Just to Sum Up…March 20, 2010
A thread on a forum I occasionally visit recently asked exactly how people would like to reform the education system.
I think it is worth repeating my answer here, although inevitably it does cover points I have made before.
The basic problem with the educational system that I work in is a lack of purpose. Schools are no longer identified as being there to make children smarter. They are instead viewed as an attempt to do something halfway between socialisation and changing (or denying) human nature. Efforts are made to make young people fit society, either by looking at the culture they come from and keeping their aspirations low enough to fit in, or by speculating about what society should be like and attempting to protect them from the harsh realities of real life, particularly those related to their actions having consequences, in the hope that they will thereby naturally become the responsible enlightened citizens of a utopian society uncorrupted by the influence of adults.
Because learning knowledge is not valued, then children who refuse to learn, and even stop others from learning are tolerated. On top of this, because it is widely believed that human nature is basically good, bad behaviour is seen as morally neutral and a result of either social problems, medical problems or a failure of teachers to socialise the child. Along with attempts to promote the autonomy of students, this has all resulted in a behaviour crisis which means that schools are battlegrounds and teaching (in the sense of passing on knowledge) is a struggle. Students will not expect to learn or to have to obey and will often react with verbal abuse and intimidation to any adult who tries to get them to learn.
In an educational culture where there is little knowledge to be passed on and a view that student autonomy is more important than student knowledge, teaching has inevitably been replaced with the organisation of activities. The teacher is no longer an authority figure either socially or academically. Teachers are not recruited or rewarded for academic ability; they are not expected to have academic expertise and they are not meant to be directing students. The modern teacher is there to encourage learning not to lead it. It is good to appeal to their interests; support their relationships with their peers, and persuade them that maybe some learning is, if they want it, a good thing. It is bad to tell them what to do, to put pressure on them or to cause them to suffer the consequences of their actions. Inevitably this has resulted in teachers whose strategies are to appease the worst behaved or create the impression of enjoyable classroom activity.
The lack of a clear aim for schools has inevitably resulted in a multi-layered bureaucracy carrying out contradictory tasks all pushing and pulling the education system in different ways. There are pressures to improve exam results, and there are pressures to ignore them and to make every child happy instead. There are pressures to improve learning and there are pressures to replace learning with entertainment. There are pressures to measure academic progress and pressures to make assessment less objective. There are pressures to teach effectively, and pressures to incorporate gimmicks and fads into classroom practice.
All these pressures result in a continual cycle of ineffective initiatives and fads with different funding schemes. Often bad ideas are recylcled endlessly as the latest “scientific” advance in teaching. In a single school a teacher might be asked to incorporate AfL, BLP, P4C, APP, WALT, WILF, Brain Gym and SEAL into their lessons. The initiatives are enforced by compulsory observations of teachers; continual retraining of teachers and a constant demand for ever more paperwork and documentation. This process is run by legions of functionaries who have no particular talent other than the capacity to regurgitate the latest nonsense and the ability to interefere at every level. So destructive is this bureaucracy that politicians are keener to create new structures (academies, trust schools, foundation schools) partially outside of the bureaucracy than to try to reform it.
My suggestions to reform the mess:
- Stop all initiatives that interfere directly in classroom practice or have non-academic aims.
- End the policy of inclusion of badly behaved children.
- Child support payments to be dependent on children attending school and cooperating with the school.
- Remove all non-academic targets and replace with one single “adequacy” threshold for academic achievement.
- Consolidate the funding streams and the layers of bureaucracy.
- Reward teachers for academic expertise.
- Make all paperwork optional unless it is required for something obviously unavoidable like student safety or exam entry.
- OFSTED to inspect only to see if schools are safe and orderly.
The thread can be found here.