When we go to work, many of us might expect to be busy, perhaps stressed. We might not always get on with some of our colleagues. But how many of us would put up with being been kicked, punched, spat at, having furniture thrown at us or being told to “**** off!” on a regular basis? We wouldn’t, but that can be the experience of teachers and teaching assistants. If you were picturing rowdy teenagers in a secondary school, all of those incidents took place a in a primary school!
These more extreme cases are not indicative of daily school life in general, but Sir Michael Wilshaw, in his briefing on Ofsted’s 2012/2013 annual report, is right about low-level indiscipline – “background chatter, inattention and horseplay” – but they are a cause for concern for many staff – not a “casual acceptance”.
Teachers also face a barrage of (moving) targets, curriculum changes, league tables – national and international (PISA) – and denigration from politicians, inspectors and the media, in a system driven by tests and results, not by the needs of children. The system incentivises schools to concentrate on those children and subjects that will produce the ‘best’ results.
The “poverty of expectation” and “poor attitudes to learning” that Sir Michael talks of are issues for parents, communities and government and not an attitude of schools.
Positive management of pupil behaviour is essential for learning. However, discipline is not just the responsibility of the school – parents also play a key role, both in promoting good behaviour and in being held to account for their children’s attitudes and outlooks – and most do fulfil that role.
“What are schools to do with those who will not accept the values and expectations of most parents and teachers and who, by their attitude and actions, prejudice the experiences and opportunities of others?
“Even with the most inspired and committed teaching there seem to be some who want none of it, and they are the ones who bring down the levels of achievement in the schools they attend.
“Challenging those attitudes and overcoming that resistance are perhaps the greatest challenges for the education service today, not just in Britain but in all developed countries.”
“What neither schools nor teachers can do much about is the nature of the problem foisted on them by the communities they serve. And it is not the problem the policy gurus and the strategic thinkers in government think it is. “Absence of the desire to learn.”
However, this is not only an issue of irresponsible, uncaring parents. A recent article in The Daily Telegraph: reported that “Busy parents ‘failing to teach children right from wrong’”:
“Busy middle-class parents are abdicating moral responsibility for their sons and daughters because of the mounting pressure of work.”
One of our members gave an example of parents sending a child who was ill into class, in contravention of the school’s sickness policy, with the attitude:
“Well he was sick last night, but he’ll be fine”.
Another member commented on the need to:
“motivate parents towards educational ambition for their children. Qualified Teacher Status is imperative but is nothing without parental backing. Staff need support in an increasingly challenging environment – it’s about time parents understood the nature of the job.”
Sir Michael also talks of “unlucky children” “born in the wrong area”. If the emphasis of the education system is on academic subjects and educating the academically ‘brightest’ to go to university and then move away for better employment prospects and a ‘better life’ elsewhere, where does that leave those communities?
Those communities need job prospects for their young people, who need access to quality vocational education and training that has parity with academic qualifications – something the Government pays only lip-service to, with its obsession with the narrow range of subjects in the EBacc.
“This is the graph that ought to haunt the dreams of every school reformer. The social mobility problem is not that there is a small number of weak schools serving a lot of poor kids. It is that poor children do badly in the majority of England’s schools.”
In Scotland, however, there is now research being undertaken into the links between poverty, deprivation and poor academic achievement, and how to develop a more equitable education system, at the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change.
Ofsted’s call for a teachers and leaders to move to the parts of the country with the greatest need for high quality staff” also presents a challenge for both communities and schools. If the ‘best’ teachers and heads are incentivised to move to other schools, that is good for the schools they are moving to but deprives their original schools of the key staff who made them a success in the first place.
Would those staff be willing to be moved around the country, perhaps for relatively short periods of time? Many of them are likely to have partners/spouses, children, houses etc.
A more effective model would be pools of local authority staff. They could perhaps follow the example of Scotland, where school staff are normally appointed to the service of the council and not to a particular school. These locally-based headteachers and teachers would also have a greater knowledge of the local community, the issues it faces, the local employers and so forth.
As a society, we need to be aware of adults’ roles and responsibilities in creating the environment in which children grow. Schools are expected to compensate not just for parents’ shortcomings, but also for the pressures adult society imposes on young people.
Yes, schools and individual teachers can and do ‘make a difference’ but the attitude of some pupils and their parents can have a destructive effect on those pupils’ welfare and learning and have a negative impact on those of other pupils and their school. How we provide an education for those with no desire to learn, who have little or no parental support in a target-driven, rather than person-centred, system is arguably the most serious challenge facing our education system.
However, despite the challenges set out in Ofsted’s report, we should be encouraged by its findings that:
- “Nearly eight in 10 schools in England are now good or better – the highest proportion since Ofsted was founded 20 years ago.
- “Around 485,000 more primary school pupils and 188,000 more secondary school pupils attend a good or better school compared with a year ago
- “’Looking at the evidence across all sectors, there are unmistakeable signs that England’s education system is gradually improving.
- “Tenacious and committed teachers and leaders are at the forefront of this.”