The law of averages is endemic at most state schools. Being target driven, as most teachers are, it is only natural they will support children with the greatest potential to achieve exam grades that translate into the ideal points score for the school. If a child is outside the mean they can expect to be partially abandoned by the system. But help is at hand. Eighty per cent of children respond favourably to parents helping the schooling process at home. Children who are keen to learn can use educational games matched to the curriculum that turn the exercise with parents “learning in disguise”.
Survival of the fittest is the calling of nature perhaps, but it has an equal relevance in the classroom. Children who are very bright can all too often be left to their own devices; lacking stimulation from the teacher can lead to stagnation in their learning ability. Ironically they then slip down the ability league table to fall into the average zone where they would be picked up by the teaching resources. But this is a staggering waste of talent that could otherwise have flourished.
At the opposite end of the scale children struggling with lessons discover their teacher will frequently not be able to support the extra teaching needed to boost their understanding. Such children could have their entire schooling undermined because nobody could give them a hand to realise their potential. Accepting an arbitrary measure of ten per cent of children in education is affected by these no-go areas would mean an astounding two million children in primary and secondary school are under supported. A real problem lies hidden in the statistics of an educational world driven by targets.
The situation which starts in the primary school is compounded in secondary school where ill prepared children find it hard to cope with the step change. Worse perhaps are those gifted children who fail to thrive in secondary school due to lack of encouragement. The frustration with this impasse is widespread. Teachers who feel powerless to change the system can only watch as hopes and dreams fade. Parents, desperate to help, often feel isolated by the educational system or mistakenly believe they should not be seen to interfere. Children struggle, become bored or worse still fail to achieve their true potential.
The schooling journey through primary and secondary school lasts 15 years. It passes in a flash to many students yet the central educational policy, fundamental in providing school leavers with the foundations for adult life, remain in time warp. We live in a world that has been accelerating with regards to technology and reducing global boundaries. One of the greatest changes to modern life began after the Second World War. Families, once geographically tight knit suddenly had their boundaries extended. Many armed forces posted overseas remained in that country after demobilisation, emigration blossomed to Australia, South Africa and Canada by families seeking a better life away from the post war constraints of the UK.
During the 1970’s technology diminished communication barriers. Distances shrank as air travel improved and the ability to interconnect easily with other time zones became a reality. Medical science has developed immeasurably and the pace of life and trade accelerated beyond our wildest dream. Yet in the background our educational programme stalled. The manner in which the curriculum was delivered remained static. The system became hell bent on measuring all manner of data and setting targets. Countless educational initiatives and their subsequent corrections were devised. Nothing seemed to work. Teachers became frustrated, moral dipped, the UK slipped inexorably down the world educational league table and students entered work or higher education with substandard schooling.
Our world of education is decidedly broken yet we seem unable to fix it. Despite governmental declarations that school budgets will remain intact there is a nervousness that this may yet prove to be unsustainable. The Minister of State for Education appears to be remote from the battle front. Policies, such as the trend towards academies and their independent reporting structure hide the facts that will dilute the impact of our schooling performance. The education budget is massive; the responsibilities colossal and we cannot realistically expect a solution to be easy. But judging by the reaction to any change such as the conversion to the English Baccalaureate the government needs to coordinate a multi-disciplinary approach to the schooling process of the future. Rather than relying on a single minister the skill and judgement of the whole cabinet should be assembled as a war cabinet. Maybe the schooling credentials of the existing cabinet; predominately that of the private schooling could be used as the business model as it seems to work splendidly. It just needs to be scaled up and rolled out to all children rather than those of wealthy parents. It can work as the mighty Eton and Harrow schools were originally established for children from poor backgrounds!
The number of good schools is a testament to the state of our education. Even those who live in the catchment areas of a good school do not have automatic entry. Despite paying a premium in local house prices admittance can still be highly selective. Entrance exams narrow the selection but even these now need additional support from parents striving to open the door for their children. The use of private tutors to drill prospective children in entrance exam techniques is now commonplace. The process is placing a further dilemma on the school selection panel that are now faced with the social quandary of bypassing children whose parents could not afford the tutors. A secondary consideration are the number of good teachers who have left their school enticed by an income of £80 per hour as a tutor compared to a teacher’s salary equating to £30 per hour.
These changes will take decades to effect. In the meantime our existing teaching resources and students need help. Parents in the role of teaching support will become ever more essential to provide mutual benefit to teachers, children and themselves. Providing fun based educational support through games played at home can be hugely rewarding and open to many more parents than the use of tutors.