Monday, January 04, 2010

It’s About Skools

I'm not convinced that Schools Secretary, Ed Balls and I share the same planet. After watching his interview on BBC Breakfast this morning, I'm even more concerned that he's 'lost the plot' in a fog of well-meaning and wide-eyed socialist zeal.

To cut a very long story short, Ed, like everyone else, wants the best possible education for all our children to give them the best possible start in society and to deliver the best possible skills to the economy of tomorrow. It's a laudable aspiration shared by every politician regardless of party.

The Schools Secretary however believes that he can legislate for such success, increasing the education budget and guaranteeing parents that if their child falls behind, then one-to-one teaching will be made available. It's a little more detailed than this of course but I think you will grasp the broad picture.

Strangely enough, even his BBC interviewer appeared a little incredulous. After all, you may throw large amounts of money at the growing problem of educational failure but where are the teachers going to come from among other pressing and important questions. The answer appears to involve political magic of some form because as a politician of the first order, Ed avoided answering any of the questions directly.

What concerns me more about this interview is the implication that schools and teachers are responsible for failure and that Government can somehow legislate to bring every child up to the same standard, regardless of environment, background, social class and more. Instead, Mr Balls and the Government should be asking what social conditions are leading to chronic illiteracy and failing numeracy among well-identified social groups and communities? Children are not like Personal Computers, simply waiting to have the appropriate software installed and then to perform in an identical manner. They are not clones. Human history tells as this as does the familiar bell-shaped curve of intelligence and achievement within any group. Enshrining 'success' in law is not going to make little Johnny a model student if he's truanting from school, committing minor crimes and has a young single mother and lives on crisps and cola.

Perhaps, Ed Balls, should spend some time observing in schools and in particular classes where a high percentage of children have educational statements of one form or another. For the teacher, simply getting through the hour and remaining sane, with even the most modest learning objective achievement for the majority is a success.

Tinkering with education, the curriculum and schools in not going to solve a much broader problem in our society which has to be dealt with first. And to do this, Ed Balls and Gordon Brown and others need to accept that money is not a magic wand and that education must be as driven and supported as equally hard from the home environment as from the school.

Read the reaction from the Total Politics weblog


Anonymous said...

The biggest problem is (lack of) discipline. Bring back the cane & the slipper!

And ban calculators too.

Michael Child said...

Simon I have though long and hard about the problems with our educational system and what affordable measures could be taken to improve things.

Personal experience suggests that most of the problems are at secondary school level.

There seems to be no place in many of our secondary schools for the non academic pupils, many of whom become disruptive.

Perhaps the simplest way of improving teaching standards at secondary school level would be to insist that teachers sit the exams with their pupils.

9.55 As a small businessman you may wish to consider that an employee who couldn’t use a calculator would be unemployable to me.

Anonymous said...

Micheal, what I meant is that they shouldn't use calculators for exams, & should be able to work the calculations out on paper.

Michael Child said...

12.06 long time since I did any sort of math test, I seem to remember there were some you weren’t allowed a slide rule or log tables and some you were, a quick check with the youf of today confirms some you are allowed calculators and you aren’t.

The youf also pointed out that unless you are going to reintroduce the use of books of mathematical tables then there would be some sums you just couldn’t do at all.

Anonymous said...

One would argue the point that as the secondary school children cannot count; then it is a failure of the junior schools.

Surely it is the job of the junior, and in some sense primary schools, to teach the basics and give the children the tools of learning; reading writing and arithmatic!

Without these basic skills, then the secondary teachers have no chance.

What is the point in trying to teach a youngster algebra and geometry when they cannot work out how many 5's there are in 50!

Retired teacher said...

As someone who taught Maths I wouldn't have accpted your table of fines for a piece of GCSE coursework as you have no dates or references to back up what you've posted.

For those who would ban calculators there is an exam where no calculators are allowed, at least there was the last time I was in a Maths class teaching.

It's not just the current crop of children who can't do Maths the 'old-fashioned way' as I know mature adults who don't understand fractions or percentages. I even taught someone how to do their tables using tiddlywinks as a short cut to understanding how multiplication tables work.