Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Giant Sandwich (only less pleasant)

If you think of Education as a sandwich (for no good reason) then Secondary Education is the filling.

As all my experience is in Secondary, I am keen to hear more about the bread:

Primary (where they don't seem to learn the basics i.e. how to read, write, sit still and listen without talking or making animal noises) and Further Education (where it seems they go on to study daytime TV)

If I had a pound for every time a teacher asked me the immortal question:

"What the Hell are they doing with them in Primary School?"


"What on Earth are they going to do when they leave here?"

Then I would have enough to buy you all a sandwich.


I'm still waiting said...

I'm in middle education, so have a couple of years of primary. What did I do today with the ones I had? I spent probably about 50% of the time reminding them of my rules. I spent another 25% repeating instructions, and about 15% repeating them again. The other 10% was spent with my head in my hands wondering what the hell they'd been doing with them at Lower School. Oh, and if they possibly had any parents around anywhere who were remotely interested.

eleanor said...

In the first year of my degree - I had two 50 minute lectures and a 1 hour "seminar" a week and only 2 short essays and one "miniproject" to hand in each 10 week long term.

The Conservative Bookman said...

Crumbs Eleanor.
I can understand why further education lecturers are so bolshy about their rates of oay with work loads like that!

Lucie said...

Well my 10 year old is being taught about the Tudors which involves learning to spell words like 'heretic' which I'm sure you'll agree is a word he will get a lot of use out of. Later this term they get to go to school dressed as Tudors. In the meantime they send him home with instructions like 'learn your 7 times table' without even making him write it into a book first. The result - I spend my weekends trying to teach him math. Now I'm good at math but I'm no bloody teacher and it often ends in tears - mine and his

F.F.Fortescue said...

As someone involved in further education I have ascertained from my colleagues (often exasperated) that it appears that students come to us to be brought up to speed on the things that they should have been learning in secondary education but to which they failed to pay attention. Little things such as the 'korekt way 2 rite stuf' and basic mathematics. That they have never learnt to sit still since they began their education can be summed up by one lecturer of my acquaintance who simply said "They had all the social graces of a herd of runaway wildebeest!" after his first session with a group of new undergraduates.

Stu Savory said...

OK Frank,
I will take up the gauntlet and blog about the sorry state of tertiary education here in Germany for you tomorrow (thursday), OK?

archduke said...

'learn your 7 times table'

at 10 years old? huh?

i would have thought that times tables were learned from the age of 6 or 7. i remember conquering the 12 times tables at the age of about 8. then again, that was a few decades ago, and in Ireland.

Anonymous said...

I am a primary school teacher with 20 years experience (mainly KS1). I have been told more times than I care to count that I hold antiquated views on discipline i.e. I do not tolerate disruption or lack of attention. Apparently, according to the idiots from the LEA, I am curbing self expression!! The Head and I have come to an agreement that when the idiots visit I ignore any breaking of the class rules. This is not a problem after the first term since by then nearly all the children are in the habit of listening and doing what has been asked of them happily and with enthusiasm, most of the time! I do not claim to be perfect but enjoy a good rapport with the children.
I am sick and tired of these fools who have allowed the inmates to run the asylum and it takes confidence borne of good results and experience to ignore them and there have been times when my confidence has been worn down (a non-supportive head who is now an LEA advisor).
I have tried the "ignore the bad behaviour and they will soon copy those who are good and being praised method". A few may be won over but the rest just push the boundaries further and further - not a recipe for good learning for all.

southern englishman said...

i have a youngster who has just started primary school this year, and the big difference i noticed to my school days was

1. no blackboard - instead its a whiteboard written on via a computer.

2. no tables and chairs arranged in rows *facing* the teacher. instead the pupils sit in groups around circular tables.

so , there is no clear "facing the teacher" ethos - instead the teacher appears to go from circular table to circular table.

and the other thing i noticed was

3. no school books brought home. instead they are left at the school. this is most perplexing to me, for i used to bring my school books home and my father and mother would go over what i learned that day.

as it stands i have no idea what my daughter learned, as she has no book to point to and say "yes , we did page 5 today".

am i worrying too much - or do others have similar concerns - or is it just a case of me being a old fashioned fart, and this is just the new way of doing things?

GateGipsy said...

I learnt my times table when I was 10. My dad gave me 20 cents for every one I learnt. That was 29 years ago now, yikes! The bribery helped as abject fear was making it impossible for the times table to stay in my head. My teacher tested us by putting us in a circle, standing in the middle then shouting something like 7 x 6 at some poor ten year old, who, if they got it wrong, would have to hold out their hand and be slapped with the ruler. I can only remember being terrified, to the point that the numbers would not stay in my head even though I'd recited them prefectly earlier to my parents, and to this day anyone saying what is X times X will make me break out in a cold sweat.

Surely there must be some middle ground between that and the let them do what they want brigade!

To anonymous above - well done you! I hope you stay in teaching for a long time. You restore my faith.

GateGipsy said...

Southern Englishman - I was at primary school nearly 30 years ago now in the 70s, and they already had the thing about not sitting in rows. Until my last year at primary school we were sat at desks arranged in groups. In my last year we didn't even have desks. Just tables and tote trays for our things to be put in. We were never allowed to take our books home. Maybe it just depends on the school? I was taught at a catholic school by nuns.

GateGipsy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
southern englishman said...

"Maybe it just depends on the school? I was taught at a catholic school by nuns."

maybe it depends on the country. i was in catholic primary in the 70s in ireland. but it is interesting to hear that the lack of desks-facing-the-teacher thing started so long ago. even in secondary school in the 80s over there we still had desks facing the teacher.

although , i never experienced that brutal corporal punishment way of learning my times table (sounds downright horrific if you ask me)- i wasnt educated by nuns - i was in a irish national (or state) school.

having said that , catholic nuns in particular had a particularly brutal reputation back in the 70s - i remember my relatives having big problems with them. but i agree - there has to be a middle ground in all of this.

Sandy said...

My kids go to a private school here in the Gulf. One of the reasons we came here was because of what I perceived the state of education to be like in the UK.

Yes, the kids here do not sit in rows either, and there are no winners (only 'participants'!) on the Infant's sports days - but, the school has a hard-working and positive ethos, there is firm discipline, and I bribe my sons with money to get merits and top marks.

All in all, it does seem to make sense to keep them here, away from the loonies of the local EA, British politicians, and the PC brigade in general. I just wish their teachers could spell and punctuate better though - the weekly newsletters are a disgrace!!

southern englishman said...

"the weekly newsletters are a disgrace!!"

well , if the teachers are Arabs, i suppose that can be excused, considering the complexity and sheer difference between Arabic and English.

unless they are imported English teachers??

The jabberwock said...

As my elder son has just left the groves of academe at 16 (a 'good Community Comprehensive' mark you), I can give a definitive answer as to what most boys get from the English education system: a danish sandwich consisting of margarine on a single slice of crispbread - i.e. something that fills the time between ages 4 and 16 but provides nothing of any practical use whatsoever, and prepares them perfectly for a life either (a) on the dole, (b) of crime, or (c) as target practice for the Taliban/Iraqi insurgents.*

*Delete as appropriate.

My eldest claims to have chosen (c) but shows no evidence of getting himself fit enough to run 1.5 miles in under 12 minutes. (Warning: paternal obsession with B/W WWII films can have potentially life-threatening consequences for one's offspring.)

Kebz said...

Why don't you visit primary school and see what material they have to work with? It is too easy to pass the blame on.

Anonymous said...

I have been teaching in the F.E. sector for 8 years. I, like everybody who asks what I do for a living, assumed that, having made a personal choice at 16, students really wanted to be at college and would soak up my knowlege eagerly.

What I found were a mixed bunch of loud, ill-disciplined youngsters who are far more interested in discussing the football results, playing with thier mobile phones and making personal remarks about others, especially the tutor.

We take those who have never grasped even the basics of the English language (spoken or written) and who have such a narrow view of the world that they never watch the news or read a newspaper. One student (on a Travel & Tourism course) genuinely could not name the capital of England.

Most students lack any understanding of even the smallest of social skills: they don't know what is and what is not swearing, and they don't realise they are even doing it.

College is seen by many students and their parents as an easy option and a way of keeping them in full-time education long enough to extract the maximum child benefit from the State.

We are often seen as a way of giving those students who achieved little at school a second chance. However we receive no information from secondary schools about their past record concerning statements, dyslexia, problem behaviour etc. Therefore they cause a huge amount of disruption for at least the first half-term, unitl we figure out what is wrong with them and what is the apporpriate thing to do with them.

The Government loves it because these disaffected young people are off the streets and in full-time education beyond 16 (great for the statistics!). On the other hand we get caned by the inspectors for poor retention figures when we pass them off onto the next agency, that will also probably find them awkward to deal with and so fail them, yet again.

The issues of paperwork, heavy workload, implementing the latest raft of useless Government initiatives are still present but on less pay. We don't automatically get the school holidays off: we have to use our annual leave entitlement. We can't take time off in term-time, during inspection (every year for the last 5 years), or during enrolment (throughout August).

Why do I carry on?

I like my colleagues and I like the occasional keen, intelligent student.

Pepperpot said...

To the last 'anonymous', a wave of sympathy. I have lost count of the number of times that my secondary colleagues have said to me 'It's alright for you, you're teaching A-level and they want to be there'

Well, they want to be there but they don't particularly want to write notes, arrive on time, hand in homework, use their imaginations or read anything that isn't on the handout you wrote for them. They expect A-level exams to be a list of facts to regurgitate (helped by the extra revision classes you'll put on for them at lunch time) and their coursework to be corrected repeatedly in enough detail for them to score an A without any initiative on their part.

They only need 5 C's at GCSE to pass through the magic gate to post-sixteen education, so ask yourself - do you think your C grade students will have changed that much over the summer?

Having said all that, I'm still happier teaching at college than I was at school, and I have undying respect for secondary and primary teachers.

feteacher said...

You ask what they are doing with students in primary school. In FE we ask exactly the same question about secondary. Why must we embed key Skills level 1 and 2 into our courses? Because your ASBO waving students took so much lesson time vast swathes of the non-asbo waving secondary populous failed to meet minimum government expactations in numeracy and literacy. End result, we in FE get to teach them all over again - instead of focusing entirely on their main qualification. Nice.

We hope (plead, beg), that students once in POST compulsory education have some desire to actually work. That they opted for remaining in education by choice - because (hah) they wanted to.

Sadly, this is not always the case. So many opt for FE because it delays their start on real life for a few more years. Parents have coerced - "get a job or go to college". And college won. The prospect of getting paid £30 per week for 100% attendance isn't too bad either (EMA). You don't have to do any work mind you, just not miss any classes.

Of course, FE won't complain too loudly about the poor quality of students filtering through from Secondary (even if they havn't learned to think for themselves much yet), after all, since FE was incorporated and colleges became businesses, they will take all the new business that is going. So really it's a big thank you to secondary for failing so many students - we in FE get to keep our jobs giving hundreds of thousands of them a second chance.

It's not all rosy though, since in FE failure is not an option. Somehow, we have to take these failed students and turn them into successful, productive adults, who pay tax, and don't leech off the SS. But we do it with a smile, because we know, if it wasn't for them, FE would not run any Level 1 and 2 courses at all.

I admit, from what you say Mr Chalk, we have less of a discipline problem in FE. We pick up the Secondary failed students who at least have ambition enough to try again.

What keeps us going is the sunrise of Level 3. Some of those once let down pupils will make it that far. Then we really know we have succeeded. The students have learned to think, have learned to work, have tasted the success of their own labours, and earned their place in university. That is what makes it all worthwhile.


It's not all about failed secondary students though. We get amny successful secondary students who recognise the real benefits of leaving their old school (instead of staying on for A-Levels), and getting a taste of real vocational teaching. Learning practical and academic skills that they can immediately put to use in the workplace, or in Higher Education.

IMHO, FE does it better than 6th Form, it's closer to the pavement the graduates will be walking when they leave.

Jennyta said...

I for one, am totally fed up with the constant carping about primary teaching by those who have no experience of it. What we do, unfortunately, is what we are constantly being told to do by a succession of politicians anxious to scor points off each other - we jump through hoops, that's what! Partly explains why I ended up having to take a year out of teaching two years ago. We all have a tough job these days no matter which age groups we teach, so why on earth can't we be more supportive and understanding of each other?

Anonymous said...

Southern Englishman - if we sent books home we would never get them back again. Mr Chalk, I have just read your book and we have the same old same old in primary schools - inclusion issues etc. Foul language, chair throwing and biting start fairly early too. What I marvelled at during some time in a nursery (ages 3 and 4) was the vast number of children who were not toilet trained and were being toilet trained by qualified teaching professionals. I didn't borrow all that money to train as a teacher to toilet train all day long. We have unqualified teaching assistants teaching kids, and qualified teachers changing nappies? And then the kids go home and are put straight back into nappies for the night so we can start again the next day.

Anonymous said...

I started primary school in the mid 80's and we were seated in groups then. I tried groups with my class when I started teaching and then grew some sense and put the tables into rows and it works much better in that it reduces the amount of conversation over whether or not Ian Beale from Eastenders is going to get married.

Anything in which we are forced to have groups (like a science experiment or something) descends into chaos - they can't cope with sharing, waiting, assisting, helping. My own experience as a kid was that group work stinks. Not because I am unable to do it - but because we always got put into mixed ability groups where it was so slow that I'd rather do it all myself or you got morons who would just sabotage everything by destroying the resources etc. So from my own experience of school, I can understand why my brighter kids are distressed at some of the kids they are expected to work with. Another reason why kids come out of primary with limited (!) skills in the basics is lack of parental support. In my class I have some whose parents are fantastic - when you do some maths work on measures they will tell you about how their mum gets them to weigh out ingredients at home, or how they do times tables tests with their dad/siblings. This is wonderful, and how it should be. Others have parents who are nigh on illiterate or who plain can't be bothered and so they are behind from the word go. At least I suppose when they get a couple of years older they will start figuring out measures with which to buy drugs - but as these are sold (as I undestand it) in ounces, it will not help them with their metric questions in exam papers!

Mr Chalk the standard of english in the notes you got from parents (as discussed in your book) is something which is very familiar to me! I totally agree with your comments in the book that it is ridiculous to be trying to teach someone french and economics when they cannot do english or maths yet.

Finally, although general knowledge is absent from most children, a knowledge of 'rights' is apparent very early on - I have been told by a 5 year old that he will call the police and have me arrested - for not giving him a sticker, which were being given out to kids who had actually behaved themselves. PC Copperfield of 'wasting police time'fame - apologies if I hand him the phone next time. Heck, I may even dial the police number for him.

Anonymous said...

What at least some of them will do when they leave is come to a college like the one I teach at.

The lucky ones who have passed about 2 GCSEs (by passed, please understand this is probably not at grades A-C, which is what it was when I was at school), will be able to pester the tutors on any number of Level 1 vocational courses.

The class I have until recently been teaching, however, were poor even by those standards, and were in the imaginatively named 'Skills for Working Life with Creative Skills' course. This may be translated as 'How to be a Decent Human Being and Possibly Do Some Art'. How marvellous. They will still be painting graffiti on the nearest estate wall, but at least it will have some crosshatching.

Some of the kids were simply slow, but very motivated. They all got moved up a level within a few weeks. I was left with students such as the one who turned up, each week, at least an hour late asking when break was, and confidently assured me that their mother, when informed of poor behaviour on their part, "wouldn't have none of it" if said student told her it wasn't true.

What they do when they leave us, I don't know. At least some do actually go on to find gainful employment- mostly the Hair and Beauty graduates.