Basic skills and a lack of respect

"I have learnt that everyone needs to be given the respect towards them as that of what you want back."

The problem of course, for the lad who wrote this, is that, at 16, school doesn't really float his boat. In fact, he possibly peaked at about 12 and it has been downhill all the way since then. He is not interested, therefore not capable, of doing the class work. He is bored, his hormones are haywire, and he is aggressive and foul-mouthed to both staff and peers.

He is not alone.

Therefore, it was with some horror that I heard a suggestion that pupils who seem to be failing academically be kept on at school for another two years - so they can learn something.

The truth is that two more years in the system will teach these disruptive, illiterate kids nothing more.

We begin to fail our less able kids in Primary 1. I think we begin to teach reading and writing far too early for many children. Just because they are old enough to be at school does not mean they are cognitively competent to learn these skills.

The emphasis should be on social learning, getting on with one another, taking turns, eating nicely. Many children need time to play, practising fine motor skills with building blocks, before being given a pencil.

Chanting rhymes, clapping games, circle time, make-believe, stories, play and listening skills are more important and the first step in reading for little ones deprived of the opportunity at home.

If we'd given the lad I quoted above the respect he needed, if he'd had more time playing, and hadn't been handed a pencil until he was capable of using it, I think his writing might now be legible, his reading more competent and his self-esteem a damn sight higher.

If each primary class had a designated support for learning teacher, and problems were picked up at 6, not 16, these kids might have a chance. If they could consolidate skills at primary age, instead of being rushed through a packed curriculum, they would be able to cope better at high school.

The fact is that if he hadn't failed right at the start, he wouldn't be failing now. And I wouldn't be needing letters of apology.

Penny Ward teaches at Carnoustie High

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