Teachers’ strikes loom in the UK and the end of the world is nigh. Education Secretary Michael Gove is never out of the news; with some new scheme, some new comment about the state of Education and how he will fix it; if only those teachers would listen to him, think about their reputations and the kiddies and didn’t go on strike.
But the question remains: why is that public/government (depending on where you live) education continues to languish behind the independent or private sector? And it does, anywhere across the Western world. Students who come from better homes, who go to better schools, do better, achieve more and go onto rule the world. (Yes, yes, I know there are exceptions, but I am speaking generally here.)
Here are some thoughts, see what you think.
1. Every new Minister for Education thinks they have the answer. Everyone before them was a fool and didn’t know what they were doing – even if they were in their own party – but they do and so they will now ‘fix’ the mess that has blighted schools for so long and let’s do it quickly and publicly so everyone knows we mean business.
2. Everyone who’s ever been to school (possibly all of us…) has an opinion on schools, how rubbish they, how terrible teachers are, how it was all so much better in their day and why do teachers have so many holidays anyway. Education experts – just like the arm-chair sports fan, who played cricket as a kid, who now watches from the side-lines but knows better than those playing the game for real – abound and are happy to write letters to the papers and online, freely share their strongly held opinions.
3a. There is some belief somewhere that you can get education right, that there is a magic formula and usually the new minister has it. But I would suggest that their magic formula is often not based on anything real. It’s based on a dream, on an imagined reality from their own school days (or their advisors’), which somehow were exactly right and if we could only return to those days of rigour and 100% external exams, and none of these re-takes, oh and a spot of Latin would be good. This belief is often shared by the Arm-chair experts.
3b. Alternatively there is another country that is doing it right and if we just copy what they do then we can get it right too. All too often though, the ‘importing country’ doesn’t really understand all the socio-political-financial-historical reasons why this particular education system has evolved and simply transplant part but not the whole (certainly not the ethos or under pinning educational philosophy), and we have another mess that needs a magic fix. Think Australia’s slavish admiration of Asian education in the 80s and 90s and now the UK admiration of Free Schools.
4. There persists the widely held belief that teachers simply don’t work hard enough. Well, look at all the holidays they have… Stop now. Do you know any teachers? Do you want to be one? Do you want to spend your days with hormonal teenagers, or whiny ten year olds? Do you want to be responsible for up to 120 students’ progress in English or Maths? Do you want to be responsible for making said students behave for the entire time they are in your care? Do you want to spend your weekends reading, preparing, marking? Do you want to take your holidays at peak times when there are other people’s children everywhere?
5. Staff turn over in inner city and disadvantaged schools (+ remote schools in Oz) is infinitely higher than the private sector or well established, successful government schools. Yet staff stability is highly significant in creating continuity and stability for the students. As well as establishing traditions, expectations and a place where students feel safe and thus able to take risks in learning and make progress. Students like it when their teachers know them from year 7 through to year 11 or 12. They like that you have seen them grow and learn and become a decent human being who will contribute to society and manage their own lives. Constant change makes them angry and resistant – why should they make an effort for you if you’re going to be gone in a term or two? You have to gain their trust but once you have it, you can work miracles.
6. Education has more fads and fashions than any haute couture house. The world is changing – education needs to change to go with it. But not everything needs to be changed all the time. Questions should be asked about the purpose of universal education; why do we do the subjects we do, why do we place such a high value on English and maths, why are some subjects valued more than others? What is this country’s educational philosophy; what do we believe about Education? Why do we think graduates with first class degrees can walk into a classroom and teach, without any real training? Who should these questions be asked of? A whole range of people: not just business, or tertiary education sectors, but parents, students and class-room teachers. Consultation is not a dirty word. Make changes carefully, thoughtfully after consultation, trial and then let them bed in. Then you can have a review and measure something!! And then you can modify it and move on in a sensible timeframe that doesn’t disadvantage too many groups of students and waste even more money.
7. I realise this is an unpopular assertion, but teachers don’t get paid enough. Yes, it has moved on from the church and vocation days and from being women’s work, but for an area – Education – that is meant to be central to social mobility, independence, self respect, the economy for goodness’s sake! – teachers’ salaries simply do not reflect this central position to modern western society. I guess it’s because there’s no profit in Education.
8. Students have to take responsibility for themselves. I don’t care where they’re from, or what colour, or what terrible thing has happened to them, if they follow the excuse line they will not learn, will not amount to anything. Is it because Education is free in the West that it’s not valued? Has too much been given without enough expected in return? From inner city London, where children cannot even bring a pen to class, to the Bronx to remote Australia, if students aren’t interested in learning, in making a decent life for themselves and their parents aren’t either, then why are other people? Do teachers have to bring the horse to the water and force his head into the trough as well??
9. While Education remains a political point scoring football things will remain the same. Education should be viewed as if it were War Time Britain – all political parties on the one side, working harnessed together (with Boxer) making the farm work for all. A sensible 5 year plan to be drawn up, full consultation from a wide range of stake-holders (as before), a sensible committee without too many perks so their eyes remain on the prize – better, sustainable educational outcomes for all – regardless of background, postcode, anything!!
What do you think – can we ever get it right, even for a while?