Modern Education is Rubbish Part 1. Where Are We Now?

October 27, 2006

To quote from the BBC:

One third of employers have to give their staff remedial lessons in basic English and maths, a survey suggests. Managers said staff needed to be able to use correct spelling and grammar and should be competent in simple mental arithmetic without a calculator. One in five employers said non-graduate recruits of all ages struggled with literacy or numeracy.

And similarly from the Guardian:

Universities are dismayed by the poor levels of literacy and numeracy among school leavers who arrive in higher education expecting to be “spoon-fed”, according to a new study. Tutors at 16 universities – including Oxford and Cambridge – complained that many school leavers lacked a good grip of grammar and had a “fear of numbers”.

And also from the BBC:

Britain is in danger of becoming a nation fearful of its young people, a report has claimed …… British adults were more likely than their other European counterparts to say that young people were predominantly responsible for anti-social behaviour, and cite “lack of discipline as the root cause of anti-social behaviour”. The Britons who were unwilling to get involved claimed they feared being physically attacked or verbally abused – or that they would be the victim of subsequent reprisals.

None is this will come as a surprise to the average teacher. For many teachers what we see in schools is pupils who haven’t learnt, won’t learn and won’t behave. The idea that schools leavers will lack basic skills and that many young people are acting like thugs is taken for granted.

Teachers do differ in what they believe the causes are. The parents, modern society and the media are often blamed. For teachers who went to grammar schools themselves the children seem so different from those they remember when they were at school that only a change in society could explain the spawning of a generation of uncooperative sociopaths. However, for those of us that went to “bog standard comprehensives” (or worse), today’s young don’t seem any more cruel, lazy or ignorant than our own generation.

What has changed is that behaviour we remember from the playground now takes place in the classroom, not only in front of teachers but sometimes with teachers as the victims. What has changed is that the unwillingness to learn has become blatant and public, and is most often manifested by a complete refusal to comply with anything a teacher asks a child to do. What has changed is that the swearing, fighting and bullying that once would have happened in those areas of the school hidden from the prying eyes of teachers (for instance the toilets or the bike sheds) now happens out in the open. When I was at school, kids used to hide from the teachers. Now, I more often see teachers hiding from the kids.

In this new environment it is no wonder that students can choose to go through school without learning. Faced with the worst forms of behaviour many teachers have long since ceased requiring all students to work or even to listen. I’m sure I’m not the only teacher who has been told by pupils who are unused to the act of learning “You don’t teach us properly, you just tell us what we need to know”. Some children will react with shock and anger at being presented with new material to learn. Some children are amazed that listening is expected, or reading, or writing. In fact for many children it is a huge surprise if anything happens in the classroom which prevents them from continuing the conversations they started at break. This isn’t a change in society. This is a change in schools. Somehow we have a culture in many schools where pupils are not expected to learn, not expected to behave, and not expected to exercise responsibility for themselves.

I don’t believe this is a result of social change. I don’t believe this is a fact of nature. I believe this is a result of the education system we have. I believe it’s time that system was changed.


  1. I am from Australia. I taught from 1974 to 2007 in five schools. The students in my last school were no worse behaved in class than those in my first, though the former were lazier and swore much more. I do not mean that the students in either school – or in any of the three schools in the middle – were well behaved. Most were, but in all cases many were not. My impression, and it can be no more than that, is that some English schools are worse than the worst Australian schools. I do not know why this is, whether it is to do with the differences between the two societies or the differences between the two education systems.

  2. Sorry, but it is hogwash to suggest that bad behaviour has always been considered normal in “bog standard comprehensives”. I attended one such school in the 1970’s which had as tough disciplinary standards as any grammar school. Our headmaster could be heavy-handed with both expulsions and the cane. We hated him at the time, but looking at the behaviour considered acceptable today he obviously did us all a favour! Of course, he was supported by both parents and the wider society. This of course, is where it has all gone wrong today – and that applies to private and grammar schools too, where parents will always excuse the behaviour of their little darlings.

    Please stop rewriting history, or at least rely on the evidence of people older than yourself, whose knowledge of comprehensives comes from their own experience, rather than the mendacious trash peddled by the (privately-educated) press.

    • Anecdotal evidence of one example doesn’t change the overall picture. There are individual “bog-standard comprehensives” around these days that are run with strict discipline and a rod of iron. Equally, I’m sure that there was schools back in the 70s that were slack and allowed kids to run riot.

      • I went to a secondary modern in the 60s. Bad behaviour was not tolerated. There were fights occasionally – it was a girls’ school so they were really nasty, nails, biting, scratching, hair pulling (long hair too). It was not tolerated. Girls got expelled. When 1/6 was stolen from a pocket in the cloakroom the whole school was assembled and a lot of priveleges were suspended till the culprit was found (she was). My class were really mean to a suppy RE teacher – our usual RE teacher came and lashed us with her tonguge – sarcasm, the lot – till we felt utterly ashamed and humiliated. We never did it again and our relationship with our RE teacher was on an arctic base for some time, as it was with other teachers who made plain how foul we had been.
        Fast forward to now, and suppy teachers hardly get any support in some schools, usually, but not always, secondary. Something is clearly broken.

  3. I never said that “bad behaviour has always been considered normal”.

    In fact I said the exact opposite.

    Incidentally, how old do you think I am?

  4. Education might have changed. But society have certainly changed too. When I grew up, it wasnt all good either. But we at least pretended to pay attention. We took up our books and opened them. We didnt always do much, but at least obeyed the teacher to a certain extent. Now, they dont take up the book. They openly show that they dont give a f*** about you or what you are trying to do. This comes from changes in society, not in the education system, primarly.

  5. Well, I can’t comment on the situation in Norway, but in Britain I am always skeptical about suggestions that it is society that has changed not schools. Children are as naturally conformist as they always were, that hasn’t changed. What has changed is who has the power to set the expectations that children conform to.

    In the past it was the teacher who set expectations(and where that wasn’t the case behaviour was as bad then as it is now). Currently, it is the ringleaders among the children who have the power because of a lack of sanctions and a culture in schools that tells students that even if they are sanctioned what they did was not really their fault.

    The balance of power changes far more easily than human nature.

  6. I agree with your sentiment that “it’s time that system was changed”. I suspect, however, that we might differ on our suggestions for a better way.

    What would your model look like?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: