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Laurence Inman’s Blog

TESTING, TESTING

04-09-2008

School

On the news the other night I saw the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, trying to look interested as he was being shown round a class of primary school age children.

His grin was fixed in a rictus of eager (and false) enthusiasm, but his eyes said plainly, ‘How much longer have I got to endure this ? When will they have enough photos for tomorrow’s first edition? Why didn’t I volunteer for the Treasury?’

But luckily for him his torment was finite; he could go home to Mrs Balls and the little Ballses. Next morning he could resume his normal routine of playing politics and going on the telly talking....rubbish.

This article is an open letter to him and anyone else who has any influence on what goes on in our schools.

When I say ‘our’ schools, I mean the ones in England. In other parts of the UK they do things differently. In Scotland they’ve always been more sensible about education anyway, and the Welsh have this week decided that all very young children will from now on learn through play.

In this they are following a long-established Swedish model, which has proved to be very successful over the years.

'Successful' means that children don't live in fear, dread and loathing of schoolday mornings. Parents don't spend a fortune in a fruitless bid to buy their kids into schools they're told are 'better' because of their places in phoney league-tables.

Teachers don’t resort to drugs and alcohol to keep sane. Nor do they queue up to leave the profession. Nor do they commit suicide, citing stress as the reason they can’t go on.

Give a group of children a garden plot, a room to do wood-work, an art-room, a playing field, animals to keep; in less than a morning they will organise themselves, learn about tools, find ways to measure and record things and make friends.

Teachers need to be on hand only to help them develop more abstract skills as and when they need to.

But we can’t do this because we’ve got all these idiotic tests to train them up for. And we can’t get rid of the tests because the Daily Arseache would start pithering on about the moral dangers of ‘progressive’ education. (No one ever moans about progressive dentistry, or heart surgery – have you noticed that?)

And we can’t afford extra teachers and resources because that money is needed to kill people in Asia.

We can start improving things by getting rid of headteachers. What are they for, after all ?

In many European countries the head is a political appointment. His/her role is purely administrative. All curricular matters are dealt with by teachers.

I taught at a school many years ago (and in another part of the country) which was a joy to be in. The head was a lovely bloke who did nothing but organise money and pay bills. The rest of us were left in peace to do what we were trained for.

Then one dreadful day he retired and a younger man with dozens of degrees in Educational Theory and Pissing People About took over. Within two terms fifteen priceless members of staff (including me) had gone.

The good news these days is that people like that tend not to work in schools.

The bad news is that they’re in charge of Ofsted, the SATS industry, the GTCE, the child protection racket and anywhere else they can find themselves a cushy well-paid niche and make other people’s lives a living hell.

News just in: Ofsted are introducing a new target for infants. They have to be able to tie their own laces by their fourth birthday, or start the year again.

That was a joke.

But you weren’t quite sure at first, were you ?

I’m off back to the party. Every September I have a big celebration, just for me.

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