January 7, 2013 by Sian Rowland
With the new term starting today I thought I’d share my favourite myths about education. if you have any more you’d like to share, please add a comment, the more the merrier!
Unless you were brought up by wolves in a forest somewhere, everyone has experienced going through the education system in some form. And that qualifies absolutely everyone- often quite verbosely- to have an opinion on it. The state system’s dreadful, the private system’s elitist, academies are a flash in the pan, GCSEs are too easy, teenagers are feral, teachers should be fined for illiteracy/ be more like the Japanese/ teach cooking/ teach morality/ beat children/ be gay friendly/ smell of socks. Take your pick from that lot: they’re all from newspaper headlines in 2012. I could fill several pages with more headlines.
It can be tricky working in a system where you feel the need to explain yourself and your motives without getting defensive all the time. Conversations at network meetings or parties end up with the new person saying something like, ‘of course I read in the paper that teachers don’t manage behaviour any more do they?’ at which point if I had any sense I’d go, ‘yeah can’t be bothered if I’m honest, we just let them run wild. So what do you do?’ but I used to launch into a long exposition on theory, technique and non-negotiable sanctions until they beg for mercy.
I also get, ‘my six year old child has a reading age of thirty-five but is still on level 3, vermillion band sub section 4.15 code Z books. Do you think s/he should move up to burnt sienna code J?’ and thus I get sucked into a conversation about a child I’ve never met and sure as eggs is eggs within seconds we’ve somehow segued into a detailed treatise on their toilet and or sleeping habits. Sorry, parents. If you meet us out of school, feel free to share one or two lively anecdotes about your offspring but then change the subject. We’re off duty.
So here are my top myths of education and teaching.
1) The state schools system is failing.
There is plenty wrong with the state school system. It’s a system for a start. It deals with human beings teaching other human beings and all the baggage and fallout that brings but I don’t believe it’s broken. I’ve worked in the state system all my career and I’ve worked with teachers passionate about learning and pupils eager to learn. I’ve seen children with problems and the sort of home lives that would make your eyes water and I’ve seen that school is the only point of stability in their lives. I’ve seen children sob on the last day of term because they don’t want to be at home for the holidays. The state system has to deal with all comers and often makes a good fist of it. By the way, I went to school in the independent sector and it’s not all carpe diem and O captain! My captain! there either. But you know what would help things? Politicians with no clue about education or how children learn not sticking their oar in every two seconds and changing how schools operate based on ‘well it didn’t do me any harm’ and, ‘ooh you know what we haven’t tried this week? Aramaic lessons for teens and knife throwing for six year olds (or should that be the other way round?)
2) Local authorities run schools.
Local authorities are dark, looming monsters that wait outside school gates ready to shut down any creative, imaginative and successful practice and handcuff head teachers who who have the temerity to try and improve their schools. The only way to liberate schools from the merciless, evil grip of the local authority is to become an academy or a free school. For a start, most people at local authority level have been made redundant (I should know) and those that are left are too frightened to interfere. They don’t have the time or the inclination. LA officers were- and still are where they exist- there to support and advise schools, not to handcuff them and hold them back. I used to work across three local authorities and although the relationship between school and LA was different in each borough, if a head teacher didn’t particularly want to do something the LA wanted them to, they didn’t. LAs do what the government tells them to do.
3) Teachers rock up to work at 9am.
Back in the 90s the brilliant TV programme Teachers started each week with a clip of Andrew Lincoln cycling into school at the same time as his students. Luckily they didn’t seem to have the daily early morning briefing or the classroom to set up. I used to get to school at 7.45 and this was really late. My colleagues had been there since 7. Ah, but you all knock off at 3.30, you say. We usually rolled out of there between six and seven. Most weeks I was at school til 10.30pm on more than one night for governors meeting/ sub committees/ school events. See Bad Education (BBC3) and Gates (Sky1) for further reinforcement of this one.
4) Teachers teach because they can’t do anything else.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this one. There’s always the party wag who thinks it’s hilarious to gurn, ‘you know what they say? Those that can do, those that can’t teach!’ Cue peels of laughter. I was the sort of kid that lined up my soft toys and gave them hard spellings and tables to learn and was always desperate to be let loose on a real classroom. Perhaps I lacked imagination but I always wanted to be a teacher first before anything else. I used to get really annoyed by this one but then Armstrong and Miller came up with a series of spoof tv ads (Why not be a teacher?) that did it so much better.
5) Long holidays are a perk of the job
Another favourite. ‘You only went into teaching for the long holidays didn’t you?’ says party wag (remind me not to go to parties any more). Not a myth really. Of course teachers work during the holidays too and it’s bloody expensive to get away but yes there are twelve weeks holiday each year. Bliss. And if you fancy a go at the job and want long holidays too, go right ahead. What’s stopping you?