Sunday, December 14, 2014

A letter to Jim Murphy MP

The following open letter from me to Jim Murphy, newly-elected leader of The Labour Party in Scotland, appeared in today's Sunday Herald:

Dear Mr Murphy

As someone who successfully taught English in the state sector for my entire career, both in Glasgow and in Dunoon, and whose sons attended the local comprehensive,  I think I can claim to have a pretty good idea about teaching and learning in secondary schools in Scotland. Right from the early days when a young Johann Lamont sat in the front row of my classroom to the day I retired, I was aware of the excellent work being done by my colleagues, often under desperately trying situations. 

These situations were brought about, not by their lack of ability, but by the attitude towards education of too many of their pupils - an attitude shaped and reinforced by that of their parents, who were either hostile to teachers or uninterested as long as they could get on with their own lives. The behaviour of these pupils frequently disrupted the learning of the more interested with the inevitable effect on the quality of the experience and the final outcomes.

How do you think it makes teachers like me feel to read that you are eager to ensure that “state school pupils in deprived areas should have access to teachers in the independent sector”? (Sunday Herald, 07/12/14) We have always known that there are good and poor teachers in private schools, just as there are in every school in the land. In fact, we have also long been aware that a poor teacher is less likely to have his weaknesses exposed in an independent school, where parental pressure tends to ensure an ethos of industry. 

Before you launch your attack on the private sector, think carefully about the effect your ill-considered remarks have on the thousands of hard-working teachers in the state sector, and consider more carefully the target of your plans. Your words are more likely to have the effect of further diminishing the enthusiasm for the importance of school of any parents who listen to you.

I was a member of the Labour party for many years, but this revival of class envy at the expense of my contribution to society is just one of the factors that will ensure I will never be a member again.


Christine McIntosh

1 comment:

  1. Helva3:55 PM

    Hear, hear! Well said, Christine. I taught (mainly) Maths (amongst other things - one had to be versatile!) at all levels from Prep School to Tertiary, both in the state sector and also in Independent schools, and as a Home Tutor, for about 35 years in England, and can echo your thoughts. Teaching becomes very much harder when there are parents whose attitude is predominantly hostile to education, and whose children catch that attitude - and it doesn't only happen in deprived families. I have a vivid memory of a very disruptive 15-year-old pupil from a very wealthy family (and her cronies) in a well-known girls public school who said, after being asked to settle down and get on with her work, "I don't need to get any GCSEs - Daddy will pay for anything I want, and anyway, I 'm going to marry a rich husband"! (Unfortunately she did - and later divorced him, and is now frequently pictured in fashion magazines, looking, I have to say, rather bizarre!!) Even the headmistress admitted having walked out of that class rather than lose her temper with them in public!! In fact, I observed that many of those girls were more deprived of things that really matter than the ones I taught in state comprehensives in areas of material deprivation but stable homes. It's all too easy to make wrong judgements based on old 'class warfare/envy' criteria, without full knowledge and experience, isn't it!