Wednesday, July 30, 2008

That is what it's all about

I've been watching the first episode of Channel 4's Can't Read Can't Write. Can inspirational teacher Phil Beadle teach illiterate adults what years of schooling never managed? You know the deal.

Mr Beadle is a bit of a maverick (not to mention his passing resemblance to the drummer from the Pogues) and clearly has little time for the bureaucracy that tends to stifle the learning experience. It's fair to say that he doesn't see eye to eye with the luckless Diane Hawks, who is in charge of adult literacy at Southwark College. In fact, he describes what he witnesses in a lesson as "horrendous", "depressing" and "incompetent".

We've all learned by now to be deeply wary of anything that smacks of reality TV. So I'll give the benefit of the doubt to Ms Hawks, and leave open the possibility that her words were taken out of context, edited to suit the producers' agenda, or even concocted from sophisticated voice synthesis software and mimed by her android simulacrum. Nevertheless, this is what appeared to come out of her mouth as she defended her staff in the face of Beadle's tongue-lashing:

"My teachers are following the Skills for Life work packs set down by the government and because of doing that we actually get the results at the end of the day because they pass their exams because *that* is what it's all about."

[bangs face slowly and steadily on old school desk, the kind with redundant inkwell, until five decades' worth of compass-scratch graffiti transfers itself to my forehead]

16 comments:

chatterbox said...

I've had to get to grips with the 'Skills for Life Agenda' myself over the past year or two, and I found myself agreeing with Mr Beadle, even though he seems to be a bit of an arrogant berk in many ways. But...I also sympathised with Ms Hawks. If you don't follow the curriculum and get exam results you don't get any money, so can't help anyone. Banging your head doesn't help, I've tried it.

garfer said...

Oh, the hokey cokey.

I'm going back to bed.

Annie said...

Out of the mouth of our new head teacher:
‘We need to enhance opportunities for Creativity in our school. Because otherwise Ofsted will downgrade us.’

Annie said...

And who is yrreJ?

Tim Footman said...

Chatterbox: I understand the bind that Ms Hawks is in. But surely it's possible to focus on good exam results, while at the same time acknowledging that you're only doing it to meet arbitrary govt targets, and it's got jack to do with education.

[Pictures Garfer in flannel pyjamas with a moth-munched teddy bear.]

That's exactly the sort of thing I mean, Annie. You can be pragmatic without selling your soul. And for 'YRREJ', go and see Be Kind Rewind.

chatterbox said...

Of course, most teachers do aim for both, although there are plenty of teachers who are just following the rules rather than try to stretch them. Ofsted have been known to give you a kicking if you get too creative on skills courses though, so the balance is fine one. I suspect she was edited to fulfill the baddie role.

Marsha said...

Oh bum! I meant to watch that. Many years ago, I used to teach adult literacy classes. My main memory of them is that the powers that be spent a great deal of time worrying about whether tutors had "addressed equal opportunities in their teaching materials" for which read "chucked a few Asian names into their example sentences". All of which was very depressing, not least because it overlooked the fact that the students were people being denied the "equal opportunity" of reading and writing.
Sadly, for a lot of people, the possession of "exams" is still the only yardstick they are prepared to use for measuring ability, and not just in education either.

Alistair Fitchett said...

The problem with Beadle, and with the situation that is created by the media by making him a 'star' (and with the way the 'edublogosphere' creates the 'anti-Beadles' as 'stars' also) is that it paints everything as extremes. All we get to see are the polar opposites. The (sad?) truth is that much of the best teaching and learning is happening miles away from the cameras and from the ever-seeing eye of the Internet. And it's happening that way because the teachers who are doing that work care more about the job than about self-aggrandisement. Take your pick of pretty much any sphere, and I can guarantee that the ones who shout the loudest are almost never the ones producing the best work in that sphere.

Annie said...

Ok, I've now watched it (with misty eyes at some moments. 'Why do you want to read?' 'When I have kids, I want to be able to read to my kids.' I seriously want to contact the poor plumber's mate who was made to sit for hours through his GCSEs, unable to read any of the questions, he's bravely trying again & yet again, no one is helping him to read.)

I don't think he was that arrogant, or at least arrogant in the way you are when you know what you're talking about and are frustrated because there's a lot at stake - I know exactly how he feels. ()

Whose bright idea to make this a reality show? Why does he have to teach them in 6 months? Not just pressure on him, but pressure on the adult learners. Take all these adults who feel like failures and make them feel more like failures by not giving them enough time...

He did say something interesting though - he felt like he'd let down some of his secondary school students, and confessed he only ever worked with the high ability students during his teaching career. Yet as soon as he started the adult education class, he split the class into ability groups - and left the low ability students to his assistant... this is exactly how the system fails them in the first place.

Sorry Tim, hijacked your comments box.

amyonymous said...

how depressing that the same debate is going on in the UK as the US - that of teaching to the test, rather than teaching to the student. sigh. i liked what alistair said, above, about the really good teachers (of course i would, i like to think that i'm a really good teacher!) doing the best work.

and, Be Kind, Rewind, is a very underrated movie here in the States!

amyonymous said...

how depressing that the same debate is going on in the UK as the US - that of teaching to the test, rather than teaching to the student. sigh. i liked what alistair said, above, about the really good teachers (of course i would, i like to think that i'm a really good teacher!) doing the best work.

and, Be Kind, Rewind, is a very underrated movie here in the States!

amyonymous said...

sorry! your comment box seemed to imply that i typed in the gobbledy-gook word incorrectly and i had to do it again - and then suddenly, there were two. delete me!

Rimshot said...

ooh, technology implying things...how very HAL.

Tim Footman said...

Chatterbox: I'm perfectly prepared to be charitable and accept that she's been edited; but there are surely people who believe that crap.

Marsha: Well, people who lack imagination will always see exam passes as a gold standard. It's almost self-fulfilling.

Agreed about Beadle, Alistair; but at least his ego gets the subject air time. (cf Jamie Oliver.)

Yes, I was concerned about the (quieter, less charismatic, less soundbitey) assistant, Annie. The Andrew Ridgeley of adult literacy.

Could never delete you, Amy.

Rimshot: the ghost in the machine...

dh said...

That last bit about redundant inkwells and compass-scratch grafitti borders on genius. The deeper ones could be filled in with blotting paper.

llewtrah said...

I knew someone who taught adult literacy in the 70s and 80s (remember "On The Move" TV program tie in?). The course materials were boring enough to put illiterates off of learning.