What do they mean?

26th March 2004 at 00:00
Picture the enthusiastic young teacher. First day in school, head full of the latest educational ideas, set to turn out legions of brilliant young students all done to a holistic turn, bursting with knowledge and ready to take on the world.

Fast forward a few years. Now the teacher, prematurely grey, stooping and with a nasty tic which doctors can do nothing about, rings a celebratory bell when anyone in 2B manages to spell his own name correctly.

The stage of small learning has been reached. Success is now measured not in tomes of erudition but in scruffy worksheets. Comprehension no longer means understanding the sub-text. It means understanding some of the longer words.

Those in the small learning community will be delighted to know that Tony Blair is now all in favour of it. Apparently, this is one of the products of his party's big idea of personalised learning.

True, Mr Blair hasn't quite grasped what it means - but, as it originated in the United States, going along with it falls into line perfectly with current government policy.

Mr Blair, or rather the US, has discovered that children going into large schools with lots of other pupils can feel rather intimidated and insignificant, and that this might even have an adverse effect on their education. (Yes, I know teachers have known this for years, but who listens to them?) So the small new idea is to have schools within schools, manageable groups with their own staff. In this way, students will all get to know one another better. They will all feel valued and touchy-feely, and they will surge forward on a tide of self-esteem toward the glittering prizes.

Of course, in the olden days these were called houses. The idea behind the house system was very similar, but as anybody who was in one will know, the aim of every house was not so much to excel as to watch the others die.

Here at St Jude's, most pupils see other people's houses as places to nick things from in the middle of the night, so they should get the hang of it in no time. And if Mr Blair doesn't like it, he'll only have himself to blame. Doesn't he know that small learning is a dangerous thing?


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