Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Here We Go Again...

Reported in the Daily Telegraph, among other places, is "news" that the British Government is going to crack down on weak teachers... Ho, hum... colour me unimpressed. The British Government is far too quick to tinker around with the educational system and then blames the teachers for the ills of society... Quite frankly, I'm getting mightily cheesed off with it.

I have been teaching for about nine years. The National Curriculum in Science has been changed several times over that period, as have the Key Stage 3 SATs - KS3 is the period from 11 to 14 years, the first three years at Secondary School. The curriculum has changed so much that, in my current school, we have four different sets of textbooks in the department published in the last decade (don't even get me started on books published before that date!) Schools have learned not to throw stuff like textbooks away in case some bright spark in the Department for Education decides to start all over again...

GCSE's had just started a new specification when I started teaching: now they have an even newer one: Twenty-First Century Science. My views on this specification have been posted here before. There is very little Science: put it this way, when I showed the GCSE exam paper from last year to parents at the recent Parents' Evening, I could see their eyes widen with shock as they realised that, without having studied any of the syllabus, they could confidently answer the questions off the top of their heads. To think that, when I started teacher training, I was concerned that the Science specifications would have changed drastically since the time I took the exams myself...

I also found an old GCE 'O' level textbook in a cupboard at work. The information was at a higher level than is now required for the 'A' level...

The 'A' level specifications have changed, with two major changes in the decade, and a new specification for all subjects coming in next September. The Universities claim that they have so many Grade A candidates that it is difficult to identify the really academically talented students - and so they need to introduce an A* grade.

Despite all these changes (don't bother, I know what you're about to say!) teachers are becoming much better at delivering the curriculum (according to Government ministers at exam time) and students are working much harder, so the pass rate is increasing year on year, and the percentage of Grade As is doing likewise.

However, it would appear that many of these students are totally unable to string a coherent sentence together, literacy levels are falling and basic numeracy leaves much to be desired. That is the view of many employers, who lament the appalling lack of skills among school leavers and university graduates.

So it must be the fault of the teachers. Ed Balls, the Schools' Secretary, suggests that the remedy must be in increasing the qualifications of teachers: all new teachers will now be expected to gain Masters-level qualifications. Oh, I'm sorry... I thought that most teachers already did that... it's called a PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education) with QTS (Qualified Teacher Status.) As the name suggests, you have to be a graduate in order to study for a PGCE, and your competance in the classroom is assessed before you can gain QTS accreditation. And the reason for PGCEs? Well, you see, otherwise the qualifications were just academic, and knowledge of a subject doesn't mean you can teach it... and so the Government insisted that the Teacher Training courses had more hands-on experience... and less college-based study...

Meanwhile, it has been suggested that there are about 17,000 bad teachers in England. They are to be weeded out. Their inability to control classes is damaging the education of thousands of children.

Ed Balls declared that, "Our aim is to make this country the best place in the world for our children and young people to grow up." Well, sorry. But piddling around with the curriculum and demoralising teachers isn't the way to do it. Tackling poor housing, unemployment, poor health-care, societal breakdown, crime, drug abuse, broken homes and educational standards might achieve it. But of course, that would mean admitting that all the other policies had failed...

11 comments:

the owl of the remove said...

Check out my blog, Mac, for an intriguing rumour that is getting a lot of clerical attention over here - it may be very interesting if true!

Andrew said...

The same trend can be seen in Malaysian schools. The exams seem to be getting easier and when the passes and number of straight A students saturate, they go and change the exam name and the cycle starts again.

Although in comparison to the rest of the world, Malaysia and Singapore do have very high standards of mathematics and science.

gemoftheocean said...

Fascinating round up of the educational schema and what's been going on over there. I have always found it interesting to compare national cirrucula among countries. I thought the old UK system had a lot of merits. I was surprised (though I should be, given I've been following the Teleghraph's bitching off and on) when you said that the current "A" level doesn't even meet the former "O" level. Your students seem OVER tested with external exams, and in some perverse ways the tougher schools academically get penalized for going with the International Baccalaureate exam. Somewhere around 14-15 years ago, "they" "renormed" the SAT Verbal and Math tests by a good 80 odd points. Each test was graded between 200 points (you signed your name) to 800 points (you got all answers right) back in 1960 the average was 500. For verbal SAT scores the scores had slipped into the low 400 range. And the math scores below 500 as well to around 470-480 - and this was for non-minority kids who didn't have an excuse for substandard $$$s or facilities or teachers.

Fr Ray Blake said...

"Ed Balls declared that, "Our aim is to make this country the best place in the world for our children and young people to grow up.""

So, we might expect the Government to reverse its policies which seem to be aimed at destroying the family, and make children appear to be an unwanted burden on society. I think that means changing practically everything they have done in the past decade!

WhiteStoneNameSeeker said...

There was a time-when I did my O'levels- that Britain could claim one of the highest educational standards in the world. We prided ourselves on being oh so much better than America. That just isn't the case now.
I was so appalled at the science GCSE standard that I am using and American curriculum with my 13yr old daughter.

Ed Balls is talking...umm...twaddle. This Govt has done so much to undermine the rights of children and parents. It has now decided that the Pill with all it's lovely side effects of depression, infertility, weight gain and cancer should be offered over the counter to under 16s. Ah, yes-really making it better.

ignorant redneck said...

I am poorly educated. I have a HighSchool Diploma, and my SAT was 1200 in '77.

Before I decided to be a near-do-well retiree,I managed a deli. My staff were all students at a major and well regarded University.

In 1999, they couldn't make change. I literally taught them how to figure out what waas due on purchase of say, 5.27 ppaid for with a ten. They thought that we should buy a new register that would tell them.

antonia said...

Typical useless government!

We have the same exasperation in medicine with the government; they just mess things up more and more.

Chris does physics, and he's said many times that they've had to change the undergradute physics curriculum here at our university quite a lot over the last few years because the new students coming in know less and less physics becuase of the appaling physics curriculum taught at A-Levels.

WhiteStoneNameSeeker said...

I've written about this linking to you on my blogs

gemoftheocean said...

IR: Get a 10 and the price was $5.27? Every pre-computerized cash register jockey was taught the trick (or should have been taught the trick of Adding TO to dollar amount given.) I.E. the customer gets back 3 pennies, 2 dimes, two quarters (to make it to 6 bucks) then 4 extra buck to make it to the 10. :-D

I'd hate to be reliant on anyone trying to do mental subtraction all day. I have to say if you really want to watch someone melt down (if under a certain age) Hand a young whippersnapper the 10 -- let them punch it up on the computerized cash register, then say..."oh, and here's 2 cents." Older cashiers thank you for making it easier, younger ones whimper for mommy.

Karen

Irritated Student said...

I worked damn hard for my grades and I hate it when I'm told that the exams I just sat are 10 times easier than they were 'when I was a lad/lass.'

It's all we got, so just get used to it!

Mac McLernon said...

I am not, in any way, implying that students are not working hard. If anything, I estimate that they are under far more pressure than back in my day... the constant testing regime, and the expectation that students will be working to earn money at weekends and evenings prove that. But I'm sorry: the depth of knowledge is just not there any more.

Students now can resit modules over and over again... practice makes perfect, so obviously that makes it "easier" but the pressure is very much higher... the number of students who crack under pressure demonstrate this.

Students today are suffering under the inadequate curriculum and testing regime. General interest has gone: we have to "teach to the test" and there is no time to explore a side-line which fascinates student or teacher.

But I never said that students did not work hard. It just isn't true. They are, however, less well-read, less able to sustain a line of reasoning, and unable to understand simple logic, basically because their education is all about exams!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...