Moreover, funding is essential to improve school buildings and build new ones wherever necessary.Buildings can be so important : leaky, dilapidated schools aren't the best environments for learning. Many schools have totally inadequate IT facilities and Primaries are especially impoverished when it comes to sporting facilities.
However, reducing class sizes must be the number one priority for any government. With falling rolls, the opportunity to decrease them hasn't been taken. Many Primaries have classes well over 30 and in Comp's there are also far too many classes of this size. This is seriously detrimental to pupils' progress. How can they be given individual attention in such circumstances? Private schools continue to operate with very small classes.
Literacy and numeracy has rightly been targeted as essential, but Andrews has given no clear strategy how to deal with these problems. The Foundation Phase - the flagship policy of Jane Davidson - has not worked. Specialists in literacy and numeracy (SENCO's) have been sacrificed to employ the many Assistants required to help the teacher in this 'learning through play'.
However, unlike the Swedish system, it is impossible to venture outside during winter and ,too often, the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic have been totally neglected. Until these are grasped, the pupils simply cannot access all the other areas of education. At present, Infant and Junior teachers are being asked to cover far too much ground, so it's no wonder that literacy and numeracy are deteriorating. Andrews has not addressed these demands of the National Curriculum, nor the ridiculous amount of paperwork foisted on teachers as a direct result of Inspection pressures. Less time on paperwork would mean more on preparation. He needs to listen to the unions he readily dismisses.
A yearly test ( another of his hapless proposals) will mean more teaching towards tests and more pressure to wangle the figures. Any Comp. teacher will tell you that the Levels and targets handed over by Primaries are completely unrealistic.
Levels, grades, letters, stars.......what do they signify? Do they really define intelligence?
After a lifetime of teaching, my conclusion is they don't. To give just one example, one of the brightest pupils I ever taught left school with a handful of CSE's (you had to get a 1 at CSE to call it a GCSE).
He began school in what was then called the 'Remedial' class ( that awful word 'Rem' became the worst insult in school!), but was soon moved to the mainstream lowest Band. He soon developed into an articulate and creative pupil, more aware of the outside world than most academic kids and certainly more widely read ( he was an expert on Orwell's works). He spoke in debates and produced many excellent pieces of work, yet failed to achieve sufficiently high grades to be allowed into the 6th form.
After leaving school, he was the singer and songwriter of one of Merthyr's best ever bands, whose cd's never managed to match their great live performances. They did appear on tv a few times, but never made it Big. He was not an exception either and for every one like him I have taught others with the ability to pass exams, who didn't care for subject at all.
I recall one time when the National Poet Gillian Clarke was visiting the school outside Cardiff where I taught. When my Lower 6th attended the workshop she was doing in the Library, one of them rudely interrupted with - ' What are we doing here?' Unable to comprehend anything which didn't fit into exam preparation.
What exams do, in the main, is test the ability to pass them. Schools spend most of their time training pupils the tricks to get the best marks and who can blame them? All the pressures are on teachers to produce the 'best' results. Everyone is graded and targeted. The shadow of failure looms over them like an executioner.
What can be done to end this absurd obsession with testing and thinking of people as A*'s (pupils) or 1's (teachers and schools)? We are not letters or numbers. We cannot be abbreviated in this way.
As a writer, I'm especially interested in the way the writing of poetry is treated by our system. A pupil can go through the entire education process without the need to write a single poem, yet this is the very art-form so many choose to express themselves! Now coursework has been greatly reduced to combat plagiarism, it is rarely taught (except as a critical study) after Key Stage Three.
Exams must be phased out entirely. Do not replace them with coursework done at home ( which is vulnerable to cheating), but with work done in school, albeit with room for research at home.
Each pupil would accumulate a portfolio of their varied work, showing what they can do. Exams too often find out what they cannot achieve! This would be a far better preparation for a life in work, where any achievements are cumulative rather than dependent on a few hours of concentrated work at the end of the line.
Of course, some of this would be done in pairs or in groups and there shouldn't have to be an exact balance from every year, allowing for late developers. Pupils should have much more input on what they want to study, as they used to on the old GCSE Lit. coursework. I remember reading one mini-thesis on Chatwin's 'On The Black Hill' which was full of remarkably original material. The opportunity to study local history, geography and literature would be highly stimulating, replacing the uniformity of the National Curriculum.
Samples from these portfolios - produced over the whole period of education - could be presented to prospective employers or colleges for them to look at closely and base their interviews on.
I believe such a system would motivate the many pupils who are now deemed to be failures from an early age and who have no hope of reaching that magical 'C' at GCSE. It would give a genuine sense of purpose to education, from day one. Education would be much more for the love of learning, rather than the ability to do the correct things.
Ban exams and maybe, just maybe, those 'Yes-men' and 'Yes-women' won't rise to the top and we will empower the many rejected, original thinkers such as that pupil I taught, who are failed by our present system.
A GOOD PREPARATION
My friend, the pointy-bearded Zen Buddhist,
when asked in a university test
'What is the meaning of Zen?'
simply answered - 'I don't know!'
proving an essay can be shorter than a haiku.
Then there was the girl when faced
with the question 'What is a simile?'
who just drew a smiley face :
a simile's much like a smile,
but she got nothing and a cross.
I can recall one very bright boy
who sat down for an 'A' level, brain bursting
so much he was paralysed in the room,
sat an hour, didn't even write his name,
was led from there gibbering.
Adrian Mitchell took a test on his own poem,
failed and after, refused for his work to be used.
It's learning the tricks and memorizing,
with minimum originality and imagination.
A good preparation..........for a life of conning!