Friday, 28 May 2010

Ignorance in Education

Listening to Any Questions this evening, I was struck, not for the first time, by how little people who are "in charge" know about schooling and education. My favourite, this time was trotted out by someone called Toby Young. He gave us the old: children from poor neighbourhoods are being failed by poor local schools, and don't do well academically at them, and so are doubly disadvantaged routine.

Luckily I don't suffer from high pressure, so offered the possibility of applying my head to a marble fireplace [there no brick walls near to hand], I decided instead, and also not for the first time to explain to this person, whose opinion, the BBC has seemed to like this week, and to anyone else of the same ludicrous persuasion, how ridiculous this statement is.

Poor children do less well because they are poor, not because the school they attend is failing them. Their lack of money may mean lack of material comforts, refreshing holidays, spacious houses, up to date equipment. Their parents do not buy them extra tuition; they tend not to have so many books etc at home; they may abuse their children [more likely in poorer neighbourhoods]; they may not put their faith in schooling; they may be inadequate parents in dysfunctional families. These children's parents may be in jail. They may have no parents.

When they arrive at their local school, poor children's experience of adults may well not be one of automatic respect. And offered the past tense of the etre verbs in French [agree or not agree], or an insight into phototropism in plants, or whatever [and here you will see I am looking at remote subjects which I myself adored as a child] there will some children who are dreading going home either to be raped themselves or have to listen to one parent hitting or verbally abusing another.

Teachers in schools in poor neighbourhoods have a difficult job, and I think the most rewarding teaching job in the world. They have to educate in all the conventional academic subjects. The children they/we have in our charge need to be able to hack it in the big world outside. However, our charges are not always in a state or a position to do justice to their academic potential. Some of them live in such cramped and stressful circumstances that they arrive in school, not just not fed properly, but without enough sleep. Often their parents have no idea how to be just that: parents.

It is our responsibility to offer stability, continuity, affection, understanding, patience, besides the academic subjects that we studied at university. And while it was very distressing all those years ago, when J. [in my GCSE class] sobbed her way through lesson after lesson, it was in the end a great relief that she chose my lessons to cry in, and an even greater relief to see her step-father jailed some time later.

Added to to the problems that the UK invented for itself, we now have children in our schools who are fleeing unimaginable persecution in other countries, yet face problems when they try to settle here. See this week's Guardian for two of our children's story, There were members of staff at City of Leeds School who added to their day job to support Wells's family in its fight against deportation.

And here's a nice little number: boys whose misogyny [from country of origin]complicates the relationship with female teachers.It took me a year to get Yr 9 boy, A. from East Africa to sit up straight in my Music lessons and stop calling me "man", whereas, by contrast, H. from Zambia is over-respectful with his "mam".

So, when I see people on the Vince and Toby Shows [aka Questiontime and Any Questions] saying, "We've got to try something different", my heart sinks. That is when when our poorer children are doubly disadvantaged.

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