Our Education System Stinks

a writing by Paul Butters

Recently I have been watching a most enlightening TV series called “School” on BBC 2. If you want to see that programme on iPlayer then leave this page now! Don’t want to “spoil” it for anyone.

Anyway, the main thrust of the programme is that Education today is governed by “targets” and “results” and “getting funding”. The impression I get is that truly valuable Education has been sacrificed for cramming kids to “pass” examinations and so forth. Looking at this as a former teacher of the 1970s it seems that things have gone from bad to worse, much worse. To be more specific, the UK Education System is a mess. Just like Brexit is a mess.

But don’t get me wrong. The 1950s to 70s were not Halcyon Days. Sure, I had some very good teachers. At my “Secondary Modern” school we had a great history teacher, Mr. Hanson, who did his own version of the “Horrible Histories” TV series which came later. And he played the piano at school assembly with great gusto.

But then we had a Science teacher who sat tinkering with some electronics while we all struggled with the dreaded “Physics Calculations”. Our Rural Science teacher bailed us out when that Science Man left around Christmas.

That same Science teacher once took great delight in rounding up some boisterous lads to try out his “new cane” on them. That was his main teaching method I recall – swish, cane, scare, swish…

To be brutally honest, however, when I myself became a teacher I thoroughly hated the job. The only “Careers Advice” I recall from my school days was from another 6th former who remarked, “Most people who study English just go into teaching.” It proved totally unsuitable for me: after all I was one of the quietest, most timid pupils in my classes!

Reflecting on college, well, quite simply, at least where I studied we teachers were not taught how to teach. Sure, they preached Education Theory, Psychology and Sociology to us. I got high grades in all that stuff. But all my notions on how actually to work with children came from older fellow students. Indeed those students told me the old maxim, “Don’t smile before Easter!”

What hints we were given by tutors contained a confusing mixture of “Traditional” versus “Progressive” teaching approaches. They did, however, point us to books such as “How Children Fail”, “How Children Learn” and “Summerhill”.

At least on my Diploma in Careers Guidance (taken later) the tutors had us do “Video Interviews” in which they coached us in the skills required for the job. To me, “teacher training” was mainly a “selection process”. The dominant underlying belief seemed to be that you were either born to be a teacher or otherwise. “Acting” was often touted as a requisite for being a teacher and that was one of my weakest links.

Thinking on it now, I wonder how on Earth I could have met so many good teachers. They did miracles to survive. Each one of us was left to our own devices to do whatever we judged right. Yes, they made us write detailed lesson plans. But that’s not enough by a long way. “Handling” 30 “screaming kids” is no picnic.

I suppose the advent of The (UK) National Curriculum changed things somewhat. But then they probably quashed some fine “individual” teaching with that.

As for my own 6 year stint at teaching (in one school), I cannot recall much teamwork either within the department or the school as a whole. Some colleagues were extremely helpful and supportive whereas others would put you down and have an ego trip.

I do note that “Educating Yorkshire” and similar TV programmes have shown that good teamwork is possible given the right leadership and staff. But like the National Health Service, “Education” requires funding and support. It’s sad to see so many dedicated professionals banging their heads against the proverbial brick wall. Rant over. Let’s hope the powers that be see sense and put things to right.

Paul Butters

© PB 13\1\2019.

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