As students return to school for the new academic year, you would be forgiven for thinking that the whole educational system is in meltdown. The deeply shocking, criminal and violent behaviour of a small number of young people is blamed on the failure of schools as well as parents to discipline them. There is a call to keep the 20% of pupils who struggle to meet the government’s targets back a year when they have failed to meet the required standard at age 11.
Schools are held responsible for the fall in the number of children eating school dinners. Earlier in the year we rehearsed yet again the debate on the return of the grammar school as a means to halting the decline in social mobility. And yet, once again this summer, students at 16 and 18 apparently surpassed the previous achievements in national examinations, and more and more students are going on to study in universities. So what actually is the state of education, and how are we to guage this?
Speaking with, and listening to, teachers, parents and students, it is clear that there is much to celebrate. We have a much better understanding of the styles and ways children learn, we appreciate the ways in which home circumstances impinge – and seek to help children overcome them, there are much wider ranges of resources and ideas available. Despite all that is said about the constraints of the national curriculum, there are schools where strong and imaginative leadership has unlocked tremendous creativity and enthusiasm and research has shown that children who are stretched in their learning benefit socially as well as academically. Students across the country take an active role in lobbying, debating, volunteering.
Yes, there is still some considerable way to go before all children across the country are able to benefit from the improvements. Let’s make sure we do use the knowledge we have. But at work we are encouraged always to find a reason to praise a child and one lesson I have learned is that we hear negative comments much louder than positive. For every one criticism we need to be praised at least five times to compensate and this applies as much to school leaders as to children. As we face the new year how about getting off on a positive footing? I vote for a term (half-term? week?) of praise and encouragement for all those employed in schools across the country.
Helen Bonnick is a supervisor of school-home support workers and a social worker