Observer 24th June 2007

Peter Hyman hit the nail on the head today when mentioning how much painstaking research has been conducted into best practice in teaching. What he fails to mention is that, despite the wealth of material, there is no such thing as ‘good teaching’ only passing, cyclical fashions. The search for the perfect lesson is the philosopher’s stone of the Education World. Similarly, the current teaching theories with their roots in management theory have spawned a myriad of educational institutions and quangos extolling the virtues of standards, targets and results but ultimately these concepts are based on another myth i.e. that exams are a fair and balanced assessment of a student’s intrinsic academic ability.

Philosopher's Stone

These two falsehoods – that there can ever be a perfect lesson and that examination results are an objective indication of success – and the reforms carried out in their name plague the lives of the underprivileged British pupil to this day. Comprehensive kids are still subject to the likes of Hyman’s headmaster with his outdated Back-to-Basics approach which, in effect, drills pupils like little soldiers into what it means to be an oh-so-fortunate, very grateful-for-the-chance-to-shine-in-the-eyes-of-others-like-a-performing-monkey citizen. They are then expected to passively accept that relative failure in exams is down to the fact that students didn’t listen or they just didn’t cut the mustard when in fact school success so narrowly-defined has as much to do with how much support your parents and peers can give with homework and private tutors in order to take the test as with anything else. It is socio-cultural fascism on a grand-scale and causes major, irreparable community divisions.

We need, instead, to allow teachers to build lasting trustful relationships with students without the competition and with compassion. Remove politicians and cheap point-scoring from Education and protect students from the dictates of the markets so they can fulfil their potential on their own terms, academic or vocational. If you hand over responsibility then people act responsibly; if you treat people like children, then they will act like them. Real education can only be based on discovery and relationships of trust not authority and subservience.

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