The year 7 class are having their first Science Lesson. Edward in the front row is bursting with enthusiasm, his little hand reaching for the sky as Miss Jones asks a question about the Sun. He knows all the names of the planets and is fascinated by anything to do with dinosaurs, Astronomy and things that go fast. He has a Chemistry Set at home and is desperately keen to learn how to blow things up.
Two rows back, Brandon and Lee do not know the answer. Brandon has a reading age of six and an ability level that prevents him from doing anything more complicated than drawing and colouring in. His writing is totally illegible and he cannot do basic arithmetic. He has no support teacher today, as she is only with him for three lessons out of five.
Lee has a similar ability but never even has a support teacher because he has not been statemented; a lengthy process which must be completed before any help can be paid for. For some reason his previous school never managed to do it, which is not unusual.
At the front, Miss Jones has a choice: she can either spend a huge amount of her time helping Brandon and Lee, or she can concentrate on the middle ability level of the group and simply let these two do something trivial. Either way, she has no time to answer Edward's numerous questions on asteroids and comets. She is starting to get fed up with him, as he makes her feel guilty. He keeps saying that the work is far too easy and is becoming bored and disillusioned with Science.
Let's not pretend or mince our words here- Miss Jones is simply wasting Brandon, Lee and Edward's time.
It's not her fault- she is only human and cannot possibly deal with such a ridiculously large spectrum of abilities. Deep down, she feels that mixed ability classes seem to let down the best and the worst. All she has ever been told however, is how great it is that the school is so 'inclusive'.
In my opinion, Lee and Brandon should not be in this lesson at all. They should be learning to read and write, to add up and subtract. They should be with people who are trained to teach these things, not Secondary School teachers. They should never have left Primary school until they have mastered these skills, because without them, they will never be employed.
Instead their next lesson is French...
Edward is also being let down and shouldn't be in this lesson. The school will not worry one jot about him however, as the chances are that he will muddle through and get a 'c' grade, so he is just forgotten about. In another scenario he would have grown up to become a great scientist.
The above story is happening right now at a school near me.
Unfortunately it's also happening at one near you.
Tragic really, three young lives being wasted.
Time, I think, for all children to be tested when they start secondary school, & for these schools to have two additional departments - call them 'Accelerated learning' where the bright ones can be challenged & encouraged for at least one or two lessons a day; & 'Special assistance' for those who really need help to get off the ground -but test those needing help, to see if they need something more than educational assistance. I was behind until a teacher realised I couldn't see, & my school career would have been very different without a simple pair of glasses.
I'm a governor at a comprehensive, we do exactly what you suggest with Lee & co: they can't read so they are wasting their time (and everyone else's) in normal lessons, so instead they have one hour of basic reading and writing every morning. Introduced a year ago for the new Y7s, the results are predictably amazing. Many of them caugh up and rejoined the rest of the students.
We're now expanding it to cover maths as well, and also going back to pick up people from the older year groups who started before we were doing this.
It depresses me somewhat that kids are sent up from primary schools without the most basic skills to cope at secondary, and the fact that we've turned so many of them around in 1 year shows what could have been done earlier. I do wonder what on Earth they did for 7 years at primary. Still, better late than never.
My son is now 16 and has emerged from a similar secondary school to the one you have described with 3 C grades, a D, 2Es and an F at his GCSEs...considered by his teachers to be a good result ..for him. Yet because he has Asbergers and ADHD he wasn't effectively taught for nearly three years because teachers used every excuse to eliminate him from their lessons because he was a disruptive influence to their lessons.
His statement only arrived in Yr8 and yes, I want to know what our local highly rated primary school did for 5 years to cope with his disability....mostly I had to collect him from a seat outside the headmasters office and then be lectured to by a silly man (the headmaster) about how disruptive the day had been for everyone.
And before anyone thinks that his 3 Cs arose from the teaching at the school I need to add that they were in English, Maths and French all of which we had external tutors available on a one to one basis one day a week and which we paid for ourselves.
So I don't think much of the secondary school system.
He is now at a local sixth form college doing a BTec with some more enlightened teachers who seem to be able to cope well with his affliction.
Maybe he will do better over time now he is released to learn.
Within each local authority area there should be schools and classes appropriate to all abilities. The problem arises because so many LAs are left wing and don't approve of separate treatment: they think everybody is the same and all should have identical teaching, which is why they dislike grammar schools.
But the correct view is that children should have schooling appropriate to their needs: be it musical or artistic or scientific or sporting or hands on technical or advanced or special needs or whatever.
"the correct view is that children should have schooling appropriate to their needs: be it musical or artistic or scientific or sporting or hands on technical or advanced or special needs or whatever."
Absolutely true. It's time to ditch the comprehensive school dinosaur, the 'one size MUST fit all' approach, and take a leap into the evolutionary future - academic schools for bright kids, vocational/technical schools for practical kids, and arts and humanities ... etc, etc.
But is anybody listening? The Tories AND Labour seem to be stuck in educational time-warps and cul-de-sacs that serve only to hold our kids back. Thank f*ck I can send my kids to private schools!
Is it heretical to comment that a comprehensive system is not "one-size-fits-all". And re. the young man getting more enlightened teaching at a sixth form college, I assume she is aware that by enrolling on such a course he is guaranteed to pass it, as long as he follows his teachers' instructions.
The school I teach at has been organising itself in the manner you describe for the 20 yrs I've been there. Within my dept I "arrange" things to mitigate this but it depends upon the current staff sharing my view of what is effective use of teacher and student time, someone being prepared to take their turn with the non-readers, non-compliant, non-English-speaking, just-not-able, because I haven't enough capacity to break them down into "won't" and "can't"; and most of all, an unspoken agreement to cover it up from SMT, to whom such an arrangement is proof of my fascist, child-hating, elitism. I truly cannot wait to retire.
Nothing new here, its been happening for nearly 40 years.
As I wrote in a TES article in February, for a substantial number of children, "The entire concept of schooling, that fundamental human desire to learn, develop and improve, common across cultures and ages, is absent. In its place is an invidious, dysfunctional dependency on any adult fool enough, misguided enough or, as is so often the case, simply kind enough to want to help."
It is time to stop pretending teachers are social engineers and design a more appropriate educational model for many children, whose presence in school does nothing but harm.
Any teacher that tolerates this sorry farce is clearly guilty of gross professional misconduct and should be struck off.
The fact that this is chiefly due to the cretinous ideology that has engulfed the public sector is no excuse; everyone accepting pay for this is complicit in it.
I left the UK almost 30 years ago after a year teaching French in a school where I was supposed to teach Year 8 kids some of whom could barely write their own name! Another class of year 8's had 32 pupils and only 26 desks and chairs . ..
My view, for what it is worth is that the vast majority of children are able and want to learn but that desire simply appears to vanish. I have seen how a negative ethos in a school has a detrimental effect on both staff and children where low expectations are the target and achieved without effort.
My son went to a school where there was strong peer pressure to achieve and the staff were there encouraging all students to better themselves identifying strengths and weaknesses. It was no hothouse but it cost us an arm and leg.
To the parent of the Asbergers and ADHD student.
I don't subscribe to the right to disrupt. I don't think the needs of a disruptive student should come before those of the remaining 30 or so other students.
Perhaps the headmaster thought the same but, in the absence of special schools, had few options.
Sounds like an argument for breaking up comprehensives and opening new grammar schools plus new 'special' schools to me...
Nice article, thanks for the information.
Why, when so many people can see clearly that a one size fits all ideology in education is horribly wrong, has this same attitude had control of the governing elite for the past fifty years?
Rather than prating on about a policy for growth, Lord Heseltine should change his ideas on education. It may or not be a good idea to return to mercantilism, but it is pointless if we do not have properly educated and trained people to manage this brave new world.
My secondary school science education down to the letter. I was the "Edward" on the front row. I'm currently writing about my own secondary school experiences.
Keep up the good work.......
Finland, which always comes out with the best results, does not stream children. Something runs deeper in British society.....
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