Sunday, March 18, 2007

Nathan and Ruby

Here's two twelve year olds, Nathan and Ruby. Nathan is a very bright boy with a sharp mind and a quick reply to any comment I might have. He can argue confidently with adults and frequently does. Ruby is an average girl; pleasant, not particularly intelligent or talented in any respect.

Ruby will do far better in life than Nathan. I can say that with sadness but with certainty. Ruby comes from a nice, supportive, quite well off family who can afford to send her to a boarding school. She is taught in small classes along with other well behaved pupils of similar ability. She associates and makes friends with other girls who will also go to good universities. If she struggles, she will be given extra help and her father will pay for a tutor occasionally during the school holidays. Ruby has every possible chance to make a great start in life.

Nathan on the other hand; lives in the Cherry Tree Estate. A run down, crime ridden hell hole populated with the workshy and the criminal. Drugs, gangs and asbos are rife. He can only attend the local school, which is little more than a youth club, staffed by an endless rota of disinterested supply teachers and 'led' by a Head who is desperately seeking a post elsewhere. There is no discipline and no real chance to learn anything. Most lessons are little short of anarchy. Every desk and exercise book is covered in obscene graffiti. All around him Nathan sees examples of anti social behaviour without consequence. He cannot attract the teacher's attention because they are too busy trying and failing to prevent the lesson sliding into chaos. Nathan's friends are starting to experiment with drugs and get involved in a depressing spiral of vandalism, violence and theft. He is following them down this road, as he can see no alternative path.

Nathan never really had a chance from the day he was born. I taught so many kids like him that they blur together in my mind.

There are hundreds of thousands of Rubys and Nathans in the UK marching towards their pre ordained futures. It is massively unjust and terribly sad.

I've always said in my blog and in my book that it's no use moaning about something unless you propose a solution. Mine as I've said many times is 'selection by ability'. I would dearly like to put children like Nathan in schools where they would be taught by the best teachers who don't spend their days trying to do crowd control. I'd like to see kids like Nathan experience a work ethos and associate with kids who don't sniff glue. I'd like to show him that there is life outside the Cherry Tree Estate. In short, I'd like to give him the same chances as Ruby has. It will not happen until we are brave enough to risk being called 'elitist' or 'old fashioned' and admit that the Comprehensive Education system simply does not work. Until that moment we are simply fooling ourselves and betraying poor Nathan.


Anonymous said...

This will work for those "selected by ability" who will have teachers similarly selected. The rest - children and teachers alike - will have to meet on the battlefield of disengagement.

Can I propose that humans need boundaries and that in our society we learn from each other in the context of those boundaries?

The implementation of inclusion and political correctness, together with starvation of resource, has removed the boundaries, resulting in anarchy in the schools and in the society that feeds and is fed from the product of the schools.

James M Stuttard said...

Comprehensive education has lead to 'nice schools' for 'nice children' and 'grotty schools' for 'grotty kids'.

It isn't fair, education should be the great level playing field, everyone deserves equal access. Where it is your ability, not where you live or where you come from that dictates the schooling you receive.

Anonymous said...

Selection might rescue one or two Nathans from the sink schools.

The vast majority will remain. Selection by ability is not an answer. The problem isn't that are secondary schools aren't fit for bright pupils. They aren't fit for anybody.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that should say "our secondary schools" not "are secondary schools".

alanorei said...

None of the current educational policy makers care about Nathan and Ruby (or Kylie, or Liam or Billie Jo either).

The essential first step is to replace them with policy makers who do.

The bottom line is the ballot box.

emily bishop said...

Grammar School is what allowed bright working-class me and my brothers to escape from the run-down working-class area (now a ghetto) that we were born into. The secondary modern, now the comp, bottom of the league tables and a hellhole, was not like that in the 60s. Corporal punishment and a relevant, practical curriculum made it less of a battle for all concerned.

Anonymous said...

I must have had a dozen Nathans in my class at the Grammar school I attended from 1970. (Now there isn't a single good school in that area at all)

It was an escape route for a huge number of bright working class kids which has now been cruelly taken away. Nowadays they're stuffed. Politicians and the teachers who supported them in getting rid of anything they considered 'elitist' should hang their heads in shame.

Anonymous said...

In response to all the people talking about the huge number of working class children "saved" by the grammar schools:

At the peak of selection grammar schools served about 20% of the population. Working class children were seriously under-represented in them (worse than before the 1944 Education Act ushered in the tripartite system). Moreover working class children who did get into them were more likely to drop out without qualifications than their middle class peers.

So tell me, is far less than one in five a good enough rate for "saving" working class kids from poor education? If not could you clarify exactly what proportion of the disadvantaged deserve to be "saved" and what proportion deserve to stay in awful schools?

Anonymous said...

We don't neccessarilly need to go back to an exact copy of the old Grammar school system. Just a system that accepts that not all children are the same and shouldn't all be lumped into one school, which can't possibly serve all their needs.

This is just as important for the pupils with learning difficulties as it is for the middle group and the gifted ones. We need different schools for different needs.

Anonymous said...

"We need different schools for different needs."

Why? Surely different work, different course and different sets are enough? Do they really need different teachers and different buildings?

Anonymous said...

Can I suggest this:

Schools of 5-600 pupils.
Class sizes of 12-15 pupils.
Clear, enforced codes of behaviour.

Oh, and all senior staff to teach at least 10 hours a week. Without exception.

Mary said...

OldAndrew - yes we do need different teachers and different buildings, or at the very least different classrooms.

Imagine groups of 15-year-olds streamed for ability for a given subject, say English.

An excellent teacher for the lowest-performing group will someone who can command the respect of the class, and yet persuade them to engage with the set texts at a basic level.

An excellent teacher for the top stream, on the other hand, might be one who would end up locked in their own supply cupboard by the previous group. But that's okay, because instead of spending forever trying to maintain discipline, (s)he will be able to teach a group who already have the basic grips of the subject, introducing them to higher-level concepts, steering a class discussion, going to see a Shakespeare play at a theatre instead of a video of a modernised adaptation.

Nathan won't get an A unless his teacher has the opportunity to teach him what he needs to know to get an A.

Anonymous said...

"An excellent teacher for the top stream, on the other hand, might be one who would end up locked in their own supply cupboard by the previous group."

So "able" actually means well behaved?

Is it too much to suggest that all children deserve teachers that are both academically accomplished and able to manage behaviour?

Anonymous said...

The situation you describe Frank, is exactly what 'they' want.

"Never again should the masses be so well educated that they pose a credible threat to the rulers."

youdontknowme said...

I think wec should select on ability a bit. I would like to see the education system shaped like the Swedish education system where anyone can set up an independent school and those that want to go there will still be funded like state schools so if you would have £5,000 per year spent on you at state school you would have the same spent on you by the government at the independent school. I would change a few things about their sytem though.

Also at state schools I think that headteachers should need to be elected by the parents for 2 year terms.

Anonymous said...

You are right. I work in a PRU - I know many 'Nathans' and have devoted my career to helping them.

But what pisses me off is this: because I chose to make the personal sacrifice to ensure that my children do not suffer the same fate, because I chose to pay for a private education, my children and I are vilified by the very people who have failed the Nathans of this world.

It is easier for them to attack those who vote with their feet and their bank accounts than it is for them to accept their own responsibility and actually do something.

Private education is not reserved for those "with ability" as I discovered when my below-average daughter was accepted into a top public school. It is granted, as your own blog entry demonstrates, to those children whose parents are willing to make the personal sacrifices necessary to ensure that they have a future.

And the Nathans of this world will never have a future as long as people concentrate on attacking those who care enough to make a personal sacrifice.

If you think that the way to help the 'have-nots' in the education system is by attacking the 'haves' then you are part of the problem. not part of the solution.


Anonymous said...

It's odd how selection by ability seems anathema to teachers one way or another.
If you wanted to train a dog - you dont chose the the dim one - why - because you want results.
If you want a spitfire pilot you select them - no democracy here.
Competition works - "inclusion" / democracy etc. Don't
- not if you want useful adults.

Anonymous said...

To an earlier poster: 'Able' frequently does mean 'well behaved.'

If kids aren't well behaved they never concentrate and practice for long enough to become good at anything, whether it's algebra or throwing a javelin.

It's no coincidence that the bottom set misbehave more than the top set whether they are doing lessons, playing rounders or on a school trip somewhere.

GateGipsy said...

It depends on how the selection works. At the age of 11, just how well would a Nathan do on an entrance exam, compared to a Ruby? Children with parents who care will out do kids with far more ability, but whose parents don't care enough to make sure they do well on the selection tests.

Middle class parents would be able to save on school fees using the selection process to get their kids into state schools that ensured they'd still get a good education. And for working class parents who actually care about their kids and support them as best they can, it would be an absolute life saver.

But what about the rest of the kids? The Nathan's whose parents don't car? The not-so-bright kids? How do we help them?

Anonymous said...

I believe in selection but why not within a school (streaming). That way children who are good at eg Maths and poor at English can be in the right class for their ability.
Of course the system is not the only problem. Grammars schools would not help if we have the same poor discipline, benefits system that encourages laziness etc

Anonymous said...

A split based on attitude and behaviour may be more appropriate than on ability.

If my daughter was in a class full of kids who wanted to learn, behaved and made an effort then I would be quite content.
The next step of being in a group of similar ability would be great, but once the riot control is no longer needed I expect that a teacher would have more time to support individuals within a larger group.

How about somewhere that combines prison and school where the real underclass go? Prove your behaviour and you can return to the mainstream. Screw up and back you go.
Full complement of counsellors, behavioural therapists, social workers, etc , etc, so that no one could be accused of leaving them to rot. Give them every opportunity and if they don't take it... well you know prison probably beckons eventually anyway.

Anyone else play the game of scanning the local papers looking for people you went to school with getting locked up? Not usually any shocks are there?

jerym said...

I am a great admirer of your site and usually agree with your views but dont blame the comprehensive system. The previous way of selection at the age of eleven was grossly unfair to a large number of children ( we dont all develop at the same rate and very many pre eleven year olds had advantages denied to the less wealthy)The obvious way to help the Nathans of this world is to concentrate a much larger ammount of rescourses on infant and primary education viz. much smaller classes,very good and well trained teachers (a greater proportion of men)and proper discipline.This would make the rest of their education far easier for everyone and also help to break the vicious circle of bad parents raising? problem children who then become bad parents ad infinitum.The problem with this is that the results would not be apparent for at least a generation and as the people who have the power to carry out these reforms will have long since progressed to the upper house, stepped aboard the E.U. gravy train or are earning millions in the U.S.A.telling rich people how they became a statesman and saved the world.Much better fo them to create thousands of univerity places in mickey mouse studies and be able to boast that they have improved our country within their glorious reign.

Anonymous said...

In reply to "Old Andrew"
At the risk of sounding arrogant, I am one of those "teachers that are both academically accomplished and able to manage behaviour". And I teach different groups in different ways, primarily depending upon their behaviour. The reason for this is simple; without basic discipline, enabling the teacher to teach and the pupils to learn, you cannot do anything meaningful, let alone creative, fun or enjoyable.
And, yes, "able" usually does mean "well behaved".
The hellhole I work in (not for much longer, please God!) is a life-opportunity-destroying disaster for any genuinely bright kids who are horrendously bullied by their peers for exhibiting any signs of evolution. Even the 'best' classes I teach in this dump don't get the full benefit of my knowledge, skills, ability and experience, because the standards of basic literacy and behaviour are so jaw-droppingly low that almost everything I do has to be pitched at what (in any decent school) may be termed a remedial level.
Further, in a cynical ploy to boost the school's position in the league tables, this place ONLY does Btec science, which does not qualify (in any realistic sense) a pupil to go further in science.
I could go on....and on.....and on.
To be honest, I really don't see much future in State Education in this country, I'm desperate to get a job in a private school where I can actually be a teacher, not a prison officer, security guard, babysitter, social worker, therapist......

emily bishop said...

I absolutely agree, Genghis.

It would be great if we could stream by motivation but that's not going to happen. I can teach across the ability range from the high-flyers to the statemented in one group if they have mastered the basics of shutting up and listening. Throw a couple of goldfish-attention-spanned, attention-seeking, ill-disciplined oiks in with it and I spend half my time dealing with their behaviour.

Anonymous said...

gategipsy: while i sympathise with your views, one of the great problems of the state education system (IMO) is that it is aiming for perfection (though missing by miles and miles, obviously).

the truth - and it's a hard truth, a fact of life - is that some children will always be let down, failed, forgotten, cast aside.

some teachers will always be poor, some schools will always be bad, some kids will never want to learn, life will go on.

the question is, how many kids will be failed?

the current system - in attempting, perfectly laudably, to socially-engineer humanity to the point where all are equal ends up achieving the opposite.

it's one of the immutable laws of state bureaucracy - that of unintended consequences.

far better to concentrate on doing the greatest good for the greatest number - if for no other reason that that, in a globalised world, we need numbers of well-educated people to compete with emerging economies (and earn money and pay taxes to keep the rest of us in our pensions, benefits or state-funded jobs).

currently, we are turning out a huge cohort of uneducated and unemployable no-hopers. the consequences for all of us - including the no-hopers - may be literally disastrous.

Anonymous said...

This is so sad. If I could change one thing it would be to reverse comprehensive education. It trapped the working class in the working class. Rid our society of social mobility.

Anonymous said...

I had read half of your post before I saw your real point - that Nathan comes from a deprived background.

Nevertheless, I was inclined to agree that Ruby would do better in life, merely because Nathan is clever and thoughtful. That qualifies him for a science degree, probably a PhD, and a life of penury. Qualified scientists in this great nation of ours often earn well under the national average income. Whereas pleasant, outgoing people (perhaps like Ruby) can become salespeople and earn 4-10 times as much as the "brilliant" scientists.

Anonymous said...

Someone I know once got talking to Paul Boateng's aide during a railway journey, & put the question to him - Comprehensives, they're a failed experiment aren't they? So why not bring back the grammar school?

To which the aide replied, yes, agreed, comprehensives don't work, but they are such a Labour sacred cow that they can never be abolished.

So there you have it.

Anonymous said...

After all is said and done, children from stable homes who have educated, proactive parents, who are encouraged to read, who are taught manners and siscipline WILL fare better. No school system can iron out the differences between a child that receives good parenting and a child that grows up neglected. It's an illusion to believe otherwise, and there will always, always be those who are good parents and those who "just can't be buvvered".

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more and I find it endlessly depressing that the 'ruling liberal elite' won't allow ordinary kids that simple chance whilst they pack their own kids off to private schools.
I have absolutely nothing against private education by the way I just object to the blatant hypocrisy of members of the current government

David said...

oldandrew - there already is universal selection, by ability and willingness to pay (for private education or through higher house prices in the catchment areas of good schools).

What's your remedy?

Anonymous said...

teachers with patience imagination determination curiousity insight, the capacity to know when they don't know, who refuse to believe that their students have limitations, who always question judgements about students, who refuse to limit their students to their 'levels', who push their own limits, who look for appropriate language in engagement with children, who are prepared to be surprised might make a difference. All the league tables and selection and management and measurement and targets in the world do not make a silk purse out of a sow's ear of the education system that we have at present.Comprehensive education was destroyed by the middle classes and by the fact that it arose at the same time that behaviour declined generally. Selection is a system of rejection and as such is extremely damaging both to those who are rejected and to those who believe that their selection is an indication of their virtue. Of course variety is needed and bland uniformity is anathema to education but selective systems are the least imaginative and are designed by the powerful for their own purposes.

Anonymous said...

oldandrew - you seem to have fallen into the old trap. You know the system is f****d but arguing from first principles (in your case leftie/liberal ones) just ends up with you arguing for the system we have now - only better. You know, the one which doesnt work now.

"Is it too much to suggest that all children deserve teachers that are both academically accomplished and able to manage behaviour?"

Well I fear it probably is which is the point another commenter was trying to make. Your hoping to build a system where all the teachers are sgt majors and able to motivate the delicate petals all at once. Just cant be done Im afraid.

Your answer to the Nathan/Ruby problem is that of all lefties. Screw Nathan and try your best to wreck Ruby's chances too, at least that way they will be equal.

Quick Home Sale UK said...

Hopefully they will be given a chance to pursue their education...

Quick Home Sale UK said...

I just cant get over this site!
How come its not updated anymore?