By Jenny Wallace
Some years ago, I was informed that the profession which I had been following was no longer to be known as “teaching”, but “delivering the curriculum”. At first, I hardly took this seriously, especially as I and my colleagues in a successful and well-respected school had always prided ourselves on going far beyond the curriculum in order to provide our students with wider horizons and the opportunity to develop their critical faculties.
However I was soon forced to face the reality of our situation -“delivering the curriculum” meant just that and no more. The curriculum was now closely defined and we were to deliver it. This message was taken so seriously in the Primary sector, that after completion of the English, Maths and Science SATs tests for 11 year olds, the parents of one school received a message from the Head saying that the children would now be able to have all the History, Geography, Drama, Art, Music and Sport for which there had been no time during the year when the examined curriculum had to be delivered.
So, material to be “delivered” was shrinking, becoming ever more repetitious, formulaic and circumscribed. It was now becoming firmly allied to mathematically determined “targets” for students and “league tables” for schools. Another change. We had always tried to find the best path for each individual; pupils were now reduced to being dehumanised statistics in an increasingly bullying bureaucratic assessment regime.
Are those of you engaged in the NHS slowly beginning to perceive some sort of parallel situation here?
Nurses had become “health professionals” who “deliver packages of care” to ” service users”. Did these name changes betoken underlying changes of culture and methods of practice?
Our next realisation was that the “higher standards” relentlessly demanded of us were to be obtained by lowering expectations and demands. At local meetings of internal examiners we were exhorted to “deliver more A grades”. A Science colleague on an external board was told that marks were now to be given to answers which were “nearly right”. He demurred, pointing out that the logical extension of this was the creation of engineers whose bridges “nearly” stayed up, whose aeroplanes “nearly” flew; and doctors who amputated “nearly” the right leg. He was asked to resign.
Haven’t we recently been hearing of health professionals who “nearly” provided patients with food and water in a “nearly” compassionate manner? Of critics of inadequacy who have been sacked or paid off?
In both professions we have witnessed the promotion to high office of unworthy devotees of targets; the demoralisation and de-motivation of many members of staff; a slavish devotion to paperwork rather than people; and a regrettable necessity to provide staff with instructions on the most basic matters, which formerly would have been taken for granted.
Perhaps we should look more carefully at the names we give ourselves and how they may not “smell as sweet” as the old ones.
Jenny Wallace B.Ed MA is a retired teacher and was Director of Sixth Form Education for a large comprehensive school in York. She is now an avid golfer, dedicated grandmother and wife, NHS patient and critic.