Thursday, April 01, 2010

Academic says Scotland's schools are producing a generation of illiterate scientists

Scottish secondary schools are producing a generation of illiterate scientists unable to write clearly and accurately about their subject, according to a senior academic at the University of Glasgow. In an article for the journal of the Queen’s English Society – which champions the proper use of the English language – Emeritus Professor of Marine Biology Geoff Moore said both undergraduate and postgraduate papers were strewn with inaccurate punctuation, grammatical errors, and fundamental confusion between terms such as ‘proscribe’ and ‘prescribe’, and ‘affect’ and ‘effect’.

After marking papers at the University of Glasgow and London University for 36 years, Professor Moore said the problem lay in secondary schools – and he expects the poor standards to get worse. He wrote: “We must anticipate that more and more British secondary-school teachers – the contemporaries of those graduates we have encountered – will not have acquired a sufficient grounding in the English language in order to teach proper grammar, spelling and punctuation to their pupils effectively.”

Speaking to the Sunday Herald, Professor Moore said that some students’ written English made him “throw my hands up in horror”. He traced this back to the move away from writing essays in the teaching of science in schools.

“A lot of assessment is done by multiple choice, ticking boxes, one-word answers, and students don’t get the experience of writing essays as they did in the old days,” he said. “Coupled with the fact that they don’t get things corrected accurately by their teachers. You sometimes wonder if they even read a book any more.”

In science accurate English is an essential, but a dying art, Professor Moore believes. “It is a question of precision,” he said. “You have to be able to express yourself exactly. If you’re using the wrong word in the wrong context – there is a great deal of difference between a prescribed and a proscribed drug. It’s important that people learn to express themselves correctly.”

In response to Professor Moore’s criticisms, the biggest teaching union for secondary teachers in Scotland, the SSTA and the national body for science teachers, the Association for Science Education, agreed with many points.

SSTA general secretary Ann Ballinger said while she did not expect pupils or teachers to use the Queen’s English perfectly she admitted that multiple choice examinations had affected the standard of written English. “It does cause difficulties,” she said. “It is less easy to use language if you are not using it regularly. There certainly is an issue here. It reduces the amount of time and effort spent on the language. Clearly that is a problem.”

Steuart Cuthbert, ASE’s Scottish field officer, said that in his classroom experience, science teachers were discouraged from correcting the grammar and English of pupils. “Although I firmly believe that every teacher should be maintaining standards across the board, there was a thought in the mind of many people that my job was to teach chemistry or physics and have nothing to do with how that was expressed,” he said.

Mr Cuthbert offered hope for Professor Moore, however. The incoming shake-up of the schools – the Curriculum for Excellence – will make literacy and numeracy the responsibility of every teacher, regardless of subject. Mr Cuthbert said: “There is a sea change in attitude. We are now teachers of children rather than teachers of subject ... Because of the current developments this sort of criticism should be minimised in future.”


Take parents of unruly pupils to court, British schools told

The latest ruse to dodge responsibility for discipline

Schools are being told to take parents to court for failing to control their children as part of a new crackdown on bad behaviour.

Headteachers should make greater use of “parenting orders” to force mothers and fathers of the worst offenders to take more responsibility for their children, the Government said.

The civil court order requires them to attend counselling sessions and parenting classes – and can also set out strict rules on how families should deal with sons and daughters. This includes making sure children do not stay up late, ensuring they cannot get access to alcohol at home, getting them to school on time and making sure uniform rules are followed. Breach of the order can lead to prosecution and a £1,000 fine.

A report by Sir Alan Steer, former headteacher and the Government’s top advisor on behaviour, warned of a “lack of understanding” about the orders in schools. New guidance issued to heads will say that parents failing to play their part in keeping children under control “need to know that the issuing of a parenting order is a possible action by the school”.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said: “For heads to have the power to take court action against parents whose children continue to behave badly, disrupt lessons and impact on other pupils is a vital step in the right direction.”

Parents are already being asked to sign Home School Agreements – non-legal contracts setting out minimum standards of behaviour, attendance, uniform and homework – before the start of term. They are expected to sign them every 12 months. Most schools already have agreements but under new legislation it will be a legal requirement on every state primary and secondariy to issue them. Sir Alan’s report suggested that schools should apply for parenting orders when families repeatedly fail to abide by rules set out on the agreements.

Speaking at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers annual conference on Wednesday, Mr Balls said: “I want to see more schools using parenting orders when Home School Agreements fail. It is time for parents to be held accountable for their child’s behaviour.”

Parenting orders have been available to schools and local councils for six years, but only 2,000 have been issued for truancy and none have been handed out for behaviour. Mr Balls said heads had “not felt sufficiently confident legally that the courts would support them if they were apply for a parenting order for behaviour”, but insisted that new guidance handed to schools would improve their awareness of the process.

The comments come after research by the ATL found that a quarter of teachers had been forced to deal with a violent pupil in the current academic year. Many teachers blamed parents for failing to act as good “role models” for their children. More than a third of staff also said they had faced abuse from mothers and fathers themselves, often after attempting to discipline their child.

One teacher from a state primary in Essex said: “I have had a threat to my life from a parent because I told a child to complete their homework during part of their ‘golden time’. “It was threatened that they and their family would kill me when I came to or from school.”

A female secondary school teacher said: “I have been trapped in an office by a father and older brother of a student who were angry that he'd had his gold trainers confiscated until the end of the day.”


Lunatic Leftism in Australian schools

Any intelligent teacher tries to get the kids on side but discipline is needed too

TEACHERS trying to restore order in their classrooms are being asked to ditch tough disciplinary measures for such tactics as standing on a green spot or pointing to a message on a wall.

Traditional methods for dealing with disruptive children, such as detention and loud reprimands, are being cast aside in favour of merely "hinting" at bad behaviour. The techniques are part of an Education Department program being tested at more than 100 state schools in disadvantaged areas.

Some of the methods, criticised by a family group as "pie in the sky", urge teachers to give up "power" and become "agents" of their students.

Strategies to improve class behaviour include involving students in deciding rules and discussing with them the impact of their misbehaviour.

But Australian Family Association spokesman John Morrissey, a part-time teacher, said the program sounded like a throwback to the 1970s. "A lot of this is pie in the sky stuff," he said. "If you don't have a tight ship being run at school, and some backup from home, it is very hard to achieve discipline."

Liberal education spokesman Martin Dixon said improving academic standards shouldn't mean turning classroom practice on its head.

But the scheme's facilitator, La Trobe University's Prof Ramon Lewis, said it was all about using gentle hints rather than being aggressive with unruly students. "You identify ways of letting kids know that someone's rights are being ignored without necessarily forcing them to do anything about it," he said. "So, basically, it's a skill of hinting. That can be a sign on the wall you can point to. "One teacher has got a green dot on the floor on which he actually stands to indicate that right now someone is not doing the right thing."

Prof Lewis, who has been researching classroom management for decades and has written several books, said discipline still had a place.

Some of his techniques are being used at north suburban schools, under an Education Department initiative called Achievement Improvement Zones, in a bid to lift literacy and numeracy levels and improve teachers' practices.

Acting Education Minister Maxine Morand said trials did not replace traditional classroom discipline. "Principals and teachers at Victorian government schools already have the power and autonomy to deal with students behaving inappropriately," she said.

An Education Department spokesman said Prof Lewis had more than 20 years' experience in training teachers in how to use positive reinforcement techniques to encourage good behaviour.

Broadmeadows Valley Primary School principal Andy Jones said Prof Lewis's program had been well received and had good results. "A lot of what he does is quite out there," he said. Prof Lewis's methods were also backed by youth psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg and Parents Victoria, which said fresh ideas were needed to deal with difficult children.


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