Pawns in a Game
“If I live in an area where there is gang warfare among my peers, why would I care about Pythagoras’s theorem?” Akala
It is difficult not to feel angry at what is happening in education. Whether it is in the paucity of Government funding, falling morale and teacher shortages, especially felt in comprehensive schools, the pledge to increase places in grammar schools and the inequity of provision in all sectors; or whether it is in the excessive amount of testing, the lack of appropriate pathways for school leavers, the lack of resources; the overload of bureaucracy and data or all the endless proselytising by experts, treading an endless cycle of conferences promoting their books and research, I often wonder where are the children in all of this?
I wonder how stark the mental health figures have to be to make government sit up and take notice. How many more suicides does it take for someone other than those offering palliative care to acknowledge that its obsession with testing may be a contributing factor and that while sitting 20 – 30 examinations that have been upgraded in difficulty over a month may be fine for one section of the population, it is not so for others. Moreover, to argue, as one Minister did recently that exams were as stressful ‘back then’ is to completely miss the point, which is that we have made exams toxic by the language we now use the importance we have given them for schools and teachers whose drip-down stress burns our children. The fact that 35 children are being excluded from school each day and others are being turned away because they will damage schools’ results at the end of GCSE or before is abhorrent or that schools spend time seeking out the easiest examination boards or are caught inappropriately helping their charges should tell us something about the pressure they are under. The business model that extols the value of Social Darwinism, that puts a price on success, that makes every educational institution scramble for children, for money using whatever inducement in their power (including the awarding of 1st class degrees) is not one serving children.
This is not the fault of teachers - far from it. They are the ones having to carry the load for family breakdowns, a dysfunctional care system, failed government initiatives, an examination system run by private providers and held to account by league tables and examination boards and universities vying with each other for custom. Rather, the fault lies elsewhere, with politicians and educationalists who have forgotten to continually ask themselves ‘what is the best education we can give our children?’
The fall-out of our focus on examination results is everywhere. Even the fact that 40% of our doctors only last in practice for more than five years tells us many things, one of which is that our measure of entry may be wrong. In our obsession to cream the top we are missing so much other students that would (a) be able to handle the academic requirements and (b) have a better range of skills, (listening, empathy, observational, recording) that would make them better doctors without compromising their professional standard skills. Our first past the post system has a lot to answer for.
When we look at the fierce competition in London for school places, we instinctively know that this has little to do with what is the best education for our children and more to do with how do we filter these children so only the most able get through to the top performing schools.. It is no wonder that the tutor industry is thriving on the back of selective schools trying to get the students through the door of the most selective schools and hypocritical indeed for the same schools to criticise parents for seeking extra help. Tutors are responding to a demand when they would rather be helping students in different ways. When one looks at the impact of selection, there is a lot to be said for having a lottery for school places.
And where are the children in all this? Where indeed! Mere pawns in a game, I fear.