Pupils are becoming the losers

Might there be a connection between the recent announcement that beach litter has doubled in the last decade, the horrific incident of the four women from the West Country organising boxing bouts for toddlers, the increase of challenging behaviour in schools and the lack of motivation to learn in senior pupils? Or is it just that I am turning into a Grumpy Old Woman?

I wonder. This time of year, before senior students depart on study leave, is always a difficult time for everyone. Teachers are worried that their charges have insufficient knowledge, parents agonise about too little time spent revising for exams, and pupils are stressed because they perceive that they are being nagged too much. This year, more than any other I can recall, I hear concerns being expressed by teachers.

The sources: colleagues in various schools and authorities, parents, sometimes the pupils themselves and classmates who are disenchanted by their apathetic peers. University colleagues, too, complain that each new intake of first year students is less motivated than the previous year. At least at university, they can be swiftly dispatched if they fail resits - in schools some candidates have many attempts at internal assessments, making a farce of the whole system.

What's happening to the psyche of the senior Scottish secondary school pupil? They, like us, are part of the collective failure of modern society.

The ugly litter on our beaches symbolises an inability to appreciate and nurture the beauty of the landscape. Violence, be it youngsters compelled to fight by unbalanced adults or cyberspace bullying, is burgeoning. Little wonder that the concept of striving to succeed is viewed as a hard chore which must be tolerated rather than valued.

I spoke to an NQT about all of this and she - a mature student - expressed her shock at the scale of the expectations of senior pupils that is, expectations of their teachers. Their teachers will spoon-feed them with everything necessary for the exams during the school day, while they free up all the time outside school to work in a supermarket and discuss how much alcohol they will consume at the weekend.

Binge drinking, sadly, is now a feature of the lives of many of our young people. This regular inebriation - many start drinking in the early years of secondary - is causing the potential of young brains to be skewered irretrievably. I also wonder if, even with the endless stream of initiatives, including A Curriculum for Excellence which supposedly aims to unlock the learning potential of pupils, we are somehow failing to develop self-motivated youngsters who will take responsibility for their own learning.

Of course, there are wonderful individuals who are autonomous when it comes to their studies and I am fortunate enough to teach some of them. You instinctively know that they will succeed in their university courses. Yet too many kids require threats, sanctions, referrals to guidance tutors and various carrots and sticks to scrape a pass, never mind anything else.

Teachers, meantime, feel increasing despair. As their knuckles tighten round their evening wine glasses, they wonder if we have finally reached the stage when it really doesn't seem to matter if pupils have learnt anything at all. Cramming the night before the exam, when there has been little continuous commitment, is hardly the most edifying of educational experiences. Yet many pupils are content with just that and, tragically, they are the losers.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy

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