What a difference a day makes

11th December 1998 at 00:00
I heard this really good idea the other day. It was all about having a National Teachers' Day. Interestingly, it came from a primary pupil, which shows that there is still one section of the community which appreciates us.

Interestingly, too, it came on the same day that chief inspector Chris Woodhead, bashing teachers again, told them that they couldn't be trusted to evaluate themselves and were thus presumably the last people on Earth to recognise their weaknesses and faults. The word piffle springs to mind.

The idea of a National Teachers' Day invites various possibilities. It could be a day in school with wild parties and celebrations for all the adults. Or it could be near Bonfire Night, when paperwork, files, folders and records can be ritually burned.

On the other hand, I remember what my mother told me when I became a head. She made me swear I wouldn't tell anybody lest there be repercussions, but I think enough time has elapsed and enough ink flowed through enough curriculum documents to at last reveal the truth.

You see, the idea of teacher days is not new. They used to have them in her little school long ago. These were days when they took it in turns to have a day off and just laze around, stay in bed or read the papers. Under the guise of having the vapours, staff would phone in - the telephone had just been introduced in the Calder Valley - and whisper "Teacher Day Headmaster". I can never reveal the location of this pioneering school but anyone ever driving through Hebden Bridge . . .

All this happened around 40 years ago when lots of schools were happy places, full of Alec Clegg writing and giant box sculptures. Everyone in the school understood that this was a day to relax and unwind, although swanning off to Manchester or Leeds on the train (steam in those days) was quietly verboten - just in case you bumped into the CEO.

I have long wondered about the wise man who ran this school where my mother worked. Can you imagine any of the new breed of besuited, management and productivity-oriented heads responding to a phone call and someone saying "Teacher Day Headmaster, it's my turn"? Especially in the middle of an OFSTED week?

These NTDs should be issued according to school location. Take the school I currently work in doing supply. I offer no apology if it is recognised. The teachers there are superhuman.

It is inner-city. Multicultural. Newish building. Well organised. Immaculate. Well stocked. Everyone in uniform. Lovely staff. Benign, pleasant headteacher, who can be steely when necessary.

But oh, those kids. I'd describe it best as Donkey Work. You give 110 per cent. They would rather be elsewhere. Volatile, quarrelsome, exuberant,"lively" children. In schoolspeak we all know what "lively" means: bloody awful.

The deputy asked me if would I like to be their regular "supply" doing anything from a day to a week. I did one day and at the end pathetically declined to do anything longer than a day.

A school like this should have several NTDs when staff can toddle off to Ibiza if they can wangle the flights. To my astonishment there are people who have been there 20 years and more. I take my hat off to these inner-city folk who battle - day in, day out - with their heedless classes and who must then listen to Blairisms and Blunkettisms about background being no excuse for failure. This pair should follow me round for a few days and see the battlefields at first hand.

So yes. Let us indeed have NTDs to reward the teaching profession. And furthermore, I propose we call them "Ivy" days in memory of my late mother and the school that invented them.

Try it everyone. Ring up your head and whisper: "Psst, Ivy Day, Headmaster, it's my turn."

David Thomas is a retired primary head. He lives in Leeds

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