Yet another wake-up call for British schools

The latest OECD report (previously released[1]) on educational attainment of 500,000 15 year-old pupils in their 34 member countries, plus 31 partner countries, shows that on the tests given, the Chinese children of professional people scored 656, the children of labourers scored 569, compared with 461 for UK working class children (social classes D and E) and 529 for the children of professionals (social classes A and B).

Although the PISA report is 12 months old, its release just now by the OECD (its sponsor) has galvanised bits of the British educational establishment into doing something.  What exactly?  Answer: a “high-powered” delegation (including someone from Norfolk) going on an all-expenses-paid jolly to China to “see how they do it”.

Here’s how:

1) Teachers in schools in China give lessons from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.  A high proportion of Chinese parents pay to send their children to evening lessons.  In Britain the school day starts at about 8.45 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m.  Parents who pay for extra schooling for their children are commonly castigated for seeking an “unfair advantage”.

2) In mathematics, British teachers who qualified in the 1970s and later (i.e. the vast majority now teaching in schools) have themselves been taught in University Education departments not to teach arithmetic by following the four classic procedures of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  Unbelievably, some “teach” children to obtain a division of a number by a divisor by guessing and then using their calculator to multiply the guess by the divisor to see how close they get to the original number.  They then repeat the process until they think they are close enough.  Of course no sensible child will do this – they will simply press the divide button on their calculator and learn nothing.

Chinese teachers of course drill their pupils in the use of the four procedures until they (all) get them right (as British teachers did before about 1960 and still do in private prep.[2] schools).  Japanese primary schools are banned from using calculators.

3) Asian schools in general practise PISA-like tests for weeks beforehand and this probably exaggerates their students’ real abilities.  Schools in other countries don’t bother that much.

So why don’t British teachers (a) teach for a full working day, (b) insist on their pupils getting things exactly right and (c) stop whingeing and striking about their very generous pay and pension arrangements[3]?

Answers on a postcard, please.


[1]  As Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012.

[2]  Preparatory schools teaching pupils aged from 7 to 13 and preparing them for the Common Entrance exam to a fee-paying Public School.

[3]  Certainly some of the schools in Norfolk and Suffolk need telling, as these counties languish at the bottom of the league tables of the 146 Local Education Authorities in England.

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