Time and again this issue comes to light.
The million dollar question: How do we improve performance in our schools, and guarantee that every child, regardless of their socio-economic background, has access to a minimum acceptable standard of teaching?
The tough answer is that there are no quick fixes. Schools cannot undo the damage caused to children by broken homes, poverty, neglect and abuse. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying.
This is where the C-grade culture comes into play. In our culture of “management consultancy” metrics, it makes perfect sense that the best way to fix a problem is to measure the extent of the problem and track changes to that measure. We can easily count how many GCSE’s a student has, so we use that as our measure.
Unfortunately we did not foresee the negative consequences of this. In the first place the measure itself is such a narrow focus on what it means to be a healthy member of society, or a “good citizen”.
Secondly, we are directing our blame for this problem squarely at the teachers. In a society where celebrity and wealth is glorified, we are directing our blame for society’s ills precisely on those people who chose to devote their lives lifting future generations up.
Naturally, if we only care about one aspect of a teacher’s role, teachers will tend towards meeting only that one goal. So bright children get ignored because instead of praising teachers for bringing a C-grade student to an A*, society instead focuses on the E-grade student who only got pulled up to a C. And the G-grade student who has no chance of getting a C in Year 11? A maths teacher can work out the cost/benefit ratio associated with helping that child, too. So our education system is racing to the middle.
Teachers and students alike have learnt to aspire to a C, and no further.
The author of Bad Science, a book which debunks lots of pseudoscience, presents a paper supporting the idea of Education Policy being driven by methods that have been scientifically demonstrated to work well, rather than the hit-and-miss political approach we currently ‘enjoy’:
The idea of using evidence-based policy is presented rather convincingly in The Geek Manifesto.
The Russell Group of universities has set out guidance about academic subject choices in it’s guide “Informed Choices“.
Not surprisingly, the prevailing wisdom is that maths carries a certain kudos.
A recent article in The Guardian considers this:
“A grade C in maths is pretty much essential at GCSE if you want to go to university, but the subject is also generally liked by admissions tutors at A-level. So it is well worth thinking about if you’re capable of getting a good grade.
“Certainly anyone who has ability in maths should consider it,” says Davies. “I see no problem with a combination such as English, history, maths.”
But be warned: there are many degrees where maths is essential, and if you don’t do some careful research, you might not realise it.
“Say you want to study computer science, so you take a computing at A-level. That’s fine, but you also must do maths at A-level to be considered,” Davies explains.”
Compulsory maths lessons until 18 would be a miscalculation | Matt Parker
“About a quarter of secondary school maths classes are already taught by non-maths teachers: I fail to see how dramatically increasing the maths departments timetable beyond breaking point is going to help.”