John Bald is a former teacher, educational adviser and Ofsted lead inspector. He now works as an independent consultant and offers free help to people with educational problems.
The Guardian buried some good news last week. Forty-seven per cent of heads it surveyed had said that education had improved under this government, 41 per cent that it had stayed the same, and only 12 per cent that it had deteriorated. Fifty-five per cent said that the quality of teaching had improved. This proportion of positive to negative views is the highest I’ve ever seen. From a Conservative point of view, the message is clear – what we have done so far has improved matters.
Over the weekend, a survey taken ten months ago had a third of heads unhappy about the quality of newly-qualified teachers, but it didn’t say whether the weaker ones were from traditional or the new employment- based routes. I strongly suspect the former, where the agenda is dominated by the promotion of mixed-ability teaching. Professor Alan Smithers said that there was a real risk of the move towards school-based training being reversed under pressure from unions and what he was polite enough to call the “educational establishment.” I greatly fear he may be right.
The Daily Mail had more good news in an excellent report by Eleanor Harding on research in Cincinnati that used brain scans to demonstrate the positive effects of bedtime stories on the areas of the brain that are associated with understanding. The author, Dr John Hutton, owns the Blue Manatee Bookshop in Cincinnati, which also operates as a centre for involving parents – click here to visit.
The research, of course, confirms what we know from intuition and experience. It is no accident that the least successful pupil from the Bristol Child Development study during the 1980s had had no recorded experience of stories before starting school, while the most successful had 5000. It also shows that there is no substitute for parents doing the right thing by their children.
One more positive development before the latest piece of nonsense. Most young people who are assessed – rightly or wrongly – as dyslexic, are not getting a fair chance to learn a foreign language. This is partly because they are particularly vulnerable to the errors in language teaching perpetrated by the late Professor Eric Hawkins, and his acolytes and quangos, and partly because they are too often withdrawn from over half of their lessons, with no opportunity to catch up.
A new online course exploring the issue, based at Lancaster University, is free to participants and has attracted no fewer than 17000 teachers worldwide, of whom 9000 are staying the pace, which is quite demanding in terms of reading.
Open discussion is encouraged, and dissent – for example, on the proportion of people who can be described as dyslexic, which I do not see as more than one per cent – is met with debate rather than rank-pulling. I’ve learned about three important pieces of research, all based on hard evidence, which I hadn’t seen, and am recommending that the format be used for training in neuroscience, which is extremely important, and a new field for most teachers. No course in history has attracted so many participants at such economical cost.
The nonsense came from Mark Dawe, Chief Executive, no less, of the OCR examining board, that wants children to use google in examinations. His feeble plea for “relevant rather than real” education was seen off very effectively by Chris McGovern on the Today Programme, but the fact that he put forward the idea at all shows very clearly that the progressive octopus is looking forward to getting its ball back from Labour on Friday morning.
What Dawe and his supporters refuse to understand is that, without knowledge, it is not possible to develop the understanding and skills that they seek to promote. As they have maintained this position for over a century, we need not look for them to change. The only thing they understand is defeat.