Soviet-style schooling in England

We don’t live in a Soviet state – so why do we have a state-mandated curriculum with a command-and-control, state-planned school system, which is policed by punitive central inspectors? And since we don’t live in a Maoist one-party state why are young people subject to “behaviour management” and sent to special units for re-education, and teachers required to report suspicious behaviour

This is a unique and provocative book, written for parents and aspiring teachers. What I offer is an uncompromising insight into the realities of the misshapen school our politicians of all hues have bequeathed us. Along the way, and not always comfortably, I take on too-easily believed myths of schooling – that a Grade A can be distinguished from a C grade; that all kids, rich and poor, whatever gender and ethnicity, can have the same opportunity to succeed; and that we can somehow measure the competence of a teacher. I expose the absurdity of teaching the same thing in the same way to children in Berwick, Birmingham and Barnet.  

Starting with the simple assumption that classrooms are places for teaching and learning I challenge us to think again. Before we get to teaching and learning there are politics, ideology, culture, resource competition, personal histories all being played out in the classroom, all highly influential and all having to be resolved. Given that we force 30+ volatile youngsters into tiny, walled spaces for 15,000 hours of their early life, the dominant task of schools is ‘crowd-control’.  Removing one of the foundation blocks of English schooling, I take on another common myth – that what is taught is what is learned, and I try to show that this is far from what is known about how young people respond to education and how young people learn. 

We send our children every day to a place that is shrouded in myths and misconceptions, parents too readily assuming that they go to spend the day learning. If we lift those shrouds we reveal both fascinating and worrying realities. But we can also begin to ask what a good quality of education looks like, taking examples like Summerhill School, the International Baccalaureate and the Italian Reggio Emilia school system. Do parents really know where they send their kids every day? Don’t they have the right to know? Isn’t it healthy for our democracy that parents are equipped to ask searching questions about the education of their children?

There is no other book like this, but there ought to be. Important issues for our democracy are hotly debated: climate change, economic crisis, the collapse of parliamentary authority, the quality of policing. But there is little public debate, much less argument, over how we create new futures and a new society by educating our young people. This book is designed to provoke much-needed debate and to promote the parent’s ‘right to know’.

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