There is something very strange going on. For over a decade all I ever heard from teachers was about how hard the job was, how the children’s behaviour was shocking, the management poor, the system restrictive. Indeed, many left the profession because of it. Others stayed, disillusioned and fed up but soldiered on as best they could. Now, suddenly, at conferences and the like some teachers insist on declaring how happy they are, how lovely our schools are, and how the picture I paint of a “broken system” is one they simply do not recognise.
Have these teachers been probed by aliens?
Charlie Carroll, author of the recently published On the Edge, has written a remarkable account of his journey as a teacher through some of Britain’s toughest schools: thirty-eight to be precise. To quote the back of the book: “I cannot count how many times I have been told to f— off by a pupil.” Charming. Yet the teachers Charlie meets these days (in the papers or on the radio) paint a portrait of calm and dedicated learning in our schools.
Charlie tells me that he too has had the same experience: that before, all over the country, not just in these dreadful schools, but everywhere, he would hear from teachers crying out to be heard. And now that they have their chance… silence! Not a word. What on earth is going on?
Charlie’s book is well worth a read if you can stomach the constant misery of his existence as a supply teacher. Like some kind of educational suicide bomber, Charlie loads up his van and scours the British Isles in search of adventure, or death… one is never quite certain. Nottingham, Manchester, Birmingham, The Peak District (yes, I did say The Peak District), Sheffield, West Yorkshire, London, The West Country, (giving a break to the madness and sees Charlie in a good school), Liverpool, and Middlesbrough all manage to get a look-in on this journey only fit for fantasy television.
Because that’s how shocking it is. Even with my “inner city” experience I didn’t quite realise just how terrible some of our schools are. It made me feel positively wretched, especially in light of my recent escapades, arguing with half of Britain, trying to persuade them that the system is indeed broken. “Just read Charlie Carroll’s book!” is what I want to say, but I know they’ll just laugh and tell me that his experiences aren’t representative of the whole. Too right they aren’t. I have never worked in schools like the ones in his book. It is as if Charlie’s schools jumped straight out of a horror film, only that the true horror is that they are just down the street from where you live.
The book is packed full of all sorts of statistics that you’ll find fascinating if you’re interested in education. And you’ll enjoy the running commentary given by Charlie, telling it as it is, from a real teacher, on the frontline. Here I was thinking I was on the frontline. But, no, I wasn’t. So many of our nation’s children have been left to rot in schools that we have abandoned. But apparently I’m mistaken to claim that our education system is broken.
Charlie Carroll not only taught in them – he found the energy and dedication to write about his experiences. Why? Because he wanted us to know the truth. No doubt, like me, he naively thought that if he could just tell them, and that if he could just let people know what’s happening, someone might do something about it. Little did we realise that great numbers of people would turn a blind eye and deliberately ignore the truth because it is easier to believe the lie.
Charlie Carroll still works as a teacher. His real name remains a secret. Lucky him. He’s still entitled to his life as it was. He wasn’t as foolish as me to get up at the Conservative Party conference and shout the truth out loud. Instead, he has written it in his book, On the Edge. If you want to know just how bad our schools can get, On the Edge is a must-read.