Monday, September 29, 2014

Full length version of my column for The Teacher this month

As some of you know I write a column for The Teacher magazine (the magazine of the NUT, the National Union of Teachers). This month due to space issues they cut my piece down quite a lot which is fair enough and very much within their rights to do but I thought I'd give you the full length version here, maybe also interesting to those of you who wouldn't get to see the magazine...

Last month while I was appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe David Cameron was in Westminster putting together a hilarious little skit of his own. My favourite of his jokes was “sometimes politicians shy away from talking about the family”.

No they don’t. Politicians love talking about the family. They think it makes them seem less like swollen corrupt egos in sweat-creased suits and more earthy and wholesome. Given the chance they would gladly wrestle one another to the ground to get their puckered lips on a photogenic baby. Posing on the school run and being interviewed by MumsNet are rites of passage for the ambitious modern politician as much as pretending to be working class or explaining away photographs of dominatrices.

Family is also a great subject on which to show a little stage-managed weakness, an exercise overpaid PR consultants probably call "humanising". The kid with the gappy teeth, the tussle for the remote control, airbrushed into adorability by the same PR egos. Ooops! Mum’s dropped the Christmas turkey! But they muddle on ignoring Granny's snoring and rolling their eyes at Dad's dodgy jokes like the Waitrose Waltons.

Sure enough for his next punchline Comedy Cameron pretends to be self-depreciating. “I am far from the perfect father and husband”. 

He'd never say "I'm far from the perfect economist" because it's true. He stupidly quotes the long-disproven pseudo-economics that is the Laffer Curve and insists that trickle-down economics is a real thing. The best way to get money to poor people is by giving it to rich people? What next, help the hungry by feeding the obese? Improving health by operating on the fit and well?

The flip side is that while he did leave his daughter at the pub that one time and you or I shiver at the thought of waking up next to his smug doughy face, in many respects he is the “perfect” father and husband. He’s loaded, well-connected and even takes them on loads of fancy holidays.

Teachers know that most families in Britain are nothing like the Camerons. The prime minister’s family probably haven't noticed the child benefit freeze, the bedroom tax, the cut to the childcare component of Working Tax Credits or the fact that you now have to work an extra eight hours a week to even qualify for them. They could always balance out the shortfall by christening their new yacht with a jeroboam, rather than a methuselah, of champagne. (And, yes, I've won a lot of pub quizzes!)

And another thing. Let's be frank - some families are rubbish. Some too busy and stressed out to care, and some who just downright don't care. Heartbreaking, yes, but utterly unsurprising as the only qualification required for parenthood is leaving your condom in your other coat.

The group of people who have qualifications to support young people is of course teachers. [Insert your own snide remark about unqualified teachers and bear in mind that it’s unlikely the very worst of them could be as dangerous in their job as one M. Gove. Good riddance.]

What we can't do is guarantee every child a top-of-the-range family but we could guarantee them a good teacher. A fully qualified teacher with a class size small enough to spot those who are struggling, the resources to support families falling through the gaps and the back-up to intervene where families are failing.

And the joke is ultimately on him because that's exactly the sort of thing politicians like Cameron do shy away from talking about.

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