Failing standards

I am fortunate to be able to travel and meet fellow teaching professionals, a few of whom still seem to enjoy taking every opportunity to bemoan their students for not achieving the high standards that was expected of themselves, often harking back to a legendary bygone era in which all children were model students and society’s treatment of teachers was akin to that bestowed upon doctors or lawyers.

Standards have slipped apparently. Year sevens can’t spell. Year eights can’t concentrate. Year nines can’t keep quiet. Year tens can’t take school seriously. Year elevens can’t write essays. Year twelves can’t stay awake. And year thirteens are lazy.

Year sevens may struggle with the spelling of the odd word and txt speak may show its unwelcome face occasionally, but children age eleven can these days do all sorts of things we could have never dreamt of. Which is really not that surprising, as the world they live in is quite different to the world we grew up in.

The challenges we faced then were different to the ones they are facing now. Yet we expect the same standards that were applied to us back then to be applied to our students. This is nonsense.

Leaving to one side whether such bygone era ever existed, or whether it is true that children were once able to concentrate through boring lessons but are no longer, one can’t help but wonder: Why are we holding our pupils to fifty year old standards? Why do we force them to learn the way we learnt? By doing this, are we not condemning the vast majority of them to failure? And lastly but crucially, are they failing by our standards or, rather like I suspect, are we failing to set the right standards?

My own son, now six, could browse and install apps intuitively on my phone before he could read. He regularly uses a computer unaided to play educational games and do his maths homework and do basic browsing. He is able to dextrously handle and successfully operate all the electronic equipment I own, often with incredibly creative results (I’m thinking of my digital SLR and my Flip camera in particular). On the other hand, he is only just started learning to write in joined up letters.

He has also recently learnt to cycle at a local beauty spot. Learning to use all the tools he will need to live a fulfilling life does not and should not stop him from playing outdoors and learning to be sociable offline as well as online. Believing otherwise is just a load of tosh. Our standards must change.

As ever, your thoughts are very welcome.


Submit a Comment
  1. HI Jose, I agree with your article that pupils can do a lot more things than they are given credit for. The more we move into a digital world the more these skills (many of them teachers themselves can’t do) will be useful and seen as a positive rather than a negative by employers.

  2. So, so true José. Unfortunately Michael Gove and Nick Gibb suffer from arrested development -they stopped growing in 1955 and are hell-bent on visitng their childhood experiences on the rest of us. The right wing will not accept that society, and therefore the children that society produces, has changed beyond recognition in the last 50 years. “Shift Happens” and the J-curve phenomenon provide incontrovertible evidence of accelerating and exponential change, especially in the realms of technology. The right wing have also adopted the stance that everything that has gone before is dumbed down and worthless, and that schools should not be protesting about a rigorous academic curriculum. This worries me more than somewhat, as it’s not the academic curriculum that is the issue, it’s more about forcing curriculum change without consultation via the league tables, and the fact that a “one size fits all” academic curriculum is not appropriate for all students. Gove is now seen by some as the champion and defender of students from poorer backgrounds who have been prevented from attending the best universities by dumbed down comprehensive schools. I’d just like to remind him which party introduced the National Curriculum, GCSEs, OFSTED and league tables. They can’t have it both ways.

Your feedback and comments are very welcome