for the masses
education, education - Tony Blairs mantra that education
would be his number one priority was under fire at the Association of
Teachers and Lecturers Conference in Torquay last month. He announced
the full range of achievements in education that his government had
produced - falling class numbers in schools, reduction in the number
of children leaving school without qualifications, increase in the number
of nursery places, amongst others - but there is still much unrest and
unhappiness within the teaching profession at all levels.
But isnt all this revolution in the ranks of the teaching professions
both inevitable and, in some ways, a good thing, if only because it
shows that teachers still care? With chronic underfunding in education
for years and not enough credit given to those who do one of the toughest
jobs in the country, it would come as little surprise if people stopped
turning to teaching altogether or just threw up their hands in disgust
when they got there and stopped fighting. But they havent.
No-one can shape the future as you can. No one has greater influence
on our young people than you do. Tony Blairs comment to
the teachers at the conference was reminiscent of Loyolas plea
to Give me a child till he is eight and I will show you the man.
But teachers have been unappreciated for years. The old adage of if
you can, do, if you cant teach has been a curse upon teachers
for as long as it has been around. Teaching, good teaching, is a skill.
It is a vocation, or at least it should be. It should not be something
that you do because you cant think what else to do or because
you have an arts degree. I have a history degree and I lost count of
the number of times in my final year when people said to me, I
suppose youll have to be a teacher, then. I never had the
wish to be a teacher but I have the utmost respect for those that do.
But for every teacher I know who teaches for the love of it, I know
one who did it because they couldnt think what else to do. And
that in itself is damaging. If teaching once more became a respected
and well paid profession then it would attract people of the right calibre
No matter how much money each government or party offers to put into
education, it will never be enough, for education is a monster that
can swallow more money than can ever be thrown at it. And quite rightly
too, for there is no such thing as too much education. The governments
commitment to specialist schools or Cities of Excellence
is actually quite an admirable one, as long as it is not at the expense
of other schools.
There are no easy answers to the problems of education. Is it more important
that all children can read before money is spent on specialist courses?
Should academic children be streamed to enable them to learn faster?
Should vocational schools be built to encourage those who are not academic
to stay on at school? Should everyone have the chance to go to university?
Who should decide which school your child should go to?
The problem is that every child is an individual but every school has
to cater to a certain, and quite large number, of them. Every child
has different skills and abilities. Some children love the rules of
school, other children hate them and will never learn within those shackles.
Some children love arts, others science, others PT and technical skills.
There are some who are bad at everything and others who cant decide
what it is they like.
Everything needs money but how can you ever excuse not funding education
properly? Education is the basis for everything else in society. Other
problems disappear if you are educated. If you are educated about health
then you have better health. The better educated the population, the
greater the increase in economic prosperity.
Scotland has always had an excellent reputation for their education
system but reports over the last few years have suggested that they
are resting on the laurels of past achievements. However, in the past
year, they have at least got one thing right. They have scrapped tuition
fees and reintroduced maintenance grants for students. The right to
a free higher education is a fundamental one and the introduction of
tuition fees was a severe blow to that right. It is also the basis of
a two-tier society where those who cannot afford further education will
not undertake it and therefore only the well off in society will do
so. It is therefore important that the reintroduction of maintenance
grants is undertaken.
So what does education need from the political parties at the next election?
What will make teachers feel more appreciated and make pupils achieve
more? The answer for years has been threefold: smaller class sizes,
more funding and less paperwork. Labour insists that education will
once again be at the forefront of all its policies. If they get back
into government (as they almost inevitably will) then this time they
really will have to put their money where their mouth is. They have
consistently claimed throughout this term of office that chronic underfunding
that they inherited from the previous Conservative government has hindered
them in their attempts to bolster up the education system. They cant
argue that this time.
Education has no simple answers. Private schools, public schools, specialist
schools, special needs schools - the options are as endless as the problems.
But there is only one answer to the problems of todays society
and that is education.
© Hazel Marshall 2001