Many people, when asked to pinpoint someone in their life who has been pivotal, someone whose influence has had a profound effect on their lives, will quickly name a parent or parents, or some other family member. But many others will identify a teacher.
It is a truth that our school days shape us for life. They can form good habits and skills and also instil deep dislikes and negative motivations; usually it is a balance. And they can begin equipping us with not only the skills and disciplines we need to achieve but also the qualifications that allow us to pursue aspirational choices. At its highest, school is the best deliverer of social justice, giving opportunities to all to fulfil their potential. The scope for being a positive influence on individuals and society as a whole is immense.
So how can it be then, that in a profession which holds out such promise of fulfilment – especially in a country where we are supposedly more likely to be attracted to such egalitarian pursuits – there is now the possibility of some children being sent home from school simply because there are not enough people to teach them?
There was a time when the Scottish education system was the envy of the world, and we keep telling ourselves that. But the agreed view now seems to be that we have lost that exalted position. It seems we have now little confidence in our ability to educate.
Larry Flanagan, the EIS General Secretary, is absolutely right when he says that teacher shortages are bad news for pupils. One of the defining characteristics of education is that, by and large, you only get one chance. If you fail a child at school, the child stays failed. That also has an impact in a very direct way on our society, in everything from crime rates to business start-ups.
To learn that the number of teachers employed in schools across Scotland has been falling steadily for most of the last decade and now stands at an all-time low has to be a wake-up call to all of us. There are some very practical things we should do about it.
There is no doubt that teaching is a very pressured job; with that power to influence comes great responsibility, and that will bring very real stresses. Young people at secondary school can be in a very difficult part of their lives, and that can bring huge pressures to those who are dealing with them. Those pressures will never all go away, but an atmosphere of constant change brought on by government will simply exacerbate the pressures. There needs to be more recognition of pressure before policy changes are introduced and strategies applied.
The Scottish Government can say it has listened and made some changes to its latest big idea, and it should be applauded for doing so, but the big question is: has it done enough of that?
But perhaps something we can all do is truly understand the value of a good teacher.
Hampden turf should be a cut above
IT WAS not just the millions of pounds in bets, the pride of the Rangers and Celtic fans or the fortunes of the clubs that were resting on the first Old Firm football tie for three years. There was a much wider audience with countries around the globe tuning in to watch. This had Scottish football and Scotland at the centre of attention yet again.
It would be absolutely accurate to say that there have been more exciting games of football. Many more. The Celtic manager criticised the pitch saying that his team were an open, passing team but they had been denied the ability to play at their best. And it is worth bearing in mind that that is criticism from the manager of the winning team.
There can be no doubt that the pitch was poor. In fact Peter Dallas, managing director of Hampden Park, admitted the pitch conditions were “regrettable”.
To be fair to the people at our national stadium some of that was due to the weather, it has been very wet and very cold, which is bound to have a serious effect on the turf.
And it might seem that we have very short memories – given the acclaimed success of the Commonwealth Games at the stadium it would be churlish to complain considering that the new turf was only laid in November following its transformation back after its brief stint as a world-class athletics venue.
But it will not be long before many eyes are again turned towards Hampden, what with the forthcoming Scottish League Cup final and two internationals. Let’s hope that the undertakings given today regarding the state of the pitch are delivered, and that once again the hallowed turf will be turf worth taking pride in.