Monday, 26 June 2017

Why Real Education Matters

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 a nutshell, I would state that the principal reason is, in our efforts to avoid reprimanding children at all costs and to try 'to get alongside them' (I know, ghastly phrase, but so often used by management), teachers' authority has severely diminished. Many British pupils seem to have adopted an inflated sense of their own importance and refuse to respect the paid professionals employed to educate them until they feel they are prepared to do so.

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.

But what is common to both countries is practically all children believe in the system and share a deep respect for their teachers and their academic accomplishments. Teachers are viewed as highly as doctors in both societies and the teaching profession attracts applications from the top ten per cent of graduates. In both countries the pupils are convinced that doing as they are instructed by the paid professionals will ultimately bring them success, happiness and fulfillment. They are taught how to work wisely and how to persist in the face of possible failure. Both Korean and Finnish parents support the running of their local school at every level.

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.


  1. Totally agree, teachers are social workers and truant officers as well now. Some parents confront and complain about the slightest thing nowadays. As usual the few spoil it for the rest and the minority shout the loudest & decry the school on social media. Needs sorting out.

  2. Even maintained schools are now businesses; school buildings and land is owned by a variety of landlords both UK based and foreign. Headteachers are MDs and therefore, they regard the client (parents and children) as king. Too many schools have SLTs and governing bodies that would rather look for teachers to blame for inappropriate behaviour or underachievement. Responsibility for such occurrences is rarely accepted by the child and parents rarely look to the child for an explanation. There's the rub; parenting skills are being lost and replaced with relationships between parents and children that are based on an arrangement akin to adolescent friendships! All this at a time when we have the largest and most widespread outbreak of mental health isssues amongst teenagers ever recorded! Still, sshh, don't upset the children!
    Throw in a healthy dose of social media and online comments and you've got a perfect storm!

  3. Literacy and numeracy are pillars of education, not to mention the foundation of learning that should be common place and is all too often overlooked in favour of trivial tasks and measures. It is important for teachers, parents and pupils to work together and take individual responsibility and accountability for actions, effort and attainment. It is all too easy for parents to blame teachers for their childs 'lower than expected' attainment, yet what are they doing to cement and progress their childs learning? Schools seem to have greater focus on balancing books and satisfying ofstead, paying lip-service to the criteria, than really doing what teachers do best; teach! It is imperative that pupils progress to the best of their ability to set them up for future life. Every pupil deserves the opportunity to be what they want to be, without being labeled with needs, allowing them to flourish. Education is a plan and an opportunity. It is a shame that some see it as a right of attainment.

    Alexander Brook
    RHS 94-01