What's gone wrong?

17th February 2006 at 00:00
Teachers and parents share a growing disillusionment with the direction Scottish schools appear to be taking, says Sandra Percy

As in all walks of life, all over the country, friends meet up to chat, catch up on family news and, as many females would comment, have a good gossip and sometimes a moan. I am a member of such a group of friends and we are no exception. Due to the fact that four of the group are teachers, we have quite informally made a pact not to talk shop. However, last time we met was an exception to the rule and it has made me think.

The career backgrounds of this particular group of friends are quite diverse. While we are all female, not all of us are married; one is single and one is divorced. Not all of us have children, and two have grandchildren.

Some would say, more importantly, but I would not, that those of us who are teachers also have diverse career backgrounds. I am a secondary teacher with 30 years' experience, and have a number of qualifications including a PhD in education; I recently obtained chartered teacher status. The other three are primary teachers. One is a relatively recently promoted headteacher, one is a part-time support for learning teacher and one was a mature entrant and has now been teaching for seven years.

The two non-teachers are a publican's wife who plays an active role in her husband's business and a supervisor at a swimming pool who is responsible for teaching children to swim. Yes, we are a diverse group.

Due to the fact that education, notably the situation in England, has been in the news a great deal recently, the conversation did drift round to the subject. Perhaps, aided by the odd glass of wine, everyone was quite vocal.

However, rather sadly, everyone there was noticeably disillusioned with education in general, and Scottish schools in particular.

Ironically, I initially found this slightly comforting, because I have become particularly disillusioned about discipline, the pressures exerted on S5-S6 students by the constant assessment regime to which they are now subjected, teacher morale . . . ad infinitum.

I had thought, I must now admit rather naively, that the situation in primary schools could not possibly be as bad - but apparently it is.

According to my friends, primary teachers are also concerned about discipline, assessment and low morale. In fact, my friends were more vocal than I was. What was also interesting was that the two who are not teachers were quite vociferous. As people who were looking in from the outside, they too were concerned about what is happening in schools and they can see how it is beginning to pervade other areas of life - and not in a positive manner.

Admittedly, being all of approximately the same age, we share the same type of educational background. This was an experience in which we would not dare to be disrespectful to our teacher (well not in the way pupils are today), would not dare to tell our parents that we had "got into trouble"

in case we got into more, would not dare to stand up for our own rights.

Yes, we all agreed - they were the bad old days, but we have all turned out all right.

What made some aspects of the evening more poignant for me was that I had also been teaching long enough to remember teachers as people who could also laugh and joke.

I could remember staffrooms as places where practical jokes were played and the positive aspects of pupils were discussed. I could remember enjoying working with pupils and making the odd joke or comment at which we would all laugh. What exists in many schools today is the exact opposite of this.

Thankfully our conversation, aided by another glass of wine, moved on to cheerier subjects such as holidays. However, I couldn't help but think about what one of the non-teachers said: "I don't know how you teachers do it" - and I agree with her.

Sandra Percy teaches in central Scotland.

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