4 April 2007

Pity the poor teachers

I am as furious as the next classical liberal about Labour's plans to conscript Britain's 17 and 18-year olds. If they want to leave school and get on with their lives, that is (or should be) entirely a matter for them. Ethical considerations aside, there is also the practical wisdom of "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."

As the husband of an ex-teacher, I am also concerned about her former colleagues. Teachers are what Labour would call some of "the most vulnerable members of our society." It may be hard for you, gentle reader, having by definition derived some benefit from your schooling, to imagine what it's like to teach unwilling pupils. It is so foul that, according to the Guardian

"A key problem is that although the profession is recruiting more teachers, it has trouble keeping them in the job. An estimated 88 out of every 100 trainees pass the final examination, but only 59 are in teaching a year later. After three years the figure falls to 53."
Neither my wife, anyone she trained with, nor anyone she worked with is still teaching. Frankly she and they would rather do anything lawful than work again in a "bog standard comp."

One of them did return a couple of years ago, her family having fallen on hard times. The first words uttered to her by a pupil were:
"Jesus Christ, miss, you're an ugly old cow aren't you?"
Any attempt at discipline would have been scuppered by her "senior management team" (SMT). Having escaped the chalkface themselves, they would have smugly blamed her teaching skills. Had she pressed the matter, it could quite possibly have led to violence from the pupil's parents - to which the police would have responded with the same alacrity as the SMT.

So she swallowed her pride and continued - for exactly so long as she needed to. Then she left the profession again, hoping that this time it's for good.

Schools have regressed to this pre-civilised stage since the school-leaving age was raised to 16. My wife and her ex-colleagues believe that there is a connection. 15- and 16-year old boys with no interest in education (rather like Alan Johnson himself at their age), take pleasure in disrupting the education of others and making teachers' lives miserable. Imagine what it will be like for teachers to deal with 17- and 18-year olds with the same inclinations.

But they won't be at school you cry. They will be in training. Where, pray? Do tell! Our country is already importing better quality skilled labour than these serfs will ever make. Why put yourself in the way of abuse by taking them on for a training contract, when you can recruit a fully-trained, well-motivated and respectful worker from the new EU states?

The only way to change the attitudes of this group of young Britons would be to reform social security, end the poverty trap and impose a lifetime limit on benefits. But if the Government was prepared to do that, it would not need to devise a policy of teenage serfdom. They and, crucially, their parents would change their attitude to work.

Bear in mind that we are talking about young people who, by definition, don't WANT training. Those who do want it (at least in the current market) can get it. Our millions of "unwaged" are not currently in that position for lack of opportunities. If there were no jobs, after all, our economy would not draw in so many migrant workers.

Forcing someone to train against their will just transfers their hostile attitude from the classroom to the workplace. Must others tolerate being spoken to like my wife's friend? If not, how will the government guarantee that their serfs are trained against their will?


Fabian Tassano said...

I don't know how some of the people working in comprehensives can stand it. Many must surely end up unable to cope, depressed, on medication, and so on. My girlfriend is a teacher, but has so far managed to avoid working in the state sector. When she did her training at a comp, she thought there was no way she could have taken that environment for any length of time.

I think you're right that part of the problem is many of the people there just don't want to be there, and 15-year-old boys (some of them clearly as adult as they're ever going to get) forced to spend nearly every day doing something they don't want to do are going to express their displeasure and make sure everyone's aware of it. An argument, surely, for reducing the school leaving age rather than increasing it.

I wonder whether the fault doesn't also lie to some extent with the content of contemporary lessons. These seem to have been (a) dumbed down, and not in a way which necessarily benefits the less intelligent, (b) politicised, (c) biased against the psychology of males, i.e. less about drive and achievement and more about plodding virtuousness. So if teenage boys find themselves driven out of their skulls with mindless tedious pap, forcibly driven into their brains in an environment of incarceration, no one should be surprised if they end up being disruptive.

Roger Thornhill said...

The best way to keep someone in a room is to leave the door open. Shut the door, and their mind immediately switches to how they can open it and escape.

Fabian Tassano said...