June 2014

Of Mice And men -GCSE NotesResearch this year revealed that teachers tend to lean to the left in politics. I understand why this might be true. We go into teaching to help others and because we want to impart knowledge and we want to give others both a love of learning and the best life-chances possible. In most schools, we come across deprived children and want them to do better and most of us give a lot to them.
However, where I draw the line is the blind criticism of consecutive Secretaries of State for Education whether Gillian Shepherd, David Blunkett or Estelle Morris all of whom have tried their best to improve education. Likewise, even Michael Gove: yes, he is pompous – but he is too trying to do the same, whatever people may think of other Tory policies. Some of the criticism often, in my view, amounts to pure prejudice.

The debate about GCSE Literature is a case in point. It was only recently on asking what a fifteen year old was studying for GCSE, that I was astounded to hear ‘Of Mice and Men’. I could hardly believe that the same book as I had plodded through in Peckham thirty years ago was still on the curriculum! And one could easily argue that it is rather condescending to think that those who are disadvantaged in the UK will necessarily identify with poor rural folk of the 1930s. As regards ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’, I would hesitate before facing youngsters with the direct verbal racism which the book contains. To study this as someone who has chosen English ‘A’ Level Literature is a completely different matter. Actually, what I am so disappointed in examination and school literature courses is the narrowness. What we need is a really wide range of books.

At the same time, after forty years I have seen so many improvements in education, especially for children with special educational needs. Gone are days when a teacher could arrogantly say to a parent ‘I like to teach the Vikings’; and would teach it year after year, no matter that a child had studied it the previous year. And it did matter; it did affect children who needed a good education. Now it would not happen. I remember some teachers (rare, in my experience twenty years ago) who would prepare children well for secondary school and many who did not. It was as simple as that. It’s imperative to do one’s best for the pupils in one’s care. Nowadays, one is very much less likely to come across children or youngsters who really haven’t experienced attempts to teach them to read and spell, without someone wanting to know why.

This has to been due to the introduction of the National Curriculum. I believe in credit where credit’s due. I was fortunate to observe it being introduced and I shall never forget when the literacy standards and levels were being discussed, a young teacher in a deprived school chirped up, ‘Of course, that won’t apply to our children.’ Yes, the National Curriculum and the Inspection system still need reform and badly needed reform many years ago. Both sides of the argument actually need to listen to and act on some of what the other has to say.

But to return to literacy: at the same time as these improvements and reforms, some children do continue to fall through the net. Hence, the reason for this website.

Future Blogs:

  • Help for adult dyslexics
  • Good Books
  • Small schools … small classes
  • Phonic Wars
  • Exams / SATs
  • Literature at GCSE