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.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Start with a classic:

Why is there only one monopolies commission?

When the swallows come back to Capistrano – where have they been?

Is Cameron's Big Society just a big cock-up?

Will the bankers be first up against the wall when the Revolution starts? Followed closely by the accountants and mathematicians?

Did Fermat give the solution to his Last Theorem to the missus who promptly threw it away thinking it was an old shopping list?

Aegyptus Capta – but by whom or what?

How many failures will the England cricket team have to endure before they realise that Pietersen is fraud who only has one shot and rarely scores big – despite his inflated average on easy wickets against rubbish attacks? I see they now have a new plan – let him open! What a disaster!

Why is football only played at Upton Park and will it move with the Hammers to the Olympic Stadium?

Why is it on a weekend where there is a full programme of rugby internationals the Aviva Premiership has a full programme of club matches? Better yet – why doesn't football do the same thing? If you don't want to lose players for internationals, don't sign them in the first place. Simples.

Did you know that the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons can be changed into the acronym Baaps?

Why do the media insist that people who have been shot are “seriously ill” in hospital? They're not ill – they're wounded!!

My plan to make football a real spectacle – an hour before the match both teams are required to complete a ten mile run in under 20 minutes – then have a 10 minute rest – then start the game. Since all the excitement and most of the goals occur in the last 15 minutes when the players are getting knackered, why not wear them out first and avoid the boring 65 minutes at the start of the game? Makes sense to me!

With trouble in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Libya, etc. are we in for a “summer of discontent”?