Thursday, 10 September 2009

What's wrong with modern schools?

Like most home educating parents, I am not favourably disposed towards schools. I consider mass instruction of children to be a wasteful and inefficient mode of education compare with the unlimited one-to-one tuition so readily available in a domestic setting. However, I regard schools as a necessary evil, since the vast majority of parents are apparently unable or unwilling to assume responsibility for their children's education. I do feel though that these institutions could do with a good shake-up. Here are two anecdotes which perfectly illustrate what is wrong with modern schools. (I am well aware that I am beginning to sound like some peppery old, retired colonel writing to the Daily Mail from Tunbridge Wells!)

The first is from a local primary school. Mixed ability teaching is not easy and nor is it the best way of handling education. Obviously, the narrower the range of abilities, the easier it is to provide a lesson which will suit all the children. Conversely, with a wider range, both the very able and the least able will be neglected. The mother of a seven year old boy was recently approached by her child's teacher. The child in question is very bright and has the reading level of an eleven or twelve year old. The teacher was concerned that the boy was getting restless and bored while the rest of the class struggled to master the rudiments of reading. Her solution was simple. Could his mother perhaps discourage him from reading for a while and not provide him with so many books, at least until the rest of the group had mastered what she was teaching them! The mother's reaction to this request is not fit to print in a family oriented Blog such as this.

Here is part of what is wrong with modern schools; they are all too often run for the benefit not of pupils but of those who work there. The teacher's problem was not a bright child being failed , but a lesson which was not running as smoothly as she could have wished. The teaching has thus become an end in itself, as is the filling out of forms and achievement of targets; all of which are to be ruthlessly pursued, no matter what the consequences for the children. Which brings me neatly to the second story. This concerns the Davenant Foundation School , a local secondary. It is much sought after, in fact as I mentioned in a previous post, one needs a ten year record of church attendance to get in.

Those with children at school will know that DVDs are often put on at the drop of a hat these days. Doing "Lord of the Flies"? Stick on the DVD. Almost Christmas? Why not let the kids watch a DVD. End of term? DVD. As if the average pupil didn't watch enough television at home! You can even stick on a DVD for PE and save yourself the trouble of demonstrating physical jerks to your class. This is absolutely true, by the way. A local primary school was using a Mr. Motivator exercise tape for PE, until a parent complained. Spoilsport! One great advantage of this practice is that it keeps the kids quiet and leaves you able to catch up on all your paperwork.

In a year 8 English class at Davenant last term, the teacher was really behind with things and so hit upon a brilliant scheme to avoid having to teach his pupils, while at the same time allowing him to fill out a load of paperwork which would prove to the LA and DCSF that he actually had been teaching them and pretty brilliantly too. How to occupy them while he did this? He brought in "Pirates of the Caribbean" and showed it to the class in three segments, taking up three entire periods. Then, because he still had not finished his own work, for the fourth lesson he got them to draw treasure maps and colour them in! Bear in mind that these are not seven year olds but twelve and thirteen year olds at the best school for miles around. Four whole English lessons doing absolutely nothing to the purpose of learning English. Again, the aim of the teacher was not to teach, but to complete a lot of paperwork which proved that he was teaching.

It is this Alice in Wonderland world, where furnishing evidence that one is teaching is seen as more important than the teaching itself, in which many of our children are trapped The attempt to check what is happening in schools by regular testing was a sound idea, except that this too has now become an end in itself. The purpose of the test in not to see what the teaching is like; rather the purpose of the teaching is to see how well we can do in the test. I dare say that many readers will agree with what I have said on this topic, because of course we all, for varying reasons, have taken the decision not to allow our children near this deeply flawed system. What can be done about it is quite a different matter. The 1988 Education Bill was a valiant attempt to reform the teaching system but has been subverted to such an extent that it is now the root cause of much of what ails our schools. Another great reformation is long overdue.

1 comment:

  1. In my usual fence sitting mode...Dunno what can be done to schools either! I do know that what starts out as an idea with good intentions often has the opposite effect...take things like literacy and numeracy hour.The aim was to improve numeracy and literacy and I am sure that in the poorest schools it may have done that - but in schools that were doing just fine, it dumbed down what was on offer.
    My eldest (now 24) went to school thourghout his educational life - his primary school was a pleasant village school with 2 year groups per class. They just got on with things at their own rate and had time for lots of interesting projects. When he finished year 6 maths they got some from the local secondary school. He read lots of real books. The changes in literacy hour etc may have been great for a school with few resources and struggling readers, but at this school it meant less emphasis on individual reading, and the whole set up didn't allow for long projects (got to move onto the next thing) In maths the whole issue is pulling stragglers upto level 4 - the bit which counts for league tables, rather than worrying about those who are already there. I am sure publishing league tables may have had the desirable effect at first of helping parents to assess just what went on in school, but now hey are responsible for teacher/parent paranoia and teaching to the test. As for many secondary schools.....