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    In Henry Cave-Devine’s excellent blog on education, I couldn’t suppress a wave of emotion when I read one of Pseudonym’s comments.  I’m sure she will not mind my repeating it, even though I was critical of the general idea :-

    “There are so many good teachers out there frustrated by the system, and worn out by it, they need support and adequate working conditions.”

    I have no doubt that there are many good teachers ‘out there’ ; but, really, if they are frustrated by the system, they ought to remember that it is their system.  So why don’t they change it?  Why don’t they simply refuse to comply, particularly with directives that have only a marginal relation to education and teaching?  Why aren’t they all writing rude letters to their PC tyrants in HQ?  Tyrants always back down when challenged in a determined way.

    Teachers are ‘worn out’ by the system?  Then any fool can see that the system must be wrong.  All the more reason for a rebellion.

    Teachers need support?  But why should anyone support them if they are complicit in running a shoddy system? a system that consumes ever greater sums of tax-payers’ money while producing results that only get worse year by year.  Teachers will get all the support they need (and more) when they cease enthusing about social engineering and take up the cause for simple academic/practical excellence in basic  knowledge and skills – which are all that children need.

    Working conditions?  We could begin with the school buildings themselves.  They have never been bigger, brighter, cleaner and more boring and bland than they are now.  I managed to dig out a couple of photos of my old Primary/Junior school.  It had the rare distinction of being housed in the relics of an old Army Camp in Kent.  I doubt if the insides had ever been painted since built ; our chief distraction in class was not the teacher wittering on about ‘inclusivity’ and ‘opportunity’ – it was counting the spiders munching away among the roof trusses and listening for rodents under the floors.

    Class photo

    I’m indebted to John Turner for these photographs.

    The thirty-six children in the top photo represent a typical class size ; the room they are in was the poshest we had (for PR purposes!)  I won’t say that the bottom photo was typical of the dinner queue …

    Fancy dress

    Fancy dress day

    What seems to be forgotten is that the material environment of a school is of little account – spiders, rats and creaking roofs are merely character-building.  It is the environment that the teachers create that matters, and this is hard to describe with justice ; for teaching is an art and is not reducible to mere words and numbers.  Suffice to say that we never once heard a teacher complain of how hard their life was ; they never once complained of their environment ; they only ever complained of the foolishness of their pupils (and they had remedies for that).

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Life’s twists and turns have always been there, as anyone who has made even a casual study of history knows.  Indeed, as anyone who has taken an interest in people knows.  And yet, they still have the power to give us a little surprise when we examine our own lives and see the changes.  We can see for ourselves how a chance meeting, perhaps, or an overheard conversation, definitely altered the course of our progress through life.

I remember an occasion of being in trouble at school.  I had come to an arrangement with the French Master to skip metalwork lessons and do French instead ; the two masters had agreed I could do this.  But there was a problem ; I would also have to skip a physics lesson later in the week, and I knew that the Physics Master would never agree.  So, in a rare act of rebellion, I decided to skip it anyway.

The arrangement worked well for the first half of the term ; Charlie Chaplin, the Physics Master made no complaint.  But then, although I did rather well in the French prog test, I had slipped my ranking in the physics.  I was on the carpet, and Jock Rankin, my Form Master became involved.  Surprisingly to me, (but obviously not to him) he was displeased at these arrangements being made behind his back.

The two of us had a rather heavy meeting which had a momentous conclusion.  “Weel, MacNab,” he said, “And what do ye intend doing when you leave school?”

“I’d like to be a newspaper reporter, Sir,”  I replied with all the dignity I could summon under the circumstances.

“Aye, weel, ye’ve a rocky road ahead of ye MacNab.”

And that was it.  Condemned in ten words.  No more French lessons (which I relished) and back to metalwork (which I choked on) and physics (which I found merely unappetising).  The upshot of this brief and painful meeting was that I eventually made a career in engineering which was to consume half my working life.

But were those ten words really a condemnation?  For what happened at that half-way point was another meeting ; but a meeting that was the culmination of many others that had been unconsciously altering my course over the years.  And the decisive meeting was between an author, in his book, and my own breezy introspections.  And the upshot of this encounter was to set a fair wind for the remainder of my life so far.

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