In 1870 the Elementary School law was passed out in Parliament. It was the first major education law. This was the birth of the modern state whereby tax was raised so that the state could provide schools. Such laws have been made which compel children in the UK to go to school, and it is genuinely believed that the school experience is ‘for their good’. Indeed, schools are needed and even more nowadays. Schools are seen as a resource for the larger society (Giroux 1981) however, there is a question that must be asked and considered critically: Is a school experience really a positive asset for children in the UK?
In this essay I will briefly examine how my experience in school formed my opinion on the schooling system and how I learned from it. I will examine the pros and contras of schooling for the young in the UK, exploring the relationships between education and society, and how teachers and teaching are central to the process and outcomes of education. Teachers are at the ‘chalk face’ of classroom contexts and are also the frontline implementers of educational policy. Throughout this essay, I will observe how the teaching profession has been challenged in the latter part of this century. Continuously, I will question whether all children should go to school and whether there should be different types of schools. Finally, I will discuss what school education would be like if all forms of education were freely accessible to each individual. It is also important to consider how by acknowledging the flaws in the system, students and teachers can change the structure for the better.
During the first few years at school, all appeared to go well. My class friends and I were in high spirits, energetic and willing to learn. This ambience of spontaneity was encouraged by teachers to explore, gain knowledge and create. Yet, when I consider what had happened by the time I reached my adolescence, I am forced to identify that the promise of the early years repeatedly remains disappointing. I questioned how something that had commenced so well, ended so badly. Children often complete school with a feeling of defeat. Sadly this is a reoccurring problem, which needs to be understood. There is no denying that a large number of children emerge from school ill-equipped for life in a demanding society. Like in my school, many teachers excuse the unhappiness of the child’s experience with the fact that the pupil is unintelligent. They hardly question or justify whether it is what they teach that is inadequate, and it would seem unfeasible that ‘they’ are the failures.
In my school experience, I would agree with Holt, that some schools are made for teachers and not pupils. Students were left on their own to cope with school demands, fellow classmates, teachers, new knowledge, transitions between education stages, attempts to change and to develop oneself. Being in a private fee paying school, I felt that teachers had forgotten their roles as educators and the importance of encouraging their students. Nevertheless, I did learn something from my experience. I finished school determined that I would make a better teacher and that I would learn from their mistakes. I would be of the same opinion as Henry Giroux (1981) that ‘we need teachers to think critically and to exercise moral and public responsibility in their role as engaged critics and transformative intellectuals’.
SHOULD ALL CHILDREN GO TO SCHOOL
Schools can be cheerful or despondent places. One can witness the sheer fun of pupils sharing their knowledge and the solidarity in the staffroom. However, that same person can witness pupil rivalry, boredom and confrontations between members of staff. By attending school, children will not only develop academically but personally too. This will prepare them well for their future.
Schools are places of learning where pupils acquire skills and knowledge. This includes good teaching, cognitive and curriculum matching. Education is a lifelong continual process. Hence schools are sites for cultural reproduction. There is ‘cultural transmission’ in schools, where teachers are seen as communicating appropriate values of cultural heritage. Attending schools is fundamental in the sense that it is a route towards opportunities and towards democracy.
Furthermore, schools are one of the first steps a child makes towards independence. Indeed, no child benefits from a form of education, which is started too young, but with the right environment in reception classes, which teachers have made every effort to create, they can be extremely constructive places for children. Primary school children conclude that they adored school and their teachers. In addition, schooling helps children develop their social skills; achieve a sense of custom and reason. Children in secondary schools will have a group of educationalists on every subject, whom they can discuss with, ask for advice or help.
Schools are also places of social awareness. Students are influenced by ‘the way they think, how they behave, how they are motivated, how they assign value and how they perceive themselves’ (Peter Woods, 1990:ix). Groups of pupils assist school via different avenues and from different cultural influences, whether it is based on social class, gender or race. Pupils are equipped with different ways of seeing, thinking and talking, and with different degrees and varieties of ‘cultural capital’ (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1977). School teaches the youth to look at the world from different positions and perspectives.
Although schools may bring many benefits, there still exists a debate on the types of school. Should there be public schools? Shouldn’t schooling be accessible for ‘all’ children? Parents too often assume that children in private education are ‘dealt with better’ ‘spoken to’ more sympathetically and that generally the children receive a ‘better-quality’ education. Hence, working class children feel unprivileged and inferior to those attending private schools and thus may be discouraged from any form of schooling. The truth may be however, that private schools are often structured in very similar ways to state ones.
WHAT DOES THE LITERATURE SAY
One of the many reasons why schooling is questioned is due to the differential views of why children should assist schools. Do children assist schools to be educated or trained? The Structural functionalist view is that education stresses the activity of schools in training and selecting children so that they fit into some necessary slot in a relatively harmonious society. This view implies that children need to be manipulated in some way for society’s convenience. Schools would have set patterns of rules and behaviours as to mould the society. However, there is only a restricted amount of studies made on the pupil’s view of schooling in Britain. Hence, one could conclude that this is a mistreated issue in educational research.
Research shows that a large number of primary school children tend to enjoy school, whereas secondary school children tend to be less happy with their school experience. The question is ‘until what age children should go to school?’ and ‘what are the possible reforms needed to change the statistics, so that children enjoy both primary and secondary school?’. The long enforced period of national service cannot be treated lightly. The question that must be asked is whether the school experience is as good as it could be made. It is universally recognised that when children start secondary education there is a wide gap between those who are best prepared and those who are least prepared for school learning. The assessment of the experience on these children based on schooling concluded the following –that there was a wide range of reasons for this gap but this was mostly due to how teachers treated them.
Teachers are central to the day-to-day work of the school, and are important implementers of educational policy. Teacher’s and their teaching are critical to contemporary understanding of education and schooling. Peck (1963) concluded that pupil perception of teaching performance was reliable enough and valid enough in most aspects of classroom technique. He also believed that feedback to teachers regarding their performance was a valuable experience. The solution to the problem consists in determining how to transform an existing condition of affair into a desired one that has not yet come into being. To do this it is also important to have a good idea of the desired end state but also to have a good comprehension of the characteristics of the starting point. Hence, teachers need to know what they would like their children to become under their assistance and to understand what children are actually like when the development has begun.
American educationalists (i.e. Holt and Reimar), writing in 1971, concluded that most children leave school after 10 years of attendance with little to show for it. These ‘deschooling’ writers saw schools as ‘prisons’ and claimed that the young were antagonistic to the idea of education. An assemblage of parents agreed with Holt and ‘reclaimed’ their children’s education from the state. The individual families in the UK formed a group that called itself ‘Education Otherwise’. These parents exercised their legal right to educate their children at home. The motives for these parents to undertake home-based education was that they genuinely believed that schooling could have harmful effects on their children. Parents and the Local Education Authority (LEA), a home tuition section found that the outcomes were positive, even to the extent that a journalist wrote a book about one family’s experience (Deakin, 1973). Parents judged that their system was superior to that of the school system because they stressed the importance of self-education, personal confidence, problem-solving, flexibility and adaptation (Meighan, 1984).
Those who share the same views as deschoolers, go on to say that the British education system has long been marked by sharp inequalities in education outcomes for different social groups. Instead of equalizing conditions and opportunities, schools are seen to divide, exclude and marginalize those that are different. Research in the post-war sociology of education took on board the idea and desire of social mobility and sought systematically to chart the role of education in terms of relative mobility, both within and between social classes. This work responded to the early political arithmetic model of social stratification and social mobility (Glass 1954), which ascertained that there had in fact been little in the way of sustained upward mobility. Historically, equality of opportunity has meant allowing certain ‘clever’ working class children into grammar schools. However, grammar schools involved unfair competition. They mistreated inequalities, and failed to take account of the ways in which the education system – state and independent-privileged the already fortunate.
There is no doubt that the English schooling system is fundamentally changing and the transformations that have taken place since 1988 are examples of this process. Viewpoints change through divergence and adjustment. It is essential to recognise that it is both children’s perspectives and the contributions of teachers that lead the way forward for reforms in the school system.
One would agree with Johnson (1990) that,
‘Teachers must endorse new roles and responsibilities…… Schools depend on cooperation and interdependence among staff members…..There must also be supportive conditions such as leadership among teachers and administrators, labour-management cooperation, and willingness on the part of administrators…’
Do pupils recognise the ‘hidden’ curriculum? This term, used to describe the unofficial 3 R’s – rules, routines and regulations are aspects of learning in schools that are unofficial, unintentional or undeclared of the way teaching and learning are organised and performed in schools. If this is what pupils must learn in order to survive comfortably in schools, should there not be some change? Should we not instead guide the future generation with an understanding that education is a continual activity, that learning is life, rather than fear?
Teachers and parents alike have the role to equip individuals so that they can cope with a rapidly changing world, creatively and imaginatively, rather than with fear, obstruction and fatalism.