We’ve all known them. The lovely people at the places we work. They have no desire to be top dog yet they have pride in what they do and want to do their best for their colleagues and so they can go home knowing they have done their best that day. These are the people who keep the country going. The grafters, the millions of boys, girls, men and women who neither blaze a trail to glory and nor will they ever drag a place down; instead, they quietly make everywhere they go better for them being in it, often unnoticed by most and rewarded more seldom still.
Yet these vital, wondrous people are the very ones our education system is set up to ignore. Rather than be allowed to simply teach a class, our glorious leaders have decreed that children, like cattle, must be categorized. Are they on the SEND register (Special Educational Needs & Disabilities)? Are they Pupil Premium (an initiative supposedly to help disadvantaged children)? Are they Gifted and Talented? I wish I was making that up, but it is really a thing. After all, aren’t we all meant to have talents and gifts?
The government, educationists and, therefore, management of schools across the nation have been driven by the obsessive labelling of children, and Ofsted use these labels to question a school’s achievement. In my first year of teaching, when I learned of the SEN register (which is usually for children who have general or specific learning difficulties or physical impairments) I thought it was a very worthy idea. I was then told that those children should be making the same progress as the other children. I pointed out that if they were capable of doing this, they would not be on the SEN register for years, and was met with a blank look. So schools are given targets which the children can never meet. A teacher can enable a child to work to their full potential yet still be judged to have failed that child because the target hasn’t been met.
Then there are the Pupil Premium children, several of whom are not disadvantaged and have a higher standard of living than I do. Ofsted want to know if these labelled children are keeping up with everyone else, and if not, why not? The genuinely disadvantaged may receive no help from home and live in an environment of crime and violence and have never enjoyed a quality night’s sleep, yet are still expected to perform in school as if none of this has happened, or the schools are criticised. The greatest poverty of all is a poverty of aspiration. If children have nothing to aim for, no hope that they can make things better for themselves, then why should they try in school?
Most of the nation’s children are friendly, polite, willing to learn and give me sufficient hope for the future that I haven’t yet emigrated – but they are not on these lists. Nobody asks about them. We are made to direct our attentions to children at the poles, not the majority in between. A child can have a poor background but feel loved, valued, encouraged and supported at home; in contrast, I have seen many children from rich backgrounds ignored and openly disliked by their parents. The majority of children are often neglected by our education system because they do not cause a fuss, they are not demanding, they simply come in, do their best with a smile, grateful for the little attention we are able to give them while not attending to those on ‘ze lists’. Why can we not treat children equally and give them equal treatment? It is because we are no longer allowed to. For that, parents and children, I am truly sorry.