Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The State of Education

A guest post from Helen Critchell over at the Jury Team site.

I have little time for our state education system in this country and possibly was one of the first casualties back in the early 70s when the grammar schools were scythed to the ground to make way for the monstrous comprehensive system. But I still look back at my Year 1 work and think "crikey, did I do that when I was 11?"

I now look at work done by children older than that - children who are quite intelligent - and I see the level of learning to be equivalent to what I would expect of a primary school aged child. I removed my son from school to home educate him when he was 12 years old, after six years of bullying (to him) and frustration (to me) and I could never get over the low level of work that was expected of him and the quality that was acceptable to teachers. I could also never get over the low level of English and Maths that was displayed by those supposed to be teaching him these subjects. Regularly would my mathematical husband have to correct poor maths and regularly would I get incensed with appalling spelling and grammar when our son showed us his set homework.

This won't be a rant about the one in five teachers who fail to pass a basic adult literacy and numeracy test before they start teaching (some taking up to 27 times to pass the test) and yet are still allowed to teach our children; this won't be a rant about the fact that in 2007 38.1% of our children were deemed to have Special Educational Needs (why? Has this come about from low quality teaching/discipline/care of our children?) and yet all but 1.1% were integrated into the state education system along with children who were able to learn; this won't be a reminder that one in ten of our children come out of school with no GCSEs and less than 50% of then have five good GCSEs under their belt including maths and English, many of whom still not possessing good, sound literacy and numeracy levels; this won't be a rant that 16% of young people are not employable for one reason or another; and I'll try not to mention the appalling level of media-driven mediocrity that pervades our children's lives.

What this is about is the quality and quantity of what our children are being taught. In America, extensive studies have been carried out on the amount of quality teaching/learning time that children experience in school. I'm sure that there is little difference in schools in this country. What they discovered was that of the 6 hours spent at school, only one hour was good, constructive and valuable teaching/learning time. The other hours were spent administering children's needs, correcting bad behaviour, setting homework, answering questions, break times and paperwork etc. To help balance this, it appears that more and more homework is being given out to children of all ages but that homework is rarely marked, or even looked at. I have yet to meet a child who can tell me that his/her homework is marked and handed back on a regular basis. What possible value is this?

Virtually none of the 14 year olds I meet have read a book from cover to cover. For English, these days, children are only required to read certain passages in a book that will be relevant to their exams/tests. They will then watch a video adaptation of the whole book to get the idea of the story!

The Telegraph quoted 1 in 4 GCSE students (and A levels) were needing to get additional tuition outside of the classroom to help them pass their exams. I know, for a fact, that everyone who cared about their GCSEs this year in one local school was getting help with their Maths and English outside school. Parents are paying in the region of £20 an hour for this extra help. Why are teachers unable to do this in class time?

In a drama group I was running I was selling crisps and chocolate during break at 26p a time. Only one child of 13+ was able to calculate in their head multiples (and we're only talking 2 or 3 times) of 26p.

14 year old pupils in one school don't write essays in English and are told they can write in cartoons. Is this sinking towards the lowest common denominator or simply appealing to children for the sake of it?

A class of 13/14 year olds were being 'taught' how to draw portraits in their art class last week. The teacher told them to draw the customary oval shape and horizontal and vertical lines and then he got his marker pen out and drew a cartoon face! OK, I'm a portrait artist so this was anathema to me!

These are simply examples I come across every single week of how I believe our education has taken on the guise of a cartoon and a caricature of our society. How much lower can standards fall and when do we start demanding a higher and more consistent education for our children? We know that countless children come out of school disillusioned, inarticulate, illiterate and innumerate. They are encouraged to believe that to work in vocational or manual employment is beneath them and yet they aren't given the education to cope with anything else.

It is a cliché that gets spouted so often and yet has become almost worthless: 'our children are our future' and yet every year that passes and I see what is happening to our youngsters I fear more and more for the future of our country.

1 comment:

  1. Sadly Scotland isn't that much better these days Helen although it was in the past. I brought my son back to Scotland in the 80s because I was so dissatisfied with English education. He had to receive one to one tuition because he didn't know his tables and I'd been told not to teach them.

    The start of the rot was the introduction of the comprehensive system. Luckily a few places in England managed to hold onto their Grammar schools. Here everyone meekly agreed that comprehensives would be wonderful.

    Tragic for two generations - so far.


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