This week’s Secret Teacher, a primary school teacher from Yorkshire, says pupils aren’t buckets to be filled with ‘useful’ facts but are disparate individuals capable of greatness. This is from the Guardian…
“All teachers have consistently high expectations of all pupils.”
Well, in essence, it’s a truly noble statement. But like much else in the Ofsted frameworks, the New Teachers’ standards and in the four or five other Gove-waves that are likely to have wafted out from under his office door over the last week of the holiday when we were all too busy with the last of the Aldi Prosecco to notice, it probably warrants a little unpacking.
High expectations for all pupils in relation to what precisely? The ability of the children to remember what they’ve learned today all the way into next week? The wherewithal not to eat stationery? The likelihood they’ll discover a grand unified theory of everything during their science experiment using two faulty torches and a scratched mirror that no longer mirrors anything? It could be suggested that the definition above is a little slippery.
So let’s return to the Ofsted framework:
“When evaluating the quality of teaching in the school, inspectors must consider: the extent to which teachers’ expectations, reflected in their teaching and planning, including curriculum planning, are sufficiently high to extend the previous knowledge, skills and understanding of all pupils in a range of lessons and activities over time.”
Suddenly, all is clear. It appears having high expectations is demonstrated by the teacher being able to remember what they taught in the previous lesson, and teach the following lesson in some kind of coherent sequence. I can only assume this is to catch out those teachers who one day teach differential calculus; the next counting in 10s, swiftly followed by non-linear dynamics (year 4, spring term).
One would think that the concept of high expectations might encompass such notions as identifying skills and instilling the sense that any talent from maths, to drama, to sport, are worthy of celebration. To point kids in the direction of places where they can develop these talents outside school. To give the children the opportunity to explore and experience the very best literature, music, art, and give them the tools to create their own. To nurture skills of critical thinking, leadership, mentoring and reflection. To see children not as buckets to be filled in hourly doses with whatever information has been deemed useful, but as a disparate group of individuals who will learn in a myriad of individual, valid ways. To be comfortable with the notion that every single one of those people sat in front of the teacher is already better at something than the person standing in front of them. To radically alter the system so that it helps turn young people into writers, readers, mathematicians, artists, and thinkers, rather than creating automatons who give the impression of being these things but have no fundamental understanding of the underlying concepts behind what it is they’re doing.
And yes, to teach maths and English in a way that means children are numerate, and literate.
I know that many of us know this and I know that many of us do our very best to find something of value in the production line education is in danger of becoming (if it hasn’t already), but as long as the policy makers confuse passing tests with education, encourage competition over collaboration, and reward conformity rather than creativity, the chance of this happening at any point in the future is somewhere between bugger all and not much…