Well, time moves on and the whole debate on education shifts and changes direction. I was interested to note the comments arising out of the recent report on the London riots which contained recommendations on the building of character. It is widely accepted that many children grow up without a good adult role model in their lives. At the time of the riots many young people chose not to get involved, despite the fact they were in the proximity. The interpretation of this by the Panel was that such youngsters had the strength of character not to get involved even though many of the came from disadvantaged backgrounds. The report said;
"In asking what it was that made young people make the right choice in the heat of the moment, the Panel heard of the importance of character. A number of attributes together form character, including self discipline, application, the ability to defer gratification and resilience in recovering from setbacks. Young people who develop character will be best placed to make the most of their lives."
The report recognised that parents are best placed to instill positive attitudes and behaviour in children but where they do not then schools and youth services may fill the breach. I have no doubt about the skills of teachers or youth workers and how much influence they could bring to bear if given the responsibility and resources to do so. However, during the last 10 years of my career I witnessed the constant disinvestment in youth services to the point that many clubs had to close and the paid staff diminished. I cannot imagine that has been reversed in these austere times but not to do so is a false economy.
Very recently the Government floated the notion that they wished to end the pay bargaining in the public sector, claiming that to maintain the so called " high " pay rates of the public sector across the country reduced the attractiveness of working in the private sector. It was argued that the pay of teachers in poorer, more deprived, areas should be lower than areas of greater socio-economic robustness. This was a point, in the context of the report on the London riots that I just do not understand. Areas of deprivation have the biggest challenges of all for teachers. They are areas where we need to deploy some of our most talented professionals and yet we intend to pay them less. That is not an incentive to dedicate your career to the difficult end of your profession in what ever public sector you work.
If we really believe that the teaching profession has a significant role to play in helping to build character amongst school children then creating a divisive pay structure will just not deliver the goods.
There has been much debate about public and private sectors in recent times. Every employment sector has its own requirements and demands and it is not productive to attempt to draw too many comparisons. The fact is that they are inter-dependant. Some people are focused on services to others and dedicate their careers to public service and some are filled with the entrepreneurial spirit best fitted to the commercial environment. Each sector should be fully valued by all. However, one thing is certain, schools and teachers are well placed to make a huge contribution the formation of the kind of society we will want to live in and that helps to build a well trained and motivated workforce on which our economic recovery depends. It is time for the profession to stand up and be counted and for parents and the Government to give them the support and resources to get the job done.
Sir Michael Wilshaw has started his job as the head of Ofsted following a lot of publicity which created an expectation that things were going to be notably different. It is a challenge of mammoth proportions and a job performed under close scrutiny and analysis. Education is something we have all experienced, we have children or young relatives whose progress through the system is of primary concern and many of us have grandchildren meaning that we re-live all the hopes and expectations of the past. The educational progress of the young is one of the most important drivers of our society for the future. It has to be the best and no child should be failed by the system no matter what their background or circumstances.
More than 5000 head teachers are failing to do their jobs properly and poor leadership is blighting about a quarter of England's primary and secondary schools. The excuses for this failure seem to centre on ethnicity, poverty or background. Those are the words of Sir Michael this week. He states that he will not accept an "excuses culture" and intends to clearly identify schools that need to improve and will be giving set timescales in which he expects to see it happen. The teaching unions are not happy.
As a former teacher I declare a strong influence in this topic. I well remember the days when our education was the envy of the world. It was heavily biased towards the central subjects of literacy and numeracy delivered by teachers whose personal standing in school and the community was of the highest. I know there are a lot of additional topics that schools have to include in their curriculum that we did not; ITC and Personal Health and Social Education being two of the most prominent but that alone does not explain the apparent drop in standards. The curriculum has become over loaded and we have lost sight of what schools are there to do, not to fill in the gaps that parents and society in general should pick up but to teach children to be fit for purpose in the workplace. It seems all too easy to keep expecting schools to do more and more. Parents must bring children to school at 5 ready for learning. As a retired teacher in my experience it was the norm to expect children to be off the reading scheme and an independent reader by the time they were nine years old. The demise of one to one reading with an adult every day in the early years has played a part in the poor reading skills shown in pupils when they leave primary school. The demise of foreign languages, for example, puts at risk the future employment of students in those industries focused on world markets and perhaps even the longevity of such industries.
Lack of money and resources cannot be trotted out again as a reason for poor results and performances. Over the last 20 years so much money has been poured into the education budget much of it wasted on new initiatives whenever a new government came to power. The private sector much prized by those who can pay has been spared much of this change clinging to tried and tested traditional methods. The results tell their own story.
Perhaps a lengthening of the school day is in order. I am often amazed to see secondary children coming out of school at 3:15. If there is so much more to teach with the expanded curriculum then it stands to reason that more time must be allocated. I seem to remember the school day finishing at about 4pm.
Ofsted release their consultation document containing proposals this week and it will be interesting to see how hard hitting they are. All too often the reality of what is done does not measure up to the pre-publicity and intent.
The professionalism displayed by teachers at all levels and subjects is of critical importance if the improvement of standards is going to be delivered with any conviction. Sir Michael has already gone on record as saying that he will ensure Ofsted reports comment on the professionalism of staff and that they should look the part. Whilst not being prescriptive, which is just as well, he clearly expects teachers to shape up and fast.
Sir Michael joins Ofstead straight from the post of Head of Mossbourne Community Academy in East London where he insisted on stricter standards and a smarter dress code. I gather Mossbourne was located in an area of London with all the issues that are currently used as excuses for failure. He was successful, no doubt because he exercised strong charismatic leadership on both his staff and students. The big question is - can he deliver school heads capable of exercising such leadership across the board? I certainly hope he can and I wish him well in his considerable endeavours.
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