Less is definitely not more

8th August 2003 at 01:00
Progress comes at a serious cost, writes Bob Aston

Education, like life, is full of paradoxes. Nowadays we have:

* better Sats scores, but more disaffected children at an ever younger age

* more and ever higher targets, but less achievement in the foundation subjects

* steadily improving standards of education in Wales, but no key stage 1 Sats

* the earliest school starting age, but the highest adult illiteracy rates

* seemingly more freedom for schools to experiment and innovate, but more pressure to conform to the target-setting agenda

* better school buildings, but fewer teachers

* many more initiatives, but more dissatisfaction

* more inclusion, but less tolerance

* more academic certificates, but not enough plumbers

* more strenuous efforts to involve parents, but more unreasonable expectations

* more sophisticated means of communication, but less understanding

* more inspection, but less education

* more behaviour strategies, but fewer well behaved children

* more promised teacher support, but less teacher satisfaction

* more advisers and consultants, but fewer experienced teachers actually teaching

* more exotic extra-curricular opportunities, but less freedom for children to roam

* more material wealth, but fewer contented children.

You may think these are cynical reactions to the painful changes necessary to achieve the holy grail of ever-rising standards. But why is it that progress can come only at the cost of a demoralised profession, a rising tide of low-level misbehaviour and even more teacher supervision?

Paraphrasing Churchill, perhaps the quest for real education is a riddle wrapped in an enigma concealed in a paradox, and there is no solution.

Philip Pullman seems to have the answer. He writes: "Teachers are not trusted to teach. They're nagged, they're controlled, they're harassed. Set them free. Trust them." (TES, April 4).

Trusted teachers? Now there's a real paradox.

Bob Aston is head of a junior school in Medway

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