They have to learn to leave teachers alone

Sometimes I wonder if the Government wants to make teaching the worst job in the world. After years of mocking the French for their Napoleonic rigidity we now have a nationwide curriculum which stamps on any individual flair for imparting knowledge with enthusiasm and charisma.

We've also piled on the profession about as much paperwork as it took to run Napoleon's whole empire back in the 19th century.

And if this were not bad enough more codes, protocols and edicts spew forth to further inhibit teachers' normal human responses.

Recently I was staggered to be asked if I'd sign a form saying that, should my son be distressed on school premises, I would not object if a member of staff put an arm round him. I replied that I'd object if someone didn't and had the world gone potty.

Of late things do seem to have gone from mildly ridiculous to just plain impossible. Take the idea that teachers could be prosecuted if they fail to spot signs of sexual abuse occurring in the home or that every school trip should have a designated staffroom scapegoat in case of an accident.

While I'm sure that the civil servants who think up these fresh constraints and intimidations believe they're doing good, they are certainly not making the profession of teaching any more attractive. Is it surprising that so many schools are chronically understaffed when anyone brave enough to step into this particular breach is liable to have their creativity crushed, their home life eroded by pointless form-filling and their competence placed on the line every time a child in their class has a problem at home?

If the Government really wants to do something to increase the numbers of people staying in teaching - and the problem is primarily one of young teachers and students giving up rather than too few people applying - then the best thing it could do is get off teachers' backs.

Domestic violence and sexual abuse are harrowing things but the answer is not to dump the problem on teachers for failing to spot it. That's why we have social workers.

Similarly with this school-trips lunacy : yes, the leaders of any outing are responsible for the children in their charge and, yes, if something goes wrong because one of them has acted irresponsibly then some form of disciplinary action would be appropriate but to appoint the fall guy in advance is just, once again, dumping on teachers. This is a complex world: we cannot hold our educators responsible for all that goes wrong in it.

The primary purpose of teachers is to educate. In an ideal world - and this is not a generally held view- I believe each should educate as he or she feels best able.

That's how I encountered my best teachers but let's not argue about the national curriculum: it's here to stay. What, however, I hope we will all agree on is that teachers should be left to get on with what they are good at and not be used as patsies: responsible for everything but in charge of nothing.

The decreasing authority of teachers has not gone unnoticed among unruly pupils and bullying parents.

Belatedly the Government has woken up to this and proposed measures against thugs who feel no inhibition at all about marching into school and thumping someone who has had the temerity to discipline their child. But if in recent years teachers had been treated as a national asset, rather than a profession to be curbed, such attacks would not have become so commonplace. Bullies can smell vulnerability.

I talked to a young school-leaver recently who spent much of his final year helping out the GCSE students. He had a natural authority and would be an asset to the teaching profession.

"No way," he told me."I've seen the way teachers are treated by parents who come into the school in order to cause trouble. It's not worth it."

What teaching needs desperately is a boost to its status. It does not need to be held responsible for the ills of society or drowned in any more regulations and if the Government really wants to do something that will result in more people teaching then the answer is very simple. Let teachers teach.

Adrian Mourby is a writer and broadcaster

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