Education, education, education (repetition for emphasis)

What follows is based on the English (not British – this aspect of leadership is devolved to member countries) education system.  It would be interesting to hear how my experience compares with that of people in other countries, though.

A friend has recently transferred her nine year old son from the private to the state education system.  Her comments surprised me.
“I’m amazed,” she said, “how much this state school involves parents. I’ve been sent a pack of information about what they will be teaching my son this year and how I will be expected to support him in this. In the private sector, you just pay your money and they get on with it. You have no idea what they’re doing.”

Having spent all my working life in the state sector, this difference had never occurred to me.  It might go some way to explain how a succession of government ministers and their staff (almost all privately educated) know an embarrassingly minute amount about how children learn, what they need to learn and generally, as a headteacher friend remarked, ‘where the children and childhood are in all of this’.

So why am I off on another rant?  Well although I washed my hands of the system some seven years ago, I’ve been tutoring individual boys and girls ever since.  I basically teach what their parents ask me to.  If they are home-educated, I work on open-ended projects that interest the child, along with skills they will need in everyday life.  If they are in school, I help them to catch up with or understand whatever parts of the curriculum they are struggling with.

Duncan (10 years old) is already stressing out about the SATs tests he will be made to sit next May, before transferring to secondary school.  He’d asked me to tailor this year’s lessons to help him get through the tests.

students-377789_1280My heart sank.  I taught Year 6 (age 10-11) for many years.  Loved the kids; hated having to spend so much time teaching to these tests, rather than allowing the wonderful, vibrant, enthusiastic young people in my care to make discoveries, to explore different viewpoints and to find their passion.  Still, I owed it to young Duncan to help him cope as best I could, so I decided to update myself on the way SATs work these days.

The mental maths test has gone.  At first I was pleased for Duncan – rapid mental calculation is not one of his strengths.  Then I thought on.  Surely being able to work out how much two or three items will cost in a shop or whether the ‘special offers’ on display will save or cost us money is a useful life skill…  so teaching and even testing it makes some sense.  No, there are now three long written papers.

There used to be one paper that tested mathematical skills, while a second (calculator permitted) checked the ability to use those skills in more inventive or open-ended ways.  The calculator is now banned.  Well obviously.  Although almost every member of the population carries a mobile phone which includes a calculator, our children are being trained not to use it.  Oh dear.

I turned to the English tests.  These are being changed for the coming year.  All I could find were some sample questions showing the type of thing they will now be asked.  Here’s one for your consideration:  (aimed, remember, at children of 10 and 11 years old)

Tick one box in each row to show whether the word before is used as a subordinating conjunction or as a preposition.

Sentence                                                                       subordinating conjunction    preposition


We left the cinema before the end of the film.

The train ticket is cheaper before 9:00 in the morning.

I brush my teeth before I have breakfast.


I’m in my sixties; I’ve been a teacher all my working life; I’ve held posts as Head of English, English Co-ordinator, school librarian and so forth… and I have NEVER needed to identify a subordinating conjunction, far less compare it to a preposition.  I’ve yet to find anyone who has.

In case you’re clinging to the hope that my country’s government still has some semblance of a grasp of what education is about, and has just made that one rather glaring mistake… sorry to disappoint you, but here are some more extracts from the same document:

Fill in the gaps in the sentence below, using the past progressive form of the verbs in the boxes.

Rewrite the sentence below so that it begins with the adverbial. Use only the same words, and remember to punctuate your answer correctly.

Which option correctly introduces the subordinate clause in the sentence below?

Which option completes the sentence below so that it uses the subjunctive mood?

I could go on.

blackboard-156494_1280I spent much of my time as a teacher, trying to help children cope with the very complex spelling patterns in a language with so many roots, dissuading them from using text speak in their written work and explaining that ‘we was‘ or ‘could of‘ were not standard English.  This was in one of those rare areas of the country where almost all the children had English as a first language.

I can imagine the increased levels of stress that parents, children and teachers will suffer to jump through this latest set of ridiculous hoops.  What I can’t imagine is what goes on in the minds of the people who set such an inappropriate, boring and irrelevant curriculum.

Depressed now.  Need some light relief.  Please don’t watch this video if you are offended by bad language or simply don’t get the English sense of humour; otherwise go ahead and laugh or cry, depending on your mood.

Video of Fascinating Aida’s Ofsted song

5 comments on “Education, education, education (repetition for emphasis)

  1. In Canada, Alberta specifically as our education is a provincial responsibility, education is a disaster . We have “discovery math” which means the children aren’t learning the basics. We have teachers refusing to help when a student doesn’t understand a concept even when your child asks for help, you email multiple times, and you set up a meeting with the teacher and vice principle (two different schools this happened at). By the way, all that needed explaining was BEDMAS, the order of operations, they did not teach this to the students. And then there is the never ending use of iPads in elementary school where the kids spend more time looking at a screen than the teacher. The list goes on. I am headed into my 13th year with children in school and the deterioration in the last 4 years has been shocking. The last 4 years has been one constant problem. My 5 year old has actually refused to go to Kindergarten, he has seen all the issues with his siblings, so we will be doing it at home. Kindergarten is optional in Alberta.

    Thank you for letting me vent! LOL!

    • I think we both feel better for being able to let off steam, Deb!
      I know there is good and bad teaching and school management everywhere, but I wish the politicians would either find out what they are legislating about or let the professionals get on with the job unimpeded.

  2. I loved the song! So funny and yet sad at the same time. Here in the US, depending on the wealth of where you live, your child will have a better school, better paid teachers, and more opportunities or a school that can’t afford new books. The system is very out of balance monitarily. And yet, they try to set national standards in a country that is physically huge, extremely diverse, and varies in so many ways depending where you live. I thank goodness that my son qualifies for special education, as that lets him pass certain standardized test with a lower grade, or take a different test that he’s more apt to pass. I wish that instead of trying to compete with other countries where children go to school 6 days a week and aren’t even allowed to be children, our educators would look within each state or even within each county and do what’s best for the people in just that area. I don’t understand the obsession for the want for everyone to be the same, at the same levels of proficiency, when people aren’t made that way. We are missing the boat on so many peoples individual talents. And more and more, teachers are being forced to teach to the tests or risk the school losing more precious funding instead of receiving more that they likely need.

    • What a wise, perceptive lady you are, Sue. I think you’ve summed up so much that is wrong with western education. We, too, have a standardised curriculum and national tests. Of course it’s a far smaller country than yours, but also very diverse. Education provision used to be covered by local authorities, but the Conservatives have worked hard to erode that, offering schools extra money if they opt out of LA control and are answerable only to central government. Easier to control them that way.
      Glad you enjoyed the song. It’s terrifyingly accurate 🙂

      • I believe our education morphed into the current system because of needing an educated (at least somewhat educated) workforce after World War 2. We began mass educating and standardizing everything. The end of the one room school house. It gave more people an opportunity for an education, but over time, the system has grown into a monster.

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