Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools, is in many of the papers today because of a report Ofsted have produced discussing the educational welfare of “unseen” students.
Who are these ‘unseen children’?
Are they unseen because they are poor? There seems to be some looseness in the use of this term, for instance in the Daily Telegraph article, Wilshaw says: “I’m calling them ‘unseen children’, often failing and being failed not so much because of material poverty – although that is clearly an issue – but by a poverty of expectations” but a few paragraphs further in he refers to “poor children” where this seems to be a more financial statement than a broader description.
Are they unseen because of teacher complacency? The Guardian coins the term “superteacher” in the first line of its report. The use of “super” suggests there are “standard” teachers who don’t quite make enough difference. Teachers more often than not show an altruistic dedication to their work rarely seen in other professions. Every profession has the good and the bad practitioners, but teaching seems singled out for the level of criticism evinced. There are times I almost wish I was a lawyer.
Are they unseen because of low expectations? Are families and individuals to blame? It is too easy to blame ‘chav’ families or the aspirations of the working class because “often (unseen children) are spread thinly, as an ‘invisible minority’ across areas that are relatively affluent,” Wilshaw says. And why do the working class seem so mocked in our culture at the moment?
Are they unseen because of external factors like the economy, political expediency, or lack of community? At the risk of becoming cynical, I sometimes wonder if Blair’s “Education, Education, Education” did a huge disservice to teaching and learning. That one phrase politicised the profession in a way that it had never been politicised before. Sure, the State education system came from political ideal and much later the National Curriculum, but what if Blair had said “Human Rights, Human Rights, Human Rights”? Surely education is a human right?
Are they unseen because of the curriculum and its bias towards the academic? Wilshaw talks about “radical” changes and I wonder how this goes with the current Secretary of State for Education. How does radical chime with the Conservative’s desire to identify a golden age of education and reinvent it? A teacher with a cape will still have to work with a dated curriculum in a chronically overtested and underfunded environment.
As is so often the case, when the spotlight is shining, an issue is dealt with; when the focus turns to another issue, does the first problem return? When girls’ achievement in the 1970s and 1980s was spotlit and given the political attention it improved dramatically; now it is thought that boys are the underachievers. Report RR636 (pp 17, 18)
The “poor” children, the “unseen”, occur across all the divides. Individual children may be in the wrong school or the wrong area, they may be offered the wrong curriculum, or be from the wrong background; the variables are many. If this report is to change things for the better, please can policy makers and managers make sure that the benefits are kept when they turn their attention to the next big thing?
My favourite article on this comes from Mike Britland of The Guardian, where he suggests Michael Wilshaw’s plan for failing schools might not be so bad after all The human scale of the suggestion that dogma should matter less than it does and that we are dealing with people is a good one. We must keep questioning and then developing ideas that work. We mustn’t ignore that education is about people and we must start seeing some of the children who for whatever reason, get missed.