Paying the Price

We use the word ‘paying’ quite plentifully in the English-speaking world. It can be used in a transactional way e.g. we are paying down on our debt, or paying into our pension schemes.  

Or it can be used in a slightly punitive way, even masochistic. We are paying for the sins of the past, or we are now paying for the idiotic mini-budget last autumn. Reparations. Penance. Dare I say it, austerity.

But it can also be used to denote generosity, as in ‘paying respect’ or paying homage’. And it’s this one I’d like to dwell on.

The idea that we will one day return to public services awash with money, gleaming buildings, resources and adequate staffing is, frankly, for the fantasy story-tellers. I look at the debt that we have accrued and I see a monumental tower of it, reaching for the heavens. I see the productivity of our nation as pitifully low, worsened by the social inequalities that have been allowed to widen. I see the demographic tide that is so comprehensively against us. Schools are just not going to have enough money until the impact of a lower birthrate feeds through. Then many schools will close, their hingeless doors and broken windows clattering behind them.

Reluctantly, I’ve come to the conclusion that schools are going to be poor for years to come.

But there can be a positive consequence, if only we are bold enough.

Let’s forget school structures, MATs, governance arrangements etc etc. This is fiddling round the edges. No, the greatest change that we could make as a society is to do something that costs nothing, and would actually save several hundreds of millions. It would motivate teachers, bring more back into the profession, and renew a sense of vocation and mission amongst school leaders.

It’s simple. Just pay some respect.

Say thank you and pay some respect. Respect for these people who are busting a gut for families, for vulnerable children, to do their best in increasingly difficult circumstances.

It would make such a difference.  

Away with inspection fatigue, frightened headteachers under pressure, fearing for their jobs.

Away with deep dives and shallow paddles.

Away with surveillance from faceless chupatintas hiding in the shadows.

Away with zealots transforming sentient adults into android teachers.

Away with cult schools, both weird and wonderful, but not to be copied.

Away with political interference from people whose hypocrisy when demanding ‘value for money’ takes one’s breath away.

Away with negativity and listlessness, of rancour and one-upmanship.

Away with competition, egos and bullying.

Away with management bullshit.

Instead, pay some respect.

To the nursery assistant only a couple of notches above a minimum wage, patiently extricating a screaming child from a confused parent.

To the teaching assistant who welcomes a vulnerable and fragile child each day with a warm hug and a beaming smile.

To the teacher who goes the extra mile, introducing children to cross-country, to chess, or to the joy of singing as a choir.

To the headteacher who deals with complaint after complaint with courtesy, dignity and generosity of spirit.

To the governor who rushes home after work to attend a meeting which is then cancelled because the governing body is not quorate. Again.

To the pastoral officer who pounds the streets trying to get reluctant pupils into school, putting up with hostility and abuse along the way.

To the office staff who double up as health clinic triage nurses, counsellors and community network officers. Well, quadruple up.

To the special needs teacher who comes home bruised, battered and dripping in various bodily fluids, unstinting in their love and affection for the pupils they serve.

In all these cases, the sound of a heartfelt ‘thank you’, at the end of a long day is so valuable. It anoints us with belief and identity, it re-energises a weary soul, and it soothes anxieties and doubts.

Pay some respect and guess what, the payback will be priceless.

Because if we don’t, we will be paying the price for decades to come.


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