They don't care a jot these days

Penny Ward teaches at Carnoustie High

I want to be positive, so I'll talk about neat jotters. They are the ones with bonnie covers, with a label giving the pupil's name, class, subject and teacher - as opposed to the torn, scruffy rag covered with graffiti belonging to "Smiffy". Of course, it is hard to find the "Smiffy" among all the pornographic drawings and the kid's honest opinion of his teachers.

I'll point out the pleasure of marking legible writing. I'll not dwell on the bumbling scrawl you find in some, where the words fuse into each other in a mindless squiggle. It's almost a relief to come across those who never quite mastered joined-up writing - at least their immature printing is a tad clearer. And, let's be fair, at least there is never more than a few lines of this tortuous garbage to struggle through.

What a joy to pick up a jotter that has dates and headings neatly underlined, and numbers to the left of the margin. It's usually impossible to tell when one day starts or finishes. And is it asking too much to expect jotters to be brought into school each day? Seems like it. Actually, it's better that they are kept in school than retrieved from the front of their trousers, with a weirdly warm feel to them.

The lovely jotters are too few and far between, though, and usually belong to girls, which makes me feel that we need to question closely why that is.

Why are the pupils so careless, and so incompetent? How can they begin to revise work if they can't read what they have written? Why can't they write? Why don't they care?

The answer lies in having a support for learning teacher for every year in a primary school, not just one for the whole school. It lies in giving young children the time to practise and consolidate skills. It lies in early intervention for all pupils who aren't coping, not just with reading, but with eating, cutting or playing.

We need to teach little children how to behave, how to sit still and listen. We need to build up their confidence and self-esteem. We need to help bring them up nowadays.

If we had seven SFL teachers in each primary school, we would need far fewer in the high schools. And we'd have fewer scruffy jotters and a more satisfying job.

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