Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Britain: `Detention, detention, detention'

Parenting orders, on-the-spot fines... the Brownites are planning to use the education system to police mums and dads as much as educate kids

Last week, the UK government announced extra powers that will give schools and local authorities even greater leeway to punish parents for the misbehaviour of their children. Such powers are likely to reinforce today's trend to infantilise teenagers while increasing divisions between schools and parents.

Under the regulations, parents of teenagers expelled or suspended from school face prosecution and a possible œ1,000 fine if they fail to keep their kids indoors during the day. Headteachers will also have the power to go to court to obtain parenting orders - which place obligations on parents backed by the threat of prosection - rather than involving the local authority. Ed Balls, the UK schools secretary, said: `Schools can only do so much in isolation. Parents have to be responsible for instilling right and wrong, too. Our measures help to create a more united front against poor behaviour.' Other measures include banning suspended or expelled children from public places during school hours in an attempt to stop them from getting into trouble or treating their punishment as a holiday (1).

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair famously once said that New Labour's key principles were `education, education, education'. Judging by the obsession with controlling kids (and their parents), the party's key focus today is `detention, detention, detention'. As the number of children expelled from schools has actually fallen in recent years, it would seem that the government is overstating the extent of unruly behaviour in British schools.

The new punishing measures have little to do with raising educational standards; rather they're a transparent attempt to point the finger of blame at apparently `uncouth' parents. As Balls put it: `I want heads to engage with parents, including using parenting contracts at an early stage so that schools and parents are able to work together to prevent bad behaviour from escalating.' (2) Forget about dropping the kids off to school and then going to work - it seems the government wants parents to go back to the classroom as well.

New Labour's crude and ill-judged authoritarianism is objectionable. And in any event, these new powers won't improve classroom behaviour. The government seems to be implying that working-class parents have failed to discipline their children properly, thus giving rise to disruptive behaviour in the classroom. Thus, the authorities need to instill a sense of right and wrong in both children and parents. In truth, the dynamics of school life are such that children do not necessarily act in the same way in the classroom as they do at home. A child might be well-behaved and respectful at home but start to play up and be disruptive in the company of other kids.

The old teacher cliche `you wouldn't do that at home, would you?' was based on the observation that children are more likely to play around at school. It was therefore the job of teachers to socialise children into behaving maturely with others. Schools are society in microcosm, where children learn how to interact with others in a public environment based on universal standards. How can children be equipped with the norms required for adulthood if they are packed off to mum and dad when they are disruptive? Disruptive children need to be integrated into schooling far more if they're to learn how to behave in such an environment, not simply be sent home and kept off the streets, too.

Far from Ed Balls and headteachers `getting tough' with poorly behaved schoolchildren and their parents, the latest proposals smack of wanting secondary-school kids to remain at the level of toddlers - forever in the custody of their parents.

Even when schools do attempt to socialise children these days, the emphasis is on cushioning them from the temptations of the big, bad outside world. In recent years, that has meant keeping kids away from such dens of iniquity as the local chippie or burger joint. Education chiefs in Denbighshire, North Wales, for instance, are locking the school gates at lunchtime in order to force children to eat healthy dinners. As with the lunchbox inspectors, and letters to parents advising them to feed their children `properly', it surely won't be long before parents are issued with fixed penalty notices (ie, `on-the-spot' fines) for failing to feed their children five fruit-and-veg per day.

The education system these days spends as much time policing parents as educating children. Under the new rules, parents who allow their children to be in a public place without justification within five days of being excluded from school will be fined œ50. And if parents do not pay within 42 days, they face prosecution and a possible 1,000 pound fine. Should parents be criminalised for the failures of schools and teachers to do their job properly - that is, to integrate problematic children and shape their behaviour in an institutional environment?

In the past, schools would liaise with parents regarding their children's poor or disruptive behaviour by calling mum and dad in for an informal chat with the headteacher. Underpinning these meetings was a sense of adult solidarity regarding the joint responsibility of parents and teachers towards children. Now, the government is so far removed from ordinary parents that it doesn't know how to appeal to such basic, everyday solidarities. Instead, the fixed penalty notice is hastily drafted in to fill the gap where shared beliefs and ideas should be. New Labour is deeply bereft of any moral framework through which it can provide British society with guidance and purpose. And the authorities seem to believe that ordinary people are incapable of responding to civic ideas of right and wrong anyway. As the British public is often seen to be `crassly materialistic', and only concerned with what's in their wallets, the fixed penalty notice is probably seen as the best solution: money, the `only language these people understand'.

The latest figures on expelled children hardly point to a massive crisis in schooling. Instead, the introduction of fines for parents who don't babysit their expelled children shows how the government wants parents, as much as schoolchildren, to conform to behavoural diktat. Rather than offering a vision of the Good Society, New Labour believes that financial punishments are the panacea to make everyone into a model citizen. In truth, all it really shows is that, when it comes to devising decent educational policies, New Labour is a few pence short of a pound.


South Australian Certificate of Education becoming too easy

There are always plenty of excuses for dumbing down when Leftists are in charge

The new high school certificate will worsen the skills crisis by discouraging the study of maths and science subjects at Year 12 level, teachers say. Associations of maths and science teachers say the new format, which applies from 2011, will encourage students to drop one of either physics, chemistry, mathematical studies or specialist maths. It requires students to complete 60 study units, the equivalent of three full-year subjects and universities are yet to announce whether their entry requirements, now five Year 12 subjects, will change.

But teachers say the new certificate's focus on raising the number of students who finish school and pressure to get the best score for university entry will mean more students drop out of harder maths and science subjects and opt for "easier" studies. SA Science Teachers Association past president and president-elect of the Australian Science Teachers Association Peter Turnbull said the new high school certificate was "flying in the face" of efforts to combat the state's skills shortages. "We have a view that this is going to have an impact on the uptake of the sciences. It is a major concern for us," he said.

Course counsellors already discouraged students from difficult subjects to maximise their Year 12 score, Mr Turnbull said. "The evidence we're getting is that when kids are choosing subjects, there is often a fairly hard lobby to avoid the hard things," he said.

SA Chamber of Mines and Energy chief executive Jason Kuchel agreed easy subjects were increasingly offered to students as replacements for key subjects. "I am concerned we are continually providing more and more softer choices to students, which is encouraging them away from some of the four subjects required for engineering," he said. People with strong backgrounds in the maths and sciences are needed to address the state's skill shortages in professions such as engineering, geology, surveying and aviation.

Mathematical Association of SA vice president Carol Moule predicts specialist maths will be hardest hit under the new certificate - with universities already teaching these subjects - calculus, geometry and complex numbers - in bridging courses. About 1100 Year 12s studied specialist maths last year. Maths studies attracted about 3160 enrolments, chemistry 2200, and physics enrolments were below 2000, according to the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of SA.

Designers of the new qualification deliberately simplified the number of subjects required, reducing it to 200 points or 20 semester-long subjects, rather than the existing 22. Mrs Moule said the new SACE was designed to increase retention rates. "It is simply about encouraging kids to stay on and do Year 12 and get a certificate," she said. "I really care about the more able ones keeping up their study of the maths and sciences."

Education Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said SACE would prepare more young people for "skilled careers, further education and citizenship". "Science and maths will continue to be key subject offerings provided under a future SACE," she said. Future SACE office director Wendy Engliss said students will be able to choose either Year 11 or Year 12 subjects in addition to the compulsory requirements at each year level. "This gives scope to students to choose more full-time stage two subjects, including more maths and science, if this best suits their pathways," she said.

No limit on the number of Year 12 subjects was proposed for the new certificate and a requirement for an arts subject would also be dropped. Ms Engliss said requirement to study an in-depth project at Year 12 level would be another opportunity for students to study maths or science.

Association of Independents Schools SA executive director Garry Le Duff said university requirements needed to be resolved "in the very near future", but he believed the new SACE was flexible enough for students to do a combination of maths and science subjects.


1 comment:

oyunlar said...