Yours, regretfully

12th May 2000 at 01:00
Jenny Owl bids a sad farewell to fellow staff, pupils - and the Prime Minister - as she leaves a difficult school to work in a highly selective one

Dear head

You work phenomenally hard and have many excellent qualities, but your inability to run a sufficiently tight ship in terms of pupil discipline is rapidly making my position at this school untenable. Hence I am afraid I am forced to reject your much-appreciated offer of more money, in favour of a sideways move to a highly selective school.

Dear line manager Although the children are frightened of you in a way they could never be frightened of me, you have never abused this quality, just used it to support me unfailingly in my many dealings with difficult kids. The powers that be have now drastically curbed yours. The biggest losers will be the kids.

Dear departmental colleagues You were already fighting the good fight well before I joined you. You have helped me to improve my teaching and kept me sane. When I got it wrong, you covered for me. I will miss you.

Dear Sam I am so pleased that you could come on the trip, which I would willingly have run just for you. You make teaching a privilege. You put up with so much, yet I have never heard a cross word from you. Thank you for making the world a better place. I wanted to stay but I need to regain control of my life. Sorry.

Dear Matthew I know you have an awful home life (or rather "homes life", because you have lived with so many foster parents). Your anger is understandable. But will you ever understand how angry I am that the system that demands we spend curriculum time together, stops me from teaching so many others who deserve a break? When you need to chat with me in the playground, I respond as though our relationship were one of mutual respect. Yet you think nothing of ignoring my requests, disrupting my lessons and verbally abusing me. You have made me realise I can no longer cope.

Dear form Most of you are wonderful much of the time, but half a dozen of you monopolise my life. You six have needs I just cannot meet, no matter how often I ring your parents and elder brothers and sisters from my home each evening.

Please be nice to each other and, if you have children yourself, please help them by working with teachers. Your children's education is doomed if you think, as some of your parents do, that you have an automatic right of appeal whenever reprimanded. Good luck.

Dear new school's intake I deliberately avoided applying to schools like yours when I qualified, on the grounds that you had enough chances in life and did not need me. A friend who began in the state sector, but is now head of a public school, tells me you need me too. I want to believe him. But the sad fact is that now I need you.

I hope you will one day recognise how fortunate you have been to receive the education you do and, although I have given up the fight to improve things for the less fortunate, I would love to believe that you would wish to take up the struggle

Dear Tony Blair I chose to work in challenging schools because I wanted to make a difference. Ten years into my vocation, I started a family. Desperately short of energy to devote to my own children at the end of each long, hard day, I would willingly have snapped up a job in an easier school. My circumstances changed and I needed a job quickly in a new area. The governors of my present school were so used to receiving dismal applications - when a post attracted any at all - that they jumped for joy when I came along.

I received the shock of my life. All my experience suddenly counted for nothing. Even top set Year 11s did everything in their power to stop me teaching. Within days I had been called everything under the sun. But this experience rekindled my vocation. Perhaps because I now had children of my own, I was determined to offer something to all those lovely pupils who sat quietly watching proceedings, desperate to learn in between all the disruption.

And in my small way I have given something back. A smile, encouraging words, the odd trip, a few learning skills, and a better GCSE grade than many might have got had I not been there. But it has become increasingly difficult to teach.

Just a few months ago, I expected to be here for a few years more. Then your Government's push on school inclusion began to bite. I applaud the reasoning behind it, but despair at the mess it leaves schools like mine in.

I could name 100 children who need individual attention all day long. Yet our teaching staff number barely half this figure. Kids know they can get away with almost anything except murder and still not get excluded.

Take lunchtimes. It is bad enough being abused when you are contracted to teach. But being abused when you have the legal right to refuse to work, but volunteer to do lunch duty? As pupil behaviour around school deteriorates, the number of staff prepared to do lunchtime duty falls drastically. You quickly have a never-ending spiral of worsening pupil behaviour.

Ten thousand pounds extra a year might have persuaded me to stay. But that would mean increasing income tax, and nothing's that important, is it? How many potentially excellent heads won't even consider a headship because of the relatively insignificant salaries on offer in return for the enormous challenges and responsibilities demanded by running difficult schools?

The geneticist, Professor Steve Jones, has said the quickest way to increase people's IQ would be to double teachers' salaries. So while threshold payments of pound;2,000 are all very well, how on earth will they encourage good teachers to work where they are most needed?

Enough of the whingeing. I'm leaving. So why am I not rejoicing? Because, like you, I know how grossly unfair our education system is. I know that there but for the grace of God go our children. And I know the meaning of a truly privileged education. You see, Tony, you and I graduated from the same Oxford college.

Jenny Owl is a pseudonym

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