What do politicians really know?

Since first thing this morning I have had to listen to news bulletins telling me that the Education Minister(Michael Gove)  intends to make 200 “failing” Primary into “Academies”. In other words they will become independent of local government and directly funded and responsible to him, the Minister.

Since retirement I have worked in so called failing schools. None of them have failed their pupils. All of them have been small, underfunded schools with intakes at age five the majority of whom cannot speak English. This is true of most of their parents.

By the age of  eleven these pupils are supposed to have learned to speak, read and write English to a level sufficient for them to achieve “The expected level” in their SATs. Never mind that in fact about one third to one half of them will not even have reached the age of eleven when they sit these exams. They will also be expected to attain the same level in Maths. Please don’t give me that guff about mathematics being a universal language etc. They still need to be able to communicate in the language of instruction to learn and ask questions when they cannot understand.

Did some one ask, “What is the expected level?” Well, when SATs were first introduced we were told that the average level for an eleven year old was set at Level 4. Not many years later that had morphed into “The expected level”. As I recall there was no announcement to this effect. It just  became so. Mind you I may just have been too involved in the task of teaching my pupils to have noticed any announcement.

So here we have it. The Expected Level is the average. Until recently that was also true of science but it seems that that has now been dropped as an SAT subject…and no doubt it will be sliding down the curriculum as well. Thus will have been removed another area which might serve to excite children about learning. If not removed, devalued.

Back to these underfunded and supposedly failing Primary Schools. Which ignorant politician and /or pundit says these schools are failing? Oh yes, I have spoken to head teachers who say that the reality is that the inpectorate say they are failing and thus more pressure has to be put on teachers and children to “improve”. “That is the reality”. But these schools are  so often not failing.

The pupils leave them being able to speak, read and write English and do maths to a certain level…. maybe they need to achieve a higher level but they do have a foundation from which they can move forward…having started at rock bottom. They have achieved this in spite of lack of support at home and lack of funding for their school. They have progressed in classes that are too large even at 30 children and with the assiduous care and attention of their teachers and their (all too few) assistants who are all under inordinate psychological, emotional, physical and financial pressure.

I would like to challenge Gove and his staff and advisers to come down out of their privileged ivory towers, roll up their sleeves and get in there and teach in some of our so called failing Primary schools. Not just for a day, a week, a month even but for at least a term. Teach a  class of  30 reception children, do the paper work put up with the constant “advice” from inspectors and the pressure from over pressured head teachers. See if you can turn around a so called failing school.

By the way Gove, don’t turn and bleat at me that you haven’t been trained for it. Neither have or were any of the great teachers I have known. We all learned on the job. I was still learning when I retired after 37 years in front of classes.

Actually, I’m still learning. I’m learning more and more just how undervalued my colleagues and I and our charges are and have always been as far as the politicians and experts are concerned.

Oh Yes,. I am angry.


7 Responses to “What do politicians really know?”

  1. Rummuser Says:

    Typical political move. Shove from the frying pan into the fire.

    What intrigues me however is your comment on the children and their parents not being able to manage the English language.

    What are they doing in England?

    • magpie11 Says:

      Britain, specifically England, is the object for many immigrants. Since the demise of the Empire we have received immigrants from many countries. Many of those immigrants have never learned to speak English before they came here. In addition we have new waves of immigrants from other countries coming here as is their “right” enshrined in European and other treaties.

      It’s as simple as that.

      These people are often housed in areas where the social housing is poor…by law the children have to attend school. Problem for the school

      That simplifies the problem too much really.

  2. Grannymar Says:

    You, Magpie, having spent a lifetime in Education have forgotten more that the politicians ever knew.

  3. Looney Says:

    In my neck of California, we are no strangers to kids not knowing English when they start school. In my area it is invariably Chinese or an Indian dialect that the kids knew first. (My kids included since I was traveling all the time when they were young.) Thus, we have the fact that the best performing and the worst performing schools all feature non-English speaking immigrants struggling to learn the new culture and language. For historical reasons, my local school (California’s top performing public high school) also happens to have significantly lower per student funding than all the surrounding districts.

    I wouldn’t want to make light of the difficulty Magpie is going through, but it seems to me that there are other factors involved that matter far more to the outcome than the school funding levels.

  4. Ursula Says:

    Yes, you are clearly angry. Anger propels people into action. Which is good. Wish I were angry all the time instead of just taking in the world as a stage.

    Being a ‘foreigner’ even after nearly 30 years in the UK, I am not quite sure what the problem is with regards to learning another lingo. You are thrown in at the deep end. So you learn. And children learn fast. You, Magpie, hinted at it, and Looney most certainly did: There are forces other than ‘school funding’ which keep children behind. As regards to ‘immigrants’ I remember when Germany had “Gastarbeiter” – Guest labour. My god, the very word. Never mind. Different subject. Mainly Turkish. The parents kept themselves to themselves. The children mixed with others: In the parks, on the street, in school. What happens? In zero time? The children speak the local lingo. Which at best makes them bilingual, at worst heaps scorn of their parents on them. In Germany, now a couple of generations down the line, the young Turkish are not “Gastarbeiter” any longer, they are German with passports to prove it, albeit with their own heritage (one which we all should respect in others – you can’t help it; it’s part of you wherever you end up). As an aside: Apparently few will go back to the motherland – not even on holiday. Which, for reasons not clear to me, I find amusing – and sad.

    Very interesting subject, Magpie. Egged on by you just remembered that there weren’t any “Gastarbeiter Kinder” at any of our three local grammar schools when I was there (70s). But then that was the first wave. Bet it’s different now. Will enquire (there are a few teachers in the close and wider family) and let you know.

    I love London. Not least for London being truly multicultural. I also believe London, the hub, different to the rest of the UK. I drive through London taking unknown turns; sometimes I find myself in parts I think I am transported into another country. I suppose what, in a friendly way, may be termed “Ghettos”. Not imposed on immigrants by the British – immigrants imposing it on themselves. Like likes like. So I become a tourist in my “own” country. The colours, the vibrancy, the LINGO – back in the Empire, India for example. Here at the coast it’s more sedate. However, the Polish seem to have taken a shine to Southampton. Can’t believe it. Love it. Comforting for me since Germans and Polish share so much. Not least our fondness of Apfelmus. And like Germans Polish are easy. Approachable, friendly. I moved here last October. Furniture still in storage. Brilliant. Knocked at – to my then unknown – neighbour’s door in hope to borrow a small saucepan to boil an egg. Neighbour turns out Polish – albeit with a chocolate baby. Not only did I have a saucepan immediately: I had a chair, a new friend, a chat. The lot. It was lovely. Literally like being home. I digress.

    Southampton: The Polish will talk Polish amongst themselves but watch their children on our local playground: Word perfect English! Sorry, Magpie, have got lost now as to your initial subject.

    I myself have worked in schools helping “special needs children”. Both in class and admin. Primary and secondary (not for long I have to say, a year or so – only to fit in briefly with my son’s school hours). I do know what you are talking about – to a small extent.

    As to SATs: Well, that system stinks to high heaven. The time SATs takes a school’s attention, not least making the individual teacher anxious, would most certainly be better spent on doing the job they were employed to do: TEACH.

    Yesterday I listened to, I think it was “Question Time” on Radio 4, and the subject of proposed strikes came up. Well, what do you know? Teachers are supposed to be “dedicated” to their CALLING. NOT go on strike! Quite.


  5. Rummuser Says:

    Magpie, I am sorry if I sounded naive. My question really is more serious than it would appear at first hand. I am aware of the problem as has been explained by you. My query however, is to address the root cause of the problem. In my opinion, it is obligatory on the part of immigrants to learn the local language and culture and adapt as quickly as possible to merge within the community. This is a problem that India sees plenty of, with multilingual states and extensive internal migration for economic reasons. No special concessions are given, nor are they expected when an outsider comes into a linguistically different state. S/he simply has to learn it and adapt if the reason for the migration has to result in a satisfactory outcome. If I was to emigrate to England, I must be prepared to learn English and to be English or, if you prefer, British, though visually, I may stick out like a sore thumb.

  6. magpie11 Says:

    The problem is the way that schools are measured in this country… This has lead to a narrowing of the curriculum…more of that perhaps at another time.
    The underfunding is a problem in that schools are subject to funding by formula. This means that schools with single form/class entry cannot avail themselves of economies of scale. Thus staffing ratios are not as good. The type of child I was writing about needs not only to have the disadvantage of language deprivation (and they will learn playground English from other children and the curriculum is not written in that dialect) but they will suffer from poverty.
    The latest paper I heard about on the news after writing the above points out that poverty is a major factor in underachievement…

    Ramana is not a poor illiterate peasant from the Punjab (say)…the real picture here is that there are many who do not bother to learn more than the rudiments of English…..

    For the primary schools that i was referring to there is no quarter given by the politicians..they are expected to reproduce the same results (numerically) as those produced by state schools in affluent middle class areas.

    The land of nod calls as I have to be in my old school early in order to sort out the theatre lights for production of Anthony and Cleopatra. Yes you read correctly….this is a shortened version with music…. oldest actor? Eleven years!
    Octavia is really very good…. needs to strengthen her voice.

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