Thursday, September 06, 2007

‘I can’t do maths’

The education press is usually composed of badly researched articles by journalists featuring hagiographies of ‘inspirational’ heads who have ‘driven up results’ – see previous post ‘Complacent Hack Or Not?’ for an excellent example of this genre. The rest is interviews with or pieces by the great and the good. Rarely does the voice of the teacher or support staff penetrate these hallowed cloisters – I know I’ve tried and failed.

In this week’s ‘Education Guardian’ there was a rare nugget, a real gem of an article by ‘Colin Edwards’, entitled ‘I can’t do maths.’ ‘You’ll be fine,’ said the head’.

In September 2004 under the Remodelling Agreement the National Association of Schoolteachers (NAS) and the government decreed that there would be a limit of 38 hours cover (taking lessons for absent colleagues) each year for every teacher. Despite lacking any qualifications ‘Colin Edwards’ was employed as a cover supervisor at his local comprehensive.

Within a few weeks he was teaching up to five lessons a day – science, geography, French, German, DT, business studies or cookery. During the year and a half he was at school he was never observed. As he admitted, ‘A lot of the cover lessons would degenerate into handing out word searches.’

There could be a better way… local authorities could train curriculum specialists to be employed by schools as and when needed. But like most other education services it has been privatised and is dominated by lowest cost providers.

A friend of mine is head of SEN at a large comprehensive, recently they interviewed for teaching assistant posts. One of the candidates had an excellent background in youth work but on a point of principle she didn’t appoint him because he didn’t have any maths or English qualifications.

To her surprise a few weeks later the head employed him as a cover supervisor. She took the issue to the rest of the teachers, would they employ an unqualified electrician to wire their house or would they allow an untrained medic to tend to their nearest and dearest? On that they all agreed.

However, they weren’t willing to ‘man the barricades’. Why? Well here’s the scenario – management in denial about bad behaviour and you’re asked to teach 10E (their normal teacher is on long term sick leave with stress) in that near riot situation that is Friday afternoon. Instead AOB Off The Street will take the class, on a fraction of your pay, and help stave off your imminent nervous breakdown.

Teachers picketing schools with placards ‘We demand the right to teach 10E on a Friday afternoon’? It isn’t going to happen, but as ‘Colin Edwards’ concluded ‘Children deserve better’.


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