Posts Tagged ‘Ofsted’

Education: Crap for Teachers and for Students Too. Part1.

February 26, 2017

Education: Crap for Teachers and for Students Too. Part1.

Only people living under rocks, or politicians in their infinite ignorance, are under no illusion that Education in many parts of the world is in melt-down crisis – the UK, the USA and Australia, to mention a few relevant systems that are entirely unfit for purpose and sadly in no danger of getting better any time soon. Who is suffering here: students and teachers. Whose voices are dismissed and not heard: students and teachers. After all, who in their right mind would ask those who know the most about anything what they think!!

Swiftie globe

This week in the UK stories are out again about the crisis in teacher recruitment – that for the third year in a row targets for recruitment have been missed. No teacher in the country is surprised by this – not one teacher in Oz or the US will be either. Too many experienced teachers are leaving before retiring and not enough young enthusiastic tyros are coming in the other end. The reasons for this, for both ends of the shortage problem are no surprise, have been clearly articulated for several years now, yet none of those in power are listening. They seem to think that slick advertising campaigns, bursaries for study and the much vaunted Teach First program will make a dent in the problem.

The powers that be seem to willfully ignore the issues and while they do, and continue to blame teachers for the ills of the world then nothing will improve.

Which makes me believe that perhaps they are quite happy with the parlous state of state education in their various parts of the world. After all, we aren’t really talking about private education here … No, we are talking about state funded, government education for the masses. The masses who voted for Brexit and Trump and brought Pauline Hanson back and even returned an Australian Liberal government that has continued to screw the worker and the less powerful since re-election. Think about that for a moment… If you think that right wing, conservative politicians care about the masses you are a fool. You need only look to the appointment of Betsy De Vos in the US to know that things are going to dramatically worsen in the States for students and teachers alike. She’s already said she believes teachers are paid too much…

If they cared, they would do something about funding state education so that it worked (yes, and the health care system too). So that repairs to buildings occurred, so that school supplies could be purchased for all, so teachers could attend Professional Development – especially in this massive time of change (yet a-fucking-gain) and so teachers were paid what they are worth. Yes, state education is a massively expensive enterprise and increasingly – as with health – governments are refusing to spend what is needed to make it work.

Teachers – maligned, over-worked, vilified – are what keeps the whole embarrassing mess from toppling over the edge of the abyss.

Teachers who care. Teachers who consistently go the extra mile. Who work all hours, who spend their own money to make things better, who ignore their own families and lives and even their health. If it wasn’t for caring teachers who go beyond their job descriptions again and again the whole creaking straining edifice would have crashed to the ground years ago.

 

Why is recruitment such an issue? The government here in the UK knows – God knows the teachers’ unions do enough surveys about work conditions and teacher ‘satisfaction’ for want of a much better word. The powers that be know, they just don’t want to face up to it. But let’s spell it out one more time in a simple, easy to read list:

1.Constant criticism from all – politicians, parents, celebs – essentially anyone who went to school and therefore thinks they are an expert on Education. This has been going on for years and continues – it is relentless and then ‘they’ wonder why people leave and why no-one in their right mind wants to step inside a cess-pit of blame and criticism. Really, would you choose a job where you are blamed for everything – where everything you do is wrong, but not the other people in the system?

2.Constant, relentless change to everything – curriculum, exams, assessment, Ofsted criteria – nothing has a chance to bed-in, let alone last long enough to be reviewed and assessed as to it’s worth. Change is not a new thing – I remember sitting in a meeting in around 1998 about the latest changes about to be introduced in the NT and thinking that there’s no point in getting as upset by this as my colleagues were, as by the time the ink was dry on this approved change, something else would be in vogue. I was right – it was an epiphany and it helps me cope here – to an extent. But what is killing teachers in England is the constancy of change – in the 9 years since I’ve been in London we’ve had 4 changes to the curriculum in English – no nothing has bedded in and the kiddies get caught out by it and they suffer more than we do. I won’t even mention the plethora of changes Ofsted has cascaded through to us…

2b. Test, test, test and then test some more. When did education become a series of tests and exams at every stage? What do tests do – tell us things we already know in different ways but what they do more significantly is raise stress levels in students and tell them they are failures almost from the moment they set foot inside a class-room. Oh, and tests/exams/SATs/NAPLAN – whatever you call them – tell teachers and schools that they are failures too. This bit of madness needs to stop too. 100% external exams means teaching to the exam. You ask any GCSE English or Maths teacher in England at the moment and they’ll tell you that’s all they are doing. Seriously, is this the sort of education we want? A legacy of yet another egotistical politician, our dear Michael Gove – dear in this sense meaning expensive and costly NOT beloved.

3.Levels of responsibility – somewhere down the line it went terribly wrong. Teachers are responsible for it all – for students’ progress, for having the frequently mentioned fucking pen, for tissues, for them having breakfast and a good night’s sleep. Oh and we’re responsible for the exam boards whims. Oh, yes we are, as an Ofsted inspector pointed out to me 18 months ago when the grade boundaries were suddenly shifted and we missed our projections. According to him I should have predicted that and taken it into account. Yes, I had to so bite my tongue. That’s the nonsense level of responsibility we work within. Every other bastard in the system has an excuse, so classroom teachers carry the ever increasing can of shit. Accountability is all well and good and fair, but being responsible for everything that moves and shakes and sneezes and shits in your working world is plainly nonsense.

4.Life-work balance – we’re back in the dark ages of vocation, where people became teachers because they were ‘called’ to it and it would be their life and therefore nothing else mattered. When I first began teaching it was a lovely normal sort of job, where I had time to plan good lessons, kept my marking up to date and had a lively and interesting social life. I worked in the evenings or half a day at the weekend to make it all happen but it didn’t stop the rest of my life. When I had small kids I was Head of English and seemed to manage it all – family, friends, extra study, a husband. But now there aren’t enough hours in the day. The expectations are extreme. A number of my team struggle to keep all their balls in the air and it’s not because they aren’t good teachers who aren’t working hard enough. It’s because the system wants too much from them.

5.Behaviour and student needs – this is linked to the responsibility thing. An increasing amount of students are less and less inclined to own their own behaviour. They are not, for want of a better word, socialized – they do not know how to behave and have to be contained and controlled all the time. What do you think happens to learning then? And there is an increase in the needs of students – of students being identified as having ‘special needs’. There is an argument that this is progress, that students are no longer labeled at thick or stupid because they don’t understand or can’t learn in a particular way. Yes, that’s very nice but what about the poor teacher who already has 30 in her class and no support and has to plan for that child too? How do you think that happens? How do they find the time to plan for all the needs in the classroom??

6.Pay – while many teachers down-play this angle, I think it is significant. Teachers carry the future in their hands – we shape the future, for better or worse. So, if the future matters and if you want smart, driven, caring people entering the profession then pay them what they are worth. Education is at the core of a productive, intelligent, creative caring society. Teachers are the centre of that core – the magma of it all, so pay us what we are worth. Increase the status of teaching and people will stay and the right ones will chose it as a career. Remember Walter White from Breaking Bad would never have ended up wreaking all that murder and mayhem had he been paid a decent salary and was able to access affordable health care…

7.Trust – the system does not trust teachers – read this to be clear about that https://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2017/02/20/a-broken-system-progress-gcses-and-sats/ … Hence the constancy of criticism, the constant changes to stop us cheating or ‘gaming’ the system, the odiousness of observations and Ofsted, the prescriptive nature of the curriculum and assessment regimen. I am not trusted to select texts or topics suitable for my classes. I am not trusted to assess them fairly. I have to be observed frequently, my marking checked, paper work submitted to those further up the food chain. I have to have meetings to explain and justify what I am doing. And now, as mentioned in 2b I am preparing students for 100% external assessment by exams. Yes, because I am not trusted to teach and assess fairly and objectively. Never mind that the system created the cheating, no, blame the teachers (and the senior management who endorsed and encouraged this) who have to meet ridiculous targets and so cheat. What other profession suffers under such scrutiny, such a lack of trust in their professionalism??

 

This list is not a secret. It is not something I know and no-one else does. Teachers are unhappy people, their hands are tied by systems and people who know nothing about education, about children and their world. Our education system is run by people who don’t have the first idea of what it is like in a classroom. Most of them wouldn’t last 5 minutes in a secondary school – they would find your average teenager frightening and not know how to speak to them, let alone control them for 45-60 minutes and actually teach them something.

 

Where education is thriving in the world several simple things happen: 1.Teachers are respected; they are valued and important members of society and usually paid accordingly.

2.They are not blamed for the ills of society. The education system is centred on knowledge not testing, on the child learning at its own pace, on sound educational pedagogy – remember that, Piaget, etc??

3.And, importantly, the education system is about the relevant society, what it needs, what its aspirations and desired future is.

This is Singapore and Finland, the places we look to for inspiration. They are not cherry picking bits and pieces from other systems and mashing them together. Their education systems are thought out, considered, be-spoke for their needs. Changes do occur, but not with the whirlwind destruction and rapidity of ours.

Why don’t we stop this constancy of change and listen to teachers, the ones in the middle of the mess, the ones who have had enough, who know what should be happening? Why don’t we ask the students what they want, what they need?

*Next week: the student perspective. (Image from Private Collection)

An English Teacher’s Lament

May 21, 2016

An English Teacher’s Lament

Tis but a little poem today

Because most of my words have flown away

No words

 

This morning I have not enough words

For although the world remains absurd

Nothing startling has fallen from the bough

To urge me to write just now…

 

Instead, in land of exams and data and marking do I dwell,

I must admit it is a living hell

No time or space to set the imagination free,

For the kiddies or for me…

 

There is no time to think, no time to rest

Must teach to that fucking stupid test

Make sure we all do our best

To avoid the ire of the Ofsted pest,

Before the exam boards do their thing

And shift the ground boundaries again.

 

Swiftie globe

Perhaps there is finally nothing left to say on a dull or cheery Saturday

Or is it this just a temporary stay? (Images from private collection)

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.

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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)

Let’s talk about reading, baby, let’s talk about a rich life, shall we?

February 1, 2014

It’s that time of year in the UK, kiddies starting to panic about their exams, about their GCSE C grades and wanting it, but not actually being prepared to work for it. There are many serious problems in Education, too many and too depressing to consider here, but the daddy of them all of them is Reading.

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As an English teacher of extensive and considerable experience it is my considered opinion that the epidemic of non-readers is growing and will strangle the world, immuring us in illiteracy and idiocy. Forget global warming and the increasing divide between rich and poor, the divide between readers and non-readers will define the planet.

To read is to know, to understand, enjoy, think, consider, imagine, explore. To read is to be empowered. At its most basic and fundamental level reading = knowledge. And you must know by know that knowledge = power. Does anyone really think that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and the guys from Google and Amazon don’t read, weren’t readers?

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It’s time to face the facts. Reading is magic. It does all sorts of tricky and scary things to you. It helps your vocabulary, it helps you understand how language works at a fundamental level – grammar and all that lovely stuff – and at the higher level of images and contradictions and challenges in ideas, and concepts. Reading takes you on a journey, to unreal places, to facts and information, to ideas that challenge and confront; to new worlds, both imagined and real. Reading is the fortress for the lonely, for the outsider, for the lost, for the vulnerable and for the smart. Reading fiction helps you understand the world, it makes you more empathic, more able to understand and read others: it helps you to be more successful in business. Oh, yes, there are studied about this.

Smart people read. They know its power. Dumb people, stupid people would rather have their fingernails pulled out than read a book. Oh, yes, it’s true. Stupid people don’t know how stupid they are, because they don’t read. Believe me, I have met too many now – students and parents who actually don’t know what a book is – other than something they had to interact with at school.

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But, more incredibly, there are schools that don’t think reading in class is a sound thing to do. Schools that think silent reading is a waste of time. I know this sounds like insane rubbish but it is true. Reading silently in class (because so many of our students do not read silently or otherwise anywhere else) does not show evidence of progress, means that some are day-dreaming, are not concentrating and simply wasting time.

These are the very schools whose results are on a knife-edge, where students can’t read for meaning or answer anything other than the most fundamental questions about the content. How can they pass an exam worth 60% (soon to be 100%), where half of that mark is based on the ability to read and understand unseen texts? Even the better students aren’t reading a wide and eclectic range of texts, a rich and varied diet of fiction that feeds them and encourages them to go onto A levels and thence to university.

But senior administrators fearful of the might of Ofsted and the madness that mandates evidence for everything cannot abide the quiet, soft, gentle world of silent reading, of a child sitting still, simply reading. Because, you must know by now, if you can’t measure something in English education then it obviously isn’t happening.

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Too many young people do not have the habit of reading. It is easy to understand, there are so many distractions, so many other easier more entertaining things to be doing, why sit quietly reading a book that will take hours or days to finish? What’s the point?

Indeed, I wonder too. Why am I beating my brains out to make fools and morons understand that reading matters, that it makes a difference. Fail your exams, have an utterly impoverished life, know nothing, at all ever.

But you know what, you aren’t in the majority. People read all the time, on the trains, on the tube, on buses and planes – they read the papers and books and e-books and you know what, these people are going to work, to jobs that earn money. Reading got them there. Reading enriches their lives and they know it. (Images courtesy Google Images and Private Collection)

 

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…

An English Teacher’s Tale

February 21, 2012

Extreme Reading – A story for modern times.

Once upon a time there was an English teacher who had lost the will to live. She had been teaching for more than twenty years and in nearly all of that time had loved her job, enjoyed the kiddies, but most of all had rejoiced in reading: in teaching books to students. Reading novels with them: discussing character and plot; setting and atmosphere; themes and ideas. Most of all themes and ideas: all the things you could learn and think about just from reading.

She loved that reading took you to different places, where wonderful things happened, where you met interesting characters, travelled to different places and times, where words were beautiful and magical, where the imagination was king and all things were possible.

She had loved reading to her own children when they were young: bringing them the beauty of words, the possibility of language and the power of reading and discovering things for yourself. She still read for herself: life was incomplete without a book to read. It was not a proper birthday if there wasn’t at least one book amongst the present pile. When she had moved across the world she had brought many of her books, collected over a whole lifetime, with her. How could she live without reading?

But now her energy had gone, her life’s work rendered meaningless in the face of too many students who did not give a shit about books, who did not believe as she did. Who came from homes where reading was a chore not a pleasure, where books barely existed. Who did not care as she did about books and reading.

She tried all her usual tricks – read to them, chose a class novel that was interesting and accessible, shared the reading and the discussions, set engaging assessment tasks. She took them to the library – the new shiny library with the new shiny wonderful librarian. She let them choose books they were interested in.

She did not force them to read classics or anything at all – Manga and cars and football stars and vampires all the way. All she asked was that they read. But still too many wandered the library listlessly, picking over the books like vultures over carrion. Or sat with a book only pretending to read.

She was tired of the negativity: Reading’s boring, Miss. She was fed up with the passive resistance: My book’s at home; I left it in my locker; I didn’t get it renewed. She was irritated beyond belief by their ignorance: Why do I need to read? Reading novels won’t get me a job. My brother says reading’s stupid.

It was too late for her prince to rescue her: he’d come years ago and had not been rich enough or famous enough to save her from a life of work. But it hadn’t mattered then. Once, not all that long ago, there had been joy in teaching English, in a classroom where everyone read something and knew books were the key to their future and wanted to talk about their experiences of the text.

And so, one night towards the end of her Spring half term holiday she awoke from a frenzied dream where Michael Wilshaw (the saviour of Ofsted and defender of all students who deserved better teaching) was casting her out, having her sacked because none of her students would read. ‘You are a failure,’ he boomed at her. ‘And so you must be gone. Do not darken the doors of schools in this country ever again. You should be ashamed of yourself.’

Alarmed and afraid she rushed outside into the cool of the dark night. ‘Oh,’ she cried to the black sky, ‘help me. I have lost my way and don’t know what to do. My students hate reading and I hate them because they hate reading. It’s true I am a failure. I no longer care. What can I do?’

The sky rumbled for a moment and then said, ‘Get a grip. You’re meant to be intelligent, you’re meant to be imaginative, think of something. Get over yourself, woman and do your job. Think like a teenager, not one from your generation but one from now. Even your own daughter only reads that Twilight rubbish and loads of Manga.’

‘But what?’ she wailed. ‘What can I do?  I have no idea.’

The sky seemed to laugh. ‘Well, I guess Wilshaw will have you sacked if you can’t out-think a bunch of fourteen year olds, and deservedly so. Get competitive, remember you’re tough, don’t let the other guys win.’

In the morning the sun was bright in a pale blue sky and she had the answer. Extreme Sports – Reading for ENA2. Select your teams, read your books, discuss your books, earn daily points; win weekly Vivos and the big end of term prize. Which team is the best at reading?

She imagined the teams in her head, saw them at their desks, reading every lesson, no books forgotten. Then on Friday a lesson spent discussing in detail one aspect of the novel – begin with central characters, ask challenging questions. Share each book, decide which character was the best, award points for each response, share with the class. Vote on the most informative and engaging speaker. Award team points, declare a weekly winner. Set up a league board – see the points amassing. Raise the stakes for the next week…

She would make them readers if it killed her. And it probably would, but she would rather die trying than give up altogether. She was not about to let her nightmares come true! (Images from personal collection and courtesy Google Images)

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?