Sunday 20 July 2008

What Do Schools Do?

It's not one of the most inspired acronyms, but some bright spark in the DES or wherever came up with it, and now NEETs (young people who are Not in Education, Employment of Training) are everywhere. According to this, their numbers are at least twice as high as the government would have us believe. No surprise there.
Presumably the 18 per cent NEET cohort overlaps very largely with the similar percentage who emerge from a decade and more of schooling effectively unable to read or write. Since it is perfectly easy - and a sensible precaution - to teach any child to read before they enter the maw of the 'education' system , you have to wonder, what on earth are they doing in schools? Not, evidently, teaching. So what is it they're doing that manages to prevent one in five children from learning to read for ten years?


  1. Well Nige, opened / can of worms, I will try and keep the comment expletives free, although to describe the state of the education system without them is problematical.
    You can of course, I know, only speak from the viewpoint of your own experience, and that of those around you, and from reports in the media. There are a lot be people who have had good results from their time at school and those who have excelled despite their education. It would appear though that on balance our system stinks.
    This is not new, it goes back to the seventies. Of my own two children, educated in the north east one went to state school, the other was privately educated. The difference between the schools was enormous. My son excelled despite his education, my daughter because of hers. The state school in Morpeth had an excellent reputation in the early seventies but was taken over by a headmaster who's only interest was in the political side of education, he ruined the school completely. As an employer from the early seventies to the late nineties I interviewed hundreds of school leavers and watched as the standards of English and maths slumped, absolute basics.
    The nuts and bolts of teaching aren't rocket science, we can all pass on our knowledge. What is missing is the natural ability to communicate, most of the teachers I have known have found it difficult to communicate with adults, let alone children.
    The teachers, of course, blame government, I would describe the current situation as an in house disaster exacerbated by criminally bad government policy , the fact remains however that the general standard of teaching is very low, very bad teachers and there are legions of them, can safely serve out their time through to (early) retirement.

  2. SATs. GCSEs. Hiring Blairite heads who are more insterested in league tables and funding streams than in kids. Spouting on about discipline instead of learning, and thinking they've got discipline when they haven't. Teaching for the exam, instead of testing on what's been learned. Boring the kids rigid, stressing them out, failing to teach good old study skills.

    I have two late teenage boys, both extremely bright, both NEETs (crap acronym). One got good GCSEs and left his A level course feeling patronised, bored, pissed off, disaffected. He can't seem to get a job but also won't compromise (eg, buy a non-skate pair of jeans) to get one. He is however trying to get back into college and wants to go to uni next year.

    The other is less flamboyant and failed to get any decent GCSEs, instead bottoming out through stress in Year 10. He becamse paralysed with anxiety and has taken a year to get back to something like normal. He's quiet, but quietly very bright, had been put off his favourite subjects in any case because of the exam-based teaching, felt he wasn't learning anything, and was far too stressed out by exams to function well in any case.

    Both my boys used to read a lot, and really good things, for pleasure, but both stopped around Year 8 or 9. Now I'm just not sure how good their literacy is. I think they can do it bu t everything feels like a struggle to them. I'm a writer and their dad's an antiquarian bookseller. Go figure.

  3. Oh, and: you know, by ten years old we were expected to take notes in class, and toproduce rudimentary research papers, WITH footnotes. Neither of my kids has ever seen a footnote, or done a research paper, or had to learn how to take notes properly. I've got a daughter going into year 10 and she's in the same boat. Her French homework is EXECRABLE, it just makes me laugh, and her teacher told me she was doing "post-GCSE-level" French!!

  4. i studied French at school from age 8 to 16 and left knowing nothing. i taught myself to read basic French between ages 19 and 21 from an old textbook.

    i was bored out of my skull at school (posh private school), usually bottom of the class and half-asleep if not fully. The only subject i did well in was English, not that i knew anything or could even understand anything complex, but that i'd been reading Fantasy books since i was 11 so was fairly literate. It wasn't till i left school that i started to read 'the classics'. i found that reading Shakespeare, TS Eliot, etc. on my own taught me more in a year than 13 years of highly expensive schooling had.

    i did see pupils who thrived but for me everything about school was an oppression and a curse. To be fair i had to leave the house at 0630 to get there each morning, and only got back at about 1830, had insomnia too, so i wasn't at my best. But i think even if it had been next door rather than 2.5 hours' travel away, it would have bored me senseless. It was almost as if the teachers conspired to keep it as dull as possible, occasionally something interesting would appear in History or Religious Studies then be swiftly disappeared as a terrible aberration, and we'd go on to the effect of enclosures on 16th C economy, or what have you.

    i think, in my case at least, it's also partly that my mind hates regimentation, strict schedules. i still find getting into work on time almost impossible. So a system where you have to think about Biology for 45 mins then suddenly stop and think about Maths for the next 45 mins was deadly to me, it shut my mind down, and it only woke up after i left and went insane for 3 years.

  5. At what point in your education did you learn military strategy elberry? I would suggest before declaring war on Russia, have a dummy run on somewhere smaller, say the peoples republic of Giggleswick, or the COOP.