops on the march

31st January 1997 at 00:00
When pupils occasionally ask if I always wanted to be a teacher I usually reply that I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. My father came into teaching under the special recruitment scheme in the early sixties; my mother worked in primary schools before age and an excess of open-plan (what exactly is a noisyquiet room?) and Cuisenaire rods in arithmetic (2 and 3 equal yellow) drove her to retirement.

Three of us have seen about 75 years of education in Glasgow - hopefully making more of a positive than a negative contribution - and it's sad to see the family business in decline. Partly from that sense of continuity, and partly from the prospect for the future I felt impelled to join last Saturday's march for education in Glasgow.

The Government blames local authorities for the present crisis - if ministers recognise a crisis at all; and certainly the refusal to grasp the nettle of closing schools hasn't helped council finances. But reducing surplus places wouldn't meet the problem of chronic underfunding; nor is it possible to pursue poll tax defaulters beyond a certain economic point.

My judgment is that the main reason for the decline in our educational services is the refusal (some would say deliberate refusal) to fund local authorities properly through an adequate rate support grant. If education and health care can be channelled to the private sector then the ideologues are happy, "nanny state" is broken down and de'il tak the hindmost if provision at the sharp end begins to falter.

And yet there is cash available whenever the political will approves. The money found for the sudden refurbishment of the opted-out 50 pupil primary school in Michael Forsyth's constituency would keep our English department in funds for 250 years; Health Care International in Clydebank is subsidised without shame; "consultants" threaten to engulf education and health - not in the classrooms or wards but as paid parasites spawned by the enterprise culture of friends with influence. Fees commanded by these hangers on, by quango-collectors, by political placemen and women, would dwarf the budgets of those professionals entrusted to do their work in schools or in hospitals.

Incredible as it might seem, Pounds 10 per pupil per year would be generous beyond dreams for a departmental head to provide books, paper, other stationery, computers, video and audio material or any other resources likely to make education attractive (or competitive) to a modern pupil.

I doubt if the Scottish Office would deign to buy wine so cheaply. Yet teachers and schools are increasingly being asked to make educational bricks without financial straw. Transferring teachers mid-term, with the resultant disruption to timetables and relationships, diminishing supply cover, rotting fabric and fittings, unnecessary and imposed extravagant curricular changes. All these hasten the decline of the state education sector in Scotland. Yet the vast majority of the population use that sector and want it to continue.

It is difficult to rouse teachers to demonstrate or take to the streets. They are overwhelmingly middle class and reluctant to walk behind banners in public view. I can remember the angry Edinburgh matron who, from the pavement of the Mound, spat "You're nothing but tramps and trollops" towards a line of marching teachers in the early eighties.

The turnout last Saturday was proof that the tramps and trollops have returned. I for one was glad to be there.

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