Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Riots: blame the schools! (No change there then.)

A commission on the causes of last summer's riots has recommended that schools should be fined if they don't turn out suitably servile citizens. For all of my active career, which now spans over fifty years, it has been customary to blame the schools for any of the ills of society, from the young's alleged inability to manipulate the multiplication tables to their lack of moral fibre.

I treasure the remarks of Nigel de Gruchy, General Secretary of my union, (now called the NASUWT) which he made in 1996:

...morality is caught not taught. Example is the best teacher of all and it's no good expecting schools to save the nation from moral decline while there is so much sleaze at the top; while the media is obsessed with private lives; while company directors award themselves massive pay hikes as they make their employees redundant; and while tax concessions are handed to the rich and thousands are forced to live on the streets. In reality schools are often oases of morality in a desert of couldn't-care-less corruption.

How sad that so little has changed over 16 years, in spite of Labour rule during 13 of them.

For most of the 1980s I worked in an inner city comprehensive where I taught some lower-school maths. We were a 13 to 18 school and I liked to keep my third form (ie first year in that school) for the three years until they took their 16+ exams. Each year I welcomed a bunch of mostly bright and eager pupils and promised myself some good results in three years' time. This enthusiasm usually continued throughout the fourth year, but during the fifth and final one the pupils gradually stopped coming. This was particularly true after Christmas when it was common knowledge in the area the the attendance officers, successors of the "school bobbies" of my own childhood, didn't bother you in the final two terms. So although those who saw out the course usually performed creditably the over-all record was somewhat dismal.

The point of this personal reminiscence is that schools play only a part in engendering academic achievement, character building or whatever else you think is the purpose of education. I suppose some bright spark from OFSTED, who probably in private boasts gleefully of having escaped the classroom, would today incant that we should have made our lessons more stimulating so that the pupils wanted to come. We tried of course, but educational achievement in most subjects requires hard graft as well as enjoyment. And even professional stand-up comedians might find it difficult to hold their audiences for eight periods a day five days a week.

Unless the parents and, equally importantly, the community, are on side then the schools are batting on a losing wicket.

And (here's a message for today's government) however lofty the ideals of we teachers are in our quest for opening windows and revealing the exciting wonders of the world to the young, what the parents, community and pupils want is qualifications that lead to jobs. And if the qualifications are bogus and there are no jobs...

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