Wednesday, 28 September 2016

National Education Service and one reason why it matters.

(originally posted some weeks ago elsewhere) 
I’m sorry - I’m going to post a political viewpoint. I’d like you to read it. That’s the way social media works I think. It’s quite long. I think you are supposed to tweet or post memes and that.
I work in education and have done for nearly 15 years. In that time, I’ve seen funding come and go but never really felt like a politician really did anything because they 'get' education especially.
Politicians always focus their ire on 'standards' as if setting targets will have a miraculous impact on educational standards and teachers are lazy, poor, lacking in ambition for their learners and so on.
Increasingly I’ve seen students pressurised by this target driven culture - if you give teachers targets, that passes on to students. I know as I am a teacher but it’s obvious really, even if you weren’t. I could write more, but I don’t want to get into details, you all get the idea if you have a kid or have a passing interest in education. Targets have perhaps driven standards up in some ways, we certainly coach exams better, but are they effective in developing genuine literacy, critical thinking and autonomous learners. I’m not sure. I’m not saying that targets don’t have any place. Clearly some teachers and some leaders require oversight, I’m not daft, I’ve worked with and been taught by poor teachers but its as if targets have become the entire education policy.
I am convinced that this target culture is having a detrimental effect on mental health. The health of young people and of the adults in 'loco parentis.' If you really want to know more about target culture and why it’s the great white elephant of our time, please watch 'The trap by Adam Curtis. It explains it better than I ever could.
But the targets keep coming and crucially, vitally and disgracefully, the second chances stop. Targets and standards. Cost effectiveness. Rigour. No resitting, access to HE and University costs. A lot. An increasing amount. Access to basic skills and adult courses slashed, costs increased.
This increases the pressure on students. Not only are they being pressured by teacher to succeed in an outdated, outmoded system that only tests a small proportion of their human potential, they are also clearly and economically told 'If you don’t get it right now - you don’t get a second chance'
In my life I’ve met many people, from being 15 in Wigan with mates who were cleverer than me but never went to college, to going to University and sharing a house with an older bloke who left school at 16 with one GCSE and won an award for the quality of his degree work and was fighting off offers from the university to stay and become an academic and all that, to the kids who are brilliant, witty, incisive, who understand stuff in an instant but can’t write an essay, to the managers and colleagues I’ve had who’ve told me they failed first time round who have convinced me that branding people for life by their achievements at 16/18/21 is a failed endeavour.
That no amount of hot air, pressure, investment or pedagogy is going to make EVERY CHILD SUCCEED AT THE SAME TIME. None.
I try hard, I try very hard. Some of my colleagues try so hard I think they’ll burn out, some of them have and yet our kids drop out, pick wrong courses and even occasionally fail. We do our best.
The girl I taught in Stoke, who was utterly wonderful who I couldn’t believe had joined the college 4 years ago without a single GCSE and was now doing a foundation degree. What happens to her life if there’s no second chance, no access to adult education, no stigma about not getting it right first time? Does she have to scrabble around trying to find a course and if she’s lucky pay through the nose just to make up for suffering debilitating eating disorder which nearly *killed* her? Did her teacher 'not care?' - or is the truth that in this case and many, many others, she just wasn’t in the right place at that precise point.
There is no panacea, no world in which every teacher is the perfect teacher and every child overcomes the barrier. All that is a useful thing to aim for, to try to achieve, to want, an aspiration. But when that becomes the only hope or option, lest kids get frozen out the system and aren’t on 'top form' at exam time because of a broken heart, or the death of a parent, or an eating disorder, or just not getting it right there and then or misreading a question or being a bit immature or getting into drugs or being a carer or having to work too much or whatever else we are in a situation where the education system is letting these kids down. Not the teachers there then and now but the system which should, could and must be there for them when they are right and ready.
There is no excuse for not trying for kids in the now. None. That’s a million miles away from my point. This isn’t defeatist rhetoric saying teaching isn’t important, of course it is but if want a real effective education system it has to be a life long thing.
Which is why, Corbyn’s promise to restore universally free education to all should be being rejoiced and praised to the high heavens by people who care about learning and the prospects of young people. A society worth anything would give people opportunities. Progress, culture, technology requires risk, a by-product of risk is failure. Only an education system that has a safety net for failure can ever really produce the country where the population meets its potential. A system where blanket targets reduce kids to statistics being coached desperately to pass exams for the sake of passing exams that have no meaning other than labelling 'success/failure' and that further to that, seems to be gluing those labels ever more securely, making it harder and harder to remove or replace them will only ever produce an insecure, uncertain and unhealthy population. This much Corbyn gets. No matter if he’s scruffy or cantankerous or too laid back or not as witty as Dave or as 'strikingly leader-like' as Teresa, he actually gets the fact that education really, really, really matters and you can’t just shout 'do it better! ofsted! standards standards standards, league tables' - that education is about EVERYONE, not just schools.
Life is education far more than school. That should be only one bit of it. School matters, but you are old for a long time. Adult education matters more to working class people and minorities than it does to people who are middle class. That is a statistical fact. The more culturally alienated you are from the white middle class values of the school system, the more it labels you 'thick' and the more you deserve a second chance. Similarly if you are have a barrier to learning or perhaps discover later in life that you have. Or if you are in a job and the job ceases to exist. Like they do.
It also matters if you, like me and millions of others think you’d like to learn something new to contribute to society, the economy and increase your employability but can’t afford to even think about it.
I don’t think I’ve ever believed in anything as much ever. Sorry for the long post. Just shit matters and that and too much in my head and all and people are trying to make out that not sitting in a train carriage matters and believing a private rail operator is a really trustworthy news source when it comes to rail privatisation and I don’t know about that because I wasn’t there, but I *do* know about this and it matters more than shitty spin and stupid press games and Westminster.

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