Education regardless of which party is in power is a hot-button issue, but especially in the last few years. And it’s not surprising why: increasing attainment gap between students of higher and low socio economic background, rising teacher recruitment crisis, academisation of schools, increasing levels of accountability on schools, new national curriculum, and slashes in school and welfare budgets are just some of the issues the education sector is dealing with.
I’m not going to write yet another post of why we need to fix this: everyone wants the best for our young people and everyone wants to help solve these problems. So why then, after two years of teaching, have I decided to not fix this in the classroom? Well, certainly the 80 hour weeks in my first year took a toll on me; overtime in the profession comes on the tin that you don’t read until you’re sleep walking into your second half term and realised you haven’t slept in six weeks. My decision might also be impacted by the increasing amounts of paperwork and tick boxing teachers have to complete, on top of planning lessons that ‘adapt to the needs of ALL thirty learners’ in the classroom, whilst juggling four hours of marking per class every other week.
Many teachers are heroic for doing all this and so much more. But we shouldn’t have to do the job of heroes. And so I am leaving the classroom because I don’t want to resent the children who are victims of a systemic problem in how education is treated in this country. Whenever I tell people I am a secondary school teacher, the general response I receive is ‘Oh poor you, the kids must be horrible!’ or ‘Children here don’t appreciate their education, how do you deal with the poor behaviour?’ And my response is always it’s not their fault.
It’s not their fault their families did not have the childcare provisions from the welfare state when they were young. It’s not their fault their parents had to work 2-3 jobs because the Living Wage is still not nation wide. It’s not their fault the increasing paperwork means the teachers don’t have time to talk to that child every morning and ask how they are. It’s not their fault that the increasing pressures on exam results means their creativity, humanity, and inquisitiveness is often forgotten at the wayside.
It is not their fault the system has failed them. And I am sorry to say I failed many of them while trying prepare students for their ‘ever important’ GCSE exams.
The majority of my students achieved their English grades, thanks to the collaborative nature and hard working ethic of my team. But inside my classroom, I failed them in not having enough conversations. We were always short on time when discussing the events of Brexit or the humanitarian crisis of refugees in Europe or the everyday sexism faced by women of colour within our liberal city. In the aftermath of Brexit and the rising xenophobia surfacing across the UK, these conversations are more important than ever. The urgency for a ‘value-based’ education was echoed by 37 head teachers who signed an open letter to the Education Secretary on 27 July 2016. As Loic Menzies, of think tank LKMco rightly said, ‘…when there are big decisions like this . . . young people need to be equipped with the skills to deliberate and question the evidence that is being put forward to them, and make the right decision on their own values set and belief.
‘That raises questions about how we teach citizenship and how we create schools that promote young people’s ability to look at big questions in a critical way.’
Revitalising Citizenship and Religious Education would be one avenue into providing space for young people to develop moral and political literacy. Michael Gove during the Brexit campaign championed Britain as a mythical island able to outperform all. Yet, it is this damaging self image amongst the reality of a co-dependant world that has contributed to the ever confusing post colonial British identity complex, not least for our young people in the classroom. As Mike Finn aptly describes in the LSE Politics and Policy blog, ‘Britain is and remains as it was: a second-rate power trying to best maximise her influence against the challenges of a globalising world’. It is the challenges of this globalising world that we are failing to prepare British children with.
Amongst rising political and class tensions are the pragmatic concerns of a global job market in which 58% of employers have already expressed dissatisfaction with young people’s knowledge of international and cultural awareness. The responsibility on individual subject teachers to weave this into already demanding new GCSE courses would be too big of an ask. But the need for young people to see their shared common humanity with the refugee children across the borders is tantamount. If we are to truly develop ‘spiritual, moral, social and cultural’ development within the curriculum, we must do so consistently and authentically in classroom spaces designed and reserved for these discussions.
Citizenship studies will strengthen a value based education and individual subjects can further support these imperative discussions. However, it is only with long term innovative approaches to a global curriculum like the ‘The World Course’ that we can truly teach children the responsibilities of global citizenship in a politically, economically and environmentally dynamic world.
From October, I will therefore be exploring schools around the world on how they have created spaces of open-mindedness, global awareness and intercultural dialogues for children to participate in. When I know I can do the same, I will return to the young people who first made me laugh about how Donald Trump ‘can’t be serious Ms, he is definitely high on medication’. If only that were true.
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Gurmeet Kaur is an educator, researcher and writer. She was a Secondary English Teacher through the Teach First programme in London. She will be travelling around the globe to research and develop strategies for a more globally minded UK education. She is an avid traveller and her political interests have spanned her work in voting rights, workers rights, poetry and travel writing. You can connect with her on Twitter at @gurmeetkaur01 or follow her blog here