Sunday, January 07, 2007


Something that I have always wondered since I started teaching, and have never heard a convincing answer to, is the question:

"Why do kids automatically move up to the next class each year?"

ie. Why does Shane leave Primary School when he cannot read three words of English? Primary Schools are full of people who can teach kids to read, Secondary Schools are not. There is absolutely no point in him moving up until he has been taught to read, write and do simple sums.

Most of the kids who came to us at the age of 11 unable to read, left at 16 (or earlier in many cases because they simply couldn't understand what was going on in the lessons) still unable to read after 12 years of full time education. If that's not a massive failure of the Education System, then I don't know what is.

All the answers I ever heard involved 'self esteem', 'peer group continuity' 'human rights' or some other rubbish. If anybody has a sensible answer, please let me know.


lilyofthefield said...

It used to work OK when all you did at Primary School was reading, writing and arithmetic, with maybe a little Nature Study thrown in to leaven the lump. Even pupils who left at 15 with a couple of CSEs could by and large read, write and count to a functional degree.

Now they spend so much time performing tasks that are meant to represent fun but in reality represent a huge dilution of content, require no practice of independent effort and provide a tiny percentage of actual learning per hour spent "on task", there is no time left out of seven years (excluding pre-school and nursery) to actually reinforce anything with hours of tedious practice.

Got to keep the customer satisfied. Could you IMAGINE the embarrassment if a Primary School child went home and said they hated school because it was hard and boring? My dear!

JamesS said...

its about volume

if you hold back children, you get an increasing number of young people who're getting older and older in primary school and not going anywhere.

that volume will build up, how will primary schools cope with the numbers?

When do you call a halt? Do we give up at 13, 14, 15? what if at 15 a teenager is still in primary school - do they then go on to secondary? or do we give up and let them enter the job market

monkeyflump said...

I am a primary school teacher and have been forced to try and teach a year 6 syllabus to a bottom set who can barely read or write, instead of doing the sensible thing and forgetting about the sats (which lets face it, they're not going to be passing with flying colours) and trying to teach them something that may be of some use to them, like basic reading and writing skills.

If there's something that's guaranteed to make you want to stick your head in an oven every night it's trying to do get children to do yr 6 work when really you need to be doing at most yr 2!!

There should be less focus on Sats results, this is what is really letting the children down, as they are being forced to try and achieve things that are way above them (otherwise, god help us, the league tables will suffer!!).

The Hunts said...

Here in Spain kids get held back if they don't pass at the end of each year. If kids get left behind by their peer group then they get left behind and boo hoo. I am not endorsing it but just mentioning that it exists.
Parents therefore spend inordinate amounts of time and money, even the poorest working class ones because they know they need to make sacrifices to do it, sending kids to after school classes or catch up in the summer to pass the second chance at the start of September.

Anonymous said...

It's a relatively modern development - the old, unreformed public and grammar schools moved pupils up to the next form when only they had mastered what was taught in the one they were in. The later National and Bristish schools did likewise. I suspect the rot set in with universal education and more direct state involvement.

Central User said...

Jamess says it's all about volume. Well it probably is - does anybody really believe that significant numbers of 13, 14 or 15 year olds are truly incapable of learning to read or write?

Initially I thought that today's news item about 'Extra help for struggling pupils' * was a load of piffle but actually I think it is a rather good idea- the only thing is it should be the parents doing the proper parenting or, alternatively, paying for remedial classes.

Let's start by limiting childrens' television (and modern equivalents such as computer games) to a maximum of one hour on no more than two weeknights and perhaps even eating evening meals as a family wherever possible.


Anonymous said...

About a year ago I listened to a Radio 4 interview with a Ghanaian woman who had lived in London for some time. She was about to send - at some personal cost - her teenage son (born here) to live, and be educated in, Ghana.

Her reasoning was that in the Ghanaian educational system pupils advanced to the next academic year ONLY if they met the requisite standard whereas in London all they had to do was have a birthday.

It's deeply ironic that in many cases our colonial legacy continues to serve the ex-colonies admirably while in 2007 United Kingdom Plc couldn't run a whelk stall never mind State education (or health or defence or public transport) despite extracting eye-watering amounts of taxation from the citizenry.

Shiralee said...

I'm a tefl teacher and I've taught in Poland, Italy and now Argentina. In all of those countries students only only go on to the next year when they have passed the current one (I'm talking about general education here, not tefl which is a whole different area). As 'the hunts' said, parents are much more involved because of this. Yes, students still fall through the cracks but there are other opportunities, vocational schools for example for the less academically minded and 'make up' exams for the less motivated.

I come from Kent where the 11+ still exists and I truly believe that streaming is beneficial to all students provided the funding exists to support and encourage the less able as well as stretch the more able.

And, am I being stupid here or isn't that what personalised learning is all about?

John C. Kirk said...

When I was at school, there were a couple of people who re-did a year, but that was very much the exception rather than the rule.

The volume issue would certainly be a short term problem. In fact, if you brought this system in now then you'd either have to phase it in (this year it only affects year 1, next year it affects years 1 and 2, etc.) or you might have to move people down rather than holding them still (e.g. year 10 -> year 7).

I think there also some logistical challenges for working out the timetable. Basically, suppose that you have a kid who's good at Maths but bad at English. Should they repeat the year (when they already know the Maths), or go to the next year (when they'll struggle with the more advanced English)? You could potentially do a "mix and match" approach, but that will make the timetables a lot more complicated, e.g. if you have to make sure that year 5 English doesn't clash with year 10 Maths. If someone is still doing English lessons at primary school while they do Maths lessons at secondary school then it will get even harder.

However, I do think that it's a good idea, if you can find a way to get round these challenges. That's how it works in other areas, e.g. if I take Japanese lessons at a weekend then I don't progress to the next term/year until I've learnt everything so far, and that involves repeating as necessary. I also remember a girl I went to school with who'd grown up in France, so she took her French A level at the age of 12 and got a free period instead of French lessons after that.

Disclaimer: we didn't have this "year N" business when I was at school, so I may be getting the numbers wrong.

Anonymous said...

When I was at primary school the class size was 45 and there was one teacher. Ratio 1:45.

Now the maximum class size is 30 and often there is a teaching assistant also. Ratio 1:15.

Thus we are spending THREE times as much per head on education and still turning out significant numbers who cannot READ the Daily Mirror, who could not WRITE an essay about reading the Daily Mirror and who could not COUNT the change expected should they ever buy the Daily Mirror.

To add insult to injury, we then spend MILLIONS of pounds every few months on TV advertising campaigns telling the illiterate and innumerate to "conquer their gremlins" - a euphemism for signing up for remedial classes to learn the things they should have absorbed (at great cost to the rest of us) while at school!

Joe Taxpayer is getting royally screwed here and it's time - long past time - that this stupidity stopped. Who will do it?

Anonymous said...

I'm just thinking about all those great gawky 14-year olds sitting on those little chairs .......

Anonymous said...

If a kid hasn't learned to read, write, and count after several years at Infant and Junior levels, why hope that (s)he will be able to do so given another year or two? Of course, it makes even less sense to send such pupils on to secondary level. Perhaps they could be creamed off and channelled into less demanding jobs, such as sports, entertainment, and politics?

Sandy said...

Now there IS a gap in the market! If you make it compulsory to pass a basic literacy test before moving up to secondary school, you could make a mint offering private tuition to the parents of those Shanes and Sharons who are genetically dim.

Except, of course, Shane and Sharon Senior don't have any cash to waste on things like education, what with fags being so expensive these days too. So it would need a Government Incentive to supply the "top-up classes" - another nice little earner for the (almost) middle classes??

Anonymous said...

It all comes back to discipline. If the kids concentrated and listened when they were being taught to read, write and count then strangely enough, the vast majority would be able to read write,and count.
Then its partly down to Primary teachers being unable to spend enough time teaching them due to all the other drivel they need to fit in.
Finally, we have a generation of parents who have questionable reading and writing skills who are unable/unwilling to help their children.

sarah, leeds said...

my prescription:

1) rote learning of the basics in early years, with a few disciplinary measures available for those who don't sit still and do as they should.

2) grammar schools

actually, the system as it used to exist, when more people could at least read and write.

i never thought i'd say it, but whoever thought up the phrase 'back to basics' was right. albeit maybe in a different context.

Hilary Wade said...

Because otherwise, you get pupils like Braddy in "Fifth Form at St Dominic's" who have been kept back a couple of years, resulting in their still being thick, but also physically hulking. Then they go round bullying the weedy swots with whom they share a class.

lilyofthefield said...

"a few disciplinary measures available for those who don't sit still and do as they should."

And there's the rub. Disciplinary measures such as? We can't MAKE them do a damn thing and they know it. The best we can hope for is to charm them with our buddiness and tempt them with exciting, low-effort, pre-digested bites from our interactive whiteboards.

Anonymous said...

Anon of 1.38
Joe Taxpayer objects to his taxed being spent on education, really?
What pray tell are taxes supposed to be spent on then?

Anonymous said...

Well, it's obvious why they move on, innit? Because teacher A has had as much as he/she can stand of Shane and Shaznay and feels that it's about time teachers B, C and D shared the burden. Duh.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous of 16.10:

Joe Taxpayer is very happy for his taxes to be spent on education.

He is very unhappy for his taxes to be wasted on the pantomime which currently masquerades as education and which produces far too many sub-Third World outcomes at eye-watering First World costs.

How could anyone be happy with a educational system where even one ordinary parent judges (and is prepared to back that judgment with their own money) that their child will get a better education in Africa than in the UK of today?

This country needs a properly educated workforce more than ever. Virtually all of our old jobs which involve a high unskilled or semi-skilled labour content have (or soon will be) exported to the Far East or poorer EU states with which we can never compete on labour costs.

We WILL be depending more and more on our workforce having knowledge and brains - not brawn - to gain the UK just a decent place, never mind a competitive advantage, in world trade. Thus we desperately need our educational system to be turning out a high proportion of productive citizens who have the intellectual skills that will keep this country afloat in the 21st century.

Education is far from being the only thing wrong in United Kingdom Plc but unless our society grasps the educational nettle we face the imminent prospect of our national prosperity going into a rapid decline from which prompt recovery will be immensely difficult if not impossible. We cannot exist on past glories and the world does not owe us a living.

Who will save us and grasp that nettle?

Ednerd said...

When I taught at a secondary school in France, it was quite normal for pupils to repeat a year. The age range within a year could therefore easily end up being about 16-19.

To offset that, there was some setting or streaming within years, which tended to prevent the range within any one class being too great.

Anonymous said...

Remember though, that the ruling elite does not want a workforce that is too well educated because that could lead to a situation where the working classes form an effective opposition. That's why every education policy may appear to Joe Public to be geared towards improving some aspect of our children's education, but in reality is designed to make sure that there is no real improvement.

Iain MacBain - or maybe not!!?? said...

How mad would you go if you had Chasney in your class for 6 years?

I probable see her for no more than 40 minutes a week and would gladly move her on to someone other than myself. Luckily I get to do that; unluckily she'sprobably puked on me by that point.

I could not do your job. Both my parents did and thankfully the medication is working now the are out of the mill.

Do they need to be able to do sums etc. to have a couple of kids and live of the state? Education should be directed to those that will try and use it - the appropriate education. Plumbing, wood work or maths and chemistry.

Or and this is a big OR, we could filter contraceptives into the water supply of certain areas and stop them breeding. Think about it.

Anonymous said...

Solving the problem (which seems to be well understood) isnt easy. Its been pointed out here Im sure and certaily by Melanie Phillips that first the 'Iron Triangle' has to be broken.

The triangle being the teaching unions (or rather their leadership), the academic educational professionals/teacher trainers and the civil servants. They are all thoroughly steeped in cultural marxist/left/liberal attitudes to education. Any attempt at reform can be headed off and obstructed by each one with the support of the other two.

Reg White said...

Why are children moved on year by year whether they are ready or not?


It's because the purpose of our state so-called education system is not to educate anybody. If anyone does actually emerge with an education, it will be despite the system, not because of it. Education will really only take place outside the classroom.

The purposes of the state education system are manifold, but do not include education. Among the real purposes are to soak up taxes by ensuring the system spends and wastes as much money as possible; to provide jobs for those unable to find gainful employment elsewhere; and, very importantly, to provide statistical fodder in order to make the government look good.

The latter purpose is why pupils must be moved on each year. Having any pupils left behind because they have not met the standard for that year would cut straight across the propaganda purpose of the government, and highlight failure. That will never do. Failure is perfectly acceptable, in fact it must be regarded as endemic within the system; but having that failure exposed...sorry, just unacceptable.

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James said...

Because the social stigma would be so huge, and the accompanying bullying so intense, that anyone Kept Down would suffer serious and lasting psychological harm?

creativecortex said...

As I mentioned on another forum, why teach key skills at FE colleges?

Secondary schools ought to teach them in place of GCSE's to lower achievers.

It seems an utter waste of time an money to push students through a GCSE they don't understand and will fail. If Key Skills are good enough for government targets in post-16, then why not in pre-16 for those who can't do better.

That might do more for self-esteem, by getting the pupil to actually achieve something, than progressing them endlessly without preparation.

Anonymous said...

My solution would be to have children start in an Infants where they are grounded in the basics of the three R's. At Year 4 not Year 3 go to a Junior school and there have the 3 R's rigorously taught. As proficiency in the essentials improves then other subjects can be introduced. I would keep children in a Junior school until aged 13 when they will be much more mature and better placed to make career decisions. They will have been exposed to teachers throughout this time who can teach reading writing and basic maths. If by this time they are unable to read or write they never will. At 13 I would allow children the option of either an academic path or a technical path. The academic path leading to University. The technical path leading to careers in those sectors that as a nation we are crying out for.
This I accept is a bit radical but heck why not?

Miss B. Have said...

Surely the social stigma of being 'kept back' would be enough to ensue that even the most devoted Shane's and Shaznay's would do at least the minimum required to avoid it.