Putting the bottle back into education

15th September 2006 at 01:00
Britain's children are rapidly becoming fat, lazy, ill-educated liabilities. At least that's what you might deduce from much of the current media coverage of our nation's school kids. The evidence is supposedly damning: primary schools churning out students who can barely read or write. Overpaid, under-worked teachers delivering an increasingly poor standard of teaching. Yet official inspections tell a different story, suggesting that more primary schools are providing an excellent, even an inspirational, education for our youngsters.

And I've got further evidence that things aren't as bad as they seem. As executive editor of First News, the first weekly national newspaper for children, I've just conducted a survey of more than 1,000 readers from eight to 14-years-old to find out what these so-called "problem kids"

really think. Some results we expected; they're concerned about crime, terrorism and having enough money.

Other results surprised; eight out of 10 think it was wrong to go to war with Iraq; more than half have no idea what the Royal Family do, and 70 per cent think Britain is too obsessed with celebrities.

One result, though, was startling: a staggering 92 per cent of respondents said they believe they're getting a really good education. A typical response was this, from nine-year-old Thomas Downey: "My school is great and we do some really cool things, yesterday we wrote a story where we all got to do a paragraph each. Mum says I'm lucky, school was really boring in her day."

I know that the media prefer a negative story to a positive one. Illicit affairs between teachers and pupils, kids knifing each other in playground brawls are the things that get journalists' juices flowing. Whereas a headline saying "Bad school does a bit better" is just not as sexy. Yet many previously poor performing schools are now doing better, and should be applauded.

For all Tony Blair's faults - and don't get me started on those - there has been a lot of progress made by teachers, schools and pupils. Let's face it, if so many children are overtly keen to praise the education they are receiving, then the Government must be doing something right. Judging by my three lively-minded sons, you can't tell a modern child to say they like something if they don't. So our survey results can be taken as a credible analysis of the reality of the situation. The problem is that little of the good stuff makes the papers or airwaves, and that's where First News can play an important role.

We want to focus on the good aspects of our education system, which is why we've launched our schools news page. Every week we'll be featuring positive stories from schools around the UK, written by teachers and pupils. We want to hear the stories that reflect well on teachers, schools and the children rather than cast a cloud of despair. We have the perfect platform - a weekly newspaper aimed at children, concentrating on what they care about and not what adults think they care about. This is not a sales pitch, because sales are going very well. This is an opportunity for all parents and teachers. Don't sit there moaning about the bad press education is getting, do something about it. Call First News, or, better still, get your children reading it.

And who knows, perhaps we can collectively persuade the cynical media (rich coming from me, but even some leopards change their spots, apparently) to embrace the new spirit of optimism that exists in so many parts of our education system.

To my former colleagues in Fleet Street... thoughts from a reformed offender: rather than moaning about kids spending too much time on computers, why not praise the rise in GCSE pass rates? Take a day off from branding all schoolchildren potential obesity victims and laud the widespread improvements in literacy.

Yes, some schools are crumbling wrecks with duds for teachers. But for every one of those there's a brilliant headteacher revolutionising their school with innovative, dynamic inspiration.

The education glass in Britain is half full, not half empty.

Piers Morgan is executive editor of First News, which is offering TES readers a 10 per cent discount on an annual subscription. Visit www.firstnews.co.uk, or email: schools@firstnews.co.uk quoting 'TES'

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