Many years ago, well it must have been nearly twenty, I made the mistake of listening to Any Questions. It was the same then as it is now: Jonathan Dimbleby, Kenneth Clarke and Harriet Harmon. The question was about the provision of nursery education for the under fives and the discussion that followed went, approximately, along these lines:
Harriet Harmon: Of course we must have state funded nursery education because working mothers need it to go out to work.
Kenneth Clarke: That’s all motherhood and apple pie, the state is not about to fund nursery education so that lazy mothers can do their nails or so that mums, who are paid anyway, can have a free nursery place!
I was on the phone – so Me: It’s not about EITHER lazy mums staying at home, child free, it’s not about nursery places allowing working mums to go out to work, it’s about the CHILD!
There was a bit of a gasp at the other end of the phone, and Jonathan Dimbleby said: Judith Gunn, of Crouch End, Thank you.
At the time, myself and several friends had been running a little crèche for our kids of 18 months old. Twelve of us rotated a couple of hours, three mornings a week, on local premises, four parents on, eight off. It was all insured and properly run, but voluntary, whether you could do that now, I don’t know. By the by, one of my fellow crèche parents was the late Stuart Browne, who wrote a novel called Dangerous Parking, well worth the effort, as is the film, directed by Peter Howitt.
Anyhoo, we did that not just do that to give us parents a little time off, although that was part of it, but to give our kids the joy of playing with toys that they could not normally access. To give them the chance to learn how to play well with each other, to sit down, to take turns, to listen and accept the authority of another adult. I have no doubt that my children benefited much more doing than two hours of housework benefited me!
So what now?
Well yesterday I heard Martha Kearney interviewing someone on changes to school terms. Now that’s a bit vague for my blog I know, if anyone can find the link – good luck, but I was at my computer half listening to the Radio 4when I heard this discussion (which means Saturday 11 September 2010) the two of them discussing shorter breaks between terms. The interviewee, defended longer breaks as required, not just for teachers, but for pupils and she (I think Martha Kearney) said with reproach not a little judgment in her voice “What about working parents?” Thank God for blogs, at least I don’t have to phone anybody!
Where do I start?
Well there are two things wrong with that statement, firstly are not teachers also working parents? Is she suggesting that they don’t work? That teaching isn’t work? Secondly, and to me, more importantly, school is not about the parents, it’s about the child. The education service is NOT a babysitting service. The fact that some of its hours coincide with working hours is, precisely that, coincidental. What is planned, prepared, angsted over and delivered in school is education not child care. The decisions made, about holidays, hours, activities are made for the benefit of the pupils, believe me, they are not made for the benefit of the educators.
I have been fortunate to be one of those teachers (in fact I’m an FE Lecturer, so those long holidays are sore point, we don’t get as much holiday, we get less pay and longer hours… but I digress). I have been fortunate to be someone who has worked in the good old real world, as well as teaching. I have worked for BBC Radio (all the networks including live radio). I have worked for the Radio Times, I have temped in the typing pool all over London, got up at 4 in the morning to go and proof read legal documents, been an administrator (briefly, in a small hospital) and when I was really young I used to get up at 6 and do swimming training before going to school. Teaching teenagers is one of the toughest jobs I’ve done, and I reckon teaching tinies may well be tougher. Those holidays are there for a reason, they are there to give teachers and pupils a chance to recuperate in order to educate.
In my teacher training (I have PGCE for those of you thinking that FE Lecturers slide in without qualifications) I did something called pupil pursuit, sounds a bit dodgy when you put it like that, but what it meant was that you followed one pupil through the day on their timetable, and it’s tough. An hour of this, two hours of that, constant input, constant activity and constant constraints on behaviour, even posture. The kids, let alone the teachers, get tired. On top of that they have homework, exams and they have to grow and develop physically and mentally at the same time. I met a former student of mine in Tescos only last night. When I finished teaching him he was eighteen, now he is nearly twenty. In that time he must have grown 4 or 5 inches, broadened and, no doubt, developed and matured in his thought processes. Pupil need that time, for their own good, working parents, like any parents, need to be aware of the needs of their child.
As to the teacher, well, again yesterday, as we drove around our locality, one young man, who might be defined as a yob, deliberately stepped out in front of us to abuse us. We ignored him as his abuse echoed through the car, he was about fifteen. ‘Somebody teaches him’ I said to my husband.
From September to July, teachers engage in a relentless timetable, occupied by 20 to 30 difficult individuals, all needing attention, all at different levels. Over the past 20 years and before, teachers have cooperated with every new initiative, every new exam. Recently, they have challenged the testing but it has been for the benefit of the pupils.
A teacher can’t take a long weekend, a cheap holiday, or a spontaneous holiday. They cannot adjust the pressure of their working day, to suit their state of health, or steady the pace (in this way it is like live broadcasting). They are not paid very well (particularly FE lecturers – did I mention that?) Promotion prospects are limited and older teachers, if they want to stay in the classroom, cannot adjust their timetable to take account of their age. There is some evidence that if you continue on a full timetable after 60 you shorten your life expectancy. And finally they spend a lot of their holidays, evenings and weekends working, either actually on the school premises or in the marking and preparing of class work and resources. As witness my Xtranormal Robot resources below and on the other pages, not to mention my resources on Slideshare. What? you think I get time to do those in the contracted hours? Dream On!