Barbarians inside the gates

Sometimes, life just throws you comedy.

I received an email today from the Training and Development Agency: “Congratulations on recently completing the Spring 2010 Return to Teaching course. We would be grateful if you would take a few minutes to complete an online survey. Your valuable feedback about your Return to Teaching experience helps us to continually improve our service for future returners.”

Well, I certainly gave them some ‘valuable feedback’…  I managed to complete the survey without using any rood and norty language, and I gave them a blow by blow account of the way my professional life had been completely undermined by the CRB’s errors, finally explaining that I had secured a contract to teach abroad and hoped never to return to work as a teacher in the UK.

The last question was, “Did you find the course useful?”  No, quite frankly: the course was meant to prepare me to return to working as a professional teacher in the UK, but I was unable to complete the placement due to a failed CRB and then had to devote all my time to fighting the mistakes of the bureaucrats who has messed up, so the value of the course was entirely undermined.  Then I could not get a job anyway, until I finally found a post in another country.

I don’t usually fill in questionnaires, but I had fun with this one!  After I sent it back to them (in record time), I sat down with a glass of vin rouge and watched the changing light on the sunflower field fifty metres from the farm.  I’m reflecting on the past months of sheer hell in Canterbury, and looking forward now to a quite unexpected turn of events as I prepare to take up my teaching post in Spain in little more than two weeks time.  And in all of this I am thinking about falling and rising cultures.

There was a time in the 1960s when Spain was pulling itself out of the stagnant years after the Civil War.  Everything was half-stuck in the 1930s with an anachronistic dictatorship, while the rest of western Europe rocked to the Beatles, flower power, contraception and satire that mocked everything that was once worthy of respect.  Somehow, heaven knows how, England lost all its advantage.  Our bureaucracy and inefficiency is now the mirror image of the failing Spanish state of the 1960s: a culture in decline.

Spain has pulled itself back into the mainstream of Europe, reinventing its institutions, creating its new health service and educational institutions, revitalising its infrastructure, and rediscovering its regional identities.  I first compared Spanish and English culture in the 1970s while studying the 16th century literature of the two countries: particularly Cervantes and Shakespeare.  I now look at the two countries again and in the light of my own recent experience I find England a barbaric country in comparison with Spain.  England represents to me a culture in decline, with its failing institutions and morbid cynicism about political solutions to national crisis; but above all the rough treatment of professionals indicates a society in which the barbarians are now inside the gates.

Good luck, you who see your future in England.


About Gareth Thomas

After a mixed career as an aircraft technician, London fringe theatre playwright, Franciscan friar, and secondary school teacher, I find myself looking after the needs of four donkeys in a remote location in the mountains in the Costa Blanca. I like to listen to BBC Radio 4 and the wind in the pine trees. I am writing a comedy about a school in Benidorm. My favourite film of all time is "Jean de Florette". If I had my time again I would not have spent the early 1970s working for Special Branch.
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