I have wonderful memories of my late father reading to me as a child. He was a master of the art, well at least he was to this young 4 year old. When the story got a bit dull he would spice it up by reading it in spoonerisms and if you have ever heard Noddy this way then you’ll know it’s splide sitting.
However the one story that has stayed with me for all my life is ‘The Little Engine that Could’.
After all the large railway engines had refused to pull the heavy carriages to the top of the hill, the little blue engine had his go. Constantly repeating, ‘I think I can, I think I can, I think I can’, he pulled it to the top where he puffed and chanted ‘I knew I could, I knew I could, I knew I could’. A great maxim for life and one I have tried to follow.
I can remember my mother dancing around the house dusting and singing ‘I think I can, I think I can’, although she was tone deaf, or so she said.
One of her other great sayings was, “No you can’t have it as I’m having trouble making ends meet”. My trouble was I couldn’t understand why she didn’t go to the butchers and buy some ordinary meat!
You would think that if I adhered to the above tenant then I would be in favour of performance related pay (PRP). You’d be wrong.
You see sometimes, when I had bitten off more than I could chew, or when I was just not physically or mentally capable I knew ‘I couldn’t’! It was then I had to go and find someone to help me. Usually somebody I respected or I knew was capable and, more importantly, willing to help me. Then it was ‘I knew I could – with help’.
Teaching is a collaborative profession. There is a misconception that it is about one teacher teaching a number of children. No, It’s about a number of teachers, TAs and other professionals working collaboratively to support each and every individual child as their needs dictate.
PRP engenders an atmosphere of competition. It means that, if I know something that you don’t I keep it to myself so that I can get the pay-rise and, even worse, it means that I try and sabotage your efforts so that it’s me that triumphs.
Whilst this may be considered quite laudable in some competitive industries it could destroy education. Sharing of good practice and supporting colleagues is one of the building blocks of a successful education system. How will the new, recently qualified NQT learn the ‘tricks of the trade’ and how to manage young Jimmy’s behaviour if the rest of the staff are so concerned about their future that they are looking after number one?
Payment by Results (PBR) is even more divisive. What, in education, is ‘a result’? The only ‘results’ that the DfE worry about are standardised tests and examinations. The excellent work produced by the Every Child Matters initiative of the last Labour government has been thrown out of the window because it is impossible to measure ‘well-being’ and ‘feeling happy and safe’ with a test. I can imagine the scenario where Mr Brown, who is excellent with the lower ability and disengaged children gets nothing and Mr Jones who teaches the high-flyers (who could most probably teach themselves) getting a pay rise or bonus for 5 EBac passes. What about the sports, art, music and drama teachers? Especially as Mr Gove appears to want to downgrade their subjects to the basement. What about PRU and Special School teachers? The whole idea is madness!
We have now moved on from the time when steam engines puffed and clicked their way along disjointed railway lines that gave the ‘I think I can’ the same poignancy as the stanzas in Auden’s ‘Night Mail’. We now live in an age of continuous rails and electric tenders.
‘I think I can’ has been replaced by ‘I must do better’ and even worse ‘I must do better with less’.
For the last 12 years I have worked with disaffected youngsters who need encouragement, help, empathy, direction and understanding not comparison with someone better, bullying into doing needless things, and being shouted at when they fail.
Teachers are the same.