This is a confusing time to be a parent with children at school. What are they to make of the latest headline?
A 14 year-old pupil has led a child ‘walk out’ in protest at poor teaching and a lack of homework at his comprehensive in Blackpool.
The boy concerned had been so desperate to receive a decent education that he had previously expressed his concerns to both Blackpool Council and to Ofsted. Needless to say, his concerns were brushed aside.
The mass walkout appears have been a last desperate call for something to be done. The school, predictably, has seen this plea for some decent teaching as a serious form of insubordination.
The pupil has been suspended. One can understand the school wishing to maintain a semblance of order. After all, someone is always going to be in charge in a school and it helps if it is the head teacher rather than the pupils.
Nevertheless, the extraordinary nature of this protest suggests that a full and open discussion between the school and the parent body might have been a better way forward.
Is this Blackpool story about the quality of our teachers an exception? The school concerned has been categorised by Ofsted as under “special measures” but according to the inspectors is now making “reasonable progress’.
Is Michael Gove, the education secretary, correct in telling us that we have “the best generation of teachers ever”?
It is certainly true that over the past twenty-five years, on the basis of GCSE and A-Level exam results, our teachers have produced an incredible improvement.
Even with a fall in the overall pass rate last summer it was, still, 98.8% (sic) for GCSE. At A-Level the overall pass rate rose to 98.1%(sic). In addition, Ofsted are reporting that 78% of schools are now “good” or “outstanding”.
Against these statistics we have a much less impressive performance on international comparisons. Our youngsters are lagging well behind the top performers education systems around the world.
However, international comparisons also show that the generation of teachers from the 1950s were miles more successful than the current crop of teachers. People educated in those days are more or less at the top of international league tables for their generation.
And we do not need to rely on international comparisons. Employers’ organisations have long complained about the poor educational standards of many youngsters.
In addition, universities have been obliged to run remedial ‘catch-up’ courses to bring first year undergraduates up to scratch.
Of course, we should never underestimate the commitment and effort put in by many teachers. Some are performing real heroics.
But, the so-called ‘best practice’ that teachers feel obliged to follow is, often, nothing of the sort. It acts as a constraint, for example, on effective whole-class teaching.
At the root of many of the teaching quality issues in our schools is a serious deficiency in the training teachers have receive and the philosophy underpinning it.
I suspect that this may be at the root of the problem in the Blackpool school.