Wednesday, 5 December 2007

So much for 'education, education, education'

According to the OECD, the educational attainment of Britain's 15 year olds is dropping down the world rankings. This does not bode well for the future.

I think the problem is deeper than that envisaged by David Laws or Michael Gove, though. The problem is not that of the 'educational establishment', or teachers, or schools, or investment, per se. I don't actually think we would be ranked quite so lowly were that the case.

The problem is society. We have a culture in which it is too easy not to work hard: I don't just mean the chav drop outs; I mean the middle class kids who cruise through dumbed-down exam after dumbed-down exam until they run into the brick wall of life in the real world. I mean the aspirations of many teenage girls to become single mothers in order to get council houses. And that is true.

And it is not always illogical. With property prices as they are; someone with modest earning potential knows that it is next-to-impossible for them to aspire to home ownership, unless... you know the script. Every time one of the tabloids rants about the scrounging family with 20 kids who have moved into a mansion converted out of six council houses, all at the taxpayers' expense, they are getting the wrong targets. The problem is much deeper and more complex. Far from being feckless parasites, these people are pursuing enlightened self-interest. They understand the workings of the market place and they make the right choices for them.

All of which is not conducive to education. Kids turn up at school knowing all of their rights and none of the associated responsibilities. "I'll get you done for that!" is hurled at teachers as a threat. Parents who do not notice when their little darlings post pornography of themselves on social networking sites will be the first to ring up and complain when a 'paedo' (who could be anyone from the bus driver to a concerned head teacher) so much as looks at them.

The kids who turn up without pens and pencils; the kids who never do homework and whose parents do not respond when letters are sent home; the alcohol and drug abuse; the sexual promiscuity; the kids who cannot be excluded because head teachers do not want to admit they have problems in their school or because they are not allowed to by the local authority or who are pressured by Government targets to conceal problems.

The knowledge that Waynes and Waynettas get more money on the dole than Asian sweatshop workers earn for 80 hour weeks so that we can buy consumer goods ever more cheaply.

The knowledge that the Nanny State ensures there is always a 'second chance' and a third, fourth, fifth...

The knowledge that when pupils fail exams, it is teachers who are blamed by kids, by parents, by head teachers, by local authorities, by Government. So they coach kids to pass national assessments, and to hell with trying to turn out balanced citizens.

The parents who never come to parent evenings; the fundraising events which fall flat because of lack of support because in the Nanny State the state should provide everything.

The broken homes where kids don't know who their dad is; or have six half-siblings all by different fathers.

The kids who feel they have a right to text their friends or listen to their Ipods during lessons.

The kids who put vile videos on Youtube, showing teachers being abused.

The teachers whose careers are ruined because of pupils' lies.

The schools which employ a dozen translators for parents' nights, because of parents who do not bother to learn English and cannot communicate with teachers or their own kids.

I could go on. The list is endless. This is why education is failing in this country - not because of the education system, but because this country doesn't function any more. And politicians don't have the balls to say it, because there aren't any votes in it. All that works, politically, is to throw more billions at the problem to pretend it isn't there any more.

The Emperor has no clothes. Someone needs to say it.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Most Inspiring Political Figure of 2007

Iain Dale's Diary alerts Didactophobe to the existence of the above award, being organised by Channel 4.

There are some real numpties among them. One name, however, is very curious: Aishah Azmi. According to the citation, she raised "a voice against discrimination" and "does not seem to be forcing her views on anybody". It is signed by someone called 'Sarah'.

I understood that Aishah Azmi wore her veil because of religious reasons: to find it categorised as a political act seems rather curious. In other parts of the world, Muslim women are raped, beaten and murdered if they dare not to wear the veil.

If you want to find out about Muslim women and discrimination, try Shiva Mahbobi's site. If you want to see how sympathetic this country's liberals are, you can see Shiva and her friend Reza Moradi being threatened and assaulted by left wing scum for daring to interrupt Comrade Benn. Unless they have the chance to attack Christians, Jews, capitalism, the UK, US or the West in general, lefties couldn't care less about human rights.

Back to Aishah: she discriminated against her male colleagues by refusing to remove her veil. As a male teacher, I would certainly object to a colleague treating me as an inferior being who is not worthy to look at them. How are the children supposed to communicate with someone who dresses like Darth Vader?

In my opinion, no one should be allowed to wander around in public with their face completely covered. You have no way of telling if they are male or female, friend or foe.

Bring back Latin

I am fascinated by this article from the Evening Standard concerning the resurgence of Latin in London schools.

Latin can make an outstanding contribution, not just to language ability but also for children's general thinking and reasoning skills. In one Scottish school that I am aware of, Latin was ditched in S1/2 (Years 8/9 for my English readers) and replaced by extra ICT classes. At first glance, ICT may seem to represent 21st Century technology and 'the way to go' - in practice, I am highly dubious as to the efficacy of kids fiddling around with computers as a discrete subject. I have considerably better ICT skills than the vast majority of pupils in any school where I have taught; yet my skills are self-taught.

A friend who is a Latin teacher made the point that anyone who is serious about taking their ICT skills to a high level would actually be better learning Latin - by the time you have got your head around your vocative cases and your ablative absolutes, you will have covered not only every grammatical construct that you will ever encounter in any other language you study, but also have the sort of analytical and reasoning skills that are invaluable to a whole range of careers, eg computer programming.

So, there is my solution. When I am a head teacher, ICT as a discrete subject in S1/2 gets binned and it is 'welcome back' to Latin. With a move to a 33 period week, maybe we don't actually need to bin anything, come to think of it. Just give Latin one of the 33 periods.

Wot, no Wendy?

I had hoped that Wendy Alexander's election agent Terry Kelly would illuminate us about her recent financial controversies. Not even a snippet, though. The pair of them are pictured together here, and a lovely pair they make. Back on 17 August, Terry was keen to show his support for her.

I must say, his forecast that Wendy will become First Minister of Scotland now looks distinctly unlikely.

Going down, going down, going down (2)

Tip for would-be fraudsters: Keep a low profile. Being elected your local mayor; getting chauffeured around and appearing at public events whilst claiming disability benefit is going to arouse the suspicions of the doziest social security fraud investigator.

This advice was not heeded, unfortunately, by ex-Labour councillor John Walker and his wife, who are both starting prison terms. As Billy Connolly might have put it, Mr Walker looks as though he is no stranger to a fish supper and a few months of porridge might be just what he needs. One suspects that his swollen arms, legs and head, not to mention his 'extreme pain and discomfort' when walking might be to do with him being a fat lump.

Update: Apparently, they were using the money to pay for their daughter to attend a private school - and what socialist wouldn't?

Monday, 3 December 2007

Beyond a joke

I had intended this to be a satirical post on the state of education. Unfortunately, when I began to research it, I discovered so many facts that are beyond parody I had to completely change my focus.

Apparently, officials from the amateur boxing world want their hideous 'sport' included in the National Curriculum. A spokesman, describes it as 'injustice' - eh? - and had been hoping that it would also be included at GCSE level (I think the Torygraph reporter may be confused about some of the educational terms involved). What the hell would employers or colleges make of a young person who proudly displays his (or her - once it's there, you can't discriminate) GCSE in boxing?

What school and which local authority would take the risk of lawsuits after a child got brain damaged from boxing? A colleague of mine from a neighbouring authority has to complete a ten page risk assessment before he can take his chess - yes, chess - team to an away match. Where would you start with a sport whose objective is to inflict brain damage?

According to Sunday's News of the World, Edexcel is planning to have exam scripts marked in India this summer. Didactophobe marks for a major exam board and is absolutely horrified by this prospect - not just because he earns a useful amount each summer from marking exam scripts. All the major boards have either moved, or are moving, to online marking, which means that scripts are scanned and are then marked by teachers sitting at home.

This saves the exam boards a huge amount of money and does have some advantages. However, having marking done overseas is a step too far. Anyone who spends two years teaching a GCSE or A Level course is entitled to presume that their students will either pass the course, or be failed by someone with equal competence and qualification to themselves. Students and parents are also entitled to know that the scripts are being marked by people who are qualified to teach in this country, not by persons unknown thousands of miles away. Many people with experience of Indian call centres will be shocked to think that their child's exam success could depend on the accuracy of foreign markers who may or may not be able to find Britain on a map.

Meanwhile, 40% of English children are failing to reach the appropriate standards in basic skills of reading, writing and maths.

We have a five year old being expelled from primary school after punching a teacher after the child's mother had begged the local authority to provide a place in a special school for them. When will the public learn that social inclusion is about saving money, not about providing opportunities for children. Including children with severe special needs in mainstream schools disrupts the learning of other children, whilst failing to meet the needs of those it is meant to help.

And we have the tragic case of Bob MacKenzie.

If you want to know what is really going on in schools, grab a copy of Frank Chalk's excellent book, It's your time you're wasting or take a look at the comments of former union leader, Alan McKenzie.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

A week is a long time in politics...

It is precisely one week since I posted the question How bent is Labour?, and today one answer is obvious: even more bent than we believed possible last week.

According to the Sunday Post (Jings, Crivvens, Help ma Boab), Gordon Brown 'has put pressure on Wendy Alexander not to quit'. If you are unfamiliar with the Sunday Post, let me assure you that it is not the sort of newspaper to run sensationalist stories. Quite the opposite. It is a quaint and homely organ of DC Thomson, whose 'The Broons' cartoon has provided the inspiration for Private Eye's 'The Broonites'.

If this story is true, then it demonstrates unbelievable moral cowardice on the part of the Prime Minister. He has already shamed the office which he holds by his cynical manipulation of 'the Election that never was'. According to the Sunday Post, Broon believes that if Wendy Alexander falls on her sword, he will be forced to do the decent thing, too. I am beginning to believe that this might just, absolutely counter-intuitively, given the Labour majority, be sufficient to bring down this sleaze-ridden Government sooner than anyone dared hope.

Labour was fortunate to have two politicians in a generation with genuine brilliance: Bliar and Broon. At first, they were surrounded by less talented but pretty able people. Broon is now holding the fort on his own, with absolutely no one with the ability to share the burden. If he goes, New Labour is finished. Perhaps it is already. The dustbin of history awaits.