Tuesday, May 18, 2004

State Educashun

Watching my son play cricket last night, chatting to another parent. He gave up a well-paid but stressful job in sales to teach physics at a comprehensive with a poor reputation, and after one year was approached by the only decent State comprehensive for thirty miles around - he starts there in September. "A-level physics now" he said, "is about the level I did at O-level" (he's forty). We talked about discipline and I asked him how he coped. "Never shout - you're just providing entertainment for them."

I missed this Private Eye piece, a fortnights diary written by a comprehensive maths teacher, but I read the anguished mailbag it produced from teachers.

I think I'll ask my children to read it on the weekend - they attend a not-very-good comprehensive in the same town. My eldest's maths teacher was sacked last year when a pupil struck him in the face, drawing blood. Instead of reporting him, the teacher knocked the boy down, then picked him up off the floor and hit him again. His replacement was a woman with a heavy South African accent, who had trouble with keeping order - some of the boys mocked the way she spoke, which was difficult to understand. He has had six maths teachers in three years at comprehensive.

At this year's pre-SATs test the school told me my son's maths attainment level was still level 5, which it was in his last year of primary school. We took him to an excellent private maths tutor who said he was the fourth child from that maths set he'd been asked to coach.

The school has been awarded Specialist School status in Maths and Computing.

"We teachers often control the behaviour of the class with the work that we set. Easy work that creates no insecurity will result in reasonable behaviour. Difficult work that creates self-doubt will be meet with aggression. This constantly leads to the dilemma: do we set hard work that will stretch them but also lead to poor behaviour and so cost learning time? Or do we set easy work and get reasonable behaviour - and more teaching time - in return?

I kept them quiet by giving them work that did not make them feel insecure (ie easy work) and by not challenging them about their work rate. I should have been able to stop them after 15 minutes, explain harder work and push them to think. I didn’t because of the issues of controlling them that this would have created. There are times when we mistake activity and silence for learning."

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