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Nicky Marr: Teaching staff deserve respect and gratitude

By Nicky Marr

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John Rutter, Inverness Highschool head teacher. Picture: James Mackenzie.
John Rutter, Inverness Highschool head teacher. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Think about it – what’s more important than us having a state education system that we can be proud of?

You might have health and housing high on your list of priorities too, but education will undoubtedly be in your top three.

Teaching is generally thought of as a good, family-friendly career, and the pay’s alright; there’s a lovely long holiday entitlement too. So, why are there so many vacant teaching posts these days, especially in senior schools? And – crucially – why do three out of five Inverness secondary schools find themselves currently without a set headteacher?

John Rutter, head of Inverness High School, has resigned after nine years to take up a new role as depute head at Culloden. Last week he gave an interview to The Inverness Courier explaining his regret – he’s ‘gutted’ to be leaving. The reasons for his decision are eye-opening.

He became a headteacher with the hope of making a difference, raising school attainment through strategic change. Instead, he found himself overwhelmed by day-to-day pressures of leaky roofs and over-running refurbishment works, leaving no time for the long-term planning needed to implement meaningful change.

Leaky roofs and refurbishments? Schools need strategic thinkers at their helms, not clerks of work.

Most of us will be able to think back on at least one teacher who ‘got’ us, saw our potential, and encouraged us to follow the right path.

But usually when we think of the Scottish education system, we think about kids. We think about the impact that increasingly limited resources have on subject choices and opportunities, and the impact that the pandemic and staff shortages, and crumbling, dilapidated schools have on their ability to learn.

Rarely do we turn our focus on the teaching staff. They’re almost incidental as we worry about our children; about those who will become the next generation of employees in our businesses.

But it’s teachers who have the responsibility to look after, inspire, mould, encourage, and educate our children, from the age of two or three when we feed them into the nursery system, until they emerge at the other end as teenagers, wide-eyed, and hungry for whatever is next.

We take teachers for granted when we should be giving them everything they need. Look at the challenges they face; staff shortages, cut-backs, well-documented issues with the SQA and Curriculum for Excellence, and a dearth of support staff for students with additional needs, educationally or otherwise.

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John Rutter, Inverness Highschool head teacher. Picture: James Mackenzie.
John Rutter, Inverness Highschool head teacher. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Instead, we look at every other issue in society – drug and alcohol abuse, obesity, an across-the-board mental health crisis, and financial illiteracy, and we hear ‘schools should do something about that’.

Really? In which spare spots in the curriculum, exactly?

I grew up with parents who were both teachers. Dad was a head of department in the huge secondary school I attended and spent the last two decades of his career disgruntled and disillusioned, spending less and less time with students (the reason he went into teaching) and more and more with admin, curriculum issues, and juggling classes when his department was short-staffed.

As a young teacher he’d been passionate about creating opportunities for pupils who were less academic, and started a school gardening club, teaching the basics of growing, propagation, seed-collection and greenhouse management to anyone who was interested, both after school and at lunchtime.

This came from his own passion for gardening, but his passion rubbed off. Several of his ‘gardeners’ went on to work in the sector and have had fulfilling careers.

But rules and regulations got in the way (McCrone, anyone?) leaving the garden untended, the students high and dry, and my dad disillusioned.

Different times, different pressures, but the result is the same. Stressed, burnt-out teachers, leaving the profession, or stepping back from responsibility.

Teachers and school staff need our respect and gratitude. Not to be firefighting as they educate the next generation. I know resources are stretched, but come on…

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