Kick out ideas of schools as boot camps

25th April 2008 at 01:00
The headline read "Cadet corps plan for all secondary schools"

The headline read "Cadet corps plan for all secondary schools". The article noted that "Brown backs military drill for all pupils", and that encouraging more state pupils to join cadet corps would upgrade the public perception of the armed forces and improve discipline.The article appeared on April 6, not April 1.

Add it to another recent idea of facing the flag every morning and you begin to see the Government's joined-up thinking on education in England. I chuckle to think what the late and lamented Ted Wragg would have made of it.

Now that I have my bus pass, my daughter tells me I'm finding it increasingly hard not to go into Victor Meldrew mode. But how can you avoid it when you read drivel like this? I just don't believe it.

It proves that the Government in London hasn't got a clue what to do about lack of student motivation in schools. Thank goodness they don't have total jurisdiction north of the border.

See what my daughter means? I need to get out of Meldrew mode.

She, thankfully, doesn't accuse me of having the same opinions as him - just having a strong opinion on absolutely everything. I think this comes from having been a secondary teacher.

Let's console ourselves with the thought that our politicians are really bright, well-meaning people driven temporarily insane by the pressures of the job and the need to feed the tabloid press with soundbites. And most of what they legislate on doesn't impact on the real world.

It's what teachers do in the classroom on a daily basis that counts. They run, or should we now say "deliver", the education system, and they don't do it through the post or the internet. Not yet anyway.

As Professors Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam have pointed out, it's what goes on "inside the black box" of the classroom that matters. It's how teachers relate to young people on a day-to-day basis and how they handle the power they are given in the classroom that impacts on young people's motivation to learn.

Most politicians appear to have little understanding of how good teachers do this, so I'll try to explain. I say "try" because it involves a sophisticated set of skills. The classroom, after all, has been called the most complex social entity in the universe.

Teachers don't shout. They engage with their students as people, treat them with respect, take an interest and listen to them, without being too friendly or familiar.

They don't lay down the law and encourage blind obedience to a flag. They work with students to help them experience how democracy works in a classroom by agreeing values and rules, and how rules will be applied without giving up their authority and right to have the final say.

They don't train students to obey orders unthinkingly. They interact with them and encourage them to interact with each other. They show them how to take responsibility for their own learning; to think for themselves; and to learn how to learn.

They don't upbraid students in public for not having shiny boots or their belt round the wrong way. They know when to give feedback, and how to give it, in public or private. They are good at balancing feedback that is honest and accurate, critical as well as affirming.

Don't get me wrong. The military do a difficult job in difficult circumstances. But so do teachers. And, despite what people may think, the classroom and the battleground are very different places.

Ian Smith is founder of Learning Unlimited.

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