This is a letter I sent to my son’s school in response to their exasperating and pointless barrage of letters they keep sending me about all sorts of things that the new government inspired bureaucracy has created to consume all that extra money thrown at State Comprehensive schools so it isn’t actually spent on improving the kid’s education.
Dear Mrs R (The Teacher)
You sent me a letter dated May 20th about my son not making progress in English, and about a meeting you are having with him at 3 p.m. today. I have some comments to make.
I discussed this with my son in some detail. He has always previously been good at English and it has been one of his best subjects that comes naturally to him as he is literate and quite communicative etc. He tells me he was more or less at the top of his class in English prior to changing classes and teachers. He tells me that the traditional aspects of English teaching, i.e writing essays in particular, were enjoyable for him and he was enthusiastic about writing, but that part of English lessons currently seems to have gone missing from his English lessons, he tells me.
He tells me quite categorically that he knows he is not doing well in English now because, he says, he is bored witless in class as he finds the lessons pedestrian and uninteresting. He explained to me, for example, that during the last English lesson he had spent the entire lesson listening to other pupils giving ‘presentations’ of their opinions about something or other.
This does not quite strike me as a lesson that I recognise as an English lesson, and I cannot relate it to any English lessons I ever had as a child. But, having said that, I am not making any direct criticism because I am not sufficiently aware of the precise detail of what actually goes on in the teaching processes at the School. But I do hear consistent rumours that the curriculum and exact style of teaching has been imposed on all schools and all teachers by a lunatic central Government bureaucracy and this has the effect of preventing teachers using their individual skills etc and generally stifles any prospect of good or even adequate teaching methods.
It may be that it is this problem which is being inflicted on my son, which is making it difficult for him to actually learn anything as I know he would wish to do.
I do know that my son is most definitely anxious to learn in all subjects, whether he particularly likes them or not. He frequently says he learns more from a thirty minute conversation with me than in a whole day at the school; something I find perplexing, particularly as that thirty minute conversation is rarely ’me specifically setting out to teach him something’. But what his comment does indicate is that I am engaging him and that is why he is learning from me and the school frequently fails to engage him and therefore he fails to be able to learn anything accordingly.
He says he feels the school dehumanises him to become a mere cypher, a box to be ticked on a form and a statistic to be manipulated into the corporate doublespeak of the school’s meaningless league tables etc.
Of course these are my words because my son is only an eleven year old; but he is using his eleven year old words to quite accurately describe what I have used adult words to describe more clearly. He simply says he just feels the school thinks he is a number, not a person and there is a huge vacuum of inscrutable non-communication between teaching staff and pupils in general, particularly expressed by the school’s manic obsession with turning every minute human activity into a bureaucratic process involving much box ticking and form filling out – and the application of insanely unnatural ‘rules’.
This is a consistent message I get from my son across all his time at the school in general. It highlights a fundamental difference in the quality of education between the best available in the private sector and the well known shortcomings of the public sector. The private sector is recognised for engaging pupils more for a variety of well known reasons.
The consequence of alienating pupils in this manner is that they become increasingly disruptive and a pain in the backside.
It is a fact that my son is mentally hyperactive and needs constant engagement and that this is exhausting for any adjacent adult, whether parent or teacher. Despite my own strenuous efforts to persuade him to be able to follow instructions to engage in any task to completion on his own, independently of my involvement, I observe what seems to be a complete inability of him to be able to do this.
I can only assume this is due to his current state of mental development, and I presume it will gradually improve.
So, I know that my son can do well in English if the lessons are made interesting for him. But I also know that your time has to be divided amongst the other pupils in the class too. Having said this, I still do not understand why it should be the case that a teacher cannot stand in front of thirty odd pupils and engage them all at the same time and make the lesson interesting so they learn something useful. That is the fundamental job of any teacher.
Remembering my own experiences as a child in a wide variety of schools which included state comprehensives as well as private schools, it is a complete mystery to me why state sponsored education has such an abysmal reputation. It is even worse today than it was when I was a child.
The reality about education is that it’s quality is more or less entirely down to the ‘quality’ of the teachers and ‘other’ people involved, and that education has almost nothing to do with ‘resources’ involving ever increasing expenditure etc. You only have to look at some of the excellent educational results achieved in a long bygone era when schools of any sort had none of all the mass of modern ‘resources’ schools expect now.
It is a fact that in the best of those situations and at a time when education was much more basic, with the best of those teachers, quite spectacular results were sometimes achieved compared with what appears to be the expectation in Modern Times. Those good results were entirely down to the influence of good teachers doing a good job.
It is as simple as that.
And it is becoming apparent to me that the bureaucracy poisoning State schools makes it difficult for teaching staff to do a good job. And this comment of mine reminds me of a previous Head of the Camden School for Girls having lengthy conversations with me about this very subject where he explained his own very bad experiences of the system to me in some detail, so I am not just expressing my own opinions here, but those of many other people, including experts such as other Head teachers and many other parents too.
Moving on to the matter of my son’s homework.
I have persistently nagged and generally persecuted him about all his homework with a total lack of any success. It would be easy to blame him for failing to do his homework, and I do blame him as do various teachers who have not received completed homework back from him.
However, there is obviously a problem with all the school homework which I find when I look into the subject in some detail. It soon becomes clear that my son cannot really be blamed for not doing his homework because all the homework across all subjects appears to be strangled in a mire of computerised gibberish (what, for instance is VLE ? It’s just meaningless gibberish, of course. See if you can work it out and work out just why it is utter nonsense.) in which I find it virtually impossible to discover for myself what any homework task actually is.STUPID HOMEWORK INSTRUCTIONS 2BY STUPID TEACHERS
My son gives me a clear indication that the teaching staff seem to rely on the existence of a homework website to communicate homework requirements to pupils and therefore do not appear to properly deal with the setting and return of homework in actual classes. So, a distinct lack of communication appears to exist.
It doesn’t appear to have occurred to anyone how muddled and inscrutable the homework website is.
If I cannot easily grasp what a simple homework instruction is from the utter confusion of random and meaningless information scattered like confetti all over the homework website, no-one can reasonably expect an eleven year old to do so either.
Computers are just electronic substitutes for old fashioned bits of paper. It is inexcusable that computers should be so misused just because they offer a different, improved, flexibility of use than bits of paper. Everyone complains about how ghastly computing and the internet is and blames ‘computers’.
It is not computers at all, it is the appalling manner in which people just randomly stuff vast amounts of useless information all over the place and completely abandon any efforts of graphic design as website owners try and cram as much rubbish on webpages as possible with a complete disregard of how readable it is and how it just produces incomprehensible muddle and confusion.
As I started marketing and writing about computers 31 years ago with a mainframe manufacturer , and have been similarly involved in writing about leading edge computing ever since, right up until quite recently when Microsoft asked me to write something for them and, as my lifelong business has been in communications as a journalist, marketing consultant, PR consultant etc, I think I am qualified to know exactly what I am talking about here.
It is a complete disgrace that children as young as eleven are just abandoned to the typical confusion of a badly designed website where understanding and finding the actual homework seems quite impossible. I suppose I could just about struggle though it, wasting a lot of time trying to find the relevant instructions, but expecting eleven year olds to do so just seems ridiculous.
The school’s Head Teacher recently announced a new school website as the ‘old’ one was in her own words ‘not fit for purpose’.
Nothing much seems to have changed; excepting, no doubt, the consumption of a certain amount of public money wasted on paying people’s wages to fiddle about to produce another website pretty much exactly as useless as the previous one.
I have expressed here my (obviously) extreme dissatisfaction with various issues concerning the quality of education at the school. In no manner is any of this directed at you personally or intended to be any personal criticism of you. It is a whole system of mismanagement and waste and incompetence and political interference which has brought this sorry state of affairs into being.
I just find it a shame that teaching staff don’t seem to be able to circumvent the worst of this nonsense and be able to a better job than they do.