Saturday, 12 April 2014

Schools Textbook Scandal: Back to the Future with Gove!

I was 16 in 1983 at the height of the Thatcher years. My school was lucky as at that time it was only 20 years old so had none of the leaky roofs and buckets in classrooms suffered commonly by older schools at the time. One vivid memory was having 1 English Literature textbook on Macbeth between 3 of us. Homework was staged over 3 nights as the book was passed between us and the excuse of " But sir, Jenny forgot to bring it in" was given quite legitimately when homework could not be handed in on time. Parents rang the Head Teacher with their concerns, as this problem spread to other subjects. Our parents refused to pay for textbooks as they believed the school via the government should fund this basic equipment. Hence homework taking 4 days to complete.

Many local schools where I had other friends, were asking parents to provide exercise books too as well as textbooks to do O levels ; sitting in classrooms with huge cracks in ceilings and well in need of a concerted paint job throughout. For those with leaky roofs many a day was lost when the rain was just too bad and the buckets in classrooms couldn't cope.

My elder 2 sons did their GCSES under a Labour Govt back in 2005 and 2008. I can frankly say I never paid for a single textbook in all that time. We had voted for Education, Education, Education and it was delivered. Although we had school league tables they were certainly not the be all and end all, and my boys received a good quality education where subjects were taught and valued by enthusiastic teachers with resources. School trips to enrich the learning experience especially at GCSE level were commonplace. All GCSES were done in Year 11 after a 2 year period of study in June of that exam year. Labour had introduced swathes of different subjects too, so the less academic of students achieved practical NVQs. Every child mattered and every child was valued. Is it only a few short years since education was that good?

Fast forward to the years 2013 -2014. My two younger sons are now 15 and 16. The youngest is autistic. There have been four HeadTeachers in four years, each with a new vision of doing things which has led to my youngest sons year being "the guinea pig" year for every different method to do one thing only : get the school rocketing up the league tables. Where once we had education, education, education now we have league tables, league tables, league tables. To hell with the subject is the mantra as long as we get kids getting A*-C. Now the GCSES are fast- tracked into 1 school year which is effectively 8 months, Exams are mostly taken in May, not June. To get more results to boost the league tables children in Year 9 take 2 option GCSES, then a further 2 in Year 10 and the rest in Year 11. Some parents say it suits their brighter child, but the vast majority have seen the soul destroying way it is taught, without resources.

Wesrminster has definitely not ring fenced the education budget. It is a lie. Cuts are being made drastically. There are not enough GCSE textbooks to go round. Teachers are covering this up by photo-copying large amounts of handouts and asking pupils to put them in folders. Concerned parents like myself have had to turn to online retailers to buy the books so the children have a hard copy of their own for school and home. One GCSE textbook for Home Economics is peculiar to our exam board only at the cost of £20 each. One teacher, on noticing both my sons had their own Geography textbooks, rang me personally to ask whether I would consider donating them to school after the summer exam, as she only has 8 to cover the entire class. Another  older experienced teacher told me at parents evening that she was buying the latest textbooks for her class out of her own pocket as she said it is a catch 22 situation "If the children don't have the textbooks their results will be noticeably lower. This will reflect on me as a teacher through the league tables."

Schools are now slaves to the league tables. Getting up the league tables is the entire raison d'ĂȘtre of Headteachers. Their jobs depend on it, their funding depends on constant improvement.
"So why not put younger pupils in Year 9 and 10 in for exams early  and boost results further? So the children only have 8 months to cram the coursework and the subject in, school trips have to be missed, but hell it's ok because it's the school league tables that matter!" This is what is going on in many schools currently. The constant pressure to outperform the previous years results has now boiled down to a constant treadmill of exams over 3 years where the exam not the subject is taught. I had a son who adored history last year. This year I have a son who never wants to learn history again! The previous Headteacher decided to opt for a "vertical curriculum" where children could possibly leave school in Year 11 with a potential 14 GCSES. Only GCSE days for their 2 option subjects are done all day on Mondays and Fridays with the core subjects done Tuesday-Thursday. Drama and Home Economics benefit as they have all day for practical and theory work. The History and Geography teachers loathe it as children sit at desks all day going from topic to topic cramming in 2 years work in 8 months, with little love or knowledge of the subject , just merely instruments of passing the exam itself. And those who are C/D borderline are helped the most while those A/B students are left to their own devices. Why? So those pupils are pushed to get a C not a D as this reflects on those blasted league tables!

My younger sons have no depth of knowledge of the subjects they are taking this year. Yet they will pass exams in those subjects at GCSE as they have been taught the exam knowledge. It's not good enough. At parents evening I watched every teacher flicking through huge folders of extraordinary statistics as they searched for my boys grades and predicted grades at GCSE. I actually spent a lot of time questioning teachers on their stress levels! The Head of Science has just returned after a breakdown last summer, my sons are experiencing revolving doors of supply teachers across a range of subjects as teachers are ill with stress related problems. As a parent of children doing GCSES I am constantly on the phone telling the Head this is impacting on my children. I have read textbooks myself and tried to learn many of their GCSE subjects so I can help them at home when the supply teacher has no idea who they are and their particular problems or knowledge of a subject. I too am on the exam treadmill!

It was very rare in my teenage years for a teacher to be off sick, in fact it was a talking point if they were! Now stress is unmanageable in the teaching profession which has a huge impact on our children. As my youngest son wearily showed me the options list for his final year next September, we picked 2 options purely because both teachers are never sick, and buy the class textbooks themselves!

My sons will look back at their High School Years as one big exam roller coaster in years to come, which simply satisfied the monster that is exam league tables. They too will recall the lack of resources as I have done. It is no coincidence that Tories were in control of the education department on both occasions. State education suffers under Conservatism full stop. Rich Tory MPs don't have to worry as their children attend private independent schools. The working class must fight back and say this system and lack of resources is not good enough for our children. We demand a world class education. Our children deserve it. One tip to Mr Gove: The champagne budget in the House of Commons has risen 72% under the Coalition Government. Spend it on education instead.