Monday, April 23, 2007

Life After Job From Hell

Great when it stops
As we've blogged many times, the public services are full of Jobs from Hell. And one of the most hellish is state school headteacher. Which is why headteachers are resigning/retiring in droves,and there is a recruitment crisis (see previous post here).

When last sighted, 1200 state secondaries were without a permanent head- a disastrous situation that would simply not be tolerated by paying customers in the private sector.

Over the weekend, we got a reminder of just what a nightmare the whole business has become, when we met up with a couple of teachers with whom ex-pedagogue Mrs T had trained many moons ago.

The husband had until the end of last year been a state school headteacher of some fifteen years standing. I have no doubt he was excellent, and his school certainly ticked all the various boxes laid down by Whitehall.

He used to enjoy teaching, and being a head. Even though- while not in a classic tough urban area- his school always had its share of problem kids.

But as we know, whereas he once had authority over the school, and the space to exercise that authority, his job gradually became a classic meat sandwich (see this post). He lost authority over vital areas like exclusions, and instead picked up the vast new burden of central government testing. He lost authority over what happened in classrooms, and instead picked up the micro-management demands of ministerial curriculum directives.

And while his balls were still on the block if things went wrong, the shots were all called by those here-today-gone-tomorrow politicos (four useless Secretaries of State in four years). Responsibility without authority- the prerogative of the schmuck thoughout the ages.

Meanwhile, he observed that the problem kids seemed to have become progressively more numerous. And kids with no respect for school authority, forced to jump through education hoops of no interest- and quite probably no value- to them, are a dispiriting and lethal proposition for all concerned.

Our friend points to the breakdown of shared morality, wholly unrecognised in the pie in the sky one-size-fits-all social engineering handed down from Whitehall. But whatever the underlying cause, it means that all-ability schools like his find it increasingly difficult to serve anyone properly- certainly not the kids who actually do want to learn.
His solution is the return of selection, only this time with proper funding for those in non-academic schools. But selection, as we know, is something our rulers are adamant will be denied to all except those like the appalling Diane Abbott, who can afford to pay (plus those few authorities which still had it when the music stopped).
Britain's state schools are in the midst of a crisis. But the people who are best equipped to tackle it are throwing in the towel.

Still, it always feels good when you stop banging your head against a wall, and for the first time in a long time our friend had a proper smile back on his face.
Which is more than can be said for the parents forced to send their kids to rubbish state schools.
PS For some time I've been meaning to research the historic funding gap between grammar schools and secondary moderns. Because it's my strong suspicion that a key reason many sec moderns were so poor is that they weren't adequately funded (something I understand was picked up in the 1963 Newsom Report). So far, the only reference I've found reckons that secondary modern pupils got barely one-third of their grammar school counterparts (The Audit of War by Correlli Barnett; also quoted in The Five Giants by Nick Timmins). If true that's a shocking discrepancy, which I'm guessing reflected capitation rates heavily skewed towards sixth form pupils. Secondary moderns of course, didn't have sixth forms. I must investigate further.

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