A plea on behalf of education

A report today comes up with the rather sensationalist conclusion that Children in England are getting a "deficient" primary education. In many ways I agree, but don't let the headlines or government excuses allow you to believe for one minute that this is because of what is actually going on in schools. The problems for this lie with government and their addiction to recording what is measurable but not what is important.

The truth of the matter is, as the report suggests, schools are focusing too much on maths, English and testing. And why is this happening ? The simple answer is a system is in place which is obsessed only with SATs in primary schools and league tables, with this further emphasised by Ofsted inspections which largely ignore the great bulk of what goes on in a school and instead places the focus on test results in Literacy and Numeracy.

I think we all know that being numerate and literate are important, but this government has an obsession with tinkering with education, literacy schemes, numeracy frameworks and national curriculum objectives which mean that teachers are constantly having to change the way something is taught before we know if the way we had been doing it is actually going to be the best or most successful methods.

If a doctor gave out different pills each week to a patient, how does the doctor know which pill s are the ones that cure the patient or which makes them worse ? The same is true of education. We need time to bed things down, see what works and make adjustments accordingly.

I heard David Cameron on Radio Five Live a few days ago going on about education and "his plans", and my heart sank. Not because I am bitterly opposed to the way the Conservatives have treated education in the past with real terms cuts in funding in the 1990s whilst favoured "opted out" schools creamed of money from LEA schools and selected pupils, but because want I want, and what just about every teacher wants to hear is that any new government will have a moratorium on education which means we will have at least 2 years (and preferably longer) with absolutely no change at all.

No change might seem like a cop out, but in the primary sector we need time to see what is working and what is not. We need to given the new literacy and numeracy frameworks, which have only been in place for a few months, time to work. David Cameron and the Tories certainly ought to be planning for what might need to happen, but how about listening to people in education and stop pandering to those who fail to understand there is more to education than changing the curriculum.

If David Cameron want to win over thousands of teachers in a single swoop and make a real difference, he could take on board one of the main thrusts of today's report and seek to deal with the over testing of primary school children by scrapping the key stage two SATs tests and accepting that ongoing informal assessment by teachers (which is allowed at KS1 and KS3) should be the way forward.


Julian Gall said...

I can't believe that there aren't ten good simple ideas (scrapping KS2 SATS is one of them), that most of those involved in education would agree on, that would make a huge difference to the outcomes. We absolutely do not need major reforms yet again.

We need to find a way of improving standards without relying on testing. It has become abundantly clear that when you introduce tests, teachers teach to the tests and everything else suffers. This is not blaming the teachers, it's just human nature. If anyone is told they're being measured in a particular way, they adjust their actions to increase the score they get, regardless of whether it achieves the broader aims.

Steve Tierney said...

>>schools are focusing too much on maths, English<<

I'm not sure schools can focus "too much" on Maths and English.

In my humble opinion the solution to better schools is both simple, and impossible:

(1) Scrap Lesson Plans. Let teacher's teach. That's what they've been trained to do. If they want to write a lesson plan, fine. But teachers should be allowed to develop their own style and teach a flexible curriculum in the way they think best. If they don't produce results, replace them with a teacher who does. Just like in... the real world!

(2) Weed out teachers who have no ability to control a class. Everybody knows the ones I mean, but nobody is allowed to say it. Sack them. Tell them to find a career they actually have some talent for.

(3) Scrap all 'course work' as part of exams. Let teachers teach and kids learn. End-of-term exams should be all about the paper. If you can't do a paper exam, you shouldn't get a qualification.

(4) Make the real exams challenging, so that having a qualification means something again. The guff that is being set now is an absolute joke. Everybody knows it. Only the really weak-kneed teachers defend these dumbed-down papers in private conversations.

(5) Have the courage to write FAILED on papers which score below a pass mark. Don't give them an "E" or an "F", mark it failed. Then offer them the opportunity to retake, if they merit it.

(6) Allow teachers to enforce discipline by protecting them (via legislation) from being sued and charged except in genuinely serious cases. Grabbing a child by the arm and pulling them off another child they are repeatedly punching in the face should not be grounds for an assault charge. Shouting at a boy who is being verbally aggressive should not be a black mark. Putting your arm around a crying child in sympathy should not be grounds for accusation.

I could go on, but I suspect I've already upset the liberals and teachers who might be reading this. Oh well. Que sera sera.

Ivan said...

I would add one thing to what Steve said.

(7) Stream the schools by ability and get rid of the all abilities in each class. All children are NOT created equal and trying to teach a class where the abilities range from 'not on this planet' to genius, everyone is going to miss out. The bright kids look at the less bright and say 'they have everything handed to them so why should we work' the less bright look at the bright kids and say' we'll never get there so why work' and and the downward spiral continues. The result of allowing this to get to its conclusion is shown in the film Idiocracy.

Steve Tierney said...

Great addition, Ivan! Absolutely right!