OLD MIKE Class Teachers



You couldn’t make it up. Not again.

I’ve noted so often that new administrations don’t jump in and start fiddling with, say, Defence, preferring to leave it to those who know what they’re doing. They don’t make instant changes to complicated portfolios like business, transport, environmental affairs. But by golly everyone knows how to run education better than a teacher. Every time new faces step through the ministry doors, teachers all over the country brace themselves for the last massive wodge of changes to be torn up and a sparkling new agenda wished upon them from above.

Not that there’s anything new about Grammar Schools. The earliest are about 1500 years old and they were for centuries the necessary passport for talented and privileged boys – only – to progress to our ancient universities. They taught Latin, Greek, Religious Studies and possibly Law. Students were selected on grounds of class or money.

Ideal material then for Theresa May’s crusade, as expounded in Downing Street, to pull back together the awful inequalities that are tearing our society apart.

Perhaps the new schools will initiate a new curriculum in counter-speaking, how to torture language until it says the opposite to itself. For example:  grammar schools are going to be good news for poor and underprivileged children. They aren’t. They’ll just provide those who need it with a legitimate excuse to send under-performing children off down the road. They say they’ll finally be able to offer all children ‘a good school’. Really? Putting aside the implication that there aren’t any good ones now, where are the good schools for those who don’t squeeze through the gilded gate? They’re not even built yet, and when they are it’ll be to the pre-destined reputation of second-class schools with second-class teachers for second-class kids.

“You’re among the top ten-per-cent!” one of my old Grammar School teachers used to wail at us, usually prior to a scolding. We were. I watched several of my friends – talented in the creative arts, or good with their hands, destined to do jobs the rest of us need, or just not really sure in their early teens who they were or what they wanted – hived off to Lescudjack and Mounts Bay, heads down, lowered in expectation, already tasting the humiliation of official rejection.

It didn’t work.

What about provision for talented kids, I hear you ask, who’s looking out for them?

Well actually, their parents. Or not. That’s the saddest unspoken strand in this debate. Parents can make a huge difference to how kids flourish. The great evils of our time are against them: the lack of permanent housing, the fragile and temporary state of adult relationships, the struggles of hidden poverty, the inequality of opportunity among the sexes – I could be quoting St Theresa here – often exacerbated by the lazy belief that teenagers are impossible to get through to anyway, and are best left to sort things out in the electronic wilderness of their bedrooms. No wonder so many of them are lost. It’s not just because of fashions of government, the idleness of teachers, or the distractions of the net. In every case kids with loving parents who take time to help and support them will always come out best. Kids are for life. It starts at home.

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