Sunday 11 September 2016

Welcome Back - to every teacher and EVERY child

Most teachers and children in England and Wales will have been back at school for between 7 and 10 days and already education is making the headlines.

In reality, of course, teachers will have been back for much longer, planning work for the year ahead, setting up seating arrangements and classroom systems, and preparing their classrooms as learning spaces. Here's my room around day 5 (26th August):

My job-share partner Jo (below, draped on our new furniture-slash-soundsystem) and I spent hours getting the room just right for the 31 nine year olds who joined us last week.

We spent hours on it because we understand that, when it comes to children's education, everything matters - everything about the room, everything about the space, every word you say, or write, and every little signal you send. There is no such thing as a neutral gesture. We wanted our room to be perfect and to set exactly the right tone for the learning of our students.

Up and down the country, teachers have been doing the same, whether it is preparing their rooms, tweaking their plans, adjusting their approaches to aspects of maths, English, science, art. They have been ensuring everything is just right to create the best possible atmosphere in which their students take flight in their learning and achieve things that they never thought themselves capable of.

And that is why Theresa May's announcement of the return of grammar schools and secondary moderns has broken our hearts, why so many of us are seething with rage. Because we put in the effort we do, from (before) the start of the school year to (after) the very end, to support the learning of EVERY child and to see EVERY child succeed and excel, not just the top 20%-25%.

Selective education, by its very nature, works on the assumption that the vast majority of children are not worth investing in, that their education does not matter as much as the education of the so-called 'high-flyers'. In doing so, it not only fails the 75%-80% of children who are 'selected' out - or rejected - it also impoverishes the educational experience of the chosen few by denying them the opportunity to learn alongside their peers.

The statistics speak for themselves. Grammar schools exclude poorer children, those who speak English as an additional language, those from ethnic minority backgrounds, those with special educational needs, disabled children. They are a form of institutionalised discrimination. Selective areas perform less well than non-selective education authorities and London's comprehensive schools outperform selective areas, such as Kent and Medway, for every group of students.

The fact is that greater inequality leads to a drop in quality overall - the more unequal our schools are, the more every student suffers.

Conversely, the more equal we make our schools, the more every student benefits. And that is a powerful thing.

So, as we start another school year, focusing as we should be on the children we will be teaching for the next eleven months, let us commit as a profession to reducing inequality in our schools and classrooms, and to opposing, with every fibre of our being, this government's attempt to increase it in the system as a whole.

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