Chapter 6 The UK Experience
Contents – © ISBN: 0-909001-61-8
Chapter 1: Setting the Scene
Chapter 2: Where to Start?
Chapter 3: OECD PISA Reports
Chapter 4: UNICEF Report
Chapter 5: Decline of USA
Chapter 6: The UK Experience
Chapter 7: My UK Experience
Chapter 8: People at the coalface
Chapter 9: Stressed out Children
Chapter 10: Finland
Chapter 11: The Interview
Chapter 12: Pointers for the Future
Chapter 13: Music – The Crucial Ingredient
Chapter 14: Conclusion
The UK is my homeland and certainly in the early 1970s I had no plans to leave the country I was born in and where I worked, that is until education became politicized. Margaret Thatcher, as Minister of Education, initiated this process in the early 1970s. I moved to the USA and found the USA even worse – the system was, and still is, highly politicised and centralised.
There is a great deal of information available to clearly indicate that this politicisation and centralisation is exactly the wrong direction to take if the objective is to optimize children’s wellbeing and learning. It would be uplifting to see the present UK and USA at the top rather than the bottom of such tables but if the present mindsets continue (as they are certain to do) then I will be describing, as I have done for the last thirty-five years, surveys and reports clearly indicating that the children in both countries are faring very badly when compared with the children from other OECD countries.
Ever since that time politicians and administrators under many different guises, have had an ever increasing role in what occurs in the classroom. Beginning with Thatcher’s introduction of a national curriculum, the intervention (interference would be more accurate) of politicians has steadily increased.
We can, for practical reasons jump forward to the early 1990s. It was during this time a national curriculum was made compulsory in all state schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It was introduced in primary and secondary schools between autumn 1989 and autumn 1996.
The main aim of the national curriculum was to raise standards and to make sure that all children have a broad and balanced education up to the age of 16. The national curriculum specifies what children must study and what they are expected to know at different ages. Alongside the national curriculum, national tests were introduced to see whether children were meeting set targets.
It all sounds very laudable, thorough and needed. Only problem, as we shall find, it doesn’t work, and the countries that produce the best performing students have a totally different approach and philosophy!
What we should be asking is to view and examine the evidence which indicates that it doesn’t work? For example, take a peek at the way UK students have performed in international league tables since 2000.
It is now possible and very easy to compare the performance of UK students with students from other developed countries (see previous chapter on PISA).
Sadly, the news from any international education perspective is continually bad so when the 2006 PISA test scores were examined, it was no surprise to see UK schools fall down the global table.
For example, pupils in the UK are no longer in the top ten in reading and mathematics literacy. Based on, and comparing PISA test results in 2000 and 2006, the UK has lost its position in the top 10 positions it held for both subjects.
The UK possesses the unwanted unique distinction of being the only country which was in the top-performing group in 2000 to have slipped down into the lower group by 2006. In 2000, the UK was placed 7th in reading and 8th in maths – the UK in the 2006 table is 17th for reading and 24th place for maths.
The results have embarrassed a government that claims to have put education at the top of its agenda for a decade.
UK’s PISA Experience
In the 2000 PISA, the UK, as far as Reading Literacy was concerned, was a creditable seventh; in Mathematics Literacy was a creditable eighth and in Science Literacy was joint third; a very praiseworthy performance.
The UK is the only country which was in the top-performing group in 2000 to have slipped down into the lower group in 2006. In the latest table UK is 17th for reading, 24th place for maths and 14th for science. UK has slid way down the league in all three subjects.
Reading Literacy – The countries which were ahead of the UK in reading in 2000 – Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Korea – remain in the top 10 for this year. But the UK has now been overtaken by countries including Poland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Japan.
Mathematics Literacy – the UK slipped from eighth to twenty-fourth and also has been overtaken by a group of improved performers, including Slovenia, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark and Austria.
Science Literacy – the UK slipped from third to fourteenth and also has been overtaken by a group of improved performers, including Hong Kong-China, Slovenia, Canada, Netherlands, Chinese-Taipei, Estonia, New Zealand, Australia, Liechtenstein and Germany.
If one is a UK parent, or otherwise involved in education, it makes dismal reading. You will also find that the UK, according to the UNICEF, “Child poverty in perspective (Report Card 2007): An overview of child wellbeing in rich countries” is the worst country in the developed world in which to raise children.
Children as young as four or five are now tested on their reading, writing and use of number. This “baseline assessment’’ is designed to provide more information for teachers, as well as allowing the measurement of pupils’ progress as they move through the school.
All children in state schools are tested in English and mathematics at the ages of 7, 11, and 14, and pupils aged 11 and 14 are also tested in science. The tests, mainly Sats, are intended to show whether children have reached the national curriculum learning targets. They are usually taken in May each year.
I have attempted, unsuccessfully, to find the evidence for whoever in the Ministry of Education (I’ll call it that to be consistent but the name and structure of the department does keep changing) for deciding what a four or a five year old, or for that matter any pre-high child or student, should know. Also, how it should be tested particularly as the tests have been created and drawn up by administrators at the behest of politicians, the vast majority of whom have never taught.
Consequences of what politicians are actioning
Almost without exception all the student teachers I taught were highly motivated, hard working and sincere in their intention to help young people. It takes a certain breed of very dedicated people and a mindset that very few of us could aspire to, to be the fountain of wisdom for 25+ young people hour after hour, day after day, week and week, month after month and year after year.
It isn’t coincidence that countries that appreciate their teachers, respect them for the wonderful job they are doing, give them a thorough professional training, pay them adequately, see the results of their support and admiration in international league tables.
Time and again we see Finnish students top of whatever league table we examine. Yes, a description and examination of education in Finland will come later and hopefully we are capable of showing enough discipline to act with integrity and learn why Finnish students are top or in the top bracket regarding performance. Yes, it should be a learning mindset if we are to do the best for our children.
Even more importantly, why is New Zealand, although very high up in international league tables, behind Finland.
Time and again we see countries that diminish and do not respect their teachers having all sorts of problems – are you listening UK and USA (and present New Zealand) politicians and administrators?. One consequence of such a mindset is that students perform well below their potential according to international league tables.
The clear example here is the UK. As stated previously, UK is the only country which was in the top-performing group in 2000 to have slipped down into the lower group in all three categories in 2006. In this latest table UK is 17th for reading, 24th place for maths and 14th for science.
UK has slid way down the league in all three subjects.
Does this indicate that somewhere along the line, the fifteen-year-olds in the UK who took the tests in 2006 had a lower ability than their counterparts in 2000? I think not!
Does it mean that teachers suddenly were of an inferior breed, the efficiency of their teaching declining rapidly over a six year period? I think not!
If the students did not have lower ability and if the teachers are not inferior with their teaching, then what has occurred to result in UK students performing so badly in 2006 compared with the way they performed in 2000?
It isn’t hard to find out why such a decline occurred. Even a cursory examination of what occurred in the UK between 2000 and 2006 (and the same policies continued and continue) provides us with the evidence for such a decline.
Did the people at the coalface try to turn the ship around? You bet they did! Did politicians and administrators listen for one second to their protestations? Not for one second. We’ll see how even when evidence of the UK’s decline is clear and unequivocal, politicians and administrators were still saying that the system was improving and examination results were getting better.
You may ask as I have many times, how can they possibly say that when everyone who examines the unequivocal and unarguable evidence knows differently.
In the next chapter we hear from the people who are involved in the actual education process, namely headteachers, teachers and parents. They are the ones who are dealing with children all the time. If we are to learn the lessons to be learned, and they are there a’plenty, we need to listen to these people rather than people who never enter a classroom but apparently know what is best for our children.
Clearly from the available evidence, the centralisation and socialisation of education in the UK has been a disaster for our children. It takes something quite out of the ordinary to bring the UK, according to the PISA test results, to the point where it is the only country to have slid down the list and out of the top ten in all three categories.
But UK politicians and administrators managed to succeed in bringing in a structure (and in doing so totally disillusioned teachers) to the point where the UK is the worst developed country in the world in which to raise children – it really takes an almighty effort to achieve that level of failure in six years!
And yet they still persist despite the protestations. UK politicians refuse to acknowledge there is even a problem. They still insist that they are right!
It takes a particular form of denial to be completely blind to what any ordinary, intelligent mortal sees.
Are listening New Zealand politicians and educators? But there we have it, the disempowering of parents, teachers and educators so that a political agenda, or to be more accurate a few politicians, who possess little or no experience of education, can dictate what occurs in schools throughout New Zealand.
If interested, Mollet Learning Academy (MLA) and WideHorizon Education Resources (WER) produces Teaching Packs that are designed to appeal to the heart, head and hands. Original material is the Mollet Learning Academy (MLA) Teaching Packs (written initially for New Zealand teachers). On request from USA teachers, monitoring and assessment procedures were added and renamed WER Teaching Packs to distinguish them from MLA Teaching Packs. All lessons are designed to appeal to the heart, head and hands.
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The Crô-Magnons including story “The Lascaux Caves”,
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