The education of complicity

Here is a list of just some of the grammatical terms asked about in this year’s SAT paper for year 6 children:

subordinating conjunction; subordinate clause; relative clause; relative pronoun; simple past tense; possessive pronoun; present progressive tense. I’ve been a teacher for 25 years and I’m not sure about all of them. I am sure that it’s just as perfectly possible to use and enjoy the English language highly effectively without knowing all these technical terms as it is to use and enjoy a car and drive safely and well without knowing the precise function and technical description of every component. I’m damn sure too that this is a poor and damaging way of helping children to learn.

Here’s a quote from a Leeds Headteacher, Jill Wood, who refused to enter her children for this year’s SATs: “The country is spending billions on children’s mental health, so why are we putting them under pressure? We just felt last year we had children sobbing in exams and it upset me so much, I just said ‘I can’t do this again’. They are a ridiculous, unnecessary strain.”

Read some stories of the anxiety and heartache of parents who have watched their fun-loving, confident, outgoing kids become stressed, withdrawn, confused, fearful and sad because of the unreasonable demands and expectations of school …. at age 5, or 7, or 11, or later … and only solved the problem by taking their children out of school to home-educate. Or the stories of children from broken or dysfunctional families: too sad, tired, hungry, angry, anxious or confused to comply with school routines and procedures and failed by a system which all too often becomes part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Imagine the scenario: many of a GP’s patients are complaining that their treatment has made them worse; that they were denied individual consultations and programmes of care; that complaints about side-effects and lack of progress were ignored; that everybody has to have the same medicine regardless. The GP’s response: there are just too many patients to allow for a personalised regime; there are national descriptions of what constitutes a healthy life; treatments and therapies are prescribed centrally and there is no scope for flexibility.

In the context of our health system, this is, thankfully, an absurd scenario. Yes, there are issues with overall resources, lack of time and so on, but a personalised approach is so built-in that we don’t really think about it.

But for education, it’s all too sadly realistic. Even the most avid supporter of the current system could hardly claim with any credibility that a highly-prescribed curriculum and teaching driven by testing regimes suits ALL children. Every teacher I have ever met has known that for at least some of the children in their class (usually those with the greatest needs or difficulties) the system is really not right. Yet we justify what we do because of the demands of curriculum, classroom and school organisation, and Ofsted; and the lack of resources to do things differently.

This is the education of complicity. It would not be acceptable in Medicine and it should not be acceptable in Education.