Week in perspective

14th April 2000 at 01:00
TRAGIC evidence of the pressure teachers are under emerged this week. An inquest in Cambridgeshire heard how Pamela Relf, a teacher for 36 years, committed suicide after being criticised by Office for Standards in Education inspectors. She disappeared on her way to work on January 4 and was later found in a freezing river.

A formal complaint has been made by her school, Middlefield primary in Eynesbury about the inspection, which found "serious weaknesses".

Miss Relf, who had been told by an inspector that her lesson "lacked pace", left a note which said, "I am now finding the stress of my job too much. The pace of work and the long days are more than I can do." The inquest heard that Miss Relf had found the large number of initiatives from local and central government difficult to cope with.

Further pressure on teachers is coming from the growing problem of violence in schools. Teachers at Cheetham Hill school, Manchester have voted for industrial action rather than teach a

seven-year-old girl excluded for attacking a teacher. Members of the NUT and NASUWT unions at the school unanimously voted for action if Kisha Campbell is allowed back. Representatives of both unions said teachers would not strike but could refuse to teach the girl.

The scale of the problem was further illustrated by the resignation of a headteacher in Walthamstow, London. Anne Barker quit after being forced by governors at the 800-pupil McEntee school to take back a 15-year-old boy she had expelled for attacking her.

A spokesman for the National Association of Headteachers said the growth of the problem was linked to the Government's exclusion policy, which, he said, "effectively states that however difficult te child, they should be maintained within mainstream schools". Last week the union published a survey of more than 3,000 heads showing that violence in schools is on the increase.

It has also now joined forces with the Secondary Heads' Association to warn that rising class sizes for older children could provoke a backlash from middle-class parents. Figures released this week showed that the average secondary class size rose from 21.9 in January 1999 to 22.0 this year. But, the Government remains on course to cut all infant classes to 30 or less by 2002.

Recruitment statistics also released this week, revealed an increase in staff vacancies in English secondaries - suggesting more teachers are needed to deal with rising pupil rolls.

Better news for schools came from David Blunkett, who announced that 1,500 temporary classrooms will be replaced as part of this year's pound;600 million New Deal for Schools programme.

The cash, part of the extra money already promised for education, will also fund repairs, new toilet facilities and new heating and electrical systems. It will be spread among 6,000 schools.

In a separate announcement, the Government promised extra money for "lads and dads" schemes to help teenage boys bond with their fathers. The pound;500,000 boost was announced at the launch of the report Listen Up, which looks at the views of teenagers and what they need from Government.

Ministers will also attempt to boost "girl power" by providing assertiveness training and work experience for teenage girls. The move is an attempt to encourage them to choose traditionally "male" jobs such as engineering, rather than opting for "female" sectors such as the beauty or care industries.

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