We're the answer, not the problem;Opinion;News amp; Opinion

12th November 1999 at 00:00
DURING a recent meeting with a Dutch headteacher, the conversation turned to the fact that we had both been in our respective posts for many years but we didn't feel stuck in a rut. Each day brought its own successes and problems.

On the following day, Tony Blair accused forces within teaching of being resistant to change. He made his remarks to 500 new heads who had been specially invited and bribed with free laptops. The clear message was that it would be the new people who would make the difference and it is those of us who have been around for a long time who are dragging the system down.

One day on, my misery was compounded by receiving my first mailshot from Help the Aged, offering insurance for the over-50s. This was the final hint that my optimism of a few days before was misplaced and that my time as a useful member of the profession, as well as a member of the human race, is seen by others as coming to a rapid conclusion.

However, I do not feel completely useless since I am part of a teaching force that has always been involved in change - despite what Mr Blair says for the headlines. The Primary Memorandum of 1965 was the beginning of modern primary education and the herald of 30 years of change. It has given birth to a fascinating list of the important and the insignificant which describes the movement in schools during that time.

There has been increased accountability, greater challenge from parents and pupils, curriculum differentiation and an appreciation of the contribution of a school's ethos to effective learning, but too often it was the silly fads that caused trouble. It is difficult to believe that I was once a member of staff at a new school where blackboards were not provided.

This was because class lessons and direct teaching were to be discouraged and any illustration required could be done with felt-tip pens on newsprint. We did not have any textbooks for eight months either but that did not matter because textbooks had fallen under suspicion too, along with jotters with lined pages and any attempt to impart factual information.

The problem is not that teachers are resistant to change. The teachers I meet are committed to their pupils and will take on any new development which will improve the children's education. Some recent initiatives have been admirable, such as devolved school management and many parts of the 5-14 curriculum, but there are too many instances of teachers being expected to change their practices when they have not been convinced that change is for the better.

Some changes were not properly thought through or were not well explained and implemented while others were just a convenient vehicle to progress a rising career.

Poorly managed change leads to an increase in levels of anxiety and stress and more teacher absences, all of which are more evident than ever before. Teachers know that not all change is good and that not all change is to the advantage of pupils. They are prepared to move forward if they see that there are benefits and that they will be given the resources, particularly time, to make change work.

Tony Blair is right to look to headteachers as the keys to effective change but there is no way forward except through building good relationships among all staff and the development of their self-esteem and confidence. This will not be achieved by labelling them "forces of conservatism" and "resistant to change", nor can anything of substance be achieved overnight on the basis of anyone's diktat.

The education service is not stuck in complacency like Marks and Spencer or Sainsbury. There is much goodwill to take on new ideas for the good of children if the process is done well.

Over to you, then, Mr Blair while I turn my attention to the more pressing matter of the onslaught on my self-

esteem from Help the Aged.

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