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Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Standing up for Education

I have been a union member since I first started work at the tender age of 16 back in 1977. I have also been a fully paid up member of the NUT since 1994 which was when I went back to complete my education. I come from a 'working class' background. A background that I am proud of. Both of my parents worked from the age of 15, my Dad an engineer and my Mum, who also raised 8 children, worked mainly in factories.

My parents were true working class, they had a strong work ethic, regularly teaching all of their children that you only get in life, what you work for. 'Nobody will hand you anything on a plate' Mum used to say, 'You have to work for your living.' They could not afford for us to 'stay on in school' so off to work we all went from the age of 16. Dad, a man of far less words than Mum encouraged all of us to join the union as soon as we began work. 'You never know you need a union until you need it' he would say.

Once in a union I believe you have to support any action they take no excuses other wise why join? Yes, to strike is expensive and in the current financial climate I, like most people cannot really afford it but I will. The NUT have called the strike on 26th March as part of an ongoing dispute with the present Government and the Education Secretary Michael Gove over: intolerable workload pressures, performance related pay, increased pensions contributions and working until the age of 68. All of which I agree with and hugely support.

The reason I am 'Taking Action' is also because of what I witness every day in education and what I read on Twitter from fellow educators around the country. The absolute disintegration of our, what was a wonderful education system. The pressures are not just on teachers but also on the pupils. Children are 'assessed' from the age of 2. Pupils in year 1 are given phonics screening check then tested again at the end of year 1. This incessant testing then continues throughout their education journey. With all of  these tests then come the inevitable 'targets'. Children as young as 5 are being deemed 'off track'. 

All of this has a direct effect on children's experience of education which is a never ending slog to achieve targets. Obviously, all educators want their pupils to make 'progress' and to achieve! But education and learning should as often as possible be fun and engaging. I truly believe that people of all ages learn better when they are relaxed and happy. However, I know that some people in education do not agree, they shrink at the word 'fun' but even they I am sure would admit that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. 

Today in the BBC news it was announced that teachers from 'Shanghai' would be coming to the UK to teach us how to teach Maths: 

'Up to 60 Shanghai maths teachers are to be brought to England to raise standards, in an exchange arranged by the Department for Education.' They will provide masterclasses in 30 "maths hubs", which are planned as a network of centres of excellence. The Chinese city's maths pupils have the highest international test results.'

But what is it like to be educated in school in Shanghai? According to an article in the Guardian today it is not a pretty picture:

The streets surrounding Shijia primary school in Beijing were mobbed by a crowd of parents so dense that cars were obliged to beat a retreat. At 3.45pm on Friday, 11-year-old Zou Tingting, five minutes late, bounded through the school's west gate and into her waiting mother's arms. Tingting's classes were over, but her day was just beginning – she had an hour of homework, plus lessons in ping pong, swimming, art, calligraphy and piano.Tingting's mother, Huang Chunhua, said that, like many Chinese mothers, she once considered Tingting's academic performance her top priority; now she realises the importance of a well-rounded education. "I've seen British curricular materials, and I'm actually kind of jealous," she said. "British teachers guide students to discover things on their own – they don't just feed them the answers, like in China. Tingting attends an expensive cramming school at weekends, leaving her tired. She will probably have to abandon extracurricular activities in high school to devote more time to the college admission exam, called the gaokao. Many parents consider the gruelling nine-hour test a sorting mechanism that will determine the trajectory of their children's lives.

Add into this the growing suicide rates in China and the picture is not a pretty one. This quote is taken from China Daily:

'Every year, roughly 250,000 people commit suicide in China, while another 2 million attempt to cut their lives short, according to the Ministry of Health. Although studies show the highest incidence is among elderly and rural women, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention says suicide is now the top cause of death for people aged 15 to 34.'

We already have an education system whose aim is to test, test, test and now we are seeking advice on teaching methods from Shanghai, is this truly what we see as the 'Nirvana' of education? I certainly hope not. But even without the influence of Shanghai our own system is flawed. In my own, very humble opinion, a good education system should include:

  • A solid foundation in Maths and English - essential for everything we do
  • Technology - this doesn't mean technology for technologies sake but ensuring our pupils are equipped for the digital age
  • No homework - very controversial I know but children and young adults need time for extra curricular activities such as sports
  • Thinking skills taught - to encourage deeper understanding and to enable pupils to problem solve, explain and reason
  • Smaller classes - this allows for more student focussed teaching
  • Teachers valued - we really need to retain the best teachers which will not be achieved in a system where teachers are undervalued, overloaded and stressed
To try to ensure our pupils get a good solid education and their teachers are paid fairly and are not constantly 'under the cosh' on 26th March 2014 I will 'Stand Up for Education.'