Posts Tagged ‘responsibility for learning’

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.


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)


But Miss, I Don’t Have a Pen

February 3, 2013

Sadly I hear this all too often – still. Not daily, it’s true but too much and I still boggle at children who rock up to class without their equipment – to wit complete devoid of pens, pencils and the various accoutrements needed to function in a classroom. And then offer a load of rubbish excuses.

Why is this so? I have pondered this mystery frequently over the last five years, because, dear reader, it was not something I heard that often in the Old Country. In Oz students by and large have a well stocked pencil case, they look after their own books, they have lockers they (mostly) look after. No, they are not paragons of virtue and pictures of perfection in a classroom. But there is a different culture in terms of student responsibility.

nice pens

As a secondary school teacher I’d not come across book tubs – they were for primary schools and not part of the secondary scene at home. In my London school they were everywhere. Why was the teacher looking after student books; why did that responsibility lie with the teacher? I found the same with pens. Nothing to write with was commonplace. Students expected teachers to provide pens virtually every lesson. No pens meant they didn’t need to work; they had the best excuse. And in this place of constant inspection, of teacher-fear and teacher-responsible-for-all the teacher readily hands over pen after pen after pen. We, the responsible teachers, can’t allow something as trivial as a pen to stop their learning. And so we have boxes of pens in our rooms so there are no excuses and they can write. The same is true of books in boxes – here is your book, here is your pen, so now learn. (Heaven forbid we set homework to be completed in the books – they’ll never come back! Ah, so we have two books…)

Actually, this lack of basic responsibility in the classroom is a major issue and I think lies at the heart of the lack of progress of some sectors of society. It is part of the Welfare State mentality and while I support aspects of the Welfare system (a compassionate society must care for those less able, less fortunate) too many of the elements of expectation, of entitlement have crept into areas they should not. The classroom being one. It’s reminiscent of Nirvana’s ‘Here we are now, entertain us.’ As if teachers should be grateful that the child is in the classroom and should provide all parts of the entertainment – the equipment as well as the show.

Okay, so as adults we have to teach responsibility, we have to show children what is expected and be consistent in those expectations. We need routines and consequences to help them learn about how the world operates and as well as teach them subject content and skills, prepare them for work, for being decent socialised citizens.

Surely the parents/carers need to buy into this as well?

And t he student has to take these things on. They have to come with a readiness to learn, and that is shown in the small things, in their uniform, in being equipped for their day. PE kits fall into the same category.

Bill Gates’ list of 11 rules of life (which is actually from Charles Sykes’ book Dumbing Down Our Kids) is worth mentioning here. Teachers know that the world of school is an artificial bubble, that much of what happens there does not replicate the world of work or life. We know that a lot of what we do does not prepare students for anything much at all. The making too many allowances all the time, the constancy of re-takes, the massaging of egos without sufficient reason is not helping anyone; no child is helped by this and it does nothing for the much desired social mobility.

We know that handing over pens – even in exchange for phones (yes we have stepped up our expectations and standards) does not help the student. We should allow them to sit there doing nothing. Allow them to be bored rigid because they can’t write their assessment, to be shamed by their lack of preparedness, to be made to come back after school with their pen to do it then. We should allow them to sit there and be ‘consequenced’, let them be seen by a member of senior staff and read the riot act. But that won’t happen. Instead the teacher will be asked why this child isn’t learning, why haven’t they got a pen, what has the teacher done about it??

flamingo pens

I do not come from a middle class privileged background; I did not go to private schools: I went to the equivalent of a comprehensive. My parents were not particularly well off. But I went to school every day with my books and pens and locker key so I was able to do what I had to in school to get to Uni to become a teacher. Most of my schoolmates did the same thing. They’re now doctors, engineers, bankers, businessmen and teachers too. We didn’t go to school making excuses, we were expected to have our equipment and we did. Teachers were not held accountable for our carelessness, our slackness. The same was true for my children at their schools.

Is this the divide in the UK between those who succeed at school and in life and those who don’t: the students who know they need to bring their own pens to school and take care of their own equipment and not blame others for their lack of success?

Yes, we must increase our expectations for students from the inner cities and other failing schools across the country. This means we expect them to take some responsibility for their own progress. But while the system, to wit Gove and Ofsted, continue to lay the blame for all ills in education at the door of teachers then nothing will change.

A child needs to understand that learning is not all about fun or being entertained, that learning takes effort and commitment, that when it gets hard you keep going. That learning is what they do and they need to be prepared for, work at it, and make their achievements their own, not the teachers.

plain pens

A pen is a simple, cheap thing. A pencil case of equipment costs very little. It is not about poverty or privilege; it is about attitude, about children and their families taking some responsibility for their own way in life. About not making excuses: about being successful. (Images courtesy Google Images)