Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Three Reasons We Let The Pupils Down

There are three reasons why our Comprehensive System is in such a mess.
1) Discipline has become a naughty word in schools.
2) We don't always put children in groups of similar ability
3) The National Curriculum

Let's look at each one in turn


I was once advised by my Head of Department to use a different ink colour than red to mark the kids' books, as it was 'less confrontational'

This sums up our problems far more neatly than I could ever manage.

We have forgotten that as teachers that we are supposed to be in charge, rather than the pupils. Making lessons entertaining has become more important than making them sit still and listen. Punishing badly behaved pupils has been made more and more difficult, as available sanctions have diminished and those higher up the school (and in the Local Education Authority) become less and less willing to back up teachers who try to enforce those that we have left.

'The Tail Wags The Dog' ie the pupils control the school.

Oh I've just remembered- in the red ink example above she'd actually just finished telling me off for using the word (in our department meeting) 'kids' rather than 'Learners' or 'Students'

Mixed Ability Teaching

Let's take the example of two Year 7 kids, Mark and Kylie. Mark can barely read or write and certainly cannot understand anything that is being taught to him. Kylie is highly intelligent. The school is attempting to destroy both of their futures by putting them in the same class. In a few months, Mark will have started to cause trouble because he cannot do any of the work and feels left out. Kylie on the other hand is bored senseless with the work she regards as trivial and is starting to look for her own distractions also.

Mark knows perfectly well that he is not as good at lessons as the rest of his group. The conventional argument (which was preached in Teacher Training) that putting him in a lower set somehow stigmatises him does not make any sense. In a group of his peers he would obviously not stand out.

Teachers can teach effectively to a narrow range of abilities. (It is taboo to say this however) If the ability range is too wide then we simply do not manage.

The National Curriculum

This has resulted in us having to attempt to teach Leon French, when he can barely read or write in English.

However, this is the one area that I am slightly optimistic about. If recent proposals come to anything (which is a mighty 'if') then worthwhile, properly structured vocational courses, which lead to a qualification can be offered to those who are simply not academic. This would be so much better for them than making them plod unsuccessfully through the same work as those with an aptitude for it. I can only hope that we make some progress in this direction.


Anonymous said...

Spot on Chalky. I would add, however
- parental interference/obstruction
- too much emphasis on computers
- no emphasis on sport/getting the kids outside and running it out of them
- the crap that gets fed to kids in schools
- their early life - amazing how many kids who come to our school aged 11 who just can't sit still, cos they've never been taught hwo to do it.

I watched Jamie Oliver's School Dinners last night. It was an horrific programme.
First, when did it become acceptable for the BBC to repeatedly broadcast the word 'fuck'?
Second, it was a gimmick-ridden load of tosh (getting a pub to cook food for the school??? Like that's ever going to work.)
Third, Oliver concerned himself mainly with getting the kids onside. How long is this nonsense going to last? Children need telling what to do, not asking. Heads need to ban rubbish in lunchboxes, kitchens need to produce one meal a day (no choice) and the children need to eat it or sit there for the whole of break until they do/don't.
But without sanctions if they don't... wewll, we're back to your point No1.

Anonymous said...

"This is the one area that I have some optimism though"

Consider modifying to: "This, though, is the one area for which I have some optimism.

Anonymous said...

or maybe 'about which I am slightly optimistic'?
i suppose you can have optimism for something but it's clumsy; you're more likely to be optimistic about it.

great blog, keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I'm afraid that what you describe is a western phenomenon, essentially driven by parents of 1 or 2 child families who'd never want to do anything to affect the self-esteem of their precious little treasures, and education technocrats who've spent too much time at university and not enough teaching kids.
In my neck of the woods, public education goes through a "reform" every time there's a new government elected - every reform a new experiment on how to possibly screw up education just a little bit more. A friend of mine went through a couple of these public school experiments - in one she and the other kids who were doing well were put in the same class with all the illiterate bullies and toughies, with the clever idea that the gifted would bring the dumb up to their level. Guess which group was brought to the other's level in the end ?

Anonymous said...

Have just discovered your blog as a result of a link at Chase me Ladies. Very good, are you the same person who wrote 'Diary of a Teacher' for Private Eye some years back? Also, I've just looked at the website for my Alma Mater and discovered the current school motto is 'Achieving Success for All'. Does this qualify for the worst motto contest?

Anonymous said...

carwash c**t: i love that motto.
it's very nu labour.
personally, i like: 'being the best we can be' which i saw on a school i worked in as an exchange teacher for a month in chicago a couple of years back.
it was positioned above a metal detector.
i was very keen to change it to 'being the best shots we can be' but never quite achieved the bottle. of course, my fellow teachers thought i was some kind of crazy limey nut and didn't see the joke at all.

Anonymous said...

Don't you have in-school streaming in the UK any more?

50 years ago we had e.g. classes
2a,2b,2c,2d though 5a,5b,5c and 5d
initially graded according to ability in year 1.

Is that no longer the case?

FWIW, 6th form was split into Arts and Sciences, I think C.P.Snow was to blame for that. I really wanted to do Maths and Poetry ;-)

Anonymous said...

Ah, all these McMottos. There's actually a reason why our school updated its motto to something equally meaningless, something to do with citizenship or... snore. I think I dozed off in that meeting.

Anonymous said...

Having discovered you relatively recently (how does one miss so many excellent blogs) I have been reading with enthusiasm. Great stuff. And on to the chase. Mixed ability teaching. It's crap. We all know it.

Anecdotally, but close to home. My daughter is the second worst mathematician in the country (after me). Her maths sets were streamed. She is in Set 5, the bottom set.

In the last exams, she came top of the bottom set. So they said they would move her to the 4th set. She refused. She is happy. And she said, I would rather do it at my pace and do well in the bottom set, than struggle in the next set up.

The teachers are great. She does not feel stigmatised.

No problem.


James said...

Thanks to the government, the one place which still does the 11+, NI, is now also scrapping it. As a grammar school pupil, I hear daily rumours about how our school is going private.

Lucky I'm leaving at the end of the year, I don't think my parents could afford the fees if they do turn private.

Anonymous said...


This is a link to a guy who my district worships. He believes in TOTAL inclusion, thinks that children learn well if they are in heterogenous groupings ability wise, yada yada yada. He believes that there should not be as many paraprofessionals (aides) in the schools, and that teachers should pick up more of the slack. Of course I paraphrase with MUCH bitterness. But, because of him we hear such platitudes as WE HONOUR EVERYTHING YOU DO--- and in the next sentence admin is discussing how much time will be cut from an aides schedule. I live in the richest place imaginable, and I am in shock that teachers AND aides are being cut to the bone, and required to do more and more with less and less every year. I want to go into sales- somehow that seems preferable to being beaten on daily, both emotionally and physically.

Anonymous said...

"I was once advised by my Head of Department to use a different ink colour than red to mark the kids' books, as it was 'less confrontational'"

I think the bit that amazes me most about this sort of thing is that these people apparently make these decisions without ever stopping to think about

(a) what a totally trivial waste of time it is debating the colour of ink, and

(b) why mollycoddling the kids and never once genuinely punishing them for misbehaving is going to cause serious trouble in the future when said kids learn to do whatever they damn well please.

"We have forgotten that as teachers that we are supposed to be in charge."

Apparently so has most of the country.

Anonymous said...

In addition a few strange ideas about teaching the children about problem solving, which seems to assume that they have learnt the basics in the first place. I spend most of my time teaching children who have been through primary education but still do not have basic literacy skills such as comprehension and understanding of the narrative of texts that they have read. Before we can teach them how to solve problems relevant to this subject area they must have a basic grasp of what is going on. For example, before asking them how an author creates atmosphere they have to understand what the story is about.

princessfairytoes said...

I am a special needs teaching assitant in the back and beyond of a English Welsh boarder town. Education is a mess here. We have moved from Surrey where the various deparments could do "Joined up thinking" Here T>A's can be expected to take a class at a moments notice, rather than supply teachers!!! some T.A's (higer level) seem tohave more power than the head. The head doesn't know her arse from her elbow and doesn't understand that some children wiht specail needs in mainstream schools have no concept of what a verb is never will have, and would rather look at a picture book, others who may be life limited are more than able to do the same work as the rest of the class, and should be allowed to,supporting a child in one of these clasess you are expected to velco your self to the child!!! Which is not intergration in the Surrey sence of the word.
the EBD kids seem to run the place and everyone has to dance to their tune or they will throw the chairs .But the best Ihave seen so far is the ASD child sitting under the table like a frightend rabbit, rocking with thier fingers in thier ears while the teacher is shouting at this 6 year old.

Jenny said...

I agree with Andrew J. As deputy head, I have had parents storm into school after their beloved children had received a 'green slip' (notification to parents of a behaviour incident which they were supposed to sign and return) and tear it up in front of me and the child as they couldn't accept that their precious offspring could possibly do anything wrong.

Anonymous said...

Please help. I've just spent five hours doing my homework and I don't know why. I don't like doing it, my teachers don't like marking it, and one of my teachers couldn't even be bothered to look at my last piece. I know they don't get paid extra for it, but honestly, what is the point?
Don't get me wrong - I know it's a hard job and that a lot of teachers work hard for not a lot in return.
The best homeworks are the ones where we work on something at home that we learned in class. But this is all colouring in, drawing display things, pictures, things like that.
Do they set it because someone tells them to? Or what?
(I'm 12)

Anonymous said...

another big reason is places like birmingham have so many private and grammer schools, that the comprehensives aint comprehensive. In my school, there are just under a thousand pupils in year 10 (i'm 1 of them) and there are less than 20 of us (also including me) that have acheived a level seven or above in maths!
I think ule find thats below the national average, then look at the private schools, they're all getting L8's!


gr8 blog - keep it up

The Remittance Man said...

"Oh I've just remembered- in the red ink example above she'd actually just finished telling me off for using the word (in our department meeting) 'kids' rather than 'Learners' or 'Students'"

At least you didn't call them teenage terrorists or proto-gangsters. Your HOD would have been forced to correct your choice of tie colour as well if you had.

Anonymous said...

to anon,

yes we are forced to set homework, and if we don't parents moan at head - who then moans at us.

(doesn't excuse waste of time homework or not marking it)