Sunday, 3 February 2013

Sunday Supplement.

Aaaaaand, relax.

That's what I'll be doing. After carrying our brave English lads to victory over the unwashed vicious Scots hordes yesterday at Twickenham. I have to confess to being 'all wored out'. For those of you paying attention I have also been trekking up and down the M1 hauling what I previously considered to be my meagre possessions to my new (old) home. It turns out I have what can only be described as a shit load of stuff. Where did it all come from?

Books, for a start. A voracious reader and a rapacious hoarder I have managed to hang onto virtually every book I have ever owned since about fifteen. So, that's, erm, a LOT of books. Why do I hang onto them? It's Ralph Brookes' fault. As our O Level English teacher he once asked the class how many books we had at home. I lied and raised my hand when he said "More than fifty?" He was trying to gauge the level of parental influence we may have been enthused by and I correctly guessed that more was better. I also remember being astonished when class swots Anne and Louise smugly asserted they had more than a hundred.

In truth, although I read at a furious pace and had done since first starting school, actual owned books were a luxury we just couldn't afford. And while my mother consumed magazines at an alarming rate - in Yorkshire some people still refer to a magazine as 'me booook' - my father read only the newspapers that delivered the horse racing results along with his daily dose of indignation against the mythologically rapacious Tories. (He has hated Margaret Thatcher from the very start yet neither he nor anybody else in the family has ever been adversely affected by a single policy she brought about. Quite the reverse, for they now live rent and mortgage free as a direct result of buying the council house I grew up in. There's tribalism in action.)

So, back to books. I regularly conduct a Ralph Brookes-style survey of my classes of electricians. All adult learners, almost all of them men, almost none of them ever confess to having read a book since leaving school. And almost all of them struggle to read accurately and with comprehension. The lack of this basic skill alone is what pegs them at a low level of understanding and thus a low level of life attainment in the workplace. Considering that for most people work is the thing that simply drains their energies, you'd hope that the tools to make more of it, to make it more engaging, to make it worthwhile would be valued.

All of which brings me onto Andreas Schleicher. He's one of the supposed forward thinkers shaping the way education is or may be implemented and a person who Michael Gove has roundly applauded as the most important man in English education. Here, right here, is the problem in letting the theorists, the progressives, get involved in important policy like education. Because they ignore, I believe, an important observation. Those who are able will get on and learn anyway, while efforts to engage those who are less able by making education 'fun' will result in ever more expensive ways of diverting the children who most need to be taught away from actually teaching them.

The notion of teachers as children's entertainers is not especially new, but it as and always has been, counter-productive and cost-ineffective to spend the most time and energy and financial resources on the least able. Of course, it is an uphill task to drill students in the basics when some arrive at primary school virtually un-house-trained and with no concept of discipline, but that's a clear argument for streaming. That way you can introduce curriculum widening earlier to those who can cope and concentrate on the absolute basics, including a few hard facts of life for those who would otherwise languish on the back benches.

So, give the kids a chance, eh? Teach them to read and you'll give them a better start than any number of citizenship classes and how-to-sign-on seminars. Art for art's sake, money for god's sake and reading for reading's sake... and not just the Sunday supplements.

1 comment:

  1. Oxfud Dickshuneri3 February 2013 at 16:49

    If you have ever taught, you soon discover that books are a foreign world to most kids. They have little concept of what one is, or the world it contains or for that matter the ideas it can give them. My one exception when in a college was finding a kid from Latvia who was reading to improve his English.

    Words and ideas mean ability and opportunity

    Here's a link to some one else's view on this: