In the Classroom

Writing about teaching and learning by William Davies, Ian Jack, Jenny Turner, Thomas Jones, Lorna Finlayson, Paul Foot, Wang Xiuying, Marina Warner and Stefan Collini.  

In the utopia sold by the EdTech industry, pupils are guided and assessed continuously. When one task is completed correctly, the next begins, as in a computer game; meanwhile the platform providers are scraping and analysing data from the actions of millions of children. In this behaviourist set-up, teachers become more like coaches: they assist and motivate individual ‘learners’, but are no longer so important to the provision of education.

Diary: Class 1H

Ian Jack, 15 July 2021

As names were called, children stood up from the benches and gathered at the front, until an entire class had been assembled. A, B, C, D, E and F were called, and I was still there, waiting with around thirty other boys until the girls of class 1G had been led away, leaving us to be identified as 1H. There was no lower rank and no avoiding the fact that we were considered the least bright children in the school, who only just deserved to be there. I remember the shame.

Bad things happen to schools if Ofsted turns up and doesn’t like what it sees. Up goes the report online and everybody reads it: parents, would-be staff, local media and business, all of whom want to know why the school hasn’t been judged Grade 1, Outstanding. Rumours spread, parents withdraw their children, some staff leave and others go on the sick long-term; energy, goodwill, funding all start dropping away.

In the Classroom

Thomas Jones, 28 November 2002

A free-market model doesn’t – and can’t – work for the education system: there isn’t the clear distinction between ‘consumer’ and ‘product’ that proponents of the market would have us believe there is, since parental wealth is such an important factor in what makes a successful school.

Diary: The Buttocks Problem

Paul Foot, 5 September 1996

In any normal circumstances, Anthony Chenevix-Trench, one-time headmaster of Eton, should have been the subject of a police investigation and criminal charges. In the world of the public schools, however, he is a heroic figure.

Rumour has it that Xi Jinping doesn’t like children with weight problems or poor vision. Video clips of chubby schoolboys who can’t do a single push-up often go viral. Just think about those grandpas performing Olympic standard gymnastics in any Beijing park: what a decline in just two generations! No wonder our leader is worried.

Diary: Why I Quit

Marina Warner, 11 September 2014

What is happening at Essex reflects on the one hand the general distortions required to turn a university into a for-profit business – one advantageous to administrators and punitive to teachers and scholars – and on the other reveals a particular, local interpretation of the national policy. The Senate and councils of a university like Essex, and most of the academics who are elected by colleagues to govern, have been caught unawares by their new masters, their methods and their assertion of power. Perhaps they/we are culpable of doziness.

Future historians will record that, alongside its many other achievements, the coalition government took the decisive steps in helping to turn some first-rate universities into third-rate companies. If you still think the time for criticism is over, perhaps you’d better think again.

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