The Waste

Yesterday I tried to write something about Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, and his statement that he would ‘not tolerate’ primary school children going on to secondary education without the basic skills in literacy and numeracy.

I said something like: that’s all very well but how are you going to achieve that? An authoritarian stance and set of words is not quite enough. And then I noted that he was going to turn some of the primary schools into academies to presumably address this. By the end of the day, I had about 800 words but not much cohesion and quite a lot of crossness. Today I’ve got a little less crossness and fewer words (my mother will love that sentence!).

I started off down the road of the language of education. How I wince when I hear people (professionals and learners themselves) refer to people or groups as bright. What, I think, is the inference for those people without the label. Do you think they don’t pick this up? What is the effect of this?

And then today I got a helping hand to hang my thoughts on. This report from the OECD shows how bad the UK is at developing the self-confidence and resilience in our children that enables those from tough backgrounds to achieve and progress.

Our views and language of people is part of this picture. So much of how I work is not about people’s skills and abilities, but their deep-seated beliefs about their skills and abilities. What they think they can and can’t do is a powerful motivation or barrier to any kind of achievement.

Getting to the bottom of this cannot be forced in an adult. It can take nearly a year before a learner gains an insight into where some of their ideas about their abilities may have come from. Sadly, I have to report it comes usually from indifferent teaching and the language of labels. Support from parents also plays a role, but most parents have been through the same system and been inculcated in the same way. As we believe what we were told (or inferred) about ourselves, so we believe the views that are held about our children. And how many parents have the confidence to challenge the teaching and learning?

Here is my own story. It has become evident my own 9 year old is not progressing in numeracy. She is becoming an avoider. She has worked out that she does not, at this point, have the same skills as many has her peers. She is, to be frank, developing classroom strategies to get by, whilst judging herself unable to ‘do maths’. The teacher must be aware of this, because I have sent in a note. Have I followed this up – no. Why? Because – she is the teacher. Instead I am looking for some extra help for my daughter. And the help is a very particular sort of help. It is the kind that believes that every child can succeed, providing the teacher is prepared to take the responsibility of building the child’s self-confidence by teaching as many different ways as are needed to build those skills.

A curriculum is all very well, but to build the resilience and self-confidence the OECD report talks about, we need a wider discourse and curriculum. One which is not just intent on delivering the same curriculum to all children at the same time and tough if they don’t get it, but one that is founded on the belief that every child deserves a more than equal chance to develop a strong sense of their intrinsic value and worth.

Posted on June 17, 2011, in Be not idle, News, Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. what a fantastic post: it brought a tear to my peri-menopausal eye:
    it annoys me endlessly that teachers have to stick to government rules and teach this that and not the other:
    no room for creative thinking or personality or learning styles:
    no time for forging relationships with the people they are teaching:
    I heard an interesting piece on radio 4 about streaming or sets: how it can create stigma when children as young as 7 are categorised:
    what about inclusion? isn’t that taught at teacher training?

    • Hi you, thank you for your comment. I was in a primary school today and I literally did want to cry for this reason, although the school in question has an absolutely fantastic programme of support for their pupils. I have cut and pasted the comments from the BBC article across because they make a lot of sense and underline my point that equipping children for life goes far beyond delivery of the subject.

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      Comment number 84.Teshi
      5 Hours ago
      As a Canadian teacher presently teaching in England, I am not surprised by these results. In many schools, the way low pupils are treated is different. There is sometimes a sense here that the lowest pupils are already gone: they’re in the bottom stream or set, with an inexpert teacher, in a non-specific classroom and the attitude is poor. There is a sense of failure before they’ve even started.

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      Comment number 55.LetRightBeDone
      5 Hours ago
      The Asian countries seem to accept that being poor is no reason to give up but rather encourages them to improve themselves. They will know that this requires considerable effort and self-discipline for years and even if they fail it does not stop them trying. They clearly instil this work ethic in their children. No ‘dumbing down’ education standards for them.

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      Comment number 20.Tensor
      7 Hours ago
      What absolute tosh! I was born into an asbestos prefab 60 years ago. We were poor. I got A levels but failed to go to university. I now own a multi-million £ group of technology companies and can hold my own in most areas of science. Me and the business still keep coming up with great ideas that nobody else is doing. You just need hard work + determination. (never give up!).

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      Comment number 17.Shelagh
      8 Hours ago
      If the causes include poor self esteem, then perhaps the solution in schools is not to marginalize and trivialize Personal and Social Education (PSHE) but to embrace every opportunity to help young people feel valued, responsible, worthy and capable.
      After years teaching, I observe those who are there to teach children/ young people and those who unfortunately just want to teach their subject.

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      Comment number 12.creambun
      8 Hours ago
      Blaming the victims, i.e disadvantaged families, is simply not on. I am a teacher and my experience tells me the problem stems from both Gov. education policy (unsound curriculum changes & undermining teachers), & managing teacher performance in schools. Fix both. Plus, it would be good if people had faith in state education and did not glorify the indpendent sector. This is part of the problem.

  2. Hiya,

    All this academy nonsense is there to give a longer blame route to those people some have elected when things go wrong.

  3. Well, Chocolategirl, it was Sir Bloody Chris Bloody Wood-bloody-head on streaming and sets and my own head nearly exploded with rage, as it does every time I have the misfortune to hear him pontificating. Maybe now he’s got his knighthood he’ll retire to a dark part of the forest and never again be wheeled out for commentary by the otherwise excellent Radio 4.

    Love the sentence, Diva, but need a quiet word about the use of ‘inculcated’.

  4. Don’t mess with natural selection. It just drains the system! 😛

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