Another Brick in the Wall

April 1, 2016 at 1:30 pm (Uncategorized)

I was a little annoyed when I read this article in the Guardian today as it covers a lot of the ground I have been wanting to write about.  Essentially the gist is a state school in this country cannot allow students to develop wider skills and at their own pace because they are nothing short of exam factories. Big surprise you say but the difference between state and private education is an area that is truly shocking but not very well understood by most people.  Mainly because most people do not have experience of both. A strange stigma exists in teaching that means once you start a career in state or private education you are stuck in that route forever. However I was fortunate enought to have a private education (I used to curse it but realise now how lucky I was) and have worked in state education for eight years.

The differences are not what most people think.  The general lazy assumptions are that private schools get clever students as they can be selective and have better teachers as they generally have masters or PhD qualifications.  The unspoken reverse being that state schools are filled with thick kids and that their teachers are barely literate eejits who scraped a bachelors degree.  Firstly these assumptions are not true and secondly even if they were they would not be the reason that state school teachers are not inspiring the top actors and politicians in this country.

The real reason is that as a state school nothing else matters other than hitting targets.  Incredibly challenging, aspirational targets. Not that the teachers and senior leadership do not care about the students as people.  They do – desperately and exhaustingly all the time.  But all that a school is judged on is the exam results and even more importantly all that a teacher is judged on is their class hitting their aspirational targets.  And this is the key point.

Whereas teaching used to be a job for life now it is very possible for good teachers to be sacked. Not outstanding teachers but good teachers.  Teachers who probably do the job far better than teachers in secondary schools did twenty years ago, teachers who work every hour that they can and give children their all.  However if the students they teach do not reach their aspirational target grades then they will be let go.  Or have exam classes taken off them.  Or be put under such pressure that they suffer mental health problems.

Excellent – says the Daily Mail reader.But they should be able to do that AND inspire tomorrow’s leaders and actors. Well lets compare the private school teacher and the state school teacher facing a GCSE class and see if it’s a fair comparison.  Private school teacher has class of around 20-25 students, state school teacher has 30 students.  Private school teacher gives each student a textbook that they can take home and work with at all times.  State school teacher has 15 textbooks that they can share one between two in each lesson.  Private school teacher can photocopy as many revision aids, worksheets etc. as they feel necessary.  State school teacher has their boss breathing down their neck about the photocopying budget and is told to do everything A5 and one between two.  Private school teacher sees a school trip opportunity or revision conference, sets up the trip, the parents pay, the students all go.  State school teacher sees a school trip opportunity or revision conference, works out how to make the trip as cheap as possible (coaches are out of the question for anything less than 60 kids), convinces SLT that they can take the kids out of school for the day only if it does not interfere with a core subject lesson, has to send home a letter saying the trp is voluntary and costs £25 per head, half the class can’t afford that, not enough sign up to make the trip financially  viable and then it’s cancelled.

But the most important factors are these: Private school teacher has a class of students whose parents are all motivated to support their students education.  State school teacher has a lot of students whose parents think anything beyond the basic required GCSEs at grace C is a waste of time. Private school teacher has a class of students who have parents that are able to (and do) feed, clothe and provide a safe warm envirionment for them.  State school teacher has a class where many of the students will not have had breakfast, where they can’t guarantee they have enough money for the bus (free transport only exists in London) and where they do not know if they are going home to dinner or not.  Of course abuse exists in all levels of society but deprivation is rarely seen in a private school.

Yet the target grades of both those class are based on the same primary school data (ok postcodes are taken into account but do not get me started on that) and the teachers are held to the same standards.  So as a teacher in those state schools where your pay, or even your job, depends on you hitting those targets are you going to spend time allowing students to explore their creative inner selves?  Let a lesson pass that is not devoted soley to passing the exams that you will be judged on?  Of course not.  Not only would it be self destructive, it is positively not allowed in schools where learning walks are a day to day event.

So why do state schools have no hope of developing multiple students who excel in an unusual walk of life?  Because they are too busy getting every student their targeted 5 A*-C GCSEs in order to keep their jobs. So our actors and politicians will continue to all be privately educated, maintaining the status quo until state schools are given some freedom and trust in how to educate young people.



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