How can business studies compete with Beckham?

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
The first Monday back after half-term and three pupils in the first lesson ask to borrow a pen. What did they (and their parents) think they were going to do all day at school? I cast my eye over their collective belongings - mobile phone, football, make-up, cigarettes, lighter, packet of crisps and a baseball cap - and can see all too clearly what they intend to do: socialise, text, chat and generally "have a laugh" with their mates.

Learning doesn't feature on their agenda.

Two pupils are absent because they're on holiday. I suppose I should be grateful that one of the two weeks included half-term - but I'm not. This Year 10 class is preparing for a modular business studies exam and I need them all here to do revision. I know that the vast majority will have done no revision over the half-term break and will be relying on me to spoon-feed them what they need to know. Like the sucker I am, I will, because I'm probably the only person who cares about the exam; they aren't bothered.

As they filter into class the talk is mostly about the World Cup and whether or not they'll be allowed to watch any matches that are scheduled during the school day. I am reliably informed they will "bunk off" to watch matches if they can't view them in school. I believe them and I also believe that parents will ring the attendance hotline to provide an excuse for their children's absence. It's an obvious clash of values between home and school which demonstrates that parents and pupils have the same view of education: that it is a waste of time and certainly not more important than watching football.

To help them to engage their brains and focus on what we're here for, I give them a short past exam paper question on finance as a starter. It's not until much later that evening that I regret this strategy when not only do I have to spend an hour marking all their answers, but I begin to realise how little they know about the topic, how little revision they have done and how unprepared they are for the exam.

As a teacher, how can I compete with their mates? I've spent ages preparing this three-part lesson, the interactive whiteboard is powered up, the DVD is on standby and I've even devised a quiz. But I can't scream and hug every time I see them, I can't stand by the school gate smoking a fag and looking cool, nor can I drink half a bottle of vodka on a Friday night in the local park with them. No wonder I can't win.

I try to tease out the "What's in it for me?" during the lesson, pointing out how useful a good GCSE grade in business studies will be in the future.

They could get a good job, go to college, return to the sixth form; I place less emphasis on this last option as I, for one, shall be glad to see the back of them. Despite my attempt at motivation, they're not fooled and I don't even manage to convince myself of how useful business studies is.

Mates are important; education isn't.

Their mates define who they are and give them their identity. You can only be cool if you are mates with the right people. Mates never let you down and are there for you any time of the day or night - just a text away.

Mates know how difficult your parents can be, how miserable you feel if your boyfriend dumps you and how unfair it is that you're not allowed out past midnight. Mates are the most important thing in life.

Education, on the other hand, is all jam tomorrow. Work hard now, and perhaps in two years' time you'll get some good GCSE grades that might, somehow, help you in the future. There is nothing concrete about education.

They are far too young to think about university, careers, families of their own, and so education seems irrelevant.

They can all give examples of people they know who are earning good money without any qualifications; they can even quote famous entrepreneurs at me such as Richard Branson and tell me he got thrown out of school before the end of Year 11. There is a huge retail complex nearby and the pupils know they can get a job in a shop without really trying and that no one really starves in this country. There is no incentive for them to work hard at school, so they don't.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that these three pupils haven't bothered to bring a pen to the lesson. After all, they don't come to school to learn; they come to school to be with their mates.

Jane Ireland is headteacher of a secondary school in the Midlands

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