When education is going wrong

Bentham's Panopticon - prisoners can be watched from the watch tower at any time of the day or night, thanks for permanent illumination.

The flip side to my previous post about what excellent education looks like, is what poor education looks like. Again, this is all open to debate, but my list is aimed at making a start. Even some schools generally regarded as successful may want to think about their professional practice if they see any of these negative characteristics on their own turf.

  • It is hard for others to work out exactly what is going on in a teacher’s classroom.
  • There are high rates of casual and long term teacher absence, and high use of supply teachers and trainee teachers.
  • There is a blame culture within the school, with teachers excusing poor attainment on the grounds of children’s social disadvantage, management shortcomings, or children’s resistance to schooling.
  • The same children tend to answer questions and participate in lessons, while others remain quiet and sometimes disengaged.
  • Children in the top ability groups are regularly used to coach other children.
  • Children in the bottom ability groups are confined to separate tables and effectively taught by (usually unqualified) Teaching Assistants.
  • Teachers review children’s progress only in response to Government policy.
  • Teachers insist on high levels of pupil conformity in terms of humour, interests, and attitudes towards society.
  • Staff morale is low and teachers do not socialize with each other outside school.
  • Teachers and children feel they need to behave in a physically rigid, controlled manner in school. for example always looking forwards and attentive.
  • Teachers are not sure what children know, and where there are gaps.
  • Access to books and educational resources is controlled and rationed.
  • Children and teachers spend a lot of time discussing discipline.
  • The methods used when teaching do not fit the task, for example using direct instruction at the wrong time, or too much unfocused small group discussion that is off task.
  • Lessons drift away at the end, without any summary.
  • Learning is focused on achieving Government targets.
  • Higher status is theoretically given to mathematics, the sciences and English, but children are not taught by teachers properly trained in these subject areas.
  • In school, the emphasis is on getting through the curriculum rather than developing knowledge and expertise, and developing an intellectual life.
  • Children and parents are reluctant to come into school, speak to teachers, and support school events.
  • When parents come into school, they are spoken to as pupils and required to sit on small chairs.
  • Discipline is obvious, sometimes loud and varies in its application.
  • Former pupils do not remain involved with the school.
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