I don’t know what you think about Jeremy Clarkson. I’m not hugely amused, as a rule, by the laddish humour of Top Gear. By contrast, I find him hilarious as a Sunday times columnist. A Sunday back in June was no exception. Outraged by the Education Secretary Michael Gove’s attempts to make exams harder ( and turn the clock back ), he ranted about how he hated his own school days, how they did nothing for him and how he got into journalism by lying about his A level grades. As a successful person for whom school did little ( at least, that’s what he claims), he has a sharp eye. For one thing, he echoes my own views on league tables. :
“League Tables ruin children’s lives. They are already expected to spend all day in the classroom, learning about stuff that isn’t useful, and then four hours in the evening doing homework, simply so their school does better than the school down the road. And now they are going to have to work even harder so that Britain can beat Belgium.”
He adds a three-point plan for the future :-
1. Abolish league tables
2. Because employers need consistency, pick an examination system and enshrine it in a way that it can never be altered ( by politicians messing around with it).
3. Make school fun. Blow stuff up in science. Read fun books in English. Have loads of free time…
Sadly Clarkson spoils it by ending with a daft pleat to forget about Maths but overall his heart’s in the right place.
Recently I discussed the challenge of ‘ always being fascinating’ with heads of department. Is it acceptable that anything should ever be boring? It’s certainly not fashionable! We agreed some exam material can be dull but unavoidable: but if, having tried every teaching strategy and trick we know, we haven’t found a way of making it interesting, we should be honest and admit, “This is dull but necessary. Let’s get it done”.
Teachers are fanatics, passionate believers in the appeal of their subject. Their own fascination and inspiration are catching: the wonder that teachers feel for their specialist subject is readily communicated, and highly-motivated, open-minded boys and girls latch on to that wonder, using it as a launch pad for their own exploration and discovery.
Have a passion : think how to communicate that passion and to transmit the information and the wonder of learning to your students; then do it. It’s demanding. Planning and preparation, let alone marking, assessing and reporting (nearly all done in long evenings and weekends), take it out of teachers. They ask a lot of students too.
It’s tough, but the formula works. We need politicians to stop claiming disaster is about to strike, meddling, interfering and trying to introduce change founded not on the consensual view of professionals, but rather on ministerial gut feelings and prejudices.
Clarkson’s right – up to a point. I’d like to think that had someone of his undoubted but wayward talents attended a 21st Century FIDS school he wouldn’t have been nurturing these negative perceptions. Unfortunately (or happily!) that’s one thing we can’t test!