We're wasting our money on spoilt brats

7th March 2008 at 00:00
I slumped back exhausted as I read the education budget figures in The TESS (February 22). Times are getting leaner when belts are already tightened to the last notch. Did I fall asleep at some point and miss halcyon days of plenty when schools received per capita commensurate with their needs?

Alas, no. Schools, colleges and universities have always operated in the full awareness of a gap between the need list and the money available to spend. It has always been a struggle. Take class sizes. So much debate, so many promises - and not just from the current Scottish Government. Whatever the age group, there is no doubt that smaller class sizes enhance learning.

This is especially so if the classes are mixed ability, as most are. Teaching infants to read is easier when there are fewer pupils. Holding a discussion with an S3 class in religious and moral education is much more productive and manageable when you are not sitting with a huge class of more than 30 pupils. Higher pupils, in whatever subject, will benefit from more individual attention when the class is smaller.

So here we are, wringing our hands about our diminishing budgets while, out there, society is sanctioning a generation of children and their parents so needy and greedy that we simply don't seem to have the resources to cope with their demands. Schools no longer need money just to purchase the essentials of textbooks, stationery, computers and a variety of equipment. They also have to be funded to perform their increasingly demanding role in loco parentis for many of their charges.

It used to be possible for schools to work out a credit and debit balance sheet of purchases, because what you bought were visible resources which could be stacked in a cupboard or handed out to the kids.

Not any more. How can you quantify the cost of supporting a recalcitrant 15-year-old who really doesn't want to learn but who has no remorse about disrupting the education of others? How can you estimate the hours spent phoning parents about their challenging offspring or time spent talking to the police about common clients?

While mulling all this over with a colleague, I was reminded of an interesting finding. Last year's Unicef report, An Overview of Child Wellbeing in Rich Countries, placed British children overall bottom of the world's 21 most developed countries, with the highest rates of drunkenness, obesity, early sexual experiences, bullying, drug-taking and teenage pregnancy.

Most of them, it seems, are spoilt brats and too many fit Oliver James's profile of "affluenza". There is no reason to imagine that Scottish pupils are any different.

Schools have become bastions of too much mechanistic and obsessive monitoring - you tick a box every time you breathe. Your life is dominated by statistics, league tables and targets. Yet our masters in government are still not accepting the fact that schools have become institutions which are expected to provide solutions for society's collective failure to produce young people who are not at the bottom of the heap.

Education budgets have not kept pace with these changes, and we will reap even more painful consequences if we don't kick-start a fresh debate on these painful matters.

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

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