The Decline and Fall of the English Language

I was going to blog last month about how a BBC2 documentary found that 80% of Britons cannot recite a single verse of poetry. This is not helped by the fact 58% pupils never study poetry in school. Not a line. The ones who do read Carol Ann Duffy, the Scottish lesbian who was just named the new Poet Laureate. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with Miss Duffy’s poetry, but reading a single living poet does not constitute a sufficient literary education.

Like I said, I was going to blog about it, but I’d just be whinging once again about the state of education in this country. Then yesterday I was having a conversation with a couple of 14-year-olds. It start with me telling off one of them for using a participle that is an inappropriate term derived from an innocuous noun. He had no idea what a participle is. Okay, that’s not a big surprise. I probably didn’t learn about participles until at least the 9th grade, maybe even the 10th.

The disturbing thing is that neither he nor his friend knew what a noun is. This is something I learned well before the 5th grade, because by then we were parsing sentences. Now with the average 14-year-old, I have trouble getting them to write in sentences. I had a 16-year-old who handed in an entire 1500-word coursework without using a single mark of punctuation. I’m not exaggerating. But back to the boys in Year 9. . .

They had heard the term “noun” before. They just couldn’t agree on what it was. One of them thought it was a “doing” word. The other thought it was a “describing” word. He contended it couldn’t be a “doing” word, because that was an adverb.  These were not pupils in the bottom English set. They were not pupils with special educational needs. Because I was teaching a mixed-ability group, there was a top-set girl who actually knew that a noun was a “naming” word.

No poetry, no grammar. Is it the end of the English language or the end of civilisation?

One thinks of Eliot. . .

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends

No, wait. That would be trite  to anyone who has seen this over-used reference to Eliot.  And on the other hand, clearly it would be lost upon anyone with a secondary education in Britain in the last decade. I believe the general response would be, “T. S. who?”

Professional Secrecy

I didn’t blog last week about Alex Dolan, when she was suspended by the General Teaching Council for undercover filming in schools. The footage was shown on the Channel 4 investigative program Dispatches and actually brought the state of Britain’s schools into the open. She showed very bad behaviour in four different schools, including teachers hiding badly behaved pupils from Ofsted inspectors, and pupils openly threatening violence against her. She revealed that the education emperor has no clothes and the GTC did not take kindly to being exposed.

This week it is the turn of Margaret Haywood, who filmed the neglect of elder patients in a hospital for Panorama, the BBC investigative program. Even though all the patients gave consent after they were filmed, she was charged with breaching confidentiality and struck off the nursing register. Because she was too concerned about patient care, she was declared no longer fit to be a nurse.

I’m also reminded of the cops who beat up newsagent Ian Tomlinson from behind as he walked down the street with his hands in his pockets during the G20 summit. Tomlinson later died. Apparently the balaclavas over their faces are part of their uniform to protect them from fire, but they are still supposed to wear their identification number. Their numbers were not visible, so it took a while to identify them from the video footage.

Is it any wonder that three of the areas of public service people know aren’t working are education, nursing and law enforcement?

Children and Society: Cause and Effect

Some people on Facebook seemed surprised recently at my willingness to return to what has now become the Obamanation. Though this is not possible for a number of reasons, the newspapers continue to be filled with good reasons flee. I continue to marvel at the British Government’s lack of ability to discern the relationship between cause and effect, instead destroying the remnants of this society, completely baffled by both.

Side by side today in the Mail Online, were a stories about a 14-year-old and an 8-year-old. The older boy shot a teacher in the face with a pellet gun at Beal High School in Ilford, Essex. He got a 15-day suspension. His friends who helped conceal the gun after the incident got shorter suspensions. The teacher was lucky to have been hit between the eyes and not in one of them.

While I agree with the spokeman from the National Union of Teachers that children who use violence against teachers should be expelled rather than suspended, this is the same union that wants all faith schools in the country to be stripped of everything that makes them unique, better performing, and over-subscribed.

The 8-year-old refused to get ready for school on morning. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to go to school, but just because he got up late and was not doing as he was told. His mother smacked him with a hairbrush. A teacher found out. The mother was charged with assault and the boy taken into care by Somerset County Council. She now gets to see him for two hours a week. His long-term future will be determined when she is sentenced later this month.

The court will have to hear from social services whether they think the mother has been re-educated sufficiently to know that even though the law allows for “reasonable chastisement”, social workers are ultimately the interpreters of this language. If they like you, you get your child back. If they don’t, they can (and will, from countless stories in the press) permanently sever the parental relationship. Once an appeals court finally says that bureaucrats have over-stepped the mark, they may also say that unfortunately it’s too late for parents to have their children back.

Parents can’t discipline their children and schools are faced with increasing numbers of children who cannot be controlled at home and no power to control them at school.

Success is Failure in British Education

For the first time ever, a grammar school has failed an inspection. For those unfamiliar with British education, grammar schools are selective schools. Prospective pupils have to pass an entrance exam known as the 11-plus. Where they use to be commonplace, there are now only 168 remaining in England. In most places in the state sector there are only non-selective comprehensive schools.

So how did Stretford Grammar School fail inspection? Was it the location in a highly disadvantaged area? The 30% of pupils for whom English is a second language? After all, if the national average of good GCSE grades  (A*- C) when English and maths are included is 47%, how poorly must Stretford Grammar have been doing to have failed and threatened with closure unless the turn things around? I’ll tell you how poorly: 92% at grades A*-C. Nearly twice the national average.

So what did Ofsted find wrong with Stretford Grammar?

“These include the good personal development and well-being of pupils, the positive attitudes found among students, good attendance and behaviour, the feeling of safety and security in the school, positive pupil/teacher relationships, high staff morale and the good teaching and learning in the sixth form.” Oh, wait, sorry. Those were more of the good points.

So what was wrong with Stretford Grammar?

Lacklustre teaching. The inspectors didn’t like the teaching styles. They couldn’t tick the right boxes concerning what makes a good lesson. Oh, and girls weren’t making enough progress. This is surprising, because everywhere else the problem is that boys are underachieving. In other words, Stretford managed what other schools don’t.

So in case you were wondering, this is what a failing school looks like.

Busy Work

Year 11 reports are finally done. I thought the exam marking and report writing would never end.

I would say normal service will resume, but there are books and folders to mark that have backed up while the exams and reports have been done.

I am not deluded into believing there is any intrinsic value in any of this. Most of the parents will not care one bit about my report as they value my subject about the same as their children. The books and folders will never be looked at again by pupils after the end of the year – they are hardly looked at now. The paper is only there to prove to other people that some sort of learning has been going on in my lessons.

Back to Work

The last moments of freedom are slipping away. The Spring term begins in 18 hours.

On the other hand, the freedom of term break is very limited. I have been marking exams for the last couple of days. I would have started marking them as soon as we got home from Texas, but I couldn’t find them. The problems is that they were exactly where I’d left them. Unfortunately, The Woman had been clean out the car before we left, so I put a big plastic bag of rarely used school resources on top of them.

The bag draped over the sides of the box with the exams and it appeared that the bag was the only thing there. Then the terrier decided this bag full of papers and notebooks was her new bed, as she will sleep on anything however uncomfortable just to be off the floor. It is only because she got up yesterday afternoon and moved the bag slightly in the process that I saw the box of exams underneath.

Now I am furiously marking. The first set doesn’t need to be done for a couple of days, but I’ve got others to follow on that. I will hit the ground running on Monday.  I am starting new units with every year group at the beginning of the term.

I’m trying to do this while I am installing software on my Christmas present. I haven’t had a computer to call my own for quite a while. The second time I spilt tea on the computer I got during my teacher training year, it gave up the ghost. I have otherwise used by school laptop. With my first laptop in this job, it wasn’t such a problem. It was one of the better machines in the school. I installed some extra RAM and it did well. Until this screen died.

The cost of replacing the screen exceeded the value of the laptop, so I was issued an older laptop that had been used by a retiring member of staff. I’m sure it was a great machine in its day. I upgraded the RAM as best I could, but between that an the processor speed, it could not handle having a lot of browser tabs open, especially if they were running scripts like the Daily Telegraph or memory hogs like YouTube. If I was doing lots of online research, it would have trouble running Word at the same time.

I shopped online for several days and picked the machine that seemed to suit me best. A fast processor with lots of RAM and hard drive space. As it ended up, I got almost the same machine my dad bought my mother for Christmas (and that I set up over the holidays), but with twice the RAM.

Sacrificing Education to be a Good School

In English primary schools, children sit Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) in May of Year 2 and Year 6. Children in those years (the age equivalent of 1st and 5th grade in the US) spend much of the year preparing for them. This is not because they benefit the child in any way. The tests are one of the Government’s way of judging whether a school is doing well.

Academic accomplishment these days is assessed with the use of imaginary levels. This is not just in primary school, but through most of secondary school as well. In each subject, the Government tells us what skills are required for attaining which levels. The SATs assess these levels in English, Maths and Science. The expected level for 7-year-olds is Level 2.

At a recent parents’ evening we discussed the Older Child’s upcoming SATs. The school wants him to do well… but not too well. This is because schools at all are judges very heavily on what’s called “value added”. They have to demonstrate how much better pupils are performing from one test to the next. As long as Older Child gets a Level 2, he can get a Level 4 at age 11 and the school will still look good. If he were to get a Level 3, a Level 5 at age 11 is only average progress. If he only gets a Level 2 now, a Level 5 at age 11 will look that much better.

Government policy fails to take into account that children develop mentally at different times. It can only deal with uniformity. Everyone must progress at an accepted pace. The Government needs to create league tables, ranking schools from good to bad. Ofsted inspectors need data, especially since the new inspection regime is based much more on paperwork and spreadsheets than ever before.

If Little Johnny (or Older Child) is not the right number of pedagogically indefensible socialist all-must-have-prizes imaginary levels above the last assessment than the school has failed. Is it any wonder that schools and teachers are pressured to get children perform in such as way that benefits the school over the education?