Saturday, March 29, 2008

today: Easter Traditions

Yay! It's the Easter holidays. Now we can all kick back, munch chocolate, watch useless kids films like Freaky Friday on the TV and look forward to the clocks going forward again.

And we can also laugh and cringe, as the delegates at the National Union of Teachers Conference get their moment in the press.

I am sure they enjoy it, those NUT types. Every year there is a raft of headlines and news stories inspired by their Easter Conference. And it just happens at the time when all the other newsworthy stuff shuts down and has a couple of weeks off. So they have a clear run. Whichever correspondents draw the short straw and have to work the holiday weekend is dispatched to wherever the pissed-off pedagogues congregate.

What follows is a run of stories that often begins with some legitimate teacherly issues. Class sizes, Literacy, Special Needs, pay, workload, curriculum changes etc One or several of these is debated and gets an airing in the press. But as the weekend drags on the NUT conference always turns into a 1970s Union conference. Delegates bring their (left wing, as the NUT is always mentioned as the 'left wing' teachers' union) political views to bear on conference resolutions, many of them only tenuously connected with teaching.

It all starts to sound like a bitchy staffroom at the end of a particularly hard day.

This year we had The Koran being taught in schools - a pretty good idea in itself, but just not the kind of thing you trumpet loudly at the front of a conference when journalists from the Daily Mail are present. Then we had teachers accusing the Armed forces of - shock horror! - recruiting under-achieving working class boys into their ranks by visiting schools. This the NUT delegates' way of objecting to the war - finding a way, however, flimsy, that their objections can be attached to their profession.

Most of these issues are well worth debating. But NOT when the rest of the news cycle is dry and they become front page news.

The standing of teachers is already plummeting. The Tories spent 20 years undermining the professionalism, pay and status of teachers. And, despite some pay increases since 1997 the downward curve has continued. Partly this is to do with the 24 hour news culture. Not only are any negative education stories kept alive for longer, but they are then endlessly debated by people who have the knowledge of a sea-sponge and the debating skills of a roof tile. On top of that the 24 hour interactive news culture gives endless voice to the opinionated correspondents - many of whom have the opinion that teachers get paid too much, have too many holidays and have elbow patches on their frayed and battered corduroy suit jackets.

I just wish that each Easter the Sirs and Misses of the NUT delegates remember this when they stand up to get their fifteen seconds of fame.

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