Why State Schools Work (aka Why Gove is Wrong)

Why do I feel the need to publicly defend the state school system? Why? This article http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-26015535

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Mr Gove (excuse the twitching as his name is used) thinks we should change our state schools to be more like independent schools. Well, I guess they perform better and he must have experience in teaching in both sectors to have formed such an opinion…. Oh. Hold on, he’s not taught in either? The Minister for Education hasn’t actually taught a single lesson? Yes, this is true – there’s actually a petition in action to get him to try out teaching! (There really is, it’s here: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/michael-gove-to-teach-for-a-term)

So why do I feel qualified to publicly say that Mr Gove’s daily spoutings are the rantings of the politically insane? Well, because I have more teaching experience in both sectors than the UK ‘s Minister for education. (That in itself is just plain wrong)

So, I’m going to look at some of his latest ideas:

– open schools from 8am – 6pm
Let’s put the staffing issues aside here. I’ve seen first hand the effect that an 8am – 6pm day has on a child. Young teenagers end the term in tears from sheer exhaustion. Fights break out (yes, that’s in a ‘posh independent school’) because boys are tired and in close proximity to each other. Quality of work diminishes significantly because the mental health of the child is precarious to say the least.

Thankfully, in independent schools, these exhausted teens are only expected to handle this for 5-6 weeks at a time with significant holidays in between – the summer being on average 9 weeks.

Except Gove is suggesting reducing the holidays to 6 weeks in total. It doesn’t take a genius to weigh up the impact this will have on the children involved.

– teach more like an independent school
I am a firm supporter of our state system. Why? We are producing an increasing number of stable, resilient young people who know how to learn for themselves (not just remember facts) and who move on to university with an understanding of their responsibility for their own learning. This does not happen in every case, and there are still examples of a real need for resilience. However, state schools are far less prone to spoon feeding a curriculum in order to get the ‘right’ exam results. Four A*s at A Level may look impressive, but when consideration is made that independent schools will ensure those results through one to one lessons, coaching and coursework help, they no longer seem so impressive. Even less so when university progression is looked at – whilst acceptance to university may be high, the drop out rate is significantly higher for those who were hand held through exams at school.

There is another significant reason why independent schools achieve such high results – common entrance exams cream the top performers. Is this Gove’s suggestion? Should schools become selective? Should we just give up on the less academically inclined? Or should we provide education for ALL?

I am far prouder of my state school cohort who achieve Bs and Cs and I some cases very hard fought for Ds through their own hard work and determination whilst I facilitate their learning. There is nothing like seeing a student receive their exam results knowing that this is a result of that child’s hard work. That is the kind of learning that stays with you. That is lifelong understanding of how to learn.

Ok, now we can mention the teachers (not too much though)

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When will I prepare my lessons? I already work each evening and every weekend?
Am I to be driven purely by exam results and see these kids as numbers rather than amazing individuals? If so, tough, because these kids are awesome. They are not numbers.
Why am I so pro-state? I am a better teacher because of my state school. They support my teaching. They support me. I have had more CPD in a single term than in three years in the independent sector. I am encouraged to lead and my ideas are celebrated. My ability to teach is recognised as a craft which we spend time honing. I get sworn at an awful lot more and on occasions I become disheartened because of the verbal abuse from students, but I feel valued as a person because of the support from my colleagues.

What about parents?
Well, it doesn’t seem that they have been consulted at all. Of the parents I have spoken to, they are horrified at the prospect of longer days. Questions are asked : When will I see my children? How will they attend their clubs? What about quality of life / family time? What if I actually want to look after my children?

This is when I look at the argument from a different perspective. As a parent. I no longer fear for the education system as a whole, but for my own children. As a parent, I simply would not put my children through the trauma of long hours away from their family (currently, they have a wonderful set of grandparents who very much make up for us being out at work). I would not expose them to the stress levels placed on children who are put through many independent schools. This is not a reflection of all independent schools and like Mr Gove, I can only talk from my own experience of teaching in both sectors.

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With this said, should these reforms come in, in direct contrast to what the government hopes will happen, (that is mothers returning to work), as much as it would break my heart to do so, I will remove myself from my beloved profession and put that to good use through homeschooling my children.

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