I don’t get it

Over the past decade or so, politicians have introduced new and progressive ideas and policies in an effort to improve our schools and the standard of education that our kids receive.  They’ve brought in compulsory OFSTED inspections and have increased school funding.  They’ve introduced the National curriculum, SATS tests, national league tables and target record books.  They’ve told teachers to form tri-partnerships with parents and their kids.  Homework diaries must be checked and signed every week.  School web portals provide student information for the parents about such things as any merits and demerits earned and if there have been any unauthorised absences.  Hell, there are even help classes available for parents to show them in effect how to help their children with homework.  Snigger all you like but I’m not ashamed to tell you that I will be attending one or two of these classes.  The teaching and learning methods have changed enormously since I was at school (not that I can remember much of them anyway) but trying to help kids with their maths homework is a mighty battle in our house because I try to tell them one way and they insist that I’m wrong and . . . that’s not how Miss Higginbottom showed us!!!

Anyway, many people haven’t been happy about the new systems.  They’ve mumbled and moaned about all the unnecessary testing of our kids.  They’ve complained about all the homework our kids get at the expense of their childhood or teen social life.  They’ve grumbled about the unfairness of the league table system which tends to favour schools in the more affluent catchment areas against the likes of inner city schools.  And they’ve fretted and stressed about the random, unannounced OFSTED inspections.

No-one has complained more than the teachers themselves.  To be fair, some of their grievances are justified.  Some I suspect, are not.  I don’t know the teachers lot.  I’m not a teacher and I don’t know any teacher on a personal basis.  I do accept that they’re under a lot of pressure.  So are the kids. 

Anyway, it’s exam results time of year again and we’ve had another record year of exam successes.  Over the past few years our children’s grades have been gradually improving.  Our kids are achieving better exam results and more kids are going to university than ever before.  There has been a sustained level of progress over the past few years in A-level results and predictably, the cynics are recycling their usual chant that the exams are getting easier. 

But could it not be that we are actually seeing the fruits of some of those education changes?  Is it not that we’re seeing some quality teaching due to the reforms?  Trust me, I’m loathe to praise this Labour government about anything but credit where it’s due and all that.  Could it not be that teachers, aware of their exposed accountability and the pressure for the school to score well nationally, are actually improving their teaching skills and becoming more dedicated?  Maybe those parent/teacher/child partnerships are working?  Perhaps kids are much better prepared for exams now and get much more help and support throughout the exam courses than they ever did before.  Nothing wrong with that.  Maybe, crucially, the kids are being eased into a more academic/educational lifestyle as a normal aspect of their childhood.  We Brits are a strange lot.  We complain about a system and when that system actually works, we refuse to recognise it. 

That said, I’m acutely aware that the system is still failing too many children and that deep inequalities still exist but there are all kinds of factors involved.  I’m also aware of the Sat’s results mess of this year and I fiercely oppose the government’s demoralising policy of closing down failing schools, especially in tough areas where disdavntaged children come from.  So absolutely, there is much to improve but I haven’t the time to bring all the other issues into it and I really just want this to be about people recognising and celebrating the kids achievements.

Things must be improving somewhere and to ignore or deny the successes is pretty pointless to me.  If we keep telling the kids that their exams are worthless because they are easy, we will remove all incentives for them to strive for achievement.  It must be totally disheartening for the kids, after spending two years staying in and working hard to achieve their grades, to have all their hard work undermined in one short sentence.  And what about those students who don’t quite get the desired results?  How bad must they feel to be told the exams are easier and they still couldn’t make the grade?  Who is making these claims anyway?  Are they coming from people who are actually qualified to make them or is just a case of petty-mindedness from people who sat A-levels years ago and feel that their achievements are becoming meaningless because now everyone and his dog has one?  I guess for some, stars don’t shine as brightly when they’re surrounded by a million other stars.

I know there are issues with university places.  There are only so many places available and the selection process must be difficult due to the number of candidates applying with the right grades but I hear they’ve introduced a super grade or something.  And in any case, it really shouldn’t all be about getting into university.  A-levels should be valued and worth something in their own right . . . and education should provide more than just academic achievements.   

Anyway, that’s not my issue either.   For sure, there’s still much to improve but should we not give half a thumbs up to the government and perhaps say good but must do better.  And then should we not give the teachers a pat on the back?  And then, most important of all, should we not celebrate our children and say a huge WELL DONE! to them?  Can we now perhaps stop dumbing down our kids and agree instead that some of the policies are actually doing what they are supposed to do.  They are working.  And so are the kids.


2 responses to this post.

  1. I cannot but congratulate you on the betterment of education in Britain, at least at the level your children are studying, but I wish I could say the same here. The four levels : pre-school, primary, secondary and universitary educations leave much to be desired, mainly secondary, which makes the university harder to understand. And from what I have learned it’s not a question or learning, it seems it is a question of teaching, of negligence on the part of teachers.

    For the latter I must say that the teaching systems in Spain have changed so frequently since the transition from the dictatorship, that teachers find themselves unable to cope, they are also wearied and bored from so much banging around, that generally speaking their morale has been lowered to such depths as to make them sheer robots trying to get the best out of life.

    When education be dealt with as it ought to, that is when politics have nothing to do with it and it is the good of learners which is honestly contemplated, then our Education Authorities should leave aside any pretence of changes for the better when it is in fact changes to adapt to the political feelings of those making the changes.

    Honest dedication to our children should be paramount.


  2. Well like I said Jose, it’s still not perfect and the system is failing many kids but we must recognise the successes.

    Although the system of inspections and league tables needs to be more balanced and fair towards certain schools, it does keep tabs on the performance of the apathetic teachers.

    Then there are teachers who are dedicated but lack the resources and are working against the odds, and like you said, some become demoralised. These schools need time and support from the government. Threats of closure and naming and shaming is counterproductive.

    Good teachers deserve recognition and they deserve a salary that reflects their hard work and commitment.


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