I was recently approached by the media to offer my thoughts as to why the provision of school education here in the UK is no longer the envy of the world. In fact, as a nation, we have slid down the international league tables in both literacy and numeracy, both to an alarming degree.
In British society teachers are viewed at a pretty low level in terms of the top professions and pupils are aware of this. An ever increasing number of parents, too, encourage their offspring not to accept what they are told to do at school and are quick to complain if their son or daughter is punished. In other words, they often undermine the running of the school.
Let's consider for a moment two countries in the world who annually come top of the international league for educational success - South Korea and Finland. In the way they provide education for their children you couldn't get two countries farther apart. In the case of South Korea, pupils are put under unrelenting pressure with long school days, a lot of homework and regular testing from an early age. In Finland, children don't start school until they reach the age of seven, they rarely do homework until their teenage years and don't have to sit a public exam until they reach sixteen.
In both these countries there is almost total literacy and numeracy among school leavers and the difference between the weakest and strongest is the smallest in the world. What's more, both countries spend far less money on each child's education than that spent here in the UK.
The lesson is clear but, of course, will be ignored here in the UK for generations to come - teachers' authority must be restored to how it was in the 1960s and '70s. I am not suggesting we return to the days of 'children should be seen and not heard' but as long as we persist with this notion that the pupils have every right to challenge the teachers' authority whenever they please; as long as we refuse to punish those unruly pupils who are ruining the chances of others in the class from learning; as long as teachers are treated as lackeys in our society, thus putting off top graduates from a career in teaching, and as long as parents refuse to offer their unalloyed support for the running of their local school, then the gap between educational provision here in the UK and that in countries such as South Korea and Finland will continue to widen.