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Motivation of Pupils in Compulsory Education aged 11 – 16

I know some of you take an interest in the education of our children, all of us should.

Below the fold is a draft of an investigation into the motivation of children at school - I have been asked to offer it up here for your comments and suggestions so it can be improved before it is presented for a PGCE course.

It also makes an interesting and alarming read...

Also available to download as a single file: Download file - Motivation of Pupils in Compulsory Education aged 11 – 16 - Word Document 500k

Excel Spreadsheet of the data available here.

Motivation of Pupils in Compulsory Education aged 11 – 16


This is a study into pupil perceptions as to their motivations during compulsory education aged 11 – 16.

C. Smith et al (2005) “A systematic review of what pupils, aged 11–16, believe impacts on their motivation to learn in the classroom” noted that “The fact that only eight studies were identified for the in-depth review suggests that there is a lack of suitably robust studies with a focus on pupil views available. While there were many studies that used questionnaires and interviews to gather pupils’ responses to pre-identified traits of motivation, only eight could be identified that concentrated on pupil voice. “

This limited study tries to fill that gap a little.

The study is based on anonymous voluntary questionnaires distributed to six different classes at a comprehensive school in Wiltshire in the autumn of 2006. If there is any perceived criticism of the school or the staff in this report please accept that it is unintentional. The whole of the staff were regularly going beyond the call of duty to promote excellence in the pupils in a caring environment. The Head provides progressive leadership which recognises many of the problems mentioned herein and has bravely championed innovative solutions.


The problem of the lack of pupil motivation is widely recognised – as an example the Scottish Parliament Education Committee’s Interim Report on Pupil Motivation (2006) reported that:

“…27 per cent of kids in Scotland did not want to be in school. That is better than the OECD average, but it is still a significant number. Fifty-six per cent—marginally higher than the OECD average—said that they often felt bored at school, which is clearly a concern. Thirty-one per cent felt that they were never given interesting homework”.
“…in the past three years, about one in 12 of the secondary schools that we have inspected has had wide-ranging issues of ethos, discipline and behaviour that involved more than just one or two departments. Many schools have problems with some classes or a small group of pupils, but about one in 12 secondary schools and one in 30 primary schools had broad issues. It is clear that a small minority of primary schools have serious problems of disaffection and demotivation”

The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (2006) data shows that the School Principals’ assessment of pupils’ morale and commitment is that English schoolchildren have above average, for the countries surveyed, levels. It is striking though the large range between the levels shown by the top and the bottom quarters of students. The student’s were not invited to assess their own morale and commitment but their rating of how much support they feel they get from their teachers in mathematics is a credit to the teachers with England again being above average, again with the same large difference.

One of the most striking deficiencies of most teacher training literature is a lack of instruction in the understanding of pupil motivation.

In business the art of motivating employees is recognised of being a primary competency of a manager, and understanding the theory and practice of it are widely taught.

Many of the management theories of motivation are widely recognised and used by school management in their relations to their staff. For instance modern management of teachers has taken on board the Douglas McGregor’s “X Y theory “ of management types in his 1960 book 'The Human Side Of Enterprise' which is ably summarised at http://www.businessballs.com/mcgregor.htm (Dec 2006) thus:

McGregor maintained that there are two fundamental approaches to managing people. Many managers tend towards theory x, and generally get poor results. Enlightened managers use theory y, which produces better performance and results, and allows people to grow and develop.

Theory x ('authoritarian management' style)
The average person dislikes work and will avoid it he/she can.
Therefore most people must be forced with the threat of punishment to work towards organisational objectives.
The average person prefers to be directed; to avoid responsibility; is relatively unambitious, and wants security above all else.

Theory y ('participative management' style)
Effort in work is as natural as work and play.
People will apply self-control and self-direction in the pursuit of organisational objectives, without external control or the threat of punishment.
Commitment to objectives is a function of rewards associated with their achievement.
People usually accept and often seek responsibility.
The capacity to use a high degree of imagination, ingenuity and creativity in solving organisational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population.
In industry the intellectual potential of the average person is only partly utilised.

Teachers expect to be treated type “Y” people but in practice, if not always in theory, subscribe to theory “X” for their charges.
Of course teachers have the choice as to where or if they go to school and so job satisfaction is important in staff motivation and retention.

Motivation of pupils is mainly considered in terms of motivation to learn – As an example Geoffrey Petty in his “practical guide“ Teaching Today (1998) devotes a whole chapter to valuable advice of achieving this but doesn’t mention a more holistic motivation to the whole experience of schooling that is needed by pupils.

Pupils are not just compelled to be at school for academic learning and to only concentrate on their motivation for learning while ignoring the totality of the school day is as incomplete as a restaurant review would be if it just mentioned the behaviour of the staff but ignored the food.

Dr Benjamin S Bloom's 'Taxonomy Of Educational Objectives' (1956) set out three educational objectives and skills “domains” that are taught at schools - Affective, Psychomotor, and Cognitive (Wikipedia - Taxonomy of Educational Objectives – revised 19:40, 28 November 2006);

Skills in the affective domain describe the way people react emotionally and their ability to feel another living thing's pain or joy. Affective objectives typically target the awareness and growth in attitudes, emotion, and feelings.

Skills in the psychomotor domain describe the ability to physically manipulate a tool or instrument like a hand or a hammer. Psychomotor objectives usually focus on change and/or development in behaviour and/or skills.

Skills in the cognitive domain revolve around knowledge, comprehension, and "thinking through" a particular topic. Traditional education tends to emphasize the skills in this domain, particularly the lower-order objectives

While this recognises the school’s role is larger than classroom academic learning I do not believe it goes far enough.

The provisional categorization of the roles of schools I have produced breaks them down into four:
Childcare and control
Training and teaching

Childcare and control - It is a simple truth that the economic prosperity of this country and the social system depends on parents having a secure and reliable place to look after their children during working hours for much of the year. This role for schools has recently been highlighted by the government's desire to increase those numbers of hours and broadening the childcare aspects of schooling.

Schooling is the most value-neutral term I can use for what for much of what schools do. Just as horses and dogs must be “schooled” to become of value, so must children be schooled to become useful citizens and pleasant human beings. There are a wide variety of initiatives that schools must follow to perform this function. Everything from instilling discipline, indoctrinating children with values of citizenship, institutionalising, or socialising, them to be happy and compliant members of society and so forth. This schooling also encompasses the encouragement of the psychological neoteny of young adults.
“(I)n which ever-more people retain for ever-longer the characteristic behaviours and attitudes of earlier developmental stages. Whereas traditional societies are characterized by initiation ceremonies marking the advent of adulthood, these have now dwindled and disappeared. In a psychological sense, some contemporary individuals never actually become adults. A child-like flexibility of attitudes, behaviours and knowledge is probably adaptive in modern society because people need repeatedly to change jobs, learn new skills, move to new places and make new friends. It seems that this adaptation is achieved by the expedient of postponing cognitive maturation – a process that could be termed psychological neoteny. (‘Neoteny’ refers to the biological phenomenon whereby development is delayed such that juvenile characteristics are retained into maturity.) Psychological neoteny is probably caused by the prolonged average duration of formal education, since students’ minds are in a significant sense ‘unfinished’. Since modern cultures favour cognitive flexibility, ‘immature’ people tend to thrive and succeed, and have set the tone of contemporary life: the greatest praise of an elderly person is to state that they retain the characteristics of youth. But the faults of youth are retained with well as its virtues: short attention span, sensation- and novelty-seeking, short cycles of arbitrary fashion and a sense of cultural shallowness.” (Bruce G. Charlton 2006)

Training has been increasingly recognised as a role that schools perform, whether it is how to write, to read, to use a computer, wire a plug or any of the other specific skills that are taught in schools. This is training. A lot of teaching also comes under the role of training, when it is designed to train pupils to perform one closely defined task such as pass a specific exam.

Teachers would like to believe they are educating their charges when they actually spend very little time doing it. Albert Jay Nock drew the distinctions between training and educating in his essay “The Disadvantages Of Being Educated”,

…while education was still spoken of as a "preparation for life," the preparation was of a kind which bore less directly on intellect and character than in former times, and more directly on proficiency. It aimed at what we used to call training rather than education; and it not only did very little with education, but seemed to assume that training was education, …. A trained mechanic, banker, dentist or man of business got all due credit for his proficiency, but his education, if he had any, lay behind that and was not confused with it. His training, in a word, bore directly upon what he could do or get, while his education bore directly on neither; it bore upon what he could become and be.

...Training is excellent, it can not be too well done, and opportunity for it can not be too cheap and abundant. Probably a glorified crèche for delayed adolescents here and there is a good thing, too; no great harm in it anyway. ….
Education is divisive, separatist; training induces the exhilarating sense that one is doing with others what others do and thinking the thoughts that others think.

Education, in a word, leads a person on to ask a great deal more from life than life, as at present organized, is willing to give him; and it begets dissatisfaction with the rewards that life holds out. Training tends to satisfy him with very moderate and simple returns. A good income, a home and family, the usual run of comforts and conveniences, diversions addressed only to the competitive or sporting spirit or else to raw sensation - training not only makes directly for getting these, but also for an inert and comfortable contentment with them. Well, these are all that our present society has to offer, so it is undeniably the best thing all round to keep people satisfied with them, which training does, and not to inject a subversive influence, like education, into this easy complacency. Politicians understand this - it is their business to understand it - and hence they hold up "a chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage" as a satisfying social ideal. But the mischief of education is its exorbitance. The educated lad may like stewed chicken and motor-cars as well as anybody, but his education has bred a liking for other things too, things that the society around him does not care for and will not countenance. It has bred tastes which society resents as culpably luxurious, and will not connive at gratifying. Paraphrasing the old saying, education sends him out to shift for himself with a champagne appetite amidst a gin-guzzling society.

Training, on the other hand, breeds no such tastes; it keeps him so well content with synthetic gin that a mention of champagne merely causes him to make a wry face. ...

The success of the education system in enabling increasing numbers of pupils to pass exams is widely celebrated and shows that effective training is widespread.

The success of schools in actually educating their charges as well is more subjective, the evident delight of some school leavers in cultural activities suggests it happens, the extent and effectiveness is beyond the scope of this modest investigation.

The Investigation

To investigate the motivation of the school children I devised a ten question Likert scale questionnaire. The questions were intended to provide a broad overview of possible motivational incentives which covered the range of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is a theory in psychology that Abraham Maslow proposed in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”, which he subsequently extended. His theory contends that as humans meet 'basic needs', they seek to satisfy successively 'higher needs' that occupy a set hierarchy, with deficiency needs being the first that need to be satisfied. (Source – Wikipedia - Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs)

Deficiency needs

The physiological needs of the organism, eating and drinking - those enabling homeostasis, take first precedence.

When physiological needs are met, the need for safety and security will emerge. These include:

Physical security - safety from violence, delinquency, aggressions
Security of employment
Security of revenues and resources

After physiological and safety needs are fulfilled, the third layer of human needs is social. This involves emotionally-based relationships in general, such as friendship, sexual intimacy and having a supportive and communicative family. Humans generally need to feel belonging and acceptance by groups of others.

The highest level of need is “esteem”. According to Maslow, all humans have a need to be respected, to have self-respect, and to respect others. People need to engage themselves in order to gain recognition and have an activity or activities that give the person a sense of contribution and self-value. There are two levels to Esteem needs. The lower of the levels relates to elements like fame, respect, and glory. The higher level is contingent to concepts like confidence, competence, and achievement. The lower level is generally considered poor. It is dependent upon other people, or someone who needs to be reassured because of lower esteem. People with low esteem need respect from others. They may seek fame or glory, which again are dependent on others. However confidence, competence and achievement only need one person and everyone else is inconsequential to one's own success.

Growth needs

Though the deficiency needs may be seen as "basic", and can be met and neutralized (i.e. they stop being motivators in one's life), self-actualization and transcendence are "being" or "growth needs" (also termed "B-needs"), i.e. they are enduring motivations or drivers of behaviour.

Self-actualization is defined as the instinctual need of humans to make the most of their unique abilities and to strive to be the best they can be.

Maslow writes the following of self-actualizing people:

* They embrace the facts and realities of the world (including themselves) rather than denying or avoiding them.
* They are spontaneous in their ideas and actions.
* They are creative.
* They are interested in solving problems

At the top, there is self-transcendence which is also sometimes referred to as spiritual needs.

My questionnaire was given out to five classes on an anonymous and voluntary basis. The classes were chosen as ones I had built a rapport with the pupils in so they would trust my interest in their genuine views and handling of the data – over 95% were returned. The classes were among the lower achieving groups in the school. There were two small year 11 (15 year olds) classes, a year 9 and two year 8 classes. The one year 7 (11 year olds) class was of more “average” ability, according to the school.

Naively I set the questions and gathered the data before I reached any conclusions, with hindsight I would have broadened the scope of the limited questioning even further to encompass the whole school experience, especially the out of classroom time. The statements the pupils were invited to Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree or Strongly Disagree with were:

1) I enjoy learning.

2) My friends work hard at school.

3) I like to keep my test results to myself.

4) I like it when teachers praise my work in front of the whole class.

5) How well I do at school is important to my family.

6) I get rewards, such as treats or money, at home if I get good results.

7) I get punished if I don’t work hard.

8) I want to go to university and so I am working hard.

9) I think I need good exam results to get a good job.

10) I think what I learn at school will not help me as an adult.

The questions were written so that choices were expected to be across the range, any answer papers that showed a pattern, such as all “Strongly Agree”, could therefore be assumed to be non genuine. No such patterns were produced and no completed questionnaires discarded

The Results

All the results and derived graphs are available in an Excel Spreadsheet.

The most basic level of Maslow’s hierarchy is the need to avoid pain or discomfort. For thousands of years this motivator has been used; Sun Tzu (c. 400-320 B.C.) famously taught courtesans to drill to his orders by executing a couple of reluctant ones, “pour encourager les autres”, and from the Bible we get; "He who spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes" (Proverbs 13:24) and "Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell." (Proverbs 23:13-14) – attributed to Solomon c. 1000 B.C.
Within the changed zeitgeist of the last few years the use of physical punishment is unacceptable and the results – Graph “Q.7 Punishment” – show that punishment of any type is not a major issue for these pupils.

After the physiological needs are met Maslow believes the next most pressing need is securing resources, or in the terms of this questionnaire aiming for a “good job”.

Graph “Q.9” shows that believing they need good exam results to get such a job is almost universal among the newly arrived pupils. But this belief shows a marked and consistent decrease as the pupils approach the exams and employment. This, maybe more realistic, view of the importance of exams shows that despite the best endeavours of the school this motivational incentive does not work for a large minority of the pupils it is aimed at.

Graph “Q .10” shows as the pupils get older their belief in the long term value of what they learn at school also decreases along with the belief in the value of exams results. The question was set in the negative so care must be taken in interpreting the results but it is clear that the relevance of school to “real life” is perceived as much less than its relevance to passing exams.

The general finding of relevance agrees with Pippa Lord and Megan Jones (2006) who report in their review of the national curriculum:

• The academic relevance of the curriculum is prevalent in learners’ views.
Learners see the curriculum as relevant to passing exams, getting grades and as a passport to their next steps. These perceptions emerge more strongly as pupils get older, but are also apparent at all ages when nearing assessment.

….the real-life relevance of the curriculum would seem to need enhancing
and making more visible – pupils do not always see these connections.. Recognition of aspects relevant to adult life similarly narrow to literal interpretations (such as the ability to read a map so as not to get lost with regard to geography)

Why the pupils questioned show a decrease in belief of the importance of exams as a “passport” where as the review shows the opposite is of interest. The questions asked are obviously slightly different but this may show the bias of this investigation in choosing lower ability pupils who it may be argued are the ones whose motivation is of most importance.

Graph Q.8 shows that the incentive of a place at university largely disappears in the older lower ability groups. This may be a reflection on their prospects but also is indicative of a decreasing desire to learn.

The more short term motivation by rewards is shown in Graph Q.6 “Rewards”. This shows a slight decrease in the expectation of rewards at home for good results as the pupils progress through the school. Of course there is a probability that some of the more senior students never have “good results” and so that needs to factored in. From informal discussions with pupils it seems that such rewarding is seen as juvenile and is put aside as a childish thing as they mature.

But Graph Q 5 “Family Importance” shows that how well they do at school is of importance to most of them and actually increases from the start of schooling to the older years. This suggests that Maslow’s third level of Love/Belonging Needs are of increasing importance, unlike the more basic needs that the school inculcates. There is a populist view that many low achieving school children suffer from an uncaring home environment and that their listless academic behaviour stems from their out of school feral existence. The results and informal interviews with some of the pupils contradict this view. For the vast majority of even the lowest achieving pupils in this survey parental influence is the most important motivator.

As well as a feeling of belonging within a family the influence of peers is recognised as another group pressure to conform to a norm. Graph Q2 is intended to show how pupils few the work ethic of their peers, with the implicit implication as how they view their own efforts. The results are quite striking, the younger pupils believe their friends work hard, but as they age they mostly become neutral in their belief. It appears to be strange that they do not know if their friends work hard or not, or is it that they are non-judgemental?

Graph Q3 shows how the older groups like to keep their test results to themselves which suggests their views echo Luke 6:37 “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned”.

Maslow places the needs to be respected by others and to respect others as well as pride in achievement as higher needs. These needs appear to be unfulfilled by the students in this survey.

The pupils desire to be respected by others scholastically also shows a marked decrease as they rise through the school – See Graph Q4.

The highest level of need is “self-actualisation” the desire to be creative, to problem solve, to learn. The top aim of this school, according to its curriculum and mission statement is to “encourage a love of learning”.

Graph Q1 “I Enjoy Learning” shows that less than one third of the older pupils agree with the statement. In their first year at this school two thirds do. This is a dramatic fall, especially when set against the priority of the school to promote it.


Smith et al “The EPPI-Centre review of student motivation” (2006) summarises that:

Six themes were identified from the studies as key to motivation. These themes are presented in the order of frequency with which they were identified by the studies in the in-depth review:
1. the role of self
2. utility
3. pedagogy
4. peer-group influences
5. learning
6. curriculum

We see that the curriculum and learning are low down on the list; it is the usefulness of the knowledge and most importantly the role of self that are most important. “The role of self” becomes the “dominant influence” when pupils have made the “decisions about school subjects as a result of a range of interconnected factors that occur over time.” These factors include family and non-school influences.

Motivation at school involves far more than motivation for learning.
More than not being bored in lessons, more than being shown the relevance of the knowledge, more than having self-esteem raised,

Pupils are subjected to disciplines, routines and lessons quite foreign to their experiences at home or outside the school gates. While it is relatively easy to see how to motivate within a set academic lesson there is very little recent research into motivation for the whole school experience.

As Slade and Trent (2000) found with regards to boys:

The theme that their experiences at school were out of date and bore no resemblance to the concerns of their lives or the environment and wider society kept re-occurring. The cause of disruption and behaviour difficulties was directly tied to resistance and feelings of frustration that they were bored, disrespected, and never listened to. Adult behaviour is almost impossible to achieve in an environment which has no basis in trust.
School presents too many contradictions: for example, it purports to prepare pupils for adult life but participation in adult activities – such as part-time work, establishing relationships, owning a car and taking part in sports, etc. – are seen as impinging on schoolwork and homework.

Boys see themselves stuck with an unsuitable learning environment that they cannot change largely because it is constituted by teachers who do not care. Although they identify the curriculum as irrelevant and unchallenging, their experience with ‘good’ teachers has shown this to be an unnecessary outcome. Furthermore, it is one that is made worse because it is dominated by making education an unpleasant experience, and creating a pre-occupying focus on getting out of school as soon as possible. Once again, their experience with ‘good’ teachers has shown them that this is also an unnecessary outcome.
Boys actually achieve a great deal in this age group: drivers’ licences, part-time jobs, physical, social and sexual maturity, and a largely optimistic attitude to the adverse conditions of schooling. Recognising these achievements, abandoning the discourse of ‘fixing boys’ and updating curriculum, teacher training, pedagogy and school organisation in light of the rapid and extraordinary changes in the wider environment would create less of a rupture between the culture of schools and the culture at large.
Boys would like an aging adult world to ‘genuinely listen’, and to ‘catch up’ to bring the culture and focus of schooling up to date so that it might be better placed to keep pace with the economic, social and cultural changes that are already making demands that cannot meet, and that in the coming decades will be as dramatic as they are inevitable.

This survey of pupils shows that parental influence is the foremost motivator of these pupils. It is of note that recently Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, was reported in The Times as saying;
“that a greater involvement of parents in the education of their children should have a dramatic impact on standards.”
“Parental involvement in education trumps every other factor in terms of whether a child is going to do well,” he said. “It is more important than ethnicity, more important than social background.”
Many parents, particularly from poorer backgrounds, do not get in touch with schools because they are intimidated by the educational establishment. “Parents are sometimes loath to trouble a school unless they feel welcome, so a strategy that encourages people to express their concerns is really sensible,” Mr Johnson said.
“When you talk about the most difficult to reach, it’s the parents who don’t feel particularly empowered, are not as pushy as they might be because they are inhibited or lack confidence.

Schools are seen as being an agent of the state and controlling the schooling of children. Whereas schools may hold themselves to be "in loco parentis" neither they nor the Government can be said to act "in loco discipulus".
The aims and purposes of schooling for the government and the professional educators do not necessarily align with those of the pupils. The holistic experience of school involves the school satisfying its governmental and staff stakeholders. Their objectives are different to those of the pupils and their parents.

As John Stuart Mill said in “On Liberty”, Chapter Five:
If the government would make up its mind to require for every child a good education, it might save itself the trouble of providing one. It might leave to parents to obtain the education where and how they pleased, and content itself with helping to pay the school fees of the poorer classes of children, and defraying the entire school expenses of those who have no one else to pay for them. The objections which are urged with reason against State education, do not apply to the enforcement of education by the State, but to the State's taking upon itself to direct that education: which is a totally different thing. That the whole or any large part of the education of the people should be in State hands, I go as far as any one in deprecating. All that has been said of the importance of individuality of character, and diversity in opinions and modes of conduct, involves, as of the same unspeakable importance, diversity of education. A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation, in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body. An education established and controlled by the State should only exist, if it exist at all, as one among many competing experiments, carried on for the purpose of example and stimulus, to keep the others up to a certain standard of excellence. Unless, indeed, when society in general is in so backward a state that it could not or would not provide for itself any proper institutions of education, unless the government undertook the task: then, indeed, the government may, as the less of two great evils, take upon itself the business of schools and universities, as it may that of joint stock companies, when private enterprise, in a shape fitted for undertaking great works of industry, does not exist in the country. But in general, if the country contains a sufficient number of persons qualified to provide education under government auspices, the same persons would be able and willing to give an equally good education on the voluntary principle, under the assurance of remuneration afforded by a law rendering education compulsory, combined with State aid to those unable to defray the expense.

The Government wants a well trained population for the benefit of society; the education system, in common with any other near monopolistic one, naturally has succumbed to a level of “producer capture” – defined as where a service is run for the benefit of the producers rather than the “customers” – and has influenced schooling for its own purposes. But as shown pupils are not motivated to be these considerations, they and their parents want them to be educated for their own reasons.

In a consumerist world families expect choice and control over the services that they are supplied with. The present system provides little practical choice or control for the majority of families. Without the buy in of families, and of pupils themselves, then many schoolchildren will remain the recalcitrant subjects of the system; whining, with their satchels and shining morning faces, creeping like snails, unwillingly to school.

The dichotomy is either schooling is imposed for the good of society over-riding any desires of the pupil or the principle of subsidiarity is applied to education and the pupil and family take control. The latter will result in better motivation and a differently educated population. The former can only be justified if it results in a far superior system, and for that there is no evidence.

The results of this survey and the research present a sorry picture of the comprehensive system. This is not a reflection on this particular school, it seems to be endemic to the system, as Sir Eric Anderson (2007) says:

“The 40 year experiment with comprehensive schools has fallen far short of its aims. It was meant to provide, in Harold Wilson’s words, “grammar schools for all” and it was meant to lead to increased social mobility. It has done neither. It has not raised the standards of all and, as recent studies show, we now have a less mobile society than we had in the 1950s and 1960s."

Within such an apparently flawed and failing system good teachers are more important then ever to enable all pupils to flourish and achieve the best they are capable of. The pupils I worked with were lucky to have such teachers and a supportive school.


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Wikipedia - Maslow's hierarchy of needs
revised 03:01, 19 December 2006 downloaded 18th Dec 06


I agree lots of my kids don't want to be in school - they should be given the option of going to college instead at 15 to do a two or three year apprenticeship. That said, my 30 year old son was taken on as a mature apprentice in the plumbing trade as the company couldn't find any kids who were willing to get up early on a dark winter's morning and actually do some work during the day! Practically all the girls who want to leave want to be hairdressers!

We should also stop this nonsense of pushing kids towards university when they are not ready, don't need to go or will waste their time there anyway. The sheer amount of money being wasted for Blair's social engineering which fails everytime....

You want the best? Make them compete for the limited places at university or go onto a different route to get vocational or alternative qualifications.

Meanwhile I will do my best and continue to provide poetry every week ranging from Shakespeare to Marlow to Donne to Tennyson to Kipling to modern stuff. I will use IT to make lessons more interesting for all types of learning styles and keep the kids engaged. I will check their progress and adjust lessons as required to ensure they are learning not repeating stuff by rote.

In return can the government please get the hell out of education and leave it to the people who currently have to waste so much time with the ridiculous targets etc we have to teach to rather than teaching the whole child?

PS The English A Level last year only required 63% to get an A* top grade! In my day 63% was a C Grade and the next one down was a fail! You shouldn't get A* unless you get above 95%!

I remember trying to get my head round this one when I did a CertEd in the mid 80's; I taught for about 9 years and then left teaching as it was impossible to teach properly and frustration was growing year by year. I have given a lot of thought to the problem and suggest that the problem lies far deeper than just school based education. The rot started in the late 60's'early 70's with the raising of the school leaving age(RoSLA), schools inherited jerry built expansion and year 11 boys ( and some girls) who just did not want to be there... now the gov't is talking about raising it to 18, God forbid. At this time the trendies took over; arithmetic which was of practical use, was abandoned for 'new maths' which is not. I have tried explaining 'transformation of matrices' to year 9/10 kids.... I used that technique for, I think, solving complex simoultaneous equations relating to vibrations in turbine shafts.... on asking why it was being tought I was told that it is an elegant mathematical concept, what a load of bollocks. Many pupils (and they are pupils and not students at this age) do not develop the abstract thought required for many concepts until mid-teens so frustration and lack of relevance becomes an issue. Later the Law of anonymity for young offenders was introduced along with a raft of trendy ill thought out initiatives, add to this the no blame/no competition/everyone is a winner mentality and you have a system where the young person is absolutely 'untouchable'.... and he/she knows it. Many of the kids I taught were convinced they would earn their living as cricket/snooker/football/fashion professionals. Mixed ability grouping is a disaster, I am old enough to have been at school in rural Wiltshire in the 50's where the standard system was used; a pupil remained in a class until they had progressed enough to go to a higher class... that worked and would work again. I would suggest that mixed groups should be selected on maturity rather than age.... this would mean that many of the girls would generally be one or two years ahead and would not have to put up with the 'brake'on learning that silly immature boys exert on a mixed group. Sorry these notes are disjointed/rambling; email me if you want any elaboration/further rambling; a parting shot... people have been getting educated, some very well, for thousands of years, why is it that each government thinks they know how better to do the job ?

have just posted some rants on education on my blog with a link to this.
ps have somehow lost your email can you re-send ?



A huge question is begged whenever one attempts to involve the children themselves in how they are to be taught. The asymmetry between what we as adults know about pedagogy and what they know vitiates almost all concerns that children may have. Father knows best (or better) and there's an end on't. All forty year-olds have been thirteen. No thirteen year-old has been forty (pace Tom Hanks in Big). And whereas not everything that is hard is worth doing, virtually everything worth doing is hard.

As for best teaching practise itself, a syllogism exists. Empirically, we know this: there exist methods which work, and those which do not. We can, for the most part, identify into which set a given method falls. By choosing methods from the set that works, we can improve educational outcomes. The corollary is that when we do not choose methods from the set that works, we are opting for a sub-optimal outcome.

The complete disparity between resource expenditure and pedagogical outcome vis-a-vis state-provided and independent education cannot merely be explained away by the 'cherry-picking' argument (actual cash-per-pupil is not even correlative, let alone causative). I went to (public—Yanks: private) school with many boys who would have struggled to obtain a CSE in Woodwork in the comprehensive system). The overwhelming majority of them achieved 9+ 'O' levels at grade 'C' or above. In 1985, that was no mean feat if one looked across the entire 14–15 year old educational cohort.

Naturally, there is criticism of the private education system as doing nothing more than grooming students for success at 'A' level, and not rounding them out as human beings. But given that in the private system, pupils are selected by aptitude throughout their lives, whereas in the comprehensive system, 'A' levels are the first instance in which they are actually being academically selected, is it any wonder that the outcomes are so different? If selection is evil at the secondary stage, then why do we tolerate it at the tertiary? And at the quartenary (i.e. job-seeking) stage, it's a given. An anomaly, surely?

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