Wasting talent and potential

Jenny Russell of the Guardian writes that Gordon Brown, set to become Great Britain’s next Prime Minister on June 27, is right to be worried about «box-ticking education.»

She suggests that the target-driven approach of New Labour is the reason why the British education system fails more than 150.000 school students every year, who leave primary school without understanding even the basics of numeracy.

«The fact that so many pupils aren’t grasping maths is just one symptom of a much deeper problem. There’s a great deal of determined teaching going on in schools, but much less learning. The way lessons are constructed leaves huge numbers of children baffled, disengaged, bored or angry. […] Education is not about discovery, but the dutiful repetition of precisely what you have been told.»

Russel goes on to observe that

«the problems in schools stem from the conveyor-belt attitude to education. The curriculum and the literacy and numeracy strategies have been developed in the belief that children can be stuffed with a little more information every day, and that this amounts to education.»

She describes that

«lessons are structured so rigidly that teachers must move on to the next topic, regardless of whether it’s been understood. An experienced primary teacher has a despairing analogy for what she feels forced into. “It’s as if a train is leaving the station at the end of every lesson, and every time some of the children are being left behind.”»

According to Russell, the number of NEETS — «teenagers not in education or training» — has not really changed despite millions the government has poured into education:

«[…] there’s been no improvement in literacy or numeracy scores for several years, and half of all children are still leaving school at 16 with no worthwhile qualifications. Truancy has not fallen.»

Russel quotes Geoff Mulgan, a former head of the policy unit at No 10, who says that «schools aren’t developing the abilities people need for their lives or for their work.» She concludes that

«what’s needed is an honest evaluation of the limitations of our target-driven, exam-dominated, box-ticking system, and the development of a much more productive model.»

In a letter to the editor, Professor Michael Bassey from Nottinghamshire observes that

«it is the whole educational experience, not just numeracy, that should concern him [Gordon Brown]. Our young people need much more than the government’s obsession with numeracy and literacy: they also need to learn to be supportive of each other and able to work cooperatively; to develop their intelligence, creativity and other talents to their full potential; to be immersed in the culture of our time and to become proficient in branches of knowledge according to their aptitude and interests; to be adventurous and self-confident; to understand themselves and through all this to be joyful.»

The professor goes on to say:

«This kind of preparation for the future can only come from the humanity, insights, values, culture, empathy and hard work of dedicated teachers working in schools that are free to think about the future, make their own assessments of pupils’ needs and construct their curricula accordingly. If even half the money spent on assessment and inspection instead went on increasing the numbers of teachers and improving the resources of the more challenging schools, so much would be achieved. Accountability should be local, not pseudo-national.»

And he concludes that

«the next education act should free all schools from government interference, release the creativity and insights of their teachers and foster the all-round development of young people.»

Well said, Professor. Thank you.