Currently, the rate at which teachers are opting out of the education system is staggering. Teachers no longer feel that it is feasible to teach children to a high standard, while catering to the individual. Michael Gove was one of the most unpopular men in the UK after his stint as Education Secretary; and faith in Nicky Morgan to do the job well is tentative and wary. Education in the UK is in crisis; and it is not the fault of the teachers. Here's my offering as to how I think we could change our system for the better:
Give us an Education Secretary with a background in teaching.
This seems such an obvious way to help our schools to succeed. If we are to be led, told what and how to teach; let it be by somebody that has spent a minimum of three years in front line teaching. Nicky Morgan has not made me hate her as strongly as I hated Gove yet; but she has said 'Teenagers should steer away from the arts and humanities and opt for science or maths subjects if they want to access the widest range of jobs'. This is not true, and I will explain why later. Nicky Morgan has a background in Law, she is a qualified soliciter; good for her. That does not help education, we need somebody who knows the system inside out; it's failings and it's great successes.
Make working hours achievable.
I am sick to death of a culture in which I am supposed to congratulate myself, and feel achievement for working sixty hours plus. To me, that is not a work life balance, that is foolish. Many of the teachers I have worked with boast of not taking sick days, even when really very ill; how is that supposed to warrant a well done? All people should work in an environment in which the work that is expected of them is achievable, and their wage reflects the work that has been put in. The reason that the teaching workforce is so young, is because people are burning out. They will go hard at teaching for about five years, they will achieve a lot, and feel good in doing so. And then the reality of how futile this has been will set in; a life dedicated to teaching must adhere to so many regulations, that actually making a worthwhile impact is incredibly difficult and will be minimal. Cut us some slack, trust us, we want children to learn and we want them to succeed; we don't need to sacrifice all of our time to prove this.
Give teachers the resources and training to teach EAL (English as an Additional Language) and SEN (Special Educational Needs).
Children that do not yet speak the language are extremely large in numbers in schools in the UK. This is not the problem, the fact that we have teachers that far too often do not have the skills to teach and work with these children is the problem; we are failing them. Although we are improving as a profession, there is still far more room for this. The same goes for working with children with SEN, most teachers will encounter children with special educational needs and/or English as an additional language in their daily teaching, and it is only fair that these teachers know how to plan, teach and assess for these children. I worked in my training in one school in Central London, in which three children in the class had come in to class straight from the plane that they arrived on, they didn't speak a word of English, and they were scared, understandably. Give us the skills to help these children, they deserve what every other child deserves; a calm and friendly classroom, opportunities to learn, encouragement and friends.
Put politics into our curriculum, and make it mandatory.
Why do you think that there is so much apathy from young people towards politics? Because it has not been deemed relevant to them by the powers that be, and they have therefore not accepted the importance of their vote. Rather than blaming children for being lazy and uninterested, lets give them an understanding that they can work with. At the grand old age of twenty, I spent a good five hours Googling how the political system in the UK worked, I was clueless. No one had taught me, no one had discussed it with me, my friends were not interested, so why would I be? Not to mention that if we are told from a very young age that politics is not for us, there is a certain amount of fear involved; people don't want to look stupid, and they don't want to get things wrong. In primary, make sure that every child leaves with a solid understanding of the political system, and the major parties that we have. Build on this knowledge further in upper primary and secondary; discuss the news, give children an understanding that they have a right to an opinion and that their voice is important. I actually can't believe I'm having to suggest this.
Offer health (physical and mental) as a subject.
We see headlines everyday about obesity, the costs to the NHS because of various unhealthy life choices, and we are therefore deemed as a fat, lazy nation. If we are told what is healthy and what is unhealthy, chances are, we will make the right choices. The key to understanding is education, right? As far as I am aware, there is one year in primary school in which nutrition is spoken about, and this is embedded in the Science section of the curriculum. This Science section is now sort of pushed to the back of the curriculum, as it is up to the school how and when Science is taught, and so in my experience, has become a rushed and often lazily taught subject (not the fault of the teacher, they are under pressure to achieve so much in other subjects). If we are expected to be pillars of health, equip our children with those skills. That brings me onto another subject within this; mental health. Thousands of children under the age of eighteen are diagnosed as depressed, and as a result are given anti-depressants. Now, besides they fact that I feel medication in young people should be avoided unless it is absolutely necessary, CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) has been proven to be AS effective, if not more effective than medication. Teachers are so busy with the massive amounts of work they have to get to know their pupils on a level that is very much past a formal educational one. Once again this is not their fault, but given the fact that a teacher is the third most important adult in a child's life; this is unacceptable. Our PSHE lessons as they stand are changeable, not done as often as they should be, and often outdated. This needs to be addressed and fast.
Stop trying to turn schools into businesses.
Watch the documentary 'Academies and Lies', it will tell you a lot of what you need to know. Needless to say, the idea of our schools becoming a business is now far more widespread than it should be, and our government is attempting to place blame with our current system, and is using this as reasoning with which to put academies in place. I am by no means insulting people that work in academies here; a job is a job. What I would like to say, though, is instead of attacking the system we currently have; work with it. Fix it from within.
Give History, Philosophy, Art, Drama, Religious Education, and Geography a greater platform.
As I've already talked about, Nicky Morgan thinks that more job opportunities be found in subjects not within the arts. As you might guess, I humbly and wholeheartedly disagree. Our culture is our strength; we learn from it's history, we express ourselves with it's art (music, literature, fine art, sculpture, etc), and we gain knowledge of other countries through our knowledge of these places- Geography. To brush these subjects under the rug is foolish and absolutely wrong. English and Maths are the order of the day in most primary schools, every day. How are we to really engage and excite children about learning if we have to 'discretely' implement these subjects into out learning. Learning about these subjects should not be something dependent on being related to English or Maths, these are subjects that should be given respect in their own rights.
Explain to children how their adult lives will be; they most probably won't sell out Wembley Stadium, and there is no shame in that.
I've just spoken about how important I think that subjects to do with art, culture and humanities, are, that is not what is in question here. What is in question, is the fact that we had our Education Secretary telling us that children should not go into the art and humanities, but our culture tells us that the only option to be deemed really successful in life is to gain some sort of celebrity (X-factor, Big Brother, The Voice, Strictly Come Dancing, I'm a Celebrity Get me Out of Here!, etc). The format of these shows is so familiar to children that judging panels are regularly found in schools with poor teachers dressed up as Simon Cowell and whoever else is flame of the moment, looking reticent and annoyed at having to lower themselves to such a level. But what is this telling our children? It's telling them that they will be judged, it's telling them that they need to go through this process in order to get there. And this is not just relative to children at the moment; I remember thinking in secondary school that I should be told in assemblies about female writers who are successful without celebrity status, because that's what I want to know about, not Mariah Carey's latest Christmas song (this was a while ago). I'm sure she's very talented and a great role model, but her celebrity status doesn't mean she is more or less talented than any other woman. It's kind of an unwritten understanding that is shameful just to be a run of the mill artist/lawyer/musician/mathematician; to really succeed we should be seen by everybody doing this, paparazzi should follow us to give us our daily dose of validation. That is not the case, we need to teach our children that although they might not be adored by the masses, they will still be successful if they work hard at what they love and enjoy.
Now, I have a sneaking suspicion that what I have done is state the glaringly obvious for people who have been teaching for a long time, and I apologise if that is the case. I'm new to teaching, however, and I'm pretty horrified. It's a job I want to do, I see it as more of a vocation, and I've been told I'm very good at it, 'outstanding', in fact. But quite honestly I would rather half my wage and be an awful lot happier, than live under the black cloud of an impending nervous breakdown any time Ofsted is mentioned.