Saturday, July 04, 2009

The wrong sort of clever

“...a thinly veiled comment about how important it is to wrap things up nicely - to write only what you can write in the duration of a Sats exam.”
I think I’ve found the story that encapsulates what’s wrong with education in the UK. Read this.


Alistair Fitchett said...

Little bit tired and emotional this morning Tim (i.e. read 'hungover') so i'm not sure how flippant you are being, but this kind of article frustrates me as a teacher. I mean, it's a good article about one clearly gifted young person's experiences with Aspergers, but what frustrates me is that it makes out as though the entire education system is not dealing with such young people appropriately. And that's just not true.

And the quote that you chose to highlight - ONE teacher's comment, and yet it encapsulates what's wrong with education in the UK? How many teachers would balk at the thought that an English teacher should write such a comment on this young person's work? How many teachers are shaking their heads in frustration and dismay at the folly of one tarring our whole system with the same brush?

How many of the journalists writing these kinds of stories actually go out of their way to properly research their stories? Sure, it's easy to write a damning article if all you look at are the satisfactory or inadequate. What about the many good and outstanding schools and teachers who are not so lazy as to fall into these traps?

How often do you read the success stories of young people coming through good education experiences? I could show you at least one young person with Aspergers who has had a fantastic experience at high school and who has left school a changed young man with opportunities at FE and probably beyond. And that's just this year. In one school.

But does anyone write those sorts of stories for The Guardian? Of course not. It wouldn't appeal to the outraged sensibilities of the chattering middle classes, would it?

Tim Footman said...

Alistair: I'm not knocking the teacher who wrote that comment, because the teacher was probably right, within the narrow context into which s/he had been put. The 97,000-word story could not be appraised because it didn't fit the parameters of the curriculum. Alex could not be accommodated, presumably because his behaviour threatened to disrupt the school's attendance stats.

Now, this article doesn't imply that there aren't good teachers who are prepared to see students as individuals, to spot the potential and not the problems. But the fact that there are structures in place that privilege the biddable and the merely competent over the genuinely clever and imaginative is rather worrying. I know there are many gifted teachers who find ways round this, but the fact that they have to make the effort is barmy. This story isn't about Asperger's, it's about the target-driven, numbers-driven system.

Yes, fair point that hacks go looking for the bad stories all the time, although they're also quite happy to depict cute middle-class gels jiggling around as they celebrate their A*s. 'XYZ goes according to plan' is never such a good story.

Have you tried Berocca?

Alistair Fitchett said...

Havent tried Berocca. Is it a good boost for the morning after a bottle of wine? Or was it a groovy philosopher by the same name you were recommendning? ;)

People talk about target-driven and data-driven systems as if they are a terrible thing. The careful study and use of tracking data over the past number of years has proved invaluable for allowing teachers to truly target those students who might, for one reason or another, previously have slipped under the radar. Good teachers use the data as one part of an assessment strategy, and set individual targets accordingly. Good teachers don't JUST use the data, just as good school leaders dont JUST use the data as an aid for judging the school's performance as a whole and planning for improvement. And if our school target is to acheive 'x'% 5 A-C at GCSE, which is an improvement of 'y'% on last year, isnt that a good thing? Doesnt that translate to offering more young people better opportunities for future life?

There is a good deal of thinking going on in some schools in the UK about the transformation of teaching and learning, and the role of schools within their wider learning community. Overhaul of the GCSE and KS3 (and KS1 and 2) curriculums should allow us to finally approach learning in a 21st Century way (about bloody time, since we're nearly 10% of the way through it already...) with more focus on skills and attributes rather than rote learning of a canon of knowledge. I think it's an exciting time to be in education (perhaps specifically Secondary education...).

And yes, structures have always been in place that privilege the biddable and competent over the genuinely clever but potentially 'difficult'. But that's a bit of a chicken and egg situation isn't it? What came first, the cultural/socialogical (often based on class) tendency or its manifestation within education systems? In other words have the education systems created that tendency, or would be it be there naturally regardless? And it's easy to change structures and systems, but much harder to change cultures, of course.

Ha ha, yes, the lovely A-Level gels on results day - always a treasure of middle class journalism :) But you know its not so much a failure to cover the 'xyz goes according to plan'. It's also the fact that small stories of some truly outstanding achievements go unheard. And actually schools themselves probably need to shoulder some responsibility for that because we are not a good industry for trumpeting our successes. Private schools do it much better because they need to generate income, but the public sector schools are less well versed at effective PR. It's a contentious statement perhaps, but i think every school should have a marketing strategy that is as carefully considered as its educational strategy. And implemented as effectively.

So lots of opportunities for hopelessly ineffectual PR people then... ;)

Tim Footman said...

Again, it's not the teachers (and their use of the stats) that's the problem. It's when those stats are taken as the be all and end all by parents (and we get the undignified house-flipping as in the recent Harrow case) and politicians (the Lewis-Carroll-like recalibration of Ofsted classifications, so that 'satisfactory' is no longer good enough) and, as you rightly say, the media.

You're right to bring up the class aspect, though; the bitter truth is that the talent and the money follow the middle-class intake, but to acknowledge that would be to acknowledge that 30 years of Thatcherite/NuLab meritocracy has done bugger-all to eradicate socio-economic divides in British (English?) society.

Tim Footman said...

(And of course, if Alex with Aspergers had been called Kevin, would we ever have heard of him?)