In a week when Ofsted have declared that children with special needs are being failed by teachers, I think this is pertinent. Since the ConDems have been in power, the Chris Woodhead philosophy of 'blame the teacher' has been prevalent. It's all part of this Government's total disdain for Comprehensive education, hardly bettered by New Labour with their specialist schools and Academies in England.
As the NUT rightly argue, a lack of resources - especially in Special Needs - is the main factor. In RCT the specialist SEN teacher, who was peripatetic, was relieved of her duties, to be replaced in individual schools by those who didn't have that training. Funding instead went to the WAG's flagship Foundation Phase , an ill thought-out experiment, which could have dire consequences. In one Primary in that area , the first class coming out of Foundation (with its focus entirely on play) have a frightening rate of two thirds unable to read! While 'learning through play' is vital, it must be balanced by learning to read, particularly in an age when many pupils on't encounter books at home.
This week there was an excellent article in the 'Guardian' suggesting an ideal free school, 'The Richard Dawkins Humanist Conservatoire'. The writer, Francis Beckett, described an ideal school, with the concept of 'reading recovery' fundamental.
This was advocated for Year 7's, but obviously would work much better with Infants. It is the idea that no pupil can access education without being able to read ( the same should apply to numeracy) and that so much bad behaviour is caused by illiteracy. In 'reading recovery' pupils are given one-to-one tuition until they can read. A very expensive scheme which would save so much later, in terms of dealing with many disaffected teenagers. I suggest the Assembly Gov. invest in this, rather than employing vast numbers of Assistants to cope with Foundation.
The article 'Welcome to my dream school' portrays a Comprehensive open to all faiths and none, where testing is kept to a minimum. In Wales, WAG has boldly asserted its difference from New Labour by abolishing SAT's ( a dreadful import from the States). As a Comp. teacher I know that everything was geared - especially in Year 9 - to teaching the trickery required to do well ( a bit like the old 11 plus). The amount of reading involved in papers was highly intimidating for the less literate. The only compulsory text was Shakespeare and his language was another difficult code to be cracked by most pupils.
Once SAT's were abolished, teachers in Primary and Comprehensive sectors were released to make lessons far more absorbing and there isn't the turn-off factor when exams had finished in May. The exams never tested oracy ,sustained creativity or critical analysis, vital aspects of any English lesson.
I've had three experiences of the Inspection process. Initially, an HMI came to observe my lessons in my early years. He was quite helpful , but rather distant. Then we had a full-scale Inspection which went well, apart from the day when one pupil gobbed on a team of HMI's inspecting the Inspectors!
However, my last experience was traumatic. The Inspector almost destroyed my career and I was on the verge of walking out. He was totally negative from the start, even though the lessons he attended went quite well. During one lesson - on a Walt Whitman poem - he spoke to pupils and misled them about it. He turned to me afterwards, frowning at the original poetry covering the classroom walls - ' There's too much poetry up here!'
In my ideal system , there would be no Inspections. It would be a fully Comprehensive one and schools would co-operate rather than compete, sharing best practices much more. Teachers would be seconded for spells of about four years, during which time they'd act as advisors, producing resources, and observing any teachers or departments which needed help, giving them constructive advice.
Inspections are the most time-wasting , expensive and demoralising excercises in education. As evinced by their comments on special needs, Ofsted are completely divorced from reality, yet are reported and influence government policies. There are alternatives and ,for the sake of teachers and children, let's implement them.
The following poem is from my forthcoming book 'Moor Music', published by Seren -
(thanks to the Thomasz Stanko Quartet)
The Midnight Inspector stalks me
his words of condemnation
a wire of worries
I used to hear the stream
over the fence
at the cliff-edge
where he has followed me -
the saxophone's siren
beckons plaintively -
snare and cymbals
my heart-beats urging
to fall, fall away
clipboard and razor-pen
my every move
my every expression
the trumpet's high notes
tell stories of dolphins -
the melancholy bass-line
is the tide moon-moving
I cannot question him -
the Midnight Inspector
with his monotonous synthesizer drone.