Stop Education Now!

Charlie Brooker on giving up teaching and learning for good?

And Father Guido Sarducci has a good idea from 20 years ago.

To further save  money in these difficult times, these links appear to suggest we should cut spending on education entirely?!

A word to the WISE

The recent Government White Paper (see illustration above) on the ‘Importance of teaching‘, highlights a number of countries leading the world in educational performance. What it doesn’t mention though is that these countries are those investing in innovative approaches to teaching and learning, assessment and resources. And sadly neither does the White Paper discuss the importance of the creative industries to the British economy, or indeed make any reference at to Art & Design, Design and Technology or ICT.

The White Paper identifies a number of key targets:
• World class system – improve UKs ranking in PISA Tables (Programme for International Student Assessment)
• Autonomy – devolve power to the front line
• Behaviour – improve authority and status of teachers
• Accountability – streamline school accountability system to focus on teaching and learning
• Equality of opportunity – close gap between educational under performance of rich and poor.

Now you and I would probably see these targets as excellent opportunities to:
• improve the UK’s world ranking by adopting some of the leading innovations in teaching, learning and assessment being pioneered by countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia
• as they become increasingly empowered, support teachers to develop their own curricula and appropriate teaching methods
• improve classroom behaviour by adopting a more personalised, child-centred approach that motivates students
• enable teachers to develop more holistic approaches to validate agreed notions of good practice in teaching and learning
• improve equality of opportunity by enhancing the provision and acceptance of non academic-biased courses that will be seen as more relevant to the world of work and employment.

But somehow I think Mr Gove may see the opportunities in a rather different way…
• improve the UK’s world ranking by concentrating on a knowledge-based approach to English, maths and science using tried and tested formal examination procedures
• give teachers in other subjects more control of curriculum content, knowing that they will probably continue to deliver the national curriculum, because that’s all they know how to do
• improve classroom behaviour by employing more retired army officers
• give teachers a clearer idea of what is considered the basics of good traditional teaching and devise a simple checklist for senior managers to use in assessing their performance
• ensure all pupils, including the poor, have equal opportunity to study academic subjects taught with an emphasis on the acquisition of facts.

I think it unlikely that Mr Gove attended the recent WISE (World Innovation Summit for Education) conference in Qatar in which ‘1,200 international education leaders assessed the innovation opportunities presented for and by education, and explored how best to ensure a positive environment for innovation in all its forms to flourish’.

However, it is true to say that innovation in any field involves investment and risk, and right now the UK is broke. There is no UK funding for research and development of educational initiatives. Is Gove’s ‘back to the 1950s‘ message really saying, we can’t afford to move forwards, so let’s go backwards to simpler, less costly times where formal examination essays were cheap to set and mark?

With thanks to Tony Wheeler for his analysis of the White Paper

Pass Notes: R U a trendy teacher?

It’s Friday afternoon at the newly opened Bash Street Academy, and Teacher, re-invigourated by the inspirational leadership and direction of nice Mr Gove, is bravely attempting to teach 11B the finer points of the now government-required Marcel Proust’s ‘À la recherche du temps perdu‘ (In Search of Lost Time; earlier translated as Remembrance of Things Past).

Sir, Sir!

Yes, what is it?

Are you a trendy teacher?

Well yes, I suppose I like to think so – hence my kipper tie and flared trousers, in case you hadn’t noticed. And I still like to listen to my Beatles LPs. Why do you ask?

Well it says here that Mr Gove wants to get rid of ‘wild and wacky’ trendy teachers. So does that mean you’ll be retiring soon Sir?

Ah. Hmmm – you’ve been reading the Daily Mail again haven’t you? I’ve warned you about doing that before – it will make you go blind you know…

Well Sir, there’s one of those quizzes here to help you discover if you are a trendy teacher or not*. So first question:

1. Do you:
a) adopt an anti-intellectual and anti-acquisition of knowledge approach in the classroom, and see teaching as a two-way process, or
b) know you are in the classroom to teach, and that children are there to acquire your knowledge, with the emphasis on the memorisation and recall of facts and figures?

2. Do you:
a) teach mainly through themes such as global citizenship, saving the planet, and through role-play and popular works of fiction, or
b) teach geography and history as it is written, straight from the textbook?

3. Do you:
a) refer to texts that are relevant to pupils’ everyday experiences, or
b) teach Milton, Spencer and Pope, even though no-one is listening?

4. Do you:
a) encourage child-led lessons with no assessment or testing, with children only learning when they feel like it, or
b) don’t teach anything that can’t be formally and scientifically assessed, and heavily criticise failure.

5. Do you:
a) use eccentric teaching methods, giving pupils a choice of tasks, asking them questions rather than giving answers, and encouraging them to find things out for themselves, or:
b) use one teaching method all the time that is inappropriate for most pupils, always giving them factual answers and telling them exactly what they must do, and when?

6. Do you:
a) teach open-ended lessons that lack stimulus and challenge within an inconsistent and incoherent structure, or
b) teach highly structured academic-led lessons that lack stimulus and challenge for the vast majority of pupils?

7. Did you:
a) attend a left-wing teacher-training college rooted in discredited ideological 1960s folly, opposed to disciplined teaching, or
b) fail to gain a place on a left-wing teacher-training college rooted in discredited ideological 1960s folly, opposed to disciplined teaching?

8. Do you:
a) send forth vast numbers of children unfit to participate in the life of our society, or
b) send forth vast numbers of children only able to fail to become university professors?

9. Do you believe all parents want their children to:
a) be happy, discover and develop their individual talents and abilities, be socially confident and capable of obtaining life-long employment as an adult, or
b) have proper traditional school uniforms, strict discipline, and be taught academic subjects rigorously?

10. Do you allow pupils to distract you during lessons asking right-wing biased quizzes about teachers?
Only answer a) Yes, if you have got this far.

So how did you do Sir?  If you answered mainly a) then apparently you are ‘ just one of tens of thousands of wild and wacky teachers unfit to be in the classroom, you spend your time clamouring for more and more cash, and resist reform ‘.  If you answered mainly b), you ‘use tried and tested (or as your pupils see it, tired and detested) teaching methods. You probably retired from teaching some 30 years ago and were previously in the armed forces. However you are still in line for the ‘Nice Mr Gove Teacher of the Year’ award. You read the Daily Mail every day and believe every word of it without question‘.

Well, I would have to say I answered a mixture of a)s and b)s. However the quiz questions seem to have been compiled from a source that is clearly very ill-informed about teaching and learning and what goes on in most classrooms. In all my many years in the profession I can’t say I’ve ever met a teacher who would have answered yes to the majority of either sets of options. Most teaching involves an appropriate and sensible balance of formality and child-centered approaches.  But what’s most worrying is the inaccuracy of the messages that the general public are being given about what the vast majority of schools are like. It’s also a shame that in response, the education profession don’t seem to be able give a more positive account of themselves to the media.

Right, homework for tonight – whether you feel like doing it or not. In the ‘Leave a Comment’ box below describe three examples of things that we had in the 1950s that would be better if we went back to today – for example; ration books, logarithm tables and Teddy boys. No opinions of course – just stick to the facts. And the boy who gets the top mark will have the opportunity to go to Oxbridge – that is if he can afford the fees.

*OK, I made the quiz up, but based almost entirely on so-called facts and figures obtained from the following sources:

Don’t say: ‘Go back to your classrooms and prepare for the 1950s.’

Do say: ‘So who exactly is this Max Hastings and how come he thinks he’s such an expert on education?’