THERE are many things they do not teach you at teaching school; but I doubt even the most adventurous PGCE syllabus included a section on how to get a child out of bed in the morning. Isn’t that the job of the parents — like locking up the X-Box when they are supposed to be revising for GCSEs?
These extra-curricular duties are just some of the interventions cited in Rebecca Allen’s Analysis feature (Radio 4, Monday of last week). You would be forgiven for not experiencing palpitations of excitement at the thought of a documentary about the Pupil Premium, but the ambitions of this seven-year-old policy engage with issues far wider than educational policy.
In short: is money the answer to narrowing the attainment gap between the poorest in society and the average? The Pupil Premium provides extra funding for all pupils on free school meals; it is thus directly linked to individuals rather than to geographical areas of social deprivation. How it is spent is up to the school, and the decisions that the school makes vary widely.
The experts who advise schools on what to do with their dosh say that it is not extra teaching assistants that you need: it is a good, hearty breakfast. And, if you’re feeling courageous, then start parenting workshops which will encourage support for learning in the home.
Some would argue that teachers have always played this wider part in the community, and that their responsibilities have never stopped at the school gate. Others regarded this kind of social action as dangerous.
These challenges pale in comparison with those faced by teachers in Belfast during the Troubles. I doubt, for instance, that the parents of John Chambers, featured in Outlook (World Service, Thursday of last week), were ever offered a parenting workshop. So complicated were personal conflicts in John’s childhood, and so violent the public conflicts in which they were played out that it’s a wonder that John is capable of telling the tale in such an articulate fashion.
On the personal level, there was the fact that John’s parents married across the religious divide; something that was just about manageable in the late 1960s, but which ended up in separation and the story that John’s Roman Catholic mother had died in a car crash. Only when John was in his early twenties was he disabused of this lie and reunited with his mother. All this was set against a background of routine rioting, shootings, and disciplinary punishments by the UDA.
There was an authenticity to John’s account which was both grim — if you knew you were going to get kneecapped, then you’d be sure to change your trousers so as not to ruin your best jeans — and endearing: a loyalty to Mod culture which transcended even religious affiliations. In what other context could the Mod-Rocker antagonism of the 1970s be made to seem heart-warming?