Learning the Hard Way

I’ve written in the past about my son and his participation in a local youth football team, about how I think that Team Sports are an essential part of a young person’s development—particularly young boys—and of how last season, where the team did really well in winning their division by some distance, I felt particular pride after one game when the coach singled my son out for praise after doing his individual job very, very well. 

My son is still paying. He’s at ‘Under-14’ level this year and following last year’s success, they’ve been promoted to a higher division this year where life has proven to be a lot harder for them. Up until yesterday, they had only won two of their thirteen games, compared to having won eleven at the same point last year. 

Yesterday, they got their third win of the season and although it was against a team who’d won even fewer games this year, it was still a hard-fought game and it was pleasing to see the boys knuckle down and get that win after so many losses. 

And my son was again singled out—not just by the coach this time but by the other parents present at the game—for his outstanding display. 

But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about schools. Or education. Or both. 

This past Saturday, my wife, my children and I took a trip to London for the day. In the afternoon we went to Madame Tussauds, which was very pleasant, but in the morning we attended the open day at Lycée International de Londres Winston Churchill in Wembley Park, and while we simply cannot afford to send either of our children there thanks to fees in excess of £12,000 per year—and nor would it be practical to do so for that matter with us living an hour’s train ride from the capital—it was a worthwhile morning. Or, at least, I thought it was.

And that’s because it gave me an insight into how things in our schools could be so different than they are right now. 

I trained to teach after University in 1996/97 and then taught Science and Maths at a number of schools over the next few years. I’m the first to admit that, for a number of reasons, I wasn’t a very good teacher and wasn’t suited to the profession. Or maybe the profession wasn’t suited to me. Is there a difference there? Either way, I’ve not taught in schools for getting on for twenty years now. My wife, however, trained to teach at the same time as me (that’s actually how we met) and has taught ever since. She’s now been at the same school for longer than I’ve not been teaching. 

And in that time, so she tells me, the conditions in the school have worsened and the children become more difficult to teach. Which is probably something that most teachers will tell you, but wouldn’t think was true if you looked at the exam statistics or read Government propaganda. 

What made Lycée International different was that it is very much a French school. It has a bi-lingual approach but teaches to the French curriculum leading to the French Baccalaureate exam. It also offers it Students the I.B.—International Baccalaureate—which is a Swiss programme and is very, very different from our British A Levels. 

The main difference, or the one that stood out for me, was the way in which the IB is taught. Whereas A-Levels (and GCSEs for that matter) teach the knowledge needed to pass the terminal exam, the IB is designed to teach (and test) critical thinking. 

And that’s a big, big difference. After the IB presentation, I have to say I was blown away by it. By the ideas and the possibilities. It just seemed to me to be far, far superior to A Levels. 

And I can’t help but think if only all British school taught in the same way. If only we taught our young people—all out young people, not just those who go to University—to think critically and to question the stories and evidence they are presented with on a daily basis, would this country now be in the political mess that it’s in? 

Having now been shown a different way of possibly doing things, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that the focus on exam results over the last thirty years or more, that using them as a measure of which school is best and a stick with which to beat the ‘worst’ school, our education system has let down the young people that have gone through it, and let down the country as a whole. 

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