The UK school system – an education system in crisis? By Natasha Mahtani
According to Sir Al Aynsley-Green (the former children’s commissioner for England), childhood is being ruined in the UK. He just released a book titled “The British Betrayal of Childhood” in which in largely blames Teresa May’s government.
Grammar schools, cutting budgets, the test-oriented curriculum and the failure to see the need for more technical qualifications are some of the things he talks about in his book. I haven’t read it yet but it is on my ‘to be read’ list…once I get through my PGCE that is.
I’d read a lot about the state of the education system before I applied to start a Primary PGCE – facts around the workload, the number of teachers that have been signed off for mental health concerns and the percentage of teachers who leave the profession within the first 5 years – the statistics are dire. According to the 2016 DfE workload survey, classroom teachers work 54.4 hours a week. As of January this year, 3,750 teachers have been signed off for long term sick leave (mainly for mental health concerns). Like doctors working with the NHS, teachers do not go into this profession for the money. And the proof is in the pudding – the rate of inflation has increased more in the last 3 years than teacher’s salaries which essentially makes teachers worse off than they were 3 years ago. Most teachers are passionate about what they do but constantly having to evidence their work (through children’s progress) in a tick box type exercise is not only demanding of their time but leading to low morale when the children don’t progress at the rate they should.
So, knowing all of this, I still went into the teaching profession. It’s early days but what I see has really taken me by surprise. The issue we’re facing with the UK state education doesn’t just lie with the government, (although their policy changes and major budget cuts are making things extremely difficult) but with parents as well. In inner city schools, many parents bring their children to the gates with the idea that it’s a teacher’s job to teach their children everything they need to know. While that may be true to a certain extent, education starts at home. If a child comes into reception at age 4 and cannot count from 1 to 5, this is a problem. If a child comes into reception and cannot recognise his or her name, this is a problem and these are the type of things that can and should be taught at home before a child starts school.
I am in no way taking away from the fact that the government needs to step up to make our education system, for teachers and children, much better. Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted, has criticised the use of performance tables and targets to rank schools. With so many schools now competing against each other rather than working together, foundation subjects like Art, Drama and Computing are being pushed out to make space for English and Maths daily in order to demonstrate student’s progress. In many schools, science is done as a block once a year rather than all year round and history and geography are non-existent in many others.
Schools are under-funded and in many cases children who come into school with ASD (as an example) take so long to be diagnosed and in the meantime, resources such as teaching assistants, which should be for the whole class, are being used to handle the handful of children, with extra needs, who need the 1:1 support. SEN children are a whole other ball game with many parents having to quit their jobs and home school their children as there isn’t enough money in the system to support these children at school. It’s an utter mess.
To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what the solution is (apart from the obvious one being the government injecting more necessary funds into the system). Children only get one chance to go to school, to get that solid foundation they can build on, to be inspired to learn. The government has spent millions on advertising, demonstrating teaching as an inspiring profession; and it can be, but teachers need to be given the reins to be inspiring and motivating, rather than having to look over their shoulder every few weeks to ensure their student’s books are neat enough or that there is something put on a page every single day.
A major uphaul is needed to revamp the education system making it work better for both teachers and children but it is also my belief that if parents were meeting the school’s half way, at least the children (if not the teachers) would be in a better position. There is so much you can do with your child to prepare them for school – read to them, read with them, count with them, play nursery rhymes, show them different numbers, letters of the alphabet, etc. It’s the government’s duty to look after it’s people but it’s a parent’s duty to look after their child and this includes taking on some of the responsibility for their education.