Soapbox Dennis Hayes: Fads and fashions getting in the way of what is important in our schools
I HAVE a friend who is a real teacher. He is not an edutainer "motivating" and "inspiring" pupils through his antics.
He appears laid back, even weary, but he gets his pupils to know and understand his subject and to think critically. Some of them get into Oxbridge.
He has taught in the same large urban school for many years. Recently, he was inspected by a formula- following dullard from Ofsted who said "I see no learning going on in your classes".
This is one of the many reasons to fail Ofsted. Ofsted is not the solution to any educational problem. It is part of the educational problem, not least because it has propagated many pedagogical fads and fashions such as "personalised learning", "emotional literacy" and "assessment for learning".
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This does not give Derby schools or the local authority an easy excuse to help explain away their poor performance. As a panel member of Boris Johnston's Mayoral Education Inquiry we often discussed and researched poor school performance. How could two schools in the same local community, with the same, often multi-ethnic intakes be so different?
In the end it seemed to me to come down to, not the leadership style of the head teacher, or any particular school structure, but to content – to what is taught. Where subjects were strong, teaching was strong.
And what is missing from the debate about Derby's schools is any discussion of curriculum content. The council's press release published in this paper on January 17 proves my point. It is all about structure and process. It responds to Ofsted on Ofsted's terms.
It is important to understand that league tables are merely a symptom of a problem and not part of any solution. It is easy to respond to them defensively if you are near the bottom or to celebrate them if you are near the top. But Ofsted is an institutional expression of successive governments' responses to a crisis. It survived the coalition government's Bonfire of the Quangos because of this. Ofsted distances government from educational responsibility and yet allows intervention in education at a time when the meaning of education has been lost.
This crisis of meaning is essentially the loss of the idea that schools are special places which have a sole purpose – to teach the best that is known and thought to new generations through a subject-based curriculum.
Schools are not the sites for social engineering or places that solve social problems. If all teachers in Derby could regain and defend a passion for subject-based education they could soon find themselves as national education leaders.
The way forward for Derby's schools is an open and public debate about the nature of education. We need to kick-start that debate in order to kick out fads and fashions that damage teaching.