Sunday, February 27, 2011

Failing Schools or Failing Teachers

Which is it - schools or teachers?

Lots of stories in the media recently about failing schools and failing teachers – or is that the same thing?

Having been in teaching for over 30 years, I ought to have something to say. Something sensible. Something helpful. Something cogent.

It's tough.

Why is it so tough? It's because the truth about schools is rarely told and neither politicians or parents are really interested enough in the truth to listen to it.

Katherine Birbalsingh is the teacher who caused uproar at the Tory party conference when she “exposed the failings of state schools”. She is certainly an articulate lady and has some interesting and well thought out ideas about schools. She is not a radical. She has exposed part of the problem. She does have some interesting anecdotes to relate about inner London schools. She does not really tackle the real problems. She is, if you believe the rumours, about to take up a senior position at one of the new academy schools. I wish her well.

Why, then, is she not a radical? Because she sees the problem in terms of school organisation, teaching expectations, parental short-comings, teacher short-comings, administrators in denial and an inspection system that is really just a joke. These are all real problems. But, they are not the root cause.

What is?

The Education Act of 1944 has a lot to say about the organisation of schooling in England but precious little about how children are to be taught. Consequently, successive governments have seen this as carte blanche to mess with it as they see fit – often for political rather than educational reasons. In doing so they miss the essential point. Schools are not there primarily to educate children.

Before you switch off and assume that the old boy has finally lost his senses, just consider these points:

If schools were there to educate children, why would they organise the school year to ensure that pupils are not in school for about 100 days? (The reason is somewhat historical. The school year traditionally was set so pupils could help with the harvest. It carries on not to suit the schools or good educational practice, but so that parents can take a holiday in the warm summer months – we could save a fortune in heating bills alone if schools were open in the summer and closed in the winter!)

If schools were there to educate children, why would they continually cater for pupils who do not want to be there? (Pupils are forced to go to school. Many are there only because they have to be – not because they want to be.)

If schools were there to educate children, why would they teach subjects which have no relevance in the real world? (The fact is there are only a handful of geographers, artists or musicians who make a living at it – so why teach these subjects so enthusiastically at secondary level?)

Any sensible analysis must conclude that schools are not there to educate children.

Therefore, I have a real suggestion that would improve schools immediately. Only allow children who are willing to co-operate with the teachers into classrooms. Those who don't – remove them and only let them back when their parents bring them back and promise to make sure they sit down, shut up and do their best. Oh yes, and it's three strikes and you're out. And it goes all the way down to primary schools.

I confidently predict that such a plan would do wonders for the educational system. I also confidently predict that the chances of it being implemented are nil.


Because schools are primarily there to provide cheap, state-sponsored, child care. That's the fact.

No comments: