At the chalkface: It’s the teachers’ fault

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:
Ian Whitwham
I read this article with sadness for the author. There is a distinct difference between class and ...

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I do my best not to indulge in the politics of envy. And fail. It’s not fair. More than ever, class is fate...

I’m dawdling down the streets of Kensington with my two-year-old grand-daughter called Sylvie and a teddy bear called Leonard.

The borough is the richest in the kingdom, but has somehow just gone Labour for the first time since King Canute. Yippee! Still, obscene wealth rubs shoulders with appalling poverty.

We pass private, preparatory schools, which are mushrooming all over the neighbourhood, feeder schools for St Custards. The well-heeled disgorge their charges from BMWs, au pairs discard them and jolly teachers cart them off over plush lawns in their curious Edwardian apparel. They are predominantly White, polite and impeccably behaved. They are already a race apart. It’s not their fault. They will never attend the local comprehensive.

We pass a local state primary school. Children, various, mixed and poor, lark, josh and shout. They are not so “well behaved”. It’s not their fault. They will attend the local comprehensive.

I do my best not to indulge in the politics of envy. And fail. It’s not fair. More than ever, class is fate. Why do the most needy children have less spent on them? Why can’t they all have small classes? Lovely resources? Lawns? Tennis courts? Why does social background give you so much of the requisite cultural capital? Why is it still about class?

Perhaps the most pernicious lie about education is the right-wing shibboleth that class doesn’t matter. If you make state schools as good as private schools they wouldn’t need to exist, goes the tedious adage. A good teacher can teach anyone from any background.

Yeah. Yeah. It is a lie embraced by many, including the insufferably perky Gove. Bad schools, the clot famously opined, are simply bad teachers, who suffer from “the soft bigotry of low expectations”.

This is Bad Faith – and worse. Inner city state school teachers have very high expectations – and very low funding. The present sadistic cuts on books, IT, food, buildings, sports fields and teachers have taken a savage toll. They also have many pupils from an increasingly disenfranchised working class, who have hugely stressed parents, who cannot or will not look after them.

This can be very “challenging”, as the jargon has it. Private schools don’t. It’s why the craven rich send their tots in ever greater numbers to these mimsy schools where the working classes are not.

We dawdle to the end of a very posh street. Sylvie wonders whether she’ll go to a nice school when she’s a big girl. I don’t know – but we’ve put Leonard’s name down for Eton.

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


Comments
I read this article with sadness for the author. There is a distinct difference between class and money. 'Class' behaviour has to be taught. Money usually is earned. The problem is not all parents teach this behaviour (or even know it themselves), and so it needs to be down to the state to assist in the teaching. This means that children need to be assessed on starting and be streamed appropriately. Not that lefties want. this approach. A key aspect of this earning is respect for elders and in my day all teachers had to maintain a high standard of presentation. Stubble and tea-shirts for staff were a no no. My aunt as headmistress of a secondary modern banned female staff from wearing make-up and jewellery.
Governments do not teach, they only provide a framework. Instead of whinging, you should be active there are web sites developing open source textbooks which are obviously free. And you could give of your time to be a leader for say scouts/guides which provide a motivational environment for all children irrespective of wealth. They provide a means for kids to explore different interests, work as a team and be proud of their presentation. Go to a local Gang show and see for yourself, how kids for all walks get on seamlessly in a positive fashion

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