Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Difficult Question of Education

I’ve been told by one of our Thanet teachers that in the absence of special schools, the provision for ‘special needs’ places in several of our local schools will increase significantly this year. This demand being driven by the introduction of children from outside of Thanet by Social Services.

As a note of caution I can’t confirm this independently but I suppose it’s worth noting too that The Sunday Times reports that a quarter of children still leave primary school having failed to achieve the required standard in reading and maths, despite the fact that the literacy test has got easier. Under the present government, poorer children have suffered; the proportion of pupils qualifying for free school meals who get five good GCSEs is less than one in three.

Since Labour came to power, independent schools have prospered because for many parents they offer the only route to a decent education.

Research by Professor David Jesson of the University of York demonstrates just how badly the schools once described by Alastair Campbell as “bog standard” fail the brightest and best. The key influence on performance, Professor Jesson found, was peer ability. An able pupil in a class of low achievers gets dragged down to the level of the rest. Even the brightest child will be corrupted by being in a noisy and disruptive class, full of fellow pupils who do not care about learning and whose parents don’t care, either. Put that same pupil in a class of equally bright and eager students and his or her performance is transformed. When 20 pupils from the most able 5% were put together in the same class, their achievement at GCSE averaged seven A or A* grades.

Intuitively, I believe we all know that when children are put in classes with troublesome and low achievers they suffer. I’ve observed this myself, both as pupil and one-time teacher and I worry that in areas of Thanet where children with a track record of problems may be artificially “introduced” into the community, the numbers with behavioural problems may further hurt the chances of children who are already struggling.

Perhaps some of teachers who read this weblog can comment. First is it correct that certain schools are having to absorb more than their “fair share” of children with learning and behavioural difficulties and secondly, if it’s true, should we then, as a community simply accept this as necessary, a fact of life in our welfare society,that Thanet is one of the places best-suited for the re-location and education of a minority that should be welcomed rather than challenged?

On a different note, teachers in England will soon be given the right to discipline unruly schoolchildren outside the school gates. Behaviour on buses and trains will also be targeted under government plans to clarify and extend teachers' powers. The new 'right to discipline' will give teachers and support staff a clear legal right to restrain pupils with reasonable force and confiscate 'inappropriate items' outside schools without fear of repercussions. Officials say the aim is to reduce the, 'You can't do anything to me, Miss,' attitude in and out of the classroom..


Pedagogic Dinasaur said...

I have spent 19 years teaching in Thanet secondary schools. In that time I have witnessed the inexorable decline of pupil behaviour. As a general rule 75% of youngsters are as well behaved in and out of school as their parents and grandparents were and are a joy to teach. It is the 15% who cause low level disruption often following the 10% who are essentially unteachaable in a normal school environment that are the problem. What powers to teachers have? Well, I can warn; send out for 2 minutes and then exclude from my class for the remainder of the lesson.

The only sanction my Head has is to internally suspend; temporarily exclude from school and eventually after 2/3 years when the file is at least 9" thick and a case of permanent exclusion will not be overturned by appeal, the head can permanently exclude. Big deal! So the ultimate punishment is to send the pupil out of school, where he/she doesn't want to be. Any discipline system that is to be effective must be speedy and have a real sanction as its effect.

Extend teacher's powers outside the school? They must be joking; teachers have no real powers
inside the school!

I am in the minority in my staff-room with the view that the Government could improve standards in schools without great expense and without tomes of indigestable 'bumpf' by simply sending a 4' length of bamboo costing 15p to every head in the land with instructions to use wisely and sparingly. Is this my view alone? No. I am amazed by the fact that many of my 75% well behaved pupils would like to see the disrupters punished quickly, easily and effectively with yes

Anonymous said...

anon again!

75% are clever then, wonderful!

Some teachers leave a lot to be desired tho! A lady friend of mine was explaining that her daughter (12) had to 'RATE' her classmates, points good - bad- ugly etc., I sincerely hope that this is not 'normal' classroom practice, as it could lead to something horrorific! Imagine some youngster being 'RATED' by his/her classmates as being the ugliest. THAT, would make ME very unhappy.

Nethercourt said...

I must agree with the comment by 'Pedagogic Dinasaur', even if I find his spelling peculiar!(A slip of the finger no doubt)
I too have worked in education for the thick end of 20 years, all be it in a more menial capacity and can only bewail the lowering of standards and
lack of respect which I have witnessed.
On one hand I can vouch for the endless 'reforms' having done much to weed out the 'timeservers' of the teaching profession, but on the other I see younger, dedicated staff snowed under with directives for change.

As a non-professional observer I am convinced of two basics.

1]'Streaming' works.(But teaching a C stream class takes a truly gifted professional with a great deal of support)

2]'Inclusion'is detrimental to the majority and a money saving ploy.

I was told some years ago, by a fellow school governor who had spent his working life in local government in the London area, that it was unwritten policy to off load really difficult families and their equally difficult offspring into Kent on the grounds that there was always accommodation available in Thanet.
Much smoke and dust has been raised in the past over this, but I remain to be convinced that it no longer goes on.

Anonymous said...

I went to a Roman Catholic school (St Joseph's Academy Blackheath) in London from 1959 until 1971.
We had tests every Friday afternoon and if we did not score 90% we were beaten with a leather strap.
This was run by the De La Salle Brothers.
Ask anyone who went to one of their schools what it was like, ditto the socalled Christian Brothers and the Jesuits.
We would have been beaten for being caught smoking the first time and expelled a scond time.
We were beaten for being a minute later than 10 to 9am for school, no matter what the weather or reason.
If some bully took out cap we were beaten. If we did not do our homework we were beaten.
Etc Etc.

What did this teach us and what did it achieve?

It encouraged a retentive memory, the passing of exams and a determination not to be caught.

It did not encourage a normal or happy boyhood or happiness in later life.

That is why I do not support beating of children, 47 years later I stil remember it vivdly.

Those De La Salle Brothers deserve to burn in hell!

Anyone else on here go to that school?

Anonymous said...

anon again!

If it can't be corporal punishment, what can we use against the classroom bully/disrupter/vandal?
How about standing in the corner facing the class, till that twit realises that he/she learns classroom etiquette. The humiliation alone, would encourage me to behave!

F .L. Ogged said...

I am sorry that the experience at St.Josephs has apparently scarred you for life; burn in hell? However hard cases make poor law!

The Benedictines caned me wisely and sparingly and before that the secular teachers in Glasgow used the tawse on me ; all between 1962 and 1969.

In every case I regarded it as fair, proportional and if I'm honest with myself, justly deserved.

As a result my schooling was trouble free; no bullying,no disruption to classes and a real sense of security.

How many of our kids today can say the same?
Bringing back corporal punishment in schools is one educational reform I look forward to and on the basis of the re-invention of the wheel in education I will probably see it return in my lifetime.