Hey, this month’s Humanist blog post is brought to us by our latest guest blogger Margaret Bramham. Margaret is a retired secondary school teacher with 22 years experience teaching in inner city schools in Leeds. In this month’s post she talks about what she sees as the problem in our education system. -Michael
On Thursday the 10th of November we enjoyed a talk from Dr Gijsbert Stoet, Professor of Psychology at Leeds Beckett University concerning the small proportion of girls following the sciences compared to the number of boys. This is something the government has identified as needing attention.
However Dr Stoet has identified from his research that this issue cannot be easily accounted for. Although there may be certain social and cultural influences on girls that influence their career choices, there are still examples where girls are following ’traditional’ career paths despite such influences being negated.
In addition he suggested that there is evidence that boys and girls are psychologically different with many girls tending to choose options that lean towards working with people and many boys leaning towards mechanical based options. Indeed he also suggested that there is evidence that we ask pupils to choose options far too early in their lives before they are mature enough to decide.
The question I would ask is: Why are the government addressing this issue, when there are much more important issues that need attention in our education system?
I would therefore like to raise some issues that existed in 1974 when I started teaching and are still unaddressed today.
Most parents want their children to do well at school. For some, I fear it is a form of edification for themselves however the majority want to ensure that their children have the best possible start in life and be successful. However how do we measure success? It is true that academic achievement can (not always) lead to better careers and greater affluence however this is not the only measure of success. Does our education system really try to provide the opportunity for success for every one? Do they provide the necessary education for all children to fulfil their potential? The answer as far as I am concerned is no they do not.
There are many reasons why children do not achieve academic success at school such as home background, social and cultural deprivation and peer influences. In the main it is difficult although not impossible to tackle these constraints. However although schools have tried very hard to compensate for these problems through their daily interaction with children their influence is limited.
However the system is failing a lot of children every day simply because it is only providing a useful education to those who are talented academically. These children and their parents are satisfied (on the whole) because the system delivers what they want however for those seeking a more vocational or practical education their needs are not met.
I do not wish to devalue the importance of academic achievement, all children need this in some form. However many children struggle with academic subjects and there is a limit to the amount they can cope with.
Our dependence on only recognising academic achievement has increased, especially after the introduction of league tables. Schools are perceived as ‘the best’ because they can demonstrate how many G.C.S.E’s per pupil, grades A to C they can achieve. Lower grades are dismissed even by the press who often will not print them.
Lower grades are dismissed as unimportant in the school politic. It seems that this also applies to the pupils themselves. Yet again we are creating a group of inferiors in the same way we did during the dark days of the grammar school and the 11+. I know the damage this caused to me psychologically being regarded as one of life’s failures. It has haunted me all my life.
Many pupils who achieve lower grades at G.C.S.E. work very hard to gain their results in a system that is not designed to meet their needs. These are very special people since we have asked them to run the race with only one leg.
It would be wonderful if we could all gain success based on what we are good at. Unfortunately this is only available to the academically able.
It is therefore vital that we stop our system from only using one type of measure. People do not flourish if they are engaged in activities they are not suited to. It leads them to feel inferior and alienates them from what is trying to be achieved. This is why discipline in school is sometimes difficult to maintain and why many children are disengaged.
There has to be a will to make changes to the whole system and more importantly a recognition that one size does not fit all. The 80’s provided a fleeting glimmer with the introduction of Records of Achievement. However most teachers see these as a chore mainly because no time allocation was made to complete them. Not only that the education system does not provide opportunities for non- academic pupils to shine at what they can do. There has been talk in the past of using industry, commerce and trades to have an input into the curriculum. This would widen what was on offer and allow the less academically oriented pupils to gain recognition and success. I am also convinced this would reduce pupil dissatisfaction and classroom disruption.
I fear nothing will change however because most governments too easily pander to the middle classes and as long as they are happy the rest don’t matter. Sadly this is a reflection of our society as a whole.