At the chalkface: Just ask a teacher

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

We know these things. The problem has always been the powers that be don’t pay us attention. They “consult”. They construct a face, which doesn’t listen, and generally do zilch

A chorus of keening nitwits, pompous buffoons and dunderheads has always danced an unhappy and ignorant attendance on all things educational. They have what could optimistically be called “opinions”, quite untethered to any actual experience of teaching. They surface on programmes like Question Time and drone on in cartoon clichés, dog whistle rants and plodding excavations of the bleedin’ obvious. I want to eat my gums and break things.

Journalists are better, though the subjects are glumly predictable. You know – poverty causes failure, illiteracy, and innumeracy, exam anxiety, the stifling curriculum, the White working class’s journey to hell, and death by a thousand cuts. All very necessary, but I’m afraid we’ve been hearing this since 1850.

We know.

Highfalutin’ research, reinforces this agenda. “Findings” rarely shed light, dealing again with the blindingly obvious.

We know these things. The problem has always been the powers that be don’t pay us attention. They “consult”. They construct a face, which doesn’t listen, and generally do zilch. So we’ve protested, struck and marched. To little avail.

Isn’t it about time teachers did the talking? Tony Blair’s idea for academies in 2000 is a good example of the government riding roughshod. Academies sounded creepy, spivy, potentially corrupt and market-driven. We feared that privatised-by-stealth education might well be recipe for disaster.

But we were socialist curmudgeons. This was New Labour’s brave new world. Shiny new glass palaces would solve “failing schools” by outsourcing them to corporations driven solely by profit. Well, we may well have been right.

Last week’s excellent, if grim, documentary School on BBC2 revealed that some academies are “failing” badly. It wasn’t the teachers’ fault. The programme was so compelling because teachers and pupils were doing most of the talking – no flannel, no jargon and no “opinions”, just complex, inconvenient truth.

“How bad does it have to get before people realise how bad it is?” said an embattled science teacher.

Surely it’s time for an urgent prime time TV discussion on English schools with only teachers talking. Other programmes with teachers – for example Educating Essex – caught the nuance of the classroom, its subtle flux, its subterranean energies and its wicked humour. At last! We recognised it. We need programmes, where all kinds of teachers are given a forum. The situation couldn’t be more grave.

“That’s the picture of education now,” the interim headteacher said on School. She knows. Teachers know. So listen up.

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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