Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Edgukayshun: A Reader Writes...

This is a comment left by a reader called Cynic in the thread below on grammatical standards...

For what it is worth, here is our experience.

When we moved to a new area with a deep red Labour council, we immediately noticed that our 7 year old's reading and writing suddenly seemed to be going backwards. We asked for a meeting with her school teacher.

As my wife pointed out that our daughter's spelling seemed to be deteriorating, the teacher carefully explained that she didn't 'teach' spelling. Modern educational theory had shown that this just didn't work. Instead it was best to just 'expose children to words and later the spellings and sentence structures would just emerge organically in their brains when they needed to spell a word'.

As I (quite literally) rolled my eyes to heaven, I noticed that many of the words on mobiles hanging around the room and on wall charts contained very basic spelling mistakes and alarm bells began to ring even louder.

We then asked for an urgent meeting with the Head Teacher. She was very sympathetic.

"I know what you are going to say about Miss X", she said, "she's very keen but she has very bad dyslexia and it affects both her English and Maths. We knew all about it as she did some of her teaching practice here and I warned the Governors not to appoint her, but they insisted that it was a disability issue and that she would cope as she was so 'committed'. I am sorry about this, but there is literally nothing I can do now. She is causing chaos with the staff as well as the pupils, as at times she cannot even parse a sentence correctly, so she misunderstands basic instructions. I have told the Governors but they wont admit now they have made a mistake. I have had enough. I have applied for early retirement and I leave in July."

We could have then gone to the Governors but the month before I had met the daughter of the Chair of Governors who was a trainee primary school teacher. She was on an access course into teaching having dropped out of school at 16 with no qualifications at all. After 4 years in Woolworths her mother had suggested teaching as a career so she was now on her course.

I asked did she find it hard to do the course, never having done exams before. "Naw", she said. "It's all continuous assessment. Anyway, I am a socialist and I don't believe in exams. They are elitist"

In the end we just moved our daughter to a fee paying school where they spent a year just getting her back to where she had been before. She just graduated this year with a First in Law from a top UK Law School. We are delighted but I still wonder at all the lost potential in that classroom and all the other classrooms.

37 comments:

Dilettante said...

Hopefully, these benighted areas will get properly academic Free Schools set up by parents independent of the Council.

Sean Haffey said...

This is literally wicked.

We're being asked which laws we'd like repealed. I'd like to see a law that enables us to prosecute such a board of governors.

Theophile said...

First, this sounds like absolute nonsense.

Second, if this girl has graduated she is presumably at least 21. This incident happened when she was 7. So, at the latest this would have been in the year 1996, under John Major's government. Regardless of what the "deep red" council thought, she would have been taught using the National Curriculum, which was set up in 1988.

Did you repost this to prove that state education is poor quality under the Conservative Party?

John Holmes said...

Yeah the deterioration in writing standards is due to an epidemic of dyslexic teachers.

Half The Story said...

What kind of idiot parent does not check the schools before you move.

Clueless.

Charlotte Corday said...

I remember on the "Mumsnet" website a comment from a teaching assistant who asked for advice with regard to a teacher who kept putting words with spelling mistakes up on the board (one example was "beautifile" ).

What amazed me was that about 40 per cent of the mothers who replied didn't think it was important. There were comments on the lines of "what matters is that the teacher is enthusiastic". The fact that what the teacher was telling pupils was wrong didn't seem to be important.

One teacher did point out there are coping strategies for teachers who are dyslexic; she said that she was dyslexic herself but made sure that it did not affect her teaching.

Michael said...

Oh, this makes me angry. It shakes my pinko liberal bones. It is an anecdote and nothing more. A jumped up anecdote, no less, that tells us one thing - that if you want a successful lawyer for a child, pay the hilt for it. Now, if you don't mind my arrogance for a second, I going to tell you that I am a fantastic writer. It is my pre-eminent skill, the one that were my parents middle class, would fill them with pride so that at dinner parties they would glow and make a point of reminding the others present - as they had done on so many occasions previously. In Putney or wherever. Maybe Islington. Who cares? And I never learnt /learned /learn'd grammar. It just came to me. I figured it out. And nor do I care if I start a sentence with the word And. Also, the girl was 7, she's just graduated so let's say she's 21, probably had a gap year so maybe 22 or 23. Red council or not, it was a Tory government that let her down. Am I right?

Man in a Shed said...

The underlying question is are the left just too stupid to realise the impact of the way they ran education - or is creating an angry but unemployed underclass their real objective ?

Indy said...

Makes me glad local authorities still control teacher employment up here in Scotland and don't leave it to the vagaries of school "governors".

They sound like a right bunch of nutters at that school.

sociolinguist82 said...

What utter nonsense to extrapolate the poor human resource management skills of a group of governors to larger questions about the delivery and content of teaching.

Little Black Sambo said...

What kind of idiot parent does not check the schools before you move.

What kind of idiot correspondent does not remember that there are all kinds of reasons for having to move, and that many find themselves far from good schools through no fault of their own?
And what kind of idiot correspondent misses the point entirely, which is that the school was no good, whether those particular parents patronized it or not?

Blackacre said...

The problem is not a Tory/Labour government but the way we teach grammar. Yes, many will pick it up, in the same way we will pick up maths from shopping and darts. But it is not the same as proper education in the skills and will set the child back for development in other areas where precise use of language is needed (eg science).

JuliaM said...

Michael: "Now, if you don't mind my arrogance for a second, I going to tell you that I am a fantastic writer. "

One who never learned the arcane art of the paragraph, it seems...

Fausty said...

That story almost exactly describes my experience. Similarly, we whisked our kids out of the lousy school concerned, and put them in private schools.

We are still paying off the loan for that, but it was worth it. My younger son gained a Class One in Astrophysics at Cambs - which he would not have achieved had we not moved him!

Tim said...

I fear that this anecdote will make it seem like progress on disability equality has caused an absurd result, when in act it is the governors to blame.

Unsworth said...

"We knew all about it as she did some of her teaching practice here and I warned the Governors not to appoint her, but they insisted that it was a disability issue and that she would cope as she was so 'committed'. I am sorry about this, but there is literally nothing I can do now. She is causing chaos with the staff as well as the pupils, as at times she cannot even parse a sentence correctly, so she misunderstands basic instructions. I have told the Governors but they wont admit now they have made a mistake. I have had enough. I have applied for early retirement and I leave in July."

There's much more to this than meets the eye. In my schools Governors most certainly do not appoint staff - that is the role and responsibility of the Headteacher as stated in the Terms of Reference and as required by law. Indeed Governors never participate in interviewing staff except at the specific invitation of the Headteacher. I have sat in on interviews and participated in the process of selection in the past. Always my approach has been to express a view, but to leave the School Management to make their choice. In any event, if Governors were to appoint staff against the wishes of a Headteacher then they would be directly and personally responsible for any failures. That is not something which most Governors are prepared to countenance.

Cynic is right to be alarmed. I have always told parents that their first port of call is the Class Teacher, then the Headteacher, then the Chair of Governors, then the County Authority and then the Secretary of State. And I have always actively encouraged parents to speak out, and speak out early and rapidly. It seems to me that the Governing Body as described in this case was/is completely out of order - if not totally inept.

As to early retirement, well was that the real story and or maybe that was the real motivation? This Headteacher had told the Governing Body of her concerns - and yet had not bothered to take the matter any further. Is that in any way morally or professionally acceptable?

Perhaps also it is a little unwise to assume that the daughter's attitudes are a direct reflection of her mother's.

Unsworth said...

@ Sean Haffey

Boards of Governors can be prosecuted by Local Authorities and by the Secretary of State. They can also be removed from office by the same authorities.

Kevin said...

Its not about who is in the government it’s the idiots that run education and their 'progressive' theories.

And as for this all just being one anecdote - well here is mine;

I was at primary school in the middle 60's when these nutty ideas where just coming into being. Our teacher used to have a series of pictures on a display board and we had to go up and write what we thought the thing was underneath - and if we spelt it wrongly - no matter - it was good enough that we tried. For years there were words i consistently spelt wrongly - and still do sometimes.

So by the time i was going into the junior school – 7 years old - i was effectively illiterate. So my Nan sat down with me one Saturday afternoon and over the next few weeks more or less taught me to read and write. And she had left school at 12 in 1902.

I mean how much more proof do we need – every year students come out of schools and universities with fantastic qualifications (due to dumbing down) but cant spell or write properly.

But left wing dogma in education is like left wing dogma in everything else – doesn’t matter how badly it fails – being a socialist means never admitting you are wrong.

Sobers said...

My anecdote - I attend a pub quiz at a large chain pub (cough Wetherspoons cough) every week. The questions are read out by a girl (early 20s) who works there in the evenings. During the day she is a teaching assistant at a local comp. She struggles to read out the questions. Words that are not particularly outlandish completely stump her. She often reads out a sentence that makes no sense at all, because she has misread one word. Fairly basic facts (this is a Wetherspoons quiz after all) are totally alien to her. How someone so uneducated (dim even) can be considered suitable to help children with their education is beyond me.

Roger Pearse said...

So much ideology, disguising sheer laziness and negligence.

We need to get all the ideology out of public service and replace it with a culture of duty, hard work and service. Or just watch the money squeezed from the poor being wasted and worse, while applicants for jobs are carefully screened to ensure that only lefties can be appointed.

Cynic said...

"Yeah the deterioration in writing standards is due to an epidemic of dyslexic teachers."

No its down to incompetence in those who appoint and manage them. .

"First, this sounds like absolute nonsense"

It happened. And yes it was 1996. But how do you lay the blame for a mad teacher appointment at the door of the National Curriculum? Are you, perchance, a member of the NUT?

" What kind of idiot parent does not check the schools before you move."

We did. This was the BEST ONE!!!!!! To be fair the Head Teacher was very impressive but she was just worn down by carrying the politically dominated Governors

"the County Authority and then the Secretary of State."

The County was Labour dominated and the Chair was a Labour Councillor. Do you seriously think anything would have been done? Have you ever lived in an area where Labour hold power in perpetuity? And it would be just the same if it were the Lib Dems or Conservatives

"A jumped up anecdote"

The moral you draw is up to you. As the parent I just felt that my child was in a madhouse and I had to get her out. We have said to her throughout her academic career that our job was to give her all the chances we could and what she did with them was up to her - so long as she was happy. We didnt drive her on - she chose her own path - but if we had left her in that school her choices would have been severely limited.

Charlotte Corday said...

Sobers: Regarding your post about the teaching assistant: I once applied for such a post. I am a graduate, I have a special needs child and at that time I was a school governor at a special needs school.

When I phoned up for the application form, I asked the school secretary what academic qualifications were needed for the post. She burst out laughing. When she regained composure, she said that it helped if you had one or two GCSEs but really all you needed was to be able to read and write.

I didn't get the job. Probably they regarded me as over-qualified.

OldSlaughter said...

My father tells me often that when he was a lad a teacher was ,along with a doctor, one of the few 'respected' professions in his community. One of those who would automatically be allowed in your house, who was shown respect. He also said that they were well paid, the teachers in his area had cars.

Well now these days the average teacher is paid about half what the guy who changes bollard lamps for the council gets paid. A good plumber can earn Headmaster money.

Although like soldiering, teaching has rewards beyond simple money, the fact is, we pay peanuts and unsurprisingly those that didn't consider it a 'calling' are monkeys.

Cynic said...

Iain

Thanks for highlighting my post.

I genuinely don't have an agenda on this. I just thought our experience was relevant to the sort of things that can go wrong - not just in Labour areas.

Its amazing to to see some of the bile that telling a story like that provokes. Its been suggested that I am telling lies or the story doesn't sound right.

Why in heavens name would I go to the bother of making all that up?

AndrewSouthLondon said...

Oh dear, just what England doesn't need - more lawyers.

Worthless time-wasting profession whose hourly rate is based on what they could earn in the private sector like Carter Ruck, but waffling over Bloody Sunday or Muslims right to wear the full burqua to school.

Strangely, no one has suggested one of the governments first economies should be to stop paying QC's the like of Cherie Blair a quarter of a million a year for arguing uni-style debating points.

Get interns to do it for nothing.

Unsworth said...

@ Cynic

""the County Authority and then the Secretary of State."

The County was Labour dominated and the Chair was a Labour Councillor. Do you seriously think anything would have been done? Have you ever lived in an area where Labour hold power in perpetuity? And it would be just the same if it were the Lib Dems or Conservatives"


Give up easily? All I can say is that I never have in such matters. If you don't actually try you won't get anywhere.

I've taken a Local (Conservative)Authority to pieces on occasions - and when necessary. They knew very well that my next stop was the Department - and that would not be exactly career enhancing for them. The fact is that most of these apparatchicks are petrified that things will blow up in their faces. The game is to embarrass and worry them - and that's not too difficult. Officials have careers to nurture, and politicians have electorates to please.

Nothing worse in their view than the sunlight of widespread publicity. Surprising how often the local rag has a slack day. You have to use every single weapon at your disposal. Usually they'll buckle at the first sign of organised and determined attack.

Nigel said...

Unsworth is quite right. The only member of staff that governors appoint is the Head.

Taking the account at face value, something very strange indeed was going on.

And FWIW, primary schools have improved considerably over the last decade (secondary schools not so much).

Cynic said...

"If you don't actually try you won't get anywhere. "

Sorry but I didn't feel that it was a good idea to use my daughter as a battering ram to take on the Local Labour Council and their henchmen. Remember she was in the best school in the area (Gawd help us)

And what exactly do you expect I would have achieved? Do you think it was likely to be just one teacher when you have that situation in the school? How long would it take and what would happen to her in the meantime?

MargaretHale said...

Thank you to Unsworth for this story, which is similar to our own experience.

We looked round the local state school with our daughter before she was 5. Shockingly, there was no reading scheme - the children were just encouraged to read whatever they wanted. Maths work was not marked right or wrong so as not to upset the children. The teaching took place in a noisy open plan area and worst of all the teachers, when asked about sports day (my husband was beginning to smell a rat by this time!) declared that competitive sport was not compatible with the school's ethos!

Needless to say we moved and put the children through private schools from age 4 - 18. Whatever government allowed this to happen, it is wrong and must be reversed. As grammar school parents we did not expect to have to buy private education for our children, but it was the only solution at that time. Basic literacy and numeracy, disciplined behaviour and competitive sport are the cornerstones of education which must be reintroduced urgently.

Lady Finchley said...

Cynic - I totally support you on this but I must tell you that my son went to a fee paying school and I remember bringing up the subject of my son's grammar and spelling (he was 7 at the time) only to be told that they prefer to encourage creativity and deal with the grammar later!!!

I can tell you that when I was eight the nuns spent the entire school year teaching us proper grammar - I can still remember the little beige textbook and it is something I never forgot! Far from hampering my creativity I went on to work as a journalist and PR.

And do ignore the bitter ramblings of some of the lefties on this blog - they hate any parent who tries to do right by their child.

Unsworth said...

@ Cynic

I certainly would not suggest using your daughter (or anyone else's daughter!) as a battering ram. What I was pointing out is that a little courage can sometimes bring great rewards. I also strongly believe that we are all obligated to our fellow man. If something is clearly wrong we should speak out - if not for our benefit then for the benefit of others. Far too many people have simply abandoned their rights and their responsibilities as citizens of this country. Civic duty has in many cases been replaced by self-interest.

Your view as to the likelihood of other teachers in the school being poor/incompetent is reasonable. The fact is that the Headteacher, as described by you, should have been hauled over the coals by the Governors, by Her Majesty's Inspectors, and by the Local Authority. I'd suggest that all of these were at fault - but the principal miscreant was undoubtedly the Head, who should have dealt with the matter or urgently sought help. For her to abandon her responsibilities and say that the Governors had insisted on appointing this member of staff is simply untenable and morally reprehensible.

As to the process of removal of incompetent teachers I'd certainly agree that this takes far too long. Competency Procedures can take up to a year, and if one adds long-term sickness into the equation it can take double that - with the resultant huge damage to (several cohorts of) pupils. Gove is absolutely right to highlight that aspect.

It's not often mentioned, but a good Headteacher will tend to put the weakest members of staff where they can do least damage - and where, if necessary, other more able colleagues in later years can take remedial action. Thus in the case of Primary Schools one can often see a dip in standards immediately after Key Stage 1, which - one hopes - will be remedied by the critical end of Key Stage 2 (although that is not the sole reason for this phenomenon). Not all teachers are brilliant or even good - and Chris Woodhead has recently made himself very unpopular by making that point forcefully. But we're obliged to work with the tools we have.

It's good that you managed to resolve your particular difficulties. My job as a Governor for twenty years and more is to ensure that such things are dealt with very effectively and rapidly in any school that I am responsible for - and I take that responsibility very seriously. What worries me now is that the next generation of teachers will have had such a poor basic education that they will be unable to distinguish mistakes made by their charges. Where do we go from there? Remedial lessons in spelling and English for Graduates?

Cynic said...

Unsworth

Thank you.

I tend to agree but by this stage I knew this local area and the Council very well. Labour were back in power in Westminster and the chances of getting anything done in this area were utterly hopeless. It was quite a deprived borough and the levels of public expectation towards everything were low. In my experience, the Council often strived to meet them!

That is not a party political point. I know this can happen in any area where one party is totally dominant.

Cynic said...

Unsworth

Thank you.

I tend to agree but by this stage I knew this local area and the Council very well. Labour were back in power in Westminster and the chances of getting anything done in this area were utterly hopeless. It was quite a deprived borough and the levels of public expectation towards everything were low. In my experience, the Council often strived to meet them!

That is not a party political point. I know this can happen in any area where one party is totally dominant.

Ian Batten said...

I don't doubt there was shocking teaching in primary schools in the nineties (although it's worth asking who the government had been for the preceding fifteen years) but I'm sceptical about the excuse proffered by the head.

Governors appoint the head and, where relevant, the deputy heads. After that, selection and interviewing is in the hands of the head or their designates.

The governors approve the appointments of teaching staff, but only in the sense that they approve the appointed staff on the basis of the application forms and the head's recommendations. In theory, governors can veto the head's decisions, although in most cases that would result in the intervention of the LEA or the foundation/diocese/etc. The converse is not true: the governors cannot impose a member of staff on the head, simply because they only get to see the output from the head's selection process.

Secondly, whether the head or the governors made the appointment, they would be committing institutional suicide. What are now called KS1 SATS, the testing for children who are seven by 31st July in the year in question, were introduced in 1991, and KS2 (11) in 1995. So a school behaving like this in 1996 would be heading for extinction, because the SATS (which I think, as a parent of children born in the mid-90s, have been a powerful driver of improvements especially in flushing out the sort of crap described here) placed a lot of focus on spelling and writing sentences.

Thirdly, it's unimaginable that, even in the 1990s, someone with the teaching problems described would be able to pass their BEd. without the head of the schools they were doing teaching practice in signing them off. If the teacher in question had done their teaching practice in the school, the head herself must have signed her off, as that's something the governors would never have any input to at all.

So I suspect that Cynic got the edited highlights of a more complex disaster, with a lot more going on tha s/he was told. On the face of it, the head had three opportunities (at teaching practice, at application, at interview) to refuse to employ before the governors even had sight of the issue. That this broke down says there's some other story been left untold.

Manfarang said...

This reminds me of a friend.His parents took him out of a state school and sent him to a private school( I seem to remember it was called Downside-anyway long since closed)He left that school without a single 'o' level.
Private education isn't all its cracked out to be.

Agapanthus said...

Hold on a second. If the daughter has just graduated, presumably her parents' experience was approximately 17 years ago? How can it be remotely relevant as it happened a) before the previous administration got into power and started changing how education was administered, and b) with a Tory government in power...
Everybody leaping to comment should take that into consideration perhaps.

Agapanthus said...

It's a shame your daughter didn't feel moved to go into teaching. Until people who are as bright and motivated and well-supported as your daughter see teaching as a destination career rather than an after-thought, it will be full of people who are not so bright, not so well-qualified and without the supportive background your daughter was lucky to have.
Instead, she went to be a lawyer - which, unless she is going to be a ground-breaking human rights lawyer, probably means she will do little good for humanity but line her own pockets very comfortably. I don't say this to judge your daughter (or you), or even to judge lawyers (much) but because it is the sad truth about teaching.
No wonder there is a shortage of talented, committed, well-educated teachers...