State education in the UK is frantic.
Frantic. Look at its synonyms: panic-stricken, panic-struck, panicky, beside oneself, at one’s wits’ end, berserk, distraught, overwrought, worked up, agitated, distressed.
It is a description of an emotional state that everyone experiences. Sometimes life, or work, becomes so intense that the frantic feeling is unavoidable. But to have such an extreme word characterising day-to-day life in an education system cannot be a good thing.
I left the state education system a term ago. After 19 years in it, I moved over to the ‘darkside’ – the independent sector. From that new vantage point I could look back and see how frantic I had become responding to the ever more frantic requirements of the system. Since then I’ve had a few interactions with the state system that have confirmed my diagnosis. Some of these interactions have been with former colleagues and some with teachers from the schools my children attend.
I see it in the eyes. They are too wide. Or too sleepy. Or full of tears.
And people have seen the change in me. “You look really well,” and “the weight has gone from your shoulders,” are both comments I have received on more than one occasion in recent weeks.
I think there are a range of reasons for this collective emotional state of ‘frantic’, which I hope to explore over future posts. And if you’re feeling ‘distraught with fear or anxiety’ over our Education system or your role in it, I hope to point to some solutions.
The recent debate about the proposed grammar school expansion is interesting but it’s just another distraction from the real issues that affect education.
These issues are
- the quality and quantity of teachers available to teach.
- The growing emphasis on the performance of schools over the performance of students, therefore increasing the amount of gaming that is in the system and consequently increasing the amount of dishonesty amongst teachers and children.
If grammar schools were to address either of these issues, then they would be a good thing. But the impact of grammar schools would be peripheral and indirect at best.
It’s interesting how three years ago a crisis of a lack of headteachers, was responded to by introducing a new curriculum and how a year ago the crisis in teacher recruitment was met by radical changes in how children are assessed. Then in June the Public Account Committee reported that ministers have no plans to address the recruitment crisis. No. Instead they would like to expand grammar schools.
Two of my children go to a grammar school. They are both thriving. They are thriving because the school is full of great teachers. The great teachers go there because grammar schools find it easier to recruit because they have higher performing students from more aspirational families. And far fewer behaviour problems. However they are still vulnerable to bad teachers. My son had one last year for a few months in his computing lessons and he actually went backwards. It’s the teacher that makes the difference to the child.
I have no problem with grammar schools. But every child in this country deserves great teachers. If we restructure to more grammar schools does that then mean that some children get the best teachers and the rest will just have to get by?
No. We don’t fix these issues by restructuring the school system, it has to be more direct than that and focus on the teachers themselves: what make teachers great? And what keeps them great without burning out?