Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Going Backwards

If you happen to be a parent of school age children, then the Daily Telegraph story below may sound familiar:

"At least 120,000 bright children are effectively going backwards in secondary schools, prompting fresh fears over the way top pupils are taught.

One child in five who was doing well in some core subjects at the end of primary school failed to make any further progress in the first three years of secondary education, according to figures obtained by the Conservatives. Many of the top performing pupils at 11 actually did worse by the age of 14.

The findings come as the Government issued fresh threats to hundreds of "coasting" schools that they face closure unless standards improve. Local authorities are being told to issue notices to schools that fail to boost pupils' grades warning that they will be turned into privately-sponsored city academies if improvement is too slow."

Would any of our teaching readers care to comment?


Anonymous said...

Setting in core subjects is really essential.

What concerns me as a secondary teacher is the mis-match between a Key Stage 2 Level 5 or 6 in English and Maths compared to a Level 5 or 6 at Key Stage 3. They in no way equate. The requirement for level 5 and 6 is easier at Key Stage 2 than the requirement for level 5 and 6 at Key Stage 3.

In a crowded curriculum imposed on Secondary schools you may well find less time per week allocated to English and Maths at Key Stage3. I have heard of one local school where Year 7 pupils have only 3 periods per week of maths (barely 2hours)compared to 5 hours or more at primary schools.

I personally find comparison by politicians disingenious. In order to convince parents that primary schools are doing a 'great job' it is too easy to let standards required for various levels drift downwards!

All I know is that too many Year 6 pupils leave their primary schools functionally innumerate : unable to add accurately; subtract effectively; ignorant of multiplication rules and incapable of simple division. Basic arithmetic skills are neglected and form only a minor part of Key Stage testing and is it any surprise where Government rates schools on Key Stage League Tables that teachers teach to get a 'good' level at a Key Stage?

Doctor Doom said...

A disappointing response from all on this subject, though one can at least understand the reluctance of teachers to comment. Criticising colleagues and one’s own profession is not particularly agreeable, but sometimes honesty is the best policy. So here goes:

First off, the previous commentator is quite right: there is completely inadequate synchronisation between the last years of Primary and the first years of Secondary education, largely as a result of Government policy and dictat, which inevitably means those teachers in the front line of the Key Stage 3 (early Secondary) intake have an uphill battle the like of which non-teachers cannot begin to imagine.

For better or worse (the Grammar School issue is a separate one that should not be allowed to detract from the central issues here) there is a creaming off of the elite to select schools, making the task all the more difficult for those left.

But the Telegraph report of 120,000 “bright” children going backwards is to perpetuate hoary old myths about bright and less-able children, and more importantly to ignore the appalling standards in our primary schools at Key Stage 2 where children are deemed to be “bright” because they can reach the feeble standards set for this age group.

The simple fact is most kids, even those lucky enough to be deemed ”bright”, leave primary school totally unprepared for even the ever-lowering demands of Key Stage 3.

Having spent their formative years being coached and smothered by unqualified and inadequately trained “teaching assistants”, following a state-set curriculum that bans free-thinking by both pupils or staff, and using state-set teaching methods that change year on year and leave even “bright” kids baffled, it’s no wonder they can’t function when they go on to “big” school.

In international relations, so with our education system, Britain is guilty of hubris at home while engendering pathos abroad. Britain may once have been a military power to reckon with, but as recent events have shown, that’s now history. It was not so long ago that British educational standards were among the best in the world. Now we churn out illiterate, incompetent and undisciplined school-leavers by the thousands, and every time a criticism is raised about standards the response is to lower the exam pass thresh-hold to give the illusion of improvement. We are the laughing stock of the educational world.

The incredible A-Level passes we achieve nowadays are a case in point. Who can blame teachers for quietly sitting back and seething about dropping standards even while being publicly lauded for achieving record-breaking pass results?

At GCSE students can get a maths Grade C with 16%. Yes, you read right: sixteen. Let’s not lose sight of just what that means. Students can get eighty-four out of a hundred questions wrong and not just pass, but get a respectable Grade C for their efforts.

This ridiculous down-grading of pass thresh-holds to give the illusion of an education system that works, right through from Key Stage 2 to A-Level, does no-one any favours except the incumbent government.

All the more worrying then that, despite constantly moving the goal-posts closer, even the official fugures show standards continue to plummet.

This of course gives the Government the excuse to make threats about private academies while appearing to sound tough on poor education and tough on the causes of poor education. When it comes to privatisation by the back door it seems the Blair government has no limits to how low it will stoop.