March 25, 2004
British education has been getting better!

Susan Elkin, writing in yesterday's Telegraph, thinks that things have been improving:

When my father, a former teacher in Deptford, south London, heard that I was starting my teaching career at a notorious secondary boys' school in the area, his laconic comment was: "Well, if you survive there, girl, you'll cope anywhere."

How right he was. It was 1968. I was 21 and had come straight from an appalling "child centered" teacher training college that had managed to teach me absolutely nothing in three years about classroom realities.

I was the first woman to teach in that macho, multi-cultural environment, where boys were frequently caned, "slippered" or cuffed about the head and everyone shouted continually. Learning was the least of anyone's concerns.

The expectations of staff, parents and pupils were off the bottom of the scale. Pupil crime rates probably outstripped those in the nearest prison. You could smell the boys' stinking urinals from 100 paces. And several of the staff were definitely not the sort to whom any caring parent would entrust her children. Criminal Records Bureau checks lay more than three decades into the future.

Reflecting on all this 36 years and four schools later, as I look forward to retirement from teaching this summer, I am struck by just how much things have improved.

… and what is more, you can't help noticing, how much things have improved thanks to government oversight, command, control, training, standards, and – who knows? – perhaps even initiatives.

It does make me wonder though, whether what we might perhaps be reading about here is actually a case where the observer has influenced her own findings. Such has been Susan Elkin's effectiveness and career moves that things in her vicinity have indeed been improving, but outside of her influence, not so much so. Maybe that's the real story.

Mind you, you could say exactly the equal and opposite things about all the defeated grumps who say that things have only been getting worse and worse.

This certainly makes a change from the usual stuff you read.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:37 AM
Category: HistoryThe reality of teaching