The trouble with sheep and goats- behaviour, curriculum and assessment

With a new behaviour report launched on Friday, the focus of the education media is on recommendations for change.  All 76 pages of the report deserve attention as it is very well-written and gives a good account of the evidence-base.  

When reflecting on trends in behaviour it is important to consider the wider context of education. Current moves to a cheaper system of education are in danger of separating children at a young age and damning a significant proportion of each cohort to an early life of failing and being punished.

With a narrowing curriculum, driven by budget cuts and high stakes SATs/exams, increasing numbers of pupils are learning from a very young age that they are not good enough. Children are learning year after year that they do not match up to the expected standard in the only subjects that matter. Opportunities to discover that they have abilities in other subject areas are disappearing as the value given to the arts and humanities begins to fade not just in schools but in wider society. 

In order to compete with Singapore, exams in the core subjects have been made significantly harder. KS1 SATs look very similar to previous KS2 papers and it is difficult to see the difference between Y6 expectations and GCSEs.  

Children are finding out that the compliant who are good at memorising are deemed “intelligent” whilst everyone else sits in a category of “not good enough”. To an extent, this has always been the case but previously was mitigated by the breadth of the curriculum and the expertise of experienced teachers. 

The moral purpose underpinning education used to include the development of a child’s talents. With academies no longer having to teach a broad curriculum and some MATs introducing apprentice teachers,  the moral purpose of education has shifted through a need for a cheap model of delivery that drills  and crams for exams in a narrow range of subjects whilst generating financial resource for third parties and CEO pay.   

Children who struggle to memorise and those whose behaviour is not compliant are learning to fail and to be punished at a very young age. The cost to our future society of a significantly increased underclass is enormous (crime, lower tax revenues etc) and dwarves any benefits of a small proportion of pupils competing in a global labour market.  The cost to the individual child whose talents are wasted is far greater. The education system is being created to repeatedly tell some infant children that they have failed and/or are naughty. People are good at living up to labels. That’s why, in St Matthew’s gospel, the sheep and goats are separated at the end of time not in Year 1.  


One thought on “The trouble with sheep and goats- behaviour, curriculum and assessment

  1. Brian

    I thought the report was backward looking and a summary of every behaviour INSET I have attended.

    The recommendations were for me bland and the whole thing seemed to reflect the trad twitter sentiments expressed over the last 5 years. It is not easy to square a legal right to/responsibility for an education with a reasonably large proportion of students who wish to avoid being educated at all costs.

    Education at the expense of others should be a privilege not a right and those who abuse the privilege should have it withrdawn. Good behaviour should indeed be the norm but this report simply does not have the muscle to deal with the issues.

    We are heading for the society you describe, it is inevitable it has already begun and it is just the speed of travel which is to be questioned perhaps. Between 30% and 50% of the UK working age population will likely be unemployed in 30 years and it is this we should be planning for and delivering. It is not however certain that there needs to be an underclass, but to avoid it we need to think outside the box.

    One last point. Making papers more difficult won’t allow us to compete with Singapore or deal with any of the other issues that we face in the UK. These are desperate measures of politicians who daren’t address the reality.

    A interesting blog. thanks


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