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Essay on Education
One of the saddest sights I have seen is that of two small, lively boys standing outside a Year 1 classroom for misbehaviour. To me, this sets the scene for a repeating pattern of falling further behind with work, misbehaving to cover lack of knowledge, being sent out of the classroom, falling further behind, etc, etc. Surely it would be better to help such children learn in a different way until they are able to appreciate the joy of learning. Many countries do not begin teaching writing, for example, until children are much older than we do in Britain. Over the years, my work as a Teaching Assistant has given me the opportunity of observing various classroom settings and situations, teaching styles and behavioural issues. I have seen so many sad sights within the educational system that I really hope one day things will be very different. Within the current discussions over curriculum issues there is a real opportunity for changes to be made to the wider education system.
Starting at Year 1, I wonder whether disruptive pupils could be given extra help in reading rather than being simply being sent outside the classroom. There seems to be a pattern of misbehaviour in those who are falling behind their peers. It is no good for students to continue struggling with any subjects simply because their grasp of English is insufficient. This approach just leads to more support needed in the classroom rather than leading to independent learners. For example, I was horrified recently to witness a student struggling with alphabetical order, to be told to hurry up in order to complete two more tasks in that particular lesson. Moving on to the next task before fully understanding the first, seemed totally illogical to me. Physical punishment that was used in a bygone era is often quoted as being a viable deterrent to bad behaviour. It probably was. I just wonder how much learning went on within an environment of fear.
High ability students, on the other hand, are easily bored and expect lessons to be stimulating and to move their knowledge and understanding of subjects forward. In some caes boredom can lead to bad behaviour. Indeed, I have urged restless students to try harder questions with the result that they become engaged and are no longer restless. Within Years 7 and 8, extension work could be set as appropriate and the student would be given relevant or no homework (ie not more of the same). Such students are often doing activities of their own devising or involved in clubs and activities that provide a good substitution for unnecessary homework while extending their learning experience. An effective reward system (this is important for continued motivation) could drop out of the monitoring system.
It is easy to overlook or take for granted regular high achievement. By the end of Year 8, high ability students should be in a position to look ahead to making informed Key Stage 4 choices. It is important that detailed career guidance is offered at an early stage to ensure that students are aware of all the options open to them. Where high ability students have a broad range of expertise, individual guidance is important to help them identify particular areas of interest and to avoid studying too many subjects simply because they are good at them. The Gifted and Talented Programme should be in a position to monitor the effectiveness of the above and to offer practical support by way of extension materials to teachers and offer extra curricula activities such as science-based outings or visits by experts. This would also provide teachers with staff development opportunities to use their specialist knowledge.
Turning now to a couple of wider issues, one of which would be to reconsider the school leaving age. Rather than raise the school leaving age, thought should be given to lowering it for some students to allow them to pursue apprenticeships or other training related to their skills and abilities. This would get round the issue of some students just wasting time until they can legitimately leave. Some students I have worked with were just waiting until they could join the army and were simply not interested in doing anything towards a career once they joined. Two years of their lives spent in waiting.
Another serious issue for which thought certainly needs to be given is regard to the employment prospects for less able students or those who wish to pursue a more practical way of earning a living. The change to modern employment prospects is particularly highlighted when driving through Dorset. It is empty now when in previous generations the land would have been a hive of activity.
Overall, the approach to learning needs to be geared towards ensuring every student has sufficient basic English and Maths skills to access the curriculum. Particular attention should be paid in Years 1, 5/6 and 7 to such skills. It would be helpful to re-assess any student joining a school at any stage. Differentiation – to suit the ability of a particular student – needs to be in place for those that need it to ensure students leave school with skills, not only to find work, but to enjoy life to the full and as independently as possible.
Content of the National Curriculum
A national curriculum is valuable in these times of movement and change. Ideally it should at least minimise the adverse effects of moving upon the education of young people.
Everyone says they want to raise standards and the government consistently says they are doing all they can. The latest is the promotion of grammar schools. Surely, this is divisive and will only raise standards in certain schools. The alternative approach would be to change the curriculum in the less well performing schools and bring it into line with the better performing ones? For example, if private schools teach Latin, then teach that in all schools or at least offer it to the more able. It would be advisable to teach a broad overview of history, chronologically, rather than the present trend for dipping in and out of time frames to focus on particular projects (particularly in primary schools) of Second World War, Victorians, Egyptians etc. Literature would be well placed to concentrate on reading the classics – they have not stood the test of time for nothing – as they contain background historical and social history detail bringing history to life thus complementing that subject. Learning about the Introduction to contemporary authors would also broaden children’s experience of reading and encourage them to write stories and articles themselves. In terms of geography teaching, travel biographies would offer additional enrichment, for example the diaries of Mungo Park. History of science which is often overlooked could easily be included alongside this approach.
Grammar schools are sometimes viewed as a cure all panacea yet real time experience has proved varied over the years. As someone who ‘failed’ the 11 Plus I was sent, not unwillingly, to the local mixed secondary modern. University was not a word which cropped up. Careers advice was appallingly bad and, rather than look at our skills and qualifications, we had a brief, fruitless chat about what we wanted to do, rather than open our eyes to what could be available to us and sent to the equivalent of the local job centre. I remember vividly the member of staff picking up a wad of index cards and reading out the job titles until some caught my imagination… In adult life I, along with many others, learned that we had not so much failed the test as the system had failed us in that there were insufficient grammar school places. Certainly in my own area there was one grammar school serving a vast area containing many large primary schools. The comprehensive system is, as yet, by far the most effective way of ensuring all children benefit from as wide an education as possible in order to reach their own potential.
As a final thought, my own love of language stems in no small way from the variety of hymns and songs learnt at both primary and secondary school. While working in the education sector I was struck by the absence of hymns and singing generally. I didn’t always understand all the words in those timeless hymns but I loved the sounds they made and learnt what they meant later.