Rage Against The Machine


Despite the misleading title of this post, I will not be discussing Killing In The Name Of... or my favourite Chinese delicacy (Chop Suey). Rather, in the style of Greg James from BBC Radio 1, who has pioneered a brilliant feature for a number of years where listeners can call an answer machine and rage against something that grinds their gears, I will be raging against the machine of education and all its guises and disguises. There is an infographic (you guys know me by now!) to accompany this.


The reality is: the Education behemoth is broken. I would argue this isn't beyond repair but for some of the reasons I will mention below, it is going to take some fixing. However, I am going against the grain of everything I teach my students in simply stating problems, venting so to speak, without suggesting possible solutions. That is for another time or perhaps a comments thread. Here goes...

1. Every major key stage has had an overhaul of a curriculum and more stuff to teach. Primary, secondary, tertiary, early years, graduate, postgraduate - successive governments and Education 'ministers' (how ironic that they are called such!) have shaken it all up in the past three years (and, I hasten to add, with little input from the teachers on the ground but being 'advised' by 'experts' from thinktanks and wherever else they could drag sympathetic academics).

2. The UK is lagging behind leading countries and has made little progress in rankings. Now, if our children are succeeding, then the changes and many of the other elements in this post become redundant. However, according to the latest Pisa rankings, we are leaning (pun well and truly intended) the wrong way: The UK is behind top performers such as Singapore and Finland, but also trails Vietnam, Poland and Estonia.The OECD's education director, Andreas Schleicher, describes the UK's results as "flat in a changing world". In maths, the UK is ranked 27th, slipping down a place from three years ago, the lowest since it began participating in the Pisa tests in 2000. In reading, the UK is ranked 22nd, up from 23rd, having fallen out of the top 20 in 2006. The UK's most successful subject is science, up from 21st to 15th place - the highest placing since 2006, although the test score has declined.

3. The arts, technology, sports, Religious Studies, key skills are all deemed less important than 'core' subjects. This issue is particularly poignant for me as a teacher of one of these subjects but also as the father of two girls who love all these 'unimportant' subjects. Since when did STEAM or languages or EBacc ever become the only things that matter in education? I guarantee that in 50 years time, there will be a national crisis of artists and musicians and dancers and ethicists because we haven't placed significance (or even lipservice, nevermind, parity) on their development in our country.


4. Headteachers are now more like CEOs and have very little to do with the classroom practice. How many SLT meetings discuss the ineffective marking and inadequate teaching when those discussing it are so far from the chalkface that they have forgotten what it's like to teach 200 children or mark three class-sets of books or plan 22 lessons per week? It frustrates me to think that headTEACHERS are becoming Principals (with few principles) and there is more focus on GDPR, pension contributions and health & safety compliance than how students are doing in their schools.

5. OfSTED are the main motivating factor in school decision making. This is crazy. Just saying. The constant fear of "Will we get the call today?" drives schools to remain 'OfSTED-ready' at all times. Rather than focusing on the children we have been entrusted, we focus on inspectors and frameworks and observations and judgements and scrutiny. It's all wrong. I know there is a time and place for accountability and responsibility but this culture of fear and the dreaded 'requires improvement' or worse is laughable.

6. League tables produce competition where there should be collaboration. Schools next door to each other offer the same subjects and have classes that are half-full, cupboards that are half-stocked and teachers that are half-dead. We need to work together to create schools and workplaces and communities that thrive. Competition can be healthy but when it comes to school league tables, it feels like we 'tweak' the data we can to get the results we want, all the while, jeopardising the futures of those whom we cannot afford to fail.


7. Administration tasks are being given back to teachers as there isn't the amount of support staff. Now, there is nothing wrong with doing a bit of your own paperwork; in fact, I think teachers got away with passing the buck in years gone by. However, we cannot asset-strip our schools of support, administrative and welfare staff and expect standards to remain static.

8. Pay has been frozen and staff are expected to take responsibility without pay to 'prove themselves'. I have already acknowledged that real-term budgets have reduced significantly in the last few years for a number of reasons. However, it is this expectation that aspiring and enthusiastic staff should be encouraged to take on responsibility without adequate remuneration that gets my goat. Pay a man (or woman) his (or her) worth and stop taking teachers for a ride!

9. There simply aren't enough textbooks/computers/whatever to be functional. I am passionate about getting the right technology devices into the hands of students and teachers but the harsh reality is that schools are using outdated textbooks, have been duped into purchasing unnecessary software and hardware 'solutions' and everyone is losing out. Let's rethink budget allocation eh?


10. The average teacher works 54 hours per work (and I reckon that is a conservative estimate). I have no words other than: this needs to change. That is all.

11. Lessons have become about teaching to the test and passing exams. When did a set of mind-numbing, memory-testing, handwritten, time-constrained booklets define a child's worth in the universe? How did we become a world which sees people as test scores, percentages and in rank order? Because education isn't about learning anymore but measuring, we have generated a system whereby we deliver material (once called 'teaching') to guide students as to 'what will be on the exam' or to 'follow this structure to get full marks'.

12. Data has become superfluous and analysis is thus pointless and ineffective. Six data sets a year (with the associated marking and input) means that teachers barely have time to realise where students are, nevermind do anything about helping them move towards any meaningful goals. By the time we have analysed the trends and micro-groups and identified the key marginals, we are back to marking ready for the next deadline. It's a never-ending cycle of overwork and under-effectiveness.


So there it is, rant over. Phew. Now back to pretending there are no problems in education. Repeat after me, "Mr Gove was right. Mr Gove was right..."

#budgets #leadership #curriculum #rant #infographic #ofsted #administration #leaguetables #exams #testing

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