What follows is a made-up interview with Trevor Perkins, leader of the fictional English teaching union, the National Teachers Association.
Welcome, Trevor, and thanks for being here.
Tell us, in your role as a union head, what have you been up to lately?
I’ve just returned from the VDMA conference in Florida…
The Vertical Desk Manufacturers Association. Did you know, standing up has never been more important? It prevents short-sightedness.
Anyway, while I was there I drank a lot of dandelion tea. I didn’t realise how good it was at fighting toxins. The stall holder had a leaflet explaining the science.
Interesting. What was the education angle?
Well, we had lots of presentations on the future of vertical desks. They have ones now known as ‘true vertical’ that have no horizontal parts at all. And they have ones with wheels and bumpers so that students can move around the room and collaborate. It’s a compelling vision of the classroom of the future!
What do you think is the most important issue in education right now?
Last night I heard a keynote from Andreas Schleicher of the OECD. I tend to assume that whatever I have most recently heard from an important educationalist is the most significant issue facing education, and he was talking about the fact that rote memorisation is bad.
Do you think that is the most compelling issue for teachers? What about classroom behaviour?
I think it was Socrates, the famous Brazilian footballer, who said, “Children are not buckets to be filled – we need to set them on fire!” Teachers are the spark and we need to provide them with the petrol.
You see, we really must set the kids free. Rather than attempting to habituate them into adult social norms, if you give young people free reign to run around then they will learn to make the right choices and become responsible citizens through experience.
When I briefly taught for a few years in the 1990s, I had this one lad who would climb out of the sash window, run around the classroom and back in the door. He did that as many times as he needed in order to settle.
You see, we don’t make enough use of the school grounds. Take the kids outside! Imagine it: You could have one class sketching wild flowers and another doing the science of tennis balls or something. Imagine the school is built on the site of an old asylum: You could have a history class reenact being doctors and inmates or you could have an R.E. class attempt to contact the restless souls of the dead patients.
Sean Harford of OFSTED, the schools inspectorate, recently complained on Twitter about ‘restorative’ approaches to school behaviour where a teacher has to justify his or her actions to a child who has misbehaved. What’s your view on that?
I think what Sean is really trying to say there is that we should seek to identify the cause of any behaviour issue and treat that restoratively rather than with an old-fashioned punitive approach. We know that all behaviour is communication.
Right, so what about pay? What’s your position on that?
It’s pretty good actually, particularly when you take into account what I can claim on expenses.
I mean teacher pay. Do you think that improved pay is a way to tackle the current recruitment and retention crisis? Are you pressing government on this?
I think we all believe that teachers deserve to be paid a little bit more but I don’t think the government are likely to listen to us so it’s hardly worth me banging on about it.
And you think they will listen to you on the other stuff?
You’re missing the point.
What’s that? Are you not there to represent your members’ interests?
No, we are not. We are here to represent the issues that our activists are interested in.