Time to turn the Tables and look away from China for an educational model
I am definitely far from convinced that Tory testing of children's recall in their new compulsory tables tests in England, is in anyway "progressive." Thatcher attacked education that encouraged critical thinking. The arts, media studies and even history were all attacked by Thatcher and her anti-social henchmen.
This Tory Government continues to do that and at the same time attacks working class access to education. I hope Angela Constance nor Nicola Sturgeon is tempted by this idiotic, classist nonsense.
The present playing field and success criteria is very much in the favour of the middle and upper classes who will prosper. Working class families, struggling with two adults working or with the problems that low pay and poverty bring, do not have the time to drum facts into kids. Schools struggling with cuts and huge classes will have to go the way of huge hours of robotic Chinese rote learning. And we know how that ensures the continuance of a privileged political class.
As a teacher, the most important thing to teach is an understanding of tables, division etc- not hammering children who do not have the skill of recall. My own recall is terrible. But I understand tables, division etc. When I was young, there was a concentration on rote learning (a pre seventies hangover). I thought I was shit at maths because my recall of tables was terrible (I needed room in my head for stories and imaginary worlds and tree climbing skills). I failed in primary school to learn tables by rote. I still struggle – though can muster up the rhymes well enough to teach. My next failure was when my friends and I were split into different schools – the Intermediate, (for eejits, we used to say) and the Grammar school - the Academy - for those who passed their 11 plus. I felt like a failure most of the way through High School, even when I did well. I felt, wrongly, that the education I was getting was second rate, because the Academy got first rate everything (and their school grounds just LOOKED better than our seventies style, rundown build). And I went on to fail most of my O levels.
When I re-sat my maths 'O' level in my mid twenties, with a brilliant teacher, I actually found maths fun and not the horrific thing that knotted my stomach after all. As a teacher, I really hate seeing kids who are talented thinkers and creative beings, made to feel shit in recall tests. They need to be avoided. And if needed (as sometimes I don't doubt they are), they should not be done so in a competitive way in which children with skills beyond recall are made to feel like failures. and they should most definitely not be standardised by any Government.
I watched the news of this new tables test being announced and two supporters, both whom had been privately schooled in tiny classes, struggled to recite tables or give an answer to a table.
And I watched in horror as Education secretary Nicky Morgan said that action will be taken against teachers who don’t come up to scratch. This is surely a Government passing on ITS failure to address equality in education kicking the professionals who struggle daily with inadequate resources in crumbling schools and huge class sizes.
So what is this test for? Is it to help? Is it to improve teaching and learning? Or is it another idiotic attempt at diverting our gaze from the real problems of inequality and poverty? If inequality in education is really their target, why not reduce class sizes? Why not stop the charitable status of private schools? Why not ensure the amount of money spent on educating their own children is the norm across the country? Are they really now saying we should adopt the Chinese model of huge class sizes all reciting the law by rote? Or is that just for children of plebs?
We test our children constantly. We test them to the death of their creativeness. Finland – the country that ranks highest year after year in educational standards, has the least tests for children, and infact does not formally test children in Primary school at all (in fact the first standardised test children do is when they are 15!). Finland is a model of equality, trust and of happy children.
Why do we want to go the way of China that has a system that creates huge failure and increased unhappiness, school drop outs and suicides?
Here is a prediction. Schools that perform well in these tables tests tests will be in middle class areas – or they will be private schools. Children whose parents can afford private tuition or have lots of quality time (something rarely measured as an equality indicator - but surely a hugely important one) will get through the latest indicator of status.
Schools that have a large proportion of children like a little girl I taught in an area of deprivation in Glasgow, at a guess will not do brilliantly. She, despite her mother being a drug addict, prostitute and who used to sell her school uniform in the local pub in order to buy drugs or drink, at seven years old used to get her older brother ready for school and to the (at that time free) breakfast club for one of their only meals of the day - the other one being the school dinner. She who would survive on streets of inner city Glasgow - running wild until late at night and then getting herself to bed and up again the next day, dressed, brother up and into school on time, will she thrive under these new education policies of the Tories? I could recite more recent examples of this resilience and intelligence and desperate, desperate poverty, but that would not be professional. I hope that wee girl, now 19, is out of what could become a desperate circle of struggle and deprivation. At a guess and because of the Tory cuts to a lot of the services that might help her escape, she is a statistic somewhere. These are the children who will have yet another finger pointed at them telling them they are shit at something else. Tory education policy on tables will not help her. Nor will it help any teachers confronted by that nowadays and digging into their pockets to feed and clothe such pupils (and this I have witnessed).
In my opinion, if every child left primary school able to do complex algebra and recite logarithms, the Tories would be attacking their inability to place a comma perfectly on a line. There would be a punctuation test that would ensure children's confidence in language and expression was crushed. The tories do not want to address the real problems in our communities and schools. They want to blame teachers, doctors, soldiers, the weather and Jeremy Corbyn for all of their failures.
We should be fighting to ensure our children are taught how to disseminate propaganda, problem solve and recognise lies, robbery of their rights and question question question. We should ensure children leave Primary school with a love of learning – not the ability to pass a test or play the system.
The Tories are brilliant at what they do. They represent their class magnificently. They ensure privilege and class division continues in so many subtle ways. Stemming the working class from thinking outside constraining selective recall tests is another attack on democracy. A small one? Not in my opinion. Attacking confidence and the ability to express thoughts is regressive and oppressive and classist.