I usually blog about games, in fact I’ve never blogged about anything else, but recently the fantastic Mr Murf inspired me to write about some non-gaming topics. Gaming is something I enjoy doing and love sharing my opinions on, but there’s far more to me than just my gaming; just like any gamer. So, this blog is a bit of a change, with me talking about a topic that I care about in real life – education.
Education is something I care quite a lot about. We’re all the product of our education to varying degrees. Until relatively recently I was in the education system (for context I’m talking about the UK education system here), going as far as to study a Masters degree. With all that I learnt throughout my education, I didn’t want to let it go to waste – I wanted to teach the children of the future and hopefully make the world a better place for my efforts. Sounds saintly, I know, but I love helping people.
So, I applied for teacher training schemes in the UK. To become a teacher these days you have to jump through all sorts of hoops, and understandably so. There’s a maths aptitude test, an English aptitude test, a DBS check to make sure you’re not a criminal, you must have at least a week experience observing in schools (which in itself will usually require a List 99 check and a lot of email leg work to organise) and then of course there’s UCAS. The very word will make most young Brits recoil in fear – its our centralised application service for all things higher education such as University places and, now, teacher training places as well. Like any centralised system though, its crap.
I managed to jump through all of those hoops though, and then reached the end of my UCAS application; time to choose what to apply for. There’s two routes, School based or University based. Turns out they are actually exactly the same as far as the course content goes. I picked School based though, it sounded more like my kind of thing. That scheme is the brain child of the current Education Secretary and general figure of hate, Michael Gove MP.
There’s a not-so-pretty picture of him for you. Teachers loath him, so much so that 99.3% of the largest teacher’s union agreed with a vote of no confidence in his leadership. In a business, if every single member of staff complained about their boss he would surely be out of a job, but not Mr Gove. In fact, I wonder why he has the job seeing as he’s a trained journalist and has not a shred of education experience to boast of.
That aside, Mr Gove’s changes have been vast, some of the biggest to the British education system since the abolishment of the Grammar School dominated selective ‘Tripartite System’ in the 1970s. The ‘Comprehensive System’ of un-selective state education system that the Labour government back then created to replace the ‘Tripartite System’ has now been replaced by Michael Gove’s ‘Academy System’.
Gove has brought business right into the classroom, opening up all schools from the best to the worst to private ‘sponsors’ who support the school. Its a good way of keep the Department for Education’s budget down in tough times, sure, but it represents a very worrying direction. My experiences observing in schools have been enlightening on the damage caused by Gove’s Academy revolution to education.
In one particular school, a technology company became the sponsor, providing the children with free iPads as part of the deal. IPads are tools of some reasonable educational value, although clearly not a replacement to the book and pen. The real cause for concern to me was that the children could only use the iPads once they had watched a set number of adverts. Compulsory product adverts in the classroom crosses a distinct boundary that leaves me feeling very uncomfortable, like I have fallen asleep and awoken in Orwell’s 1984. Maybe Orwell was seeing the future, just 30 years off.
Alongside the Academies marrying up businesses with schools, it has also been driving more ‘freedom’ for schools. Gove wants schools to choose their own syllabus, to choose their own holidays, set their own budgets with their business partners. All of that makes me wonder, first of all, why you would need a Department for Education if schools were supposed to do that all by themselves. Most of all though, it worries me.
I believe very strongly in the principle of education instilled in me by the ethos of what Gove would most likely call the ‘Labourite’ generation. For me, the British education system stands for equality (that no matter what your background you have an equal chance of succeeding), for intellectual rigor and also free thinking (that we not only know our subjects well, but we dare to think creatively and ingenuously around them). The ‘independence’ offered by the Academy System damages this ethos.
I have spent time in a religious school as part of my applications to teach. Religions and school do not match, and frankly, there should be no place for any religious schools in 21st Century Britain. I can reason with private schools, where parents pay to send their children to schools that generally offer slightly better results than their state counterparts. Religion is an entirely different ball-park though.
There are Catholic, as well as some other conservative faith, Religious schools in the UK right now teaching children Creationism and also Abstinence based sex education (if any at all). Whilst most state schools will talk through the history of how we moved on scientifically from Creationism to Darwinian Evolution and let the pupils then consider which theory sounds the best; these schools pre-decide for the pupils and thrust one concept on to them. Such teaching does not fit with the ethos of British education; yet Gove’s ‘independence’ has led to a resurgence of faith schools.
I don’t seem to be alone in my concern, teachers are worried in Britain; worried what Gove’s changes mean for the future. Education is crucial to the development of young people. Its not just about getting high scores in tests, but about the development of youngsters into productive and social citizens. Mr Gove doesn’t seem to understand this role, choosing to focus on relentless drives for financial efficiency and good grades. School is more than that, its about education; and a good education will last you not only forever but also make the world a much better place.
To me, Gove’s command of the Department for Education is like letting the Daily Mail newspaper run the Department (coincidence or not that his wife is a Daily Mail journalist I’ll leave up to you). That is worrying. I’ve seen the damage that he and his army of iPad wielding business partners have done to the classroom and the next generation of British youngsters. It saddens me greatly.
The end to my story is a sorry one as well, I was rejected from the teacher training places that I applied to and I won’t be becoming a teacher. I don’t particularly blame Gove for that, but I get an overwhelming sense that the decision makers were looking for the Gove-ite that I so clearly am not. I’m lucky though, I have a job that I really enjoy in another field, where I talk to the public and help them alongside a great team of people. Others in my situation probably aren’t as lucky.
I won’t rant on any more about education though, and I’ll leave you with a slightly doctored version of the immortal lyrics of Pink Floyd – as probably every teaching blog as done at some time:
We don’t need no thought control
Hey! Gove! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
Digital Salad – https://lifeasadigitalsalad.wordpress.com