Posts Tagged ‘Michael Gove’

Why Do Boys Fail in School?

October 23, 2016

Why Do Boys Fail in School?

Warning: this is long and ranty!

I want you to take note of how I have titled this blog. I could have said, as do much of the media – Why do schools fail boys? – but I want to step back from the constant blame-the-teacher, slag-off-the-school culture that is endemic across the media in both the UK and Oz (and the USA). I am pushed to write this blog in response to an article in last week’s Times Magazine (My Son and Britain’s Boy Crisis, 15-10-2016) where a father of a white British boy waxed damnation against the current education system that according to a raft of statistics is failing boys.

He is correct: the stats are worrying. Girls out perform boys at every level on their way through school: by 8 years 83% of girls achieved level 4+ in reading, writing and maths, as opposed to boys achieving 77% (2015); at GCSE level (15/16 years) girls have out-performed boys for over 25 years, with girls achieving 61.8% 5 A*-C grades compared to boys achieving 52.5% (2015). At university in the UK there are 90,000 more women than men. Add to that there are 65,000 more unemployed male NEETS (not in education, employment and training) than there are females.

The stats are of concern for white British boys across all measures and, in what is no surprise to many of us, a quarter of boys start reception (aged 4) struggling to speak a full sentence or follow instructions. (These stats come from the magazine article but are widely known in this country.)

Education in too many parts of the world is not fit for purpose and the current push in Tasmania to make students start school earlier will not help address some of the issues faced by a range of students. In the UK there is an alarming trend to diagnose boys with ADHD more and more, and for them to be labeled failures before they even finish primary school.

The father in the Times article blames teachers and the education system. He states boldly: ‘The gender education gap has been in existence for at least 30 years and is no secret… It is unacceptable that governments of all colours, the education sector and the trade unions have willfully continued to turn a blind eye to the issue.’ These are the words of an angry father.

Understandably he doesn’t know what happens within the education sector or what teachers have to deal with on a daily basis. He sees education in a limited way, as a parent, albeit a worried parent but one with enough clout to have his opinions and ideas published in a large circulation newspaper.

The issue with failing sections of the community is not a secret in schools. We are constantly being asked to cater to particular cohorts; for many years it has been Black-Caribbean boys in the UK; at home it has been Aboriginal students. Now things here have shifted and it is white British boys who are failing most dramatically. In schools we know this, we have them in our sites and are bringing to bear a range of interventions designed to stem the tide of failure.

But, in all honesty, by the time they get to secondary school the rot has well and truly set in. Some students can always be inspired and turned around but to think that schools can do this alone, or single teachers are somehow responsible, is somewhat delusional.

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Let’s unpack some of the issues facing boys (and many of our girls too).

1.School structures – the way education is delivered has not really changed over time: one teacher delivering information, setting tasks, assessing tasks, to the many. Students are expected to co-operate, do their best, ask for help and actively engage in the work. It’s a nice idea but in practice it isn’t the reality. Once upon a time students were governed by fear and corporal punishment; the teacher free to dispense whatever justice they deemed necessary to control the class and get the learning done. Yes, class sizes were much bigger. But teachers had more control and there were consequences for failure – you did not progress willy-nilly through the grades just because you were a year older. No, you could be 14 and sitting in a class with 8 year olds – a bit of an incentive to pass.

These days there are very few consequences for students who neither learn nor behave. While I do not endorse corporal punishment, the powerlessness that teachers have to contend with does make controlling the unwilling and unable a challenge on a daily – sometimes hourly – basis. The amount of paperwork a school has to amass before a student can be excluded is obscenely excessive. A lot of pain has to be endured by many before a student is removed from education. Students do not need to pass anything on their way through school and in fact in the UK we call anything above a C a ‘good pass’. You can get as low as a G and that’s somehow okay too – it’s a result!

2.School starting age. Students start school very young here and, as noted, there is a push for that at home too. I wonder at this indecent haste to push young people into what could be described as a factory system of education… what are we hoping to achieve? The most successful systems in the world – yes, the Scandinavians – start school later and there is overwhelming evidence that starting school before 7 is more likely to be counter-productive. (see article: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence) Yet, those who have no understanding of how learning occurs, through play, through a wide range of activities; who don’t understand how development works, (hello Piaget) believe children should be forced into more formal learning situations sooner.

So, why do governments push for early school ages? Because so many children, mainly boys, are already educationally behind, because they believe in the holy grail of formal factory style education?? Because you can blame schools for failure but it’s harder to blame parents?

But the truth is that many kids aren’t ready for the sit still, be quiet and comply regime of primary school. Young children need to be playing, learning consequences, discovering boundaries and books in a more relaxed, informal setting. But the family unit is under pressure, families need two incomes, or more often there isn’t a father: we need to face that problem too.

But, back to early starting – which gender suffers most from being forced to sit still, from not playing rough or outside enough? Oh, yes, it is boys. And so they find it harder to conform, to behave. They are being asked to do a range of things before they are ready and are being failed as a consequence. And then labeled. Failure. ADHD. There is a huge range of research that shows that boys tend to develop later than girls across a variety of skills. This doesn’t mean they are failing, or stupid or have some condition. It simply means they aren’t there yet. But most of them will get there: they will make it, if they are given a fair chance.

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3.The testing regime. I’ve never worked anywhere that loves a test as much as the British Education system does. Let’s test them right from the start, which means, let’s fail them right from the start. The range of tests in Primary school takes little account of the variations in student readiness, in the fact that students – regardless of gender or ethnicity – learn at different rates and just because you can’t do something at 4, doesn’t mean you won’t have caught up by the time you’re 7 or 11.

How would you feel if you were being told you were a failure every few years in school? Wouldn’t you turn off, give up, accept the label? This is what the British system is doing to children, and yes, especially boys. Do you think teachers don’t know this? Do you think they are happy about this?

No, teachers are NOT happy about this, they do not support the plethora of changes that are constantly sweeping through education, that do nothing to help students learn and achieve, that demoralize staff and fail students. But teachers are not listened to. The father from the Times article needs to realize that: teachers do not have a voice when it comes to educational policy. We are silenced. Union bashing is used to silence us. Demonizing us is used to silence us.

4.Recent changes – the Gove changes – do not help under-achieving non-academic students. The focus on academic subjects, on facts, on exams, does nothing for modern students. Gove’s changes fly in the face of a modern world. He has denied the Arts, ignored vocational courses; made the curriculum narrow and mean (rather like him, some might say). He, along with many others, has ignored the needs of the students, those who have to cope in a modern world.

We are told to cater to student differences, to differentiate in our planning, while all the time working towards the same final assessment – exams. Never mind if you can’t cope in exams, never mind if you can’t remember quotes or facts, never mind if you are more creative, you still get to sit the same exam. And we all, from primary school through to A level, have to teach to the exam. How wonderful is that?

Yet we teachers have to implement these changes, despite knowing they are not educationally sound. I teach dead-white British male writers (mostly, with a few token exceptions) to classrooms stuffed with students of all colours, cultures and ethnic persuasions. How do these students connect with such out-dated writing, with experiences that they struggle to make sense of? How do they read out-dated language structures when they don’t read anything modern, other than text-speak on their phones?

How can you encourage a love of reading when a xenophobic Oxford educated white man has taken English back to the 1950s and willfully ignored the modern literary world?

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Yes, it is my job to make the connections, to point out the relevance of Shakespeare today, to show that Jekyll and Hyde still resonates today despite the torturous language and the complete lack of female characters. But my job would be so much easier if there was something a bit more modern that Lord of the Flies, or An Inspector Calls. Yes, the classics matter, but some of them should be from other countries too…

5.The importance of reading. Boys need to read. But a lot of boys can’t. They can’t recognize words or pronounce them. They can’t sit still long enough to read a page, let alone finish a full novel. Is reading really seen as a girly pursuit, as something unmanly? Sadly you would think so in schools. The resistance to reading is palpable – yes, all genders, but especially boys.

Men need to read, to be seen reading, fathers need to read to their sons; head teachers need to support their English departments when they want students to read silently in lessons and not tell the Head of English that ‘silent reading doesn’t show adequate progress, so it must stop’. Yes, I am quoting an actual head-teacher – a man, who told me silent reading was a waste of time, never mind the educationally sound evidence and research.

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6.Fathers need to step up. Whether they are part of the family unit, or weekend dads, they need to take responsibility for their sons’ educations. This means things like reading, like accepting the rules, playing fair, owning their own behaviour; respect for women, especially given that schools – especially primary schools – are full of women. Fathers need to work with schools as mothers do. Fathers need to set good examples for their sons. (Yes, I know, many fathers do and I have known many wonderful fathers, so don’t get offended out there.)

7.Not enough male teachers. Without doubt there is an issue with the gender balance in most schools. Primary schools are traditionally the province of women but secondary schools tend to be female heavy too. In both cases the men tend to hold the senior positions and are not as present in the classroom. This is an issue. Boys do need to see more men in schools. It was similar in northern Australia where Aboriginal people needed to see themselves as teachers, to see themselves in such important positions to help get the message that education was for them too, and significant programs were set up to enable this to happen.

Ask yourself why teaching remains such a female dominated profession. Why do so few men choose not to become teachers, especially primary teachers?

There are some very simple answers here. There has been too much down grading of the profession by politicians (and others) over the years. Teachers are persistently blamed for the ills of society. In English schools teacher are held responsible for the progress of all their students. The students are somehow not responsible for their own progress: no, it is the teacher. How can that be? It doesn’t matter what you have done, you could always have done something else.

The man in The Times article subscribes to this view. The teacher is the problem, the reason he fears for his son’s future. Yes, there are crap teachers, of course there are. But there aren’t as many as you would think. There are also crap students who do not respond to anything, who do not care about their own education or others and who, sadly, are supported by their parents in their destructive ways.

The problem is that young teachers are not staying in the profession and older, experienced teachers are fed up, or being forced out because they are too expensive, regardless of gender. The much lauded Teach-First program has a 50%+ drop out rate after the obligatory 2 years are completed.

The big problem in recruiting male teachers is that the profession has been so demonized, so devalued and relatively under-paid that no male in his right sense would become a teacher, or if he did, remain in the classroom with the students any longer than need be. In primary schools it has been worse, with scare mongering about pedophiles and foolishness about men being too near young children, as if all men are sexual predators.

Men don’t choose teaching because it is not a prestigious or valued profession. If you want more men in teaching then you have to pay more. Female professions are traditionally paid less, and valued less in society; thus it is with teaching. If you want to recruit men and keep them you have to value education in society and stop trying to pull it apart.

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Think on this, those who blame teachers – our Times father who claims to ‘know what bad teachers look like’ – for the ills in education, for failing to meet the needs of students, especially boys. Most head-teachers are men, most PMs and Education Secretaries have been white British men; Ofsted chief inspectors certainly are white British men and yet, as the man in the Times says, the state of education for British boys is a state of national disgrace.

Who should really shoulder the blame for British boys’ chronic under-achievement? This fed up female teacher is happy to point the finger… (Images from Private Collection)

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Out-Out – Brexiteers, damnation and fear…

June 25, 2016

Out – Out

Out damned spot

Out out brief candle

Out out damned little egotistical island

Little, less, nothing! – and that ended it.

(with apologies to Shakespeare and Robert Frost)

EU flag

So, the people have voted, and in great numbers, but the result is not great. Brexit is not a clear and decisive matter. Oh, yes the UK has definitively voted to leave but the closeness of the contest – 51.9 for Leave to 48.1 to Remain is not really a cause for great celebration. Indeed, the mood has been rather somber since early Friday morning. My ‘ladies who lunch’ were quieter, more reflective, somewhat worried about what it all meant. My year 10s were panicked and frightened – the lesson was lost to politics and history. Even Boris the bouncing shaggy dog of a man was not his usual ebullient self.

What have we done?

In truth, nobody really knows, which is why we are worried and apprehensive in the wake of this momentous, yes, historical decision. I am reminded of how gutted I felt when Paul Keating lost to John Howard, how I felt the loss personally and worried for the country. But life went on and we coped and PJK faded away as John Howard took us back to the 1950s and the rhetoric of hate ramped up – it was the time of Pauline Hansen, remember. (An Australian version of Nigel Farage, for my English mates)

So life here will go on. But just as Australia did, things will shift on their axis. It isn’t the same world it was on Thursday morning. This moment is unlikely to be a small ripple in a pond. This event has the potential to be a tsunami, wreaking all sorts of havoc and damage; destruction not dreamt of, let alone planned for.

David Cameron is slinking away. Having unleashed this all upon the public he will remove himself from the fall-out, play no part in the new world order. One is not sure if he is wise to leave it to others or is just a coward who misread the public dramatically, and foolishly kept an election promise (what politician ever does that now-a-days?) that has divided the country, divided his party and left him as a lame duck – a loser of the first order. What was he thinking, what advice was he taking? Why on earth didn’t he leave the referendum until the latter part of this parliamentary term?

The more worrying thing is who will take his place? Which of the rampant Brexiteers will it be? Bonkers Boris or Malevolent Michael?

Oh, you foolish country, you silly people to allow these too such an easy road to the top. Don’t you know what Gove has done to education, to children’s futures, to teachers’ conditions, to workers’ rights? Do you really think any extra money is going into the NHS, do you really think the refugees will stop, that France will hold the borders in Calais?

EU Europe

Perhaps the EU is broken, perhaps it needs a radical overhaul, perhaps it’s lost its way… But the UK is not Great Britain, as Gove went on and on and on and on about, like some fervent right wing nationalist on the telly and wherever he could get a platform. He may have made sure that children only read British writers in the brave new English (subject) curriculum, patriotically excising the Americans – Steinbeck, Miller and Lee, etc and the odd other nationality – from the reading lists, but that can not and does not make Britain great. It only leads to xenophobia, racism and an extraordinarily limited and dangerous view of the world.

Maybe the UK needed to leave Europe, maybe Europe needs to re-invent itself but the thing we do not need, not at all, and especially not now in this world of lies and mis-information, in this time of brutality to others and desperation of the many, is to ignite fervent nationalism, to identify the other and scapegoat them. Now the scapegoats are immigrants and refugees, but it wasn’t really that long ago the scapegoats were the Jews and we know what happened then…

Be careful what you wish for…     (Images from google free-site)

End of Term Blues: Why am I still teaching?

July 11, 2015

Why Am I Still Teaching?

It’s nearly the end of another teaching year – too many to count now! But I end this year sad and uncertain: what is my purpose, what am I actually doing as an English teacher in this country, under the latest changes?

Up until recently I have been confident about the importance and purpose of my subject and my job. English is central to the life opportunities of the young, as is Maths (yes, and other subjects are important too!). English is about the basics: reading and writing, but it is so much more than that – it is about communicating, thinking, creating, exploring, arguing; using the imagination. Well, it was, and maybe it still is at home, in Oz. But in the UK, with every change that is implemented English becomes an impoverished subject; ironically like most of the students whose life chances it purports to support.

In the reaction to the endemic cheating or gaming of the system through Course Work and then Controlled Assessments, key questions were not asked. No-one scratched their head and said: Hey, why are all these schools and teachers cheating to get better results? Why is this happening? Dots were not joined and so we have a subject that should be about nuance and thought, time and consideration, about planning and editing and drafting that is being wholly externally examined. My subject has been bastardised by people who have no idea about English and certainly not the first idea about young people. My subject has been hijacked by people who did not struggle at school, who have not listened to teachers or parents, who reside in some sort of alternative universe where education is stuck in the 1950s.

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Here are some questions that should have been asked before the latest changes were made.

1. What is the point of English in schools?

2. How can we make this subject relevant to non-readers, to those who don’t write, or see much of a future for themselves?

3. What skills and knowledge do we want them to have?

 

I used to think the point of English was to foster a love of reading, to encourage students to read for information, for pleasure, to develop their own language and ability to extract meaning from a text, to think about ideas and meaning and come to their own considered opinions. Fiction’s purpose was to start a dialogue, to tap into their experiences and move them beyond that, to consider other views, other world’s, other ways of being and seeing.

Reading lead to discussion, exploration, arguing, justifying an opinion. It led to accepting there were other points of view, other ways of seeing and understanding things; it also showed you were not alone, not the only one feeling the way you did. Reading lead to writing – personal responses, essays, critical analysis and creative responses, a story, a letter to a character, an extra chapter, and alternative ending, something original using an element from the text. Writing meant thinking, planning, writing, experimenting, crafting, drafting and editing before producing a final product worthy of ‘publication’ or assessment. Not a tick box exercise about triplets and wow words and as much punctuation as you can shove in to get an extra mark.

How many skills can you identify from that paragraph?

There is a large body of evidence that shows that reading fiction, especially good quality well written fiction, is good for us. It enhances empathy, our ability to connect to others, to understand people and how to work with them. Reading also develops our ability to concentrate, to sustain activities, as well as develop our vocabulary and understanding of how language works – the nuts and bolts of punctuation, sentence structure, vocabulary choices and effects. We learn how to be good writers from being good readers.

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But the new curriculum is not about love of anything – certainly not books or kids. There is nothing modern or particularly accessible on the new list for GCSE – a raft of Shakespeare, as to be expected, 19th century texts that many will never access – Great Expectations is a great story but too long; Pride and Prejudice a bit too much romance and marriage; Jekyll and Hyde may be short but its language is impenetrable. Most of the 20th century texts stop short of the 1960s. I’m not sure what these texts bring to a modern child, how they will find reading less of a chore, a king-size bore from the xenophobic list created by Michael Gove, the master educationalist.

I’m not sure what future the politicians see for young people, I’m not sure what they think they will achieve by a retro Sabre-tooth Tiger curriculum that takes no account of the modern world, of the impact of technology on language, on the way we create and receive information. I wonder what world these students are being ‘prepared’ for.

dead angel

I wonder how I will connect texts and tasks to their experiences, to make them see the relevance of what we do for 5 hours a week. I wonder how I can resist the pressure to make everything we do about exam skills and preparation, because that will be the push, the fear from above about exams now that we have nothing else to tell us how students are progressing.

I wonder how much longer I can do this job, dictated to by idiots and fools who have no idea what it’s like to be a teenager, to be at school, to be constantly tested, to prepare for a future from within an education system that is not fit for purpose. (Images from Private Collection)

Who Do You Hate Now (that Michael Gove has gone)?

July 19, 2014

Hate is a powerful emotion, as powerful as love, possibly as destructive as love, but without the power to heal and redeem us. So, dear friends, what do you do when someone you hate is no longer there, when the figure of all your negativity, your anger and frustration with your world is gone? To wit, what do we do now Michael Gove is no longer running Education in the UK?

It’s easy to see why Cameron has removed him. In the end Gove was too divisive, too antagonistic, too easy to hate and blame. It was a powerful move, bust him down to Chief Whip, losing more money than many of us earn in a year from his salary, before he got locked in the loo. The Gove haters amongst us could not have hoped for more. If ever there was confirmation that Karma existed here it was.

The man who had spat vitriol and bile at teachers for the last four years, who had marched through his agenda for change with nary a thought for students, or parents, or schools or consequences had got his come-uppance. Indeed the viral world was full of rejoicing. Which was fair enough. And it was made even sweeter when his silly wife revealed how betrayed the Goves really were, how terribly ripped off they felt. Altogether now, ahhh…

Gove:guardian

But now, who do we hate? Gove may be gone but his policies remain alive and afloat, if only for now. We have a clean-skin replacement, a woman and a mother, Nicky Morgan. So a clear attempt to soften the voters, despite her stance on gay marriage and being a corporate lawyer, deep in the bosom of acquisitions and asset stripping (watch this space). But she talked about stopping all the Tory hate-speak. She seems to be the face of reconciliation – not someone teachers or unions or the Labour Party will be able to vent their spleens about. We can expect soft words and perhaps some lessening of the reforming zeal.

Cameron may be a fool and an idiot and an awful lot of other useless things but the removal of such a hate figure as Gove seems to be a very smart move: it takes the wind out of a flotilla of sails. It seems it will beach the opposition, as Tristram Hunt has done little but criticise Gove, not his policies.

We need to hate. Sadly it is one of mankind’s uglier traits, along with anger and jealousy – all emotions that do very little for you, as an individual or nation. Is not the Middle East conflict based on hatred going back years? Is not the current War on Terror between the West and Islam similarly about hate?

Do you remember when the Berlin Wall came down? I was in Alice Springs, it was my first appointment as Head of English, I was pregnant, young and saw the world as full of possibility. The Wall coming down seemed to be an act of hope: the end of the Cold War, the beginning of peace between the West and the Eastern Bloc, the end of the Red Terror.

But how long did we survive without an enemy, without someone to hate? 1990 when the Wall came down to 2001 when the Twin Towers came down (Albeit with the Gulf War in between). Just over ten years – not very long, not long at all. Once again we live in a world driven by hate, by the need to have an enemy.

Is there someone in your life you need to hate? Do you need to have an enemy, are you in a constant state of war? Are you spending your time and energy in negativity, in hating someone that probably doesn’t know or care? Yes, we hate our bosses, our parents, our partners, former lovers, devious friends. But do we need to? Is our hatred of them simply hatred of something in ourselves?

Abbott:news.com.au

Life is too short to hate. Hatred has no up-side. It depletes you, makes you bitter, nasty, twisted. It takes time and effort to hate, time and effort you should be putting to better use. Rejoice that Gove has gone. Be pleased you no longer have to hate someone you didn’t know, who didn’t care, but who has got what he deserved. And you know what, he’d have got his Karmic punch without you (and me) hating him as much as we have. Now go and be positive somewhere else in your life and do not look for another object of hate to waste your life on.

But if you’re lost without Gove, remember there’s always Tony Abbott, equally offensive, arrogant and stupid. (Images: Michael Gove – The Guardian; Tony Abbott – News.com.au)

Reading Lists for students… dare you write your own?

June 7, 2014

Aftre Michael Gove announced the ‘banning’ of several iconic books for GCSE students a predictable and not entirely unwarranted torrent of abuse ensued and then alternative lists popped up – including the Guardian’s selection from notables. Oh, dear, what lists – full of self indulgence (Russell Brand) and complete ignorance of the teenage beast (nearly everyone else except for Hilary Mantel).

It is worth considering – what books should be experienced during the high school years, what should you read and know about as you grow and become who you are? After all those of us who dwell in the world of books know how we learn about ourselves and others from reading, as well as all the osmosis language skills we acquire simply from reading.

Should we agree with Michael Gove and eschew books from other countries, other cultures and be utterly xenophobic in our canon for the kiddies? What sort of citizens would we be brewing if we follow such a path? Others are asking this question and it is an important one to consider, given there is more truth in fiction than in history, given there is mandated focus on socio-historic-cultural baggage of the texts studied in school.

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In my time in Australian schools we taught a broad range of texts from writers across the world, although perhaps we could have done better. But, there were a slew of excellent YA American novels by the likes of SE Hinton, Paul Zindel, Robert Cormier – so many kiddies loved The Chocolate War and I am the Cheese. I taught To Kill a Mockingbird alongside The Lord of the Flies. We had Animal Farm and Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy. But some of these dated – notably Colin Thiele and Lord of the Flies, or perhaps it became too English as we became more Australian and hade more home grown stuff to choose from, including Nick Earls, John Marsden, Isobel Carmody, Sonya Hartnet and Nadia Wheatley.

We were not starved for choice and indeed many of my happier moments were raging arguments in my departments about which books needed to go and which ones we now wanted in our book-rooms. Yes, schools where I chose what we would teach and then my teams chose from the range. Good times.

 

So, what might an All-Australian list look like?

Classics

For the term

For the Term of His Natural Life, Marcus Clarke

Capricornia, Xavier Herbert

We of the Never Never, Jeannie Gunn

The Eye of the Storm, Patrick White – there must be one White at least, as he is our only home-grown Nobel winner, no matter how inaccessible you think he is!!

A Fortunate Life, AB Facey

My Brilliant Career, Miles Franklin

Picnic at Hanging Rock, Joan Lindsay

Walkabout, James Vance Marshall

The Harp in the South, Ruth Park

A Town Like Alice, Neville Shute

The Man Who Loved Children, Christina Stead

Ride on Stranger, Kylie Tennant

Poetry of AB Paterson

Short stories from Henry Lawson

 

Modern Classics

Monkey grip

Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey

Gould’s Book Of Fish, Richard Flanangan

Monkey Grip, Helen Garner

Lilian’s Story, Kate Grenville

Maestro, Peter Goldsworthy

Fly Away Peter, David Malouf

Unreliable Memoirs, Clive James – entertaining memoir

My Place, Sally Morgan – important memoir

Fly Away Peter, David Malouf

Cloudstreet, Tim Winton

Carpentaria, Alexis Wright

Poetry by – Les A Murray, Gwen Harwood, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Bruce Dawe, Judith Wright, AD Hope, John Kinsella, John Tranter, Dorothy Porter

 

Drama

radiance

The One Day of the Year, Alan Seymour

The Club or The Removalists by David Williamson

Radiance, by Louis Nowra

 

YA

looking f Al

The Obernewtyn serties, Isobel Carmody

48 Shades of Brown, Nick Earls

Looking for Alibrandi, Melinda Marchetta

Tomorrow when the war began, John Marsden

Lockie Leonard – Human Torpedo, Tim Winton

Sabriel, Garth Nix

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

 

Classic Films (because films should be included too…)

rabbit proof

Rabbit Proof Fence (based on true story)

Gallipoli (based on letters from the front)

Mad Max (just because…)

 

What would this highly personal selection tell us about being Australian? That women are valued in our canon, that there are Aboriginal voices (although there is an argument there should be more). There are few immigrant voices, but I have been away from home for a while and not as up to speed with recent developments… What would these stories tell us about ourselves? Do we not need texts from other countries, other voices in our heads to tell us about the world and how to live?

When I taught English Lit in the NT the texts were King Lear, The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night and 1000 lines of poetry, which was taken from an Australian anthology. So there was representation from three countries, different times and places, classics and moderns. Perhaps there should have been more classic Oz-Lit at that level, perhaps there is now. When I taught English Communications in Tasmania we embraced other cultures much better and taught The God of Small Things and Jhumpa Lhahiri’s collection of short stories alongside Radiance and some non-fiction texts.

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From my list – extensive but not exhaustive you can plainly see we have as Australians a rich and long standing literary heritage from which to create a bespoke English curriculum but I am not sure this is wise. I think it would shame us in many cases, it would reinforce some of our less admirable characteristics and much and all as people might breath a sigh of relief at the absence of Shakespeare or the Romantic Poets, or Dickens, what would an English education be without a smattering of good writing, of the classics from across the world?

It is always wrong to ban books, or attempt to modify people’s reading, be they teenagers or adults. Reading books, reading fiction is one of those activities that is dying fast amongst the young. What is beholden on the powers that be is to promote texts that engage and excite and mix in the classics, from across the world. A country like the UK should be outward looking, to learn from reading, to be anything but xenophobic and nationalistic in your curriculum.

Remember there is more truth in fiction than in any other book, perhaps that’s why people want to burn them and ban them and why writers are often considered with suspicion…

What do you remember from your school days? What would you want students to be reading in High School? (Images courtesy Google Images)

GCSE’s – bring on the ungrateful

May 3, 2014

In some parts of the world children are dying because they want to be educated. In some parts of this country children would rather die than be educated. Think that’s a bit harsh for a Saturday?

Well think about this. This week 230 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from school while studying for their final exams – who knows what has happened to them and lord knows their government hasn’t been doing a great deal to find out. They reside in a part of their country where going to school can be fatal. This week my year 11s came back from their latest gee them up and boost their confidence assembly with this: ‘Why should we care about our education, why should we have to do anything about it?’ Coupled with a general: ‘Oh my god, are you going to make me work this morning when I’m so tired from the weekend?’

Needless to say I was not terribly compassionate to those who have complained this week about how much they have to do to get their C, or make progress in English. No, I’ve been singularly angry with those who don’t care, with those who think it’s all a joke, all somebody else’s problem. (Please note there is a disclaimer at the end regarding sweeping generalisations and students.)

I am appalled and disgusted by the attitude of too many children I have met over the last six years who simply don’t give a shit. Fair enough, my non-teaching friends are thinking, let them fail. And in a fair world we would. But Education in England is not about the consequences of your actions, or even learning; no, it’s about teaching. Specifically it’s about league tables, year on year improvements, and meeting and exceeding targets, that actually are not realistic or based in any sensible or rationale logic, just some massaged numbers.

Education is not about learning at all! It’s not about the students (and their families) taking responsibility, no it’s about teachers and schools busting their guts to get the numbers, to not fail, to not have Ofsted breathing down your neck, to avoid being bullied out of your job or sacked, or ending up in Special Measures.

At the moment, across the country teachers are offering extra lessons, spending weekends at school, creating booster packages for home study, running residential weekends; are doing everything they can other than write the exams themselves to get their students over the line. Teachers sit in meetings where management asks – what else could you do for them? Why isn’t management asking the students – what else could you be doing for yourself?

Why are schools chasing students to attend classes, offering inducements to attend extra lessons, ringing them up to remind them to attend extra lessons, allowing extra time for everything, even driving to their homes to pick them up for the exams? Why don’t students and their families care enough to do these things for themselves?

The poor woman who was stabbed this week was doing such a thing – in school on her day off to teach an extra lesson for her GCSE Spanish class.

Indeed, why do teachers care more about students’ results than they do, why are we working harder than they are for their GCSE’s????

In other parts of the world students are desperate to be educated, some walk miles and miles to get to school, some get shot on the way, especially if they happen to be a girl (remember Malala) and their schools do not have remotely adequate facilities. In other parts of the world students compete fiercely to get into the government schools (Shanghai) because they know if they don’t they’ll never have a decent job and there is no welfare to prop them up the rest of their lives. In other parts of the world students take responsibility for their learning; they read, they complete their homework, they focus in class and do their best.

pal studying

Here, in failing schools across the country students don’t care. They want to be entertained, because education must be fun! They don’t want to be in class every day or work effectively when they’re there. They don’t read and wonder why they can’t pass an exam. They get to year 11 having done bugger all for too many years and wonder why they aren’t going to get a C. And they blame their teachers because finally it starts to sink in, school is nearly over and what the hell am I going to do – it must be someone else’s fault…

And you know what, it isn’t actually all their fault. It’s the system that is failing them. Not their teachers, who are as much the victim of the pernicious focus on league tables and Ofsted as they are, but a system that has taken away the students democratic right to failure and to their own true success.

They exist in a system that is not about learning, not about becoming a worthwhile person, a person who doesn’t understand the worth of an education because they have not had to work for it. No, they are failed and continue to fail because schools are not allowed to fail and so we spew out endless young people whose C is not theirs, who haven’t read an entire book in years, who don’t know how to think, who have been drilled and coached and had words and phrases shoved down their throats so they know how to pass. But they don’t know anything worth knowing about English.

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In Shanghai and other places there are consequences for not learning, for not trying. Schools work because students and families respect education, know that learning is the only way to a good life, self respect and security. Teachers are respected, not blamed. Education is valued.

Gove’s reforms are doomed. Not just because he’s an egotistical idiot, but because he is dealing with the symptoms, not the underlying cause, not the disease at the heart of education. Ofsted and league tables breed lies, cheating and all sorts of scurrilous behaviour. Exams are a blunt instrument, but given everything else in the system is singularly lacking in refinement and finesse what do you expect?

It won’t be until this country looks at itself, at its issues, its massive gap between the rich and poor, and creates a bespoke education system, one for all the people who live here, not just patched in from bits from the rest of the world, that all children will have the chance of a good education and a better future. Someone really should be asking how you can have such world class universities as Oxford and Cambridge and such a third rate government sector… someone still needs to be joining the dots much much better.

Singapore and Shanghai looked inward, looked at themselves and what they needed and then they changed their systems. The best performing Scandinavian countries do the same. They didn’t cherry pick from the rest of the world and now look at them!

Disclaimer: I have taught some amazing and hard working students here, those who have really cared about their education and were impressively decent people. I still do! I have also worked with some amazingly dedicated and hard working teachers. Teachers and students are not the problem, not at all… (Images from Private Collection)

Reasons to be Angry, Part…

March 15, 2014

Hum along to Ian Dury and the Blockheads Reason to be Cheerful as you peruse this weeks musings: a consideration of the many reasons we have to be angry and a but as well.

The world is not a nice place, even for the relatively affluent of the West. We struggle, we fall down, we lose, we win. And it seems to me we spend an inordinate amount of time being angry – sometimes with good reason and sometimes just because it seems the best emotional response.

So, to a list, something we haven’t had for a bit: Reasons to be Angry

Rude people – in all bits of life, for no reason whatsoever – in the supermarket, on the bus, at work, spitting their nastiness at you without justification – taking their anger out on you

angry jac

Public transport – for those who must rely on tubes, trains and busses to get around and suffer the rudeness of bus-drivers, ignorance of fellow passengers (shoving, loud music, smelly food, etc), regular delays, over-crowding, unexpected cancelations – yes, all round crappy service

People who don’t read – no not people who can’t read – but those who can and actually don’t bother. You know, those who respond to your request, your email or letter and it’s manifestly clear they haven’t understood a thing because THEY HAVENT READ IT PROPERLY AT ALL – and you know once more how stupid most of the world is.

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People who don’t try, who don’t have a go, those who give up at the first sign of a set back, who can’t cope with any sort of criticism – yes, GCSE English students and your ilk, I am thinking of YOU.

People who bully, who crap on you for no reason other than they can and it makes them feel superior, even though they are the epitome of inferior. Their power and your powerlessness is the perfect recipe for anger.

People who lie, who can’t tell the truth, who don’t care about the truth, who deliberately dissemble and undermine the truth are truly rage makers. Yes, think politicians, CEO’s – any bastard trying to cover their arse and put you off. Not to mention children who lie at the drop of a hat, even when they know that you know the truth!!

Politicians – please don’t let me even begin on Michael Gove or Tony Abbott. God save us from democratically elected politicians who have no fucking idea about anything other than their own small world yet presume to lecture us because they think their position – which they owe to (some of) us – makes them somehow intelligent, all knowing and all powerful. At least we don’t like in the Ukraine, Turkey or Syria, etc, so I guess that is some small consolation…

The treatment of women in an increasingly misogynistic, hard line religious extremist world is very good reason to be angry. For anyone who thinks the feminist fight is won you are being an idiotic ostrich, ignoring the atrocities and injustices perpetrated against ordinary women who simply want to be able to go to school, drive cars, marry at a decent age and not be the property of a man, be it their father or husband.

The power and greed of big corporations who are literally raping the planet – killing the bees, poisoning our water ways, ripping down our forests, killing our reefs, and then suing governments and not paying their fare share of taxes. Corporate greed is killing our planet.

The ever increasing divide between the rich and the poor – actually it’s a gaping unbreachable chasm these days, as exemplified by the aforementioned politicians and corporate greed. Between them ordinary hard working people have been comprehensively screwed over.

 

But, stop now. You can’t be angry all day – no it’s Saturday and the weekend and it would be a waste to lose the day, the creeping warmth, in negative emotions, in the futility of anger. This is what I want you to do instead.

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Join an organization that is trying to make a difference – WWF, Greenpeace, sign petitions, attend rallies – it is a way to channel negativity and feel you are not alone in your anger and outrage.

Do something that makes you feel good – get outside, in your garden, go for a walk, watch the rugby, have a big sleep in, read in bed all day.

Be with people you love – always the best cure – and make sure you laugh – a big babbling, effusive bubbling laugh that can’t be stopped can cure anything.

hug pal

Hug the things you love the most – you can’t be angry snuggled up to the one(s) you love.

Smell something wonderful – grass, aromatic candles, your dog – smells do lovely things to the chemicals in your brain, so go ahead and sniff

mars cake

And finally, when all else fails, eat some chocolate – of any description – especially Mars Bar Cheesecake! (Images courtesy of Private Collection)

Gove v Teachers – Round X

December 9, 2012

Have you read the weekend papers? If you’re not a young teacher but an older-type one then perhaps you’d better not. The article in the Sunday Times is grim and an example of incredibly biased reporting. Ah, perhaps I should take in for my KS4 lot to tear apart??

The glove are off: our dear friends Michael G is after teachers’ pay because good teachers – no, sorry – good young teachers should be rewarded for all their hard work and efforts and extra hours by getting the pay they deserve. They should be able to move from approximately £21,000 pa to £50,000 in six months if they are worth it. All young teachers, it seems are worth it and shouldn’t be constrained by out-dated modes like pay for experience and age; or the hard won teachers’ pay scales.

boxing gloves

Mm? So, where are the good older teachers – do we not exist? In Michael Gove’s world and the Sunday Times, it seems not. Clearly they envisage a world of Teach –first’s and young, enthusiastic teachers, all with passion and energy, willing to work extra hard, motoring up the food chain to be in charge of everything by the time well before they are thirty. Well, good luck to them.

There is a serious flaw here, and those of us who have been teaching for years know. In fact, those teaching for a few short years with a degree of awareness and intelligence know too. You need to put in the hours to develop your skills and your craft. Teaching is a craft. There is a reason for the pay progression by years and experience – most young teachers aren’t that spectacular in their first couple of years. Many have flashes of brilliance but good teachers become so through experience. Good teachers, no matter what their age, should be rewarded.

war o theacers

In fact, my own utterly delightful Teach-first reminded us all of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour theory in his Outliers book. The idea goes that to reach expert level in your field you need to spend 10,000 hours mastering that skill. So, the theory about work says you need five years to become proficient in your field. Interestingly enough when I worked in the Northern Territory of Australia that was their line in the sand about applying for promotion. You would not be considered ready for your promotion assessment until you were in your fifth or sixth year of teaching.

It made sense: the first year of teaching you make all sorts of rookie mistakes, the second year, if you’re smart you don’t make those mistakes, you make others! By the third year you’re developing well and probably ready to take on year 12s and by the fourth you’re actually adding to your school and department, so by the fifth – your 10,000 hours, you have mastered your field and ready for the next challenge. Although, I would be very hesitant to say that it is possible to fully master such an fluid and every changing profession as teaching.

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So, why is there such a rush to take young teachers to leadership when they are not ready? Why is there such an emphasis on young teachers being the only ones of value in schools these days? What’s happened to experience and wisdom, to a calm steady hand; one that knows what’s important and what’s ephemera?

How can an inexperienced head-teacher really judge fairly and objectively the worth of a teacher to the profession? Because, let’s be clear here, many head-teachers on the basis of the rush-through Teach-first, Future Leaders programs have not had the requisite 10,000 hours at the various levels on the way up to be prepared to run a school or make valid judgments.

snarling wolf

Talent, hard work, dedication, spark and flair – all these things should be rewarded. But to overlook wisdom, experience, gravitas in the headlong rush to break unions and push teachers out of the profession, will only weaken the schools that need strengthening and will not deliver anything for the kids.

 

The pay-scales are there for two very good reason:

1.Experience matters and is worth it and is hard won

2.Head-teachers are not always objective rational beasts: they have their favourites; they have their ‘to die’ list – they are like all of us; fallible and flawed. I am on my 17th head-teacher – I speak from experience.

 

Again, I can only wonder at a government and a minster hell bent on ripping into teachers once more, blaming them for all the ills of education in this country for the last 30 years. Ironically, teachers know that to help students make progress you emphasis what they can do, show that you believe in them and tell them they are worthwhile human beings.

happy PB

A shame that governments and too many head-teachers ignore this bit of truth about the world. (Images courtesy Google Images)

Social Mobility: Australia v England – a bit of a rant

May 9, 2012

Social Mobility in the UK lags behind the rest of the world – who is surprised at that? Denmark and Australia are two countries where if you are born poor you have a better than decent chance of making it up the food chain to a successful life. Now, I know virtually nothing about Denmark – other than Prince Fred married Mary Donaldson, an ordinary Australian girl, which must have seriously helped her social mobility, or his – but I do know a fair bit about Australia and feel experienced enough to offer some comparisons on the gap between social mobility in Oz and the UK.

First of all, the gap between rich and poor in Australia is nowhere near as vast as it is in Britain. We have no royalty or massive indolent indulged group at the top. Most uber-rich and successful Australians have got there themselves – usually the product of social mobility (well most of us began life as criminals so how much more socially mobile can you get?). Most of our super-rich are media barons or mining magnates – have been for some time. Yes, we now have dynasties therein – Murdochs, Packers, Hancocks, etc but build on the back of work and sweat and not a lot of university educations in the founding generations. Fortunately for the burgeoning ego amongst this lot, every once in a while on of them comes utterly unstuck and ends up in jail. Most Australians are enjoying the current discomfort felt by the Murdoch gang.

Witness Alan Bond, the epitome of a self-made Australian. He was a painter with ambition, got into land deals, made a fortune and it was his syndicate that first won the America’s Cup from the Yanks back in 1983. He was a national hero, a testimony to hard work, self belief and ambition. He didn’t go to university and was feted by his countrymen. He blew it though: too many dodgy deals and ended up in jail for a while. He landed on his feet again but this story is a reminder to those who over-stretch their reach and forget about the law. Alan Bond is a good lesson to Australians on many levels. Dream, believe, work hard but stay within the law, or you’ll get yours. We love justice in Oz and no-one’s too big for that here.

Celebrity culture in Australia is nowhere near as invidious or all pervasive. We have our footy heroes and movie and rock stars, but they don’t earn the money that a Beckham or a Rooney does. They’re more likely to be Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett, far more the actor than the star – still one of us, still accessible, even if living OS more than at home. Even Kylie, one of uber-stars is one of us – she got cancer and has troubles with her men, so very much mortal. Yes, we indulge in reality TV and kiddies dream of easy riches quickly gained but most know it’s not likely and the only way they’ll have a life is through a job.

Our politicians are as useless as the English but don’t come from an exclusive club that went to private schools and elite universities. We have some clever pollies, but most of ours do not come from the privileged elite– they tend to know the price of milk and they avoid the entrails fiddling in education that is favoured by the likes of Gove. A Michael Wilshaw simply doesn’t exist in Australia. We also avoid the plethora of Sirs and Dames and have limited respect for those with such titles – it keeps the playing fields and work places more even, more democratic. More based on merit, not so much connections.

Let’s to education, then as a main lever for social mobility. In truth I never heard the expression ‘social mobility’ until I moved here in 2008. In my naivety I thought schools were about preparing children for the world of work and to be decent individuals who would contribute positively to the world and lead a happy life. It didn’t mean everyone had to go to uni (or be a failure if they didn’t) and it didn’t mean schools were responsible for all the ills in society. (Although to be fair to Australian education systems – federal and state – they have, like their British cousins, believed this too. If only teachers were better then we’d all be rich and happy and nothing terrible would happen to anyone ever again – nor anything exciting or interesting come to that.)

Australia doesn’t have league tables, or anything approximating Ofsted, nor do they constantly inspect, observe or rate teachers. There is performance management and teachers pursuing promotion willingly undergo scrutiny, as do all new teachers into the various systems. Other than that we just get on with teaching the curriculum (constantly under review and change), marking, assessing, preparing for the next stage, developing relationships, keeping control, meeting deadlines, writing reports – doing our best. We don’t have much truck with data – that belongs to a boffin in an office somewhere. We simply teach children our subject area to the best of our ability. We expect students to take responsibility for their own learning.

This scenario describes both government and private schools (both of which I have spent years in). Unlike England there isn’t always a clear division between the quality of either camp. In the NT for years the government schools were clearly superior to any private educational establishments. In Tasmania the private sector was favoured over the government, despite A level equivalent honours results being evenly distributed between both sectors. It wasn’t just about results or getting into university – parents were concerned about the whole child approach that is the raison d être of private schools – music, sport, debating, drama, trips – that caters better to the individual child.

I’m going to say that again – Australian schools expect students to take responsibility for their own learning.

I never knew that was a radical idea until 2008, when a Year 9 child gleefully told me that if I don’t make them learn I’ll be sacked. I still have my job and that child is not at university. But that comment, flung across the room one cold January afternoon symptomises the state of play in English education. The teacher is responsible not only for their teaching but to make the child learn, to take responsibility for that child – and the other 28 in that class (plus your other 3-4 classes if you’re a high school teacher).

Ofsted fails teachers if students are not learning, if a child is sitting in your room doing nothing, off task, unengaged, for whatever reason. In Australia, the teacher does all they can – examines their own teaching, consults a senior colleague, contacts the parent (who either doesn’t care, or is struggling more with the child), negotiates with the child, does what he/she can and that’s it. The teacher is not held accountable for the child’s unwillingness or refusal to get involved in their own learning. The child has the democratic right to failure. Some do fail, leave school sooner rather than later, but some get their act together. It may not be in your class, in your year but something will go ‘ping’ and they’ll understand they have to make the moves.

This idea of personal responsibility is quite significant to me because if the covert curriculum is to inculcate certain values – which society tends to agree are worthwhile – such as co-operation, trying hard, persevering, coping with set-backs – the much vaunted resilience – then by making the teacher responsible for all that happens in a classroom you are failing the child and consequentially failing society.

You end up with what England has now – a passive underbelly which believes it is owed a living. That a job should be exciting and well paid and the employer should be grateful the employed have simply turned up to work. If schools in the UK have been running the no-responsibility approach to education for students (and their parents) for many years now this is the natural consequence. People expect to be given to, not to work for things, not to earn things, but to be given – as they were (and are) in school. The current approach simply tells students they aren’t responsible, it’s someone else’s role to make them… whatever.

Let me tell you a story from Australia, from a private school. Tim was completely off the wall in Year 9 – he hated school, didn’t co-operate in any lessons, let alone mine. He ruined my lessons, when he was there and the worst report I have ever written in my life was about Tim. His parents were educated and caring – they’d lost him too. All they wanted was that he was at school and safe until he was old enough to leave and in the meantime we hoped for some sort of miracle. Well a miracle did not eventuate but Tim made it through to university entrance subjects – we met up again along the way and while he had immense difficulties putting his now quite amazing and insightful ideas to paper he was growing up and becoming quite an actor. Between myself and his drama teacher we kept him going; she found him a course post year-12 and he was free of school, now a socialized and decent kid – a young man with prospects. He didn’t make it to uni but he makes a living and looks after himself – his friends love him and he remains close to his family. Is Tim a success story? He’s not a failure, he took responsibility for himself and lives a life independent of state support, still being an actor, if not a terribly successful one just yet.

These days I meet too many 12-16 year olds who think school is about being entertained, that if they are asked to complete a task that they deem boring they have the right to complain and refuse to do it. I meet too many children who have no idea how to deal with their emotions, who think it’s their right to be angry and sulk because they’ve been reprimanded for something inappropriate they have done or said. I meet students who have no idea about manners, taking turns, listening, respect for others and who think they don’t have to worry about such things. I meet too many children who have to be literally stood over to work, to put their pen (if they bring it to school) in their hand and put it to the paper.

I meet students who will not read. Despite visits to the library, to support from an excellent librarian, in a library with a plethora of books for teenagers, these children – and it is girls as much as boys – will not read. They’ll sit and look at the cover, pretend to read while staring out the window and someone, somewhere says this child must get a C+ in English to be able to go to University so they can move up the social mobility ladder.

The more governments fiddle with economics and education (health too) the worse they become. Australia is strong on personal responsibility – on being independent and able to look after yourself. You can be who you want and do what you want. Part of ‘The Lucky Country’ belief in self still exists. We have a healthy disrespect for authority, we hate being told what to do, we don’t care about titles. We believe in hard work, in not being a ‘bludger’, we don’t expect others to take responsibility for us.

Perhaps the difference in social mobility between Australia and the UK is more about national character than anything else. The resistance by teachers to be told what to do by successive governments, such that we can teach individually and creatively – across the states, across the government/private divide and students are not constrained by the insane examination culture that measures – well, what exactly? In Australia you learn, you don’t learn, in the end it’s up to the child with the help of their parents and the school. It’s not about the teacher, not on their own, not at all.

 

The current UK government seems to concentrate on three of the seven truths about social mobility –

1.Breaking the cycle through education…

2.Through the quality of teaching

3.The belief that University is the top determinant of later opportunities – so pre-18 attainment is key

 

Which is all well and good. But it ignores at its peril –

1.What happens at home before age 3

2.The importance of out of school time (like trips and clubs, the home environment)

3.Personal resilience and emotional wellbeing

 

These matters are not within the remit of the current educational climate of England. The relentless drive for progress, for C+ at GCSE, to pass exams means children know very little of any worth and their skills set is short term. In too many schools their grades are not their own (have a read of the TES chat rooms from time to time). League tables make this happen – make teachers scaffold work to such an extent that all students do is regurgitate their teachers words and interpretations. It is not really the teachers or even head-teachers fault, this is the system they know and even though they know it’s flawed have no idea how to work without Ofsted looming over their shoulders, tracking progress through numbers and passing exams.

Why do the English think schools need to be inspected? Is there some belief, some inherit distrust of teachers and schools, that says they won’t do their job unless someone is coming to check on them? How many professions suffer this indignity???

Take a long look England, David Cameron, Michael Gove, Michael Wilshaw – your education system is failing the most needy children. It’s not doing much for the bright ones either, but that’s another blog. Your systems do not enhance social mobility, they do not equip students for the world of work, further education, life long learning or how to be a good citizen. Have a long hard look at Denmark if you wish, but look at Australia too. Our education system is flawed for sure, but children are making it through their education to go onto better things. Perhaps that tells you something??

Social Mobility is not about schools, it’s not about teachers who can’t make students learn (learning is what you do for yourself– where you, the individual acquires knowledge). It’s much much bigger than that. So give teachers a break – look at your society, your massively unequal society, your massive inequity between the rich and poor and do something about that.

According to the Sunday Times Rich List 2012 those with a fortune between 330 – 750 million pounds have enjoyed increases of 7.8% while the poorest households have seen their income drop by 1.5%. Do you think this might impact on social mobility in this country? Do you really think any government is going to tackle this?

Don’t, for God’s sake, introduce more tests and benchmarks and hoops to jump through, especially not for the poor. Consider what to do about the fact that in the last twelve months the rich have got richer, the poor poorer – that would be the bold thing to do, the brave thing. The right thing to do. Go on, I dare you…

Tough Talk on Teachers

January 14, 2012

Omigod, Michael Gove is now getting tough on bad teachers. Are we surprised, dear reader? Not a bit. Of course he was going to this place, of course he has to have a more direct swipe at the teaching profession. Not enough to change and review all and sundry, now we must, simply must, address the on-going problem of bad teachers.

At this point let me refer you to my blog 9 Thoughts about why Education is not as it should be, especially point 1 – ‘every new minister of education thinks they have the answer’. So Gove is doing just that. He is the master: he has the answers.

We’ve been down this road before. If only head-teachers had the power to get rid of bad teachers then everything would be fine. Well, here’s the thing – they do have that power. But most of the time they’re too casual, too lazy to follow the processes fairly to get the result they want. Most teachers in this country are bullied out of the profession, not processed out. The stress and strain of constant observations, meetings, paper-work, poorly performing and badly behaved students does take its toll.

And actually what is more important, and this is what Gove needs to understand, is that it is this process that does a great deal of damage to students’ education. Teachers go sick. Relief teachers come in, some-one sets cover – is it relevant, is it okay? But even if it is good work the students are unlikely to co-operate. Even the best kids are notoriously poorly behaved for relief teachers. They think they’re having fun, giving the teacher (or succession of teachers) a hard time, but we know (as they do, really) that the only people being damaged are themselves.

Kids need many things in schools to be successful and make progress. Good teaching is certainly one of the main planks. But consistency in teachers is another central tenant. Let me say it again, students need consistency. They need someone they know, trust and will work for. Inner-city kids are more needy: they don’t have much consistency in their lives – school is about it. Teachers are some of the few adults they can trust and rely on. Even poorly performing ones, Mr Gove.

Gove’s bag of tricks say to the profession – we don’t trust you. You need to be monitored, assessed, graded and some of you need to be sacked as quickly as possible. He also assumes that Head-teachers know enough to identify bad teachers and are professional enough not to target or bully a member of their staff simply because they can. This just isn’t true – they are many inexperienced and inept Head-teachers who do bully people out of their school and out of the profession.

As I said – processes are already in place: they simply need to be followed, carefully and properly. And, here’s a thought, if there are so few bad teachers, why the need for this indecent haste, surely a good head-teacher will want to remove bad teachers in a way that is both fair and seen to be fair? The principles of Natural Justice, surely need to apply here?

This simply  grand-standing  from Gove – “look at me, I’m tough on bad teachers”. What about bad bankers – you know, the ones who bankrupt the country? What about bad doctors who remove the wrong organ and kill people? What about corrupt policemen, who are in cahoots with the media? What about politicians who fiddle their expenses and cost the tax-payer thousands? What about all those ‘bad’ people? I think we might mount an argument that they do far more damage than a handful of bad teachers. Are we lacking some perspective here?

Why are teachers singled out for so much vitriol? Why is the profession under such constant attack? The truth is teaching in this country is seriously hard work. Read the TES subject forums, where teachers post candidly about what they do – not just in preparation for Ofsted but as part of their normal business. No other part of the community spends all day in a room with 20-30 young people – being responsible for their behaviour, their learning, their socialisation: dealing with their aggression, their ignorance, their resistance to anything that will improve their lives. Would you do it?

Here’s a suggestion, Mr Gove – sack the bad teachers, the inept head-teachers, turn every school that struggles into an Academy, but pay good teachers what they are worth. If Education is so important to the future of this country then good teachers should be paid in accordance. Surely a good teacher is worth more to the country than a footballer?