Oh teacher I need you…

I don’t know about you but as I get older I find myself with virtually daily Howard Beale moments (‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore’ Network 1976). From the outside you’d never know unless you closely observed the extra bit of violence I put into chopping the onions or slicing the tomatoes (sounds like I work in McDonalds, though I’m not sure they use real food, or knives for that matter) for I am a quiet, undemonstrative sort of cove as all who know me will verify.

I was listening to the radio last week when an interview with a former teacher came on -‘former’ because, as the Head of Science in some unnamed private school he had given the students studying for their ‘A’ levels the answers to their coursework project/module or whatever it is called. In other words he had deliberately cheated and as the projects came in almost all identical it became obvious that there had either been student or teacher collusion and he was honest enough to admit that it was him.

He seemed a nice chap and when asked why he did it he said that it was because he didn’t think that they would achieve the results they needed to go to university unless he helped them.

There is so much wrong with this statement, I suppose the obviously sneering initial observation is that wasn’t the most obvious thing that he could do to help them more was teach them more effectively.

Forgetting that knee-jerk reaction as I have no idea who the students were, what the circumstances were etc…surely the real question is what is going on in our world if it is more important to ensure that students get on a degree course that they are ill-equipped to study, than either enhancing their learning, or maybe more sensibly, getting them to adjust their expectations and directing their education more appropriately.

I am going alienate a large percentage of those that read this now but degrees are not for everybody in my opinion, that is why they are supposed to be the mark of the academically elite. To me the culture of masses of kids going to university is one of the great elephants in the room of modern life. Many go away for three years, run a up a load of debt and waiting tax and end up working in a job that they could have got when they left school.

What I do believe should happen is that we return to a system where the most academically achieving students have the opportunity to go to university regardless of their background – wealth, colour, creed and have the chance to benefit us all. Strange to relate, if that happened the country would be able to pay for them and they wouldn’t have to be charged to go, and proper grants could be provided via means testing. The last figures that I could find give 532,300 students attending university in in 2015 – what government, blue, red, orange (yeah right!) or sky blue pink would support returning to a large percentage of them going straight to work as a potential unemployment figure?

None is the answer, and regardless of that it is so much the new rock ‘n’ roll that people would be up in arms about it.

Parents are also to blame in this, it is an extension of the culture where no-one can fail, or just not be seen to be quite as good as someone else.

As a rugby coach I devised a two day coaching course for my rugby club whereby the club could raise money and have the kids for a couple of days in their team groups developing their skills and their team building. I then held a few courses using the same principles for the general public.

The course worked on core skills both individually and in a team, and as part of it the kids were tested/timed in eight different events at the start and end of each session – these were split between strength, skills and speed basically, giving a good balance with the concept that everyone should achieve in at least one area, the results were recorded and at the end of the course the three best achievers across all activities won a medal. There was also a team tournament at the end of the course where the winning team was awarded medals.

Each attendee was awarded with a T-shirt, a cap, a customised water bottle, a certificate of attendance and a Mars Bar (I appreciate that this dates it, it would probably have to be a gluten free, sugar free slice of homogonised meat substitute now).

You can probably guess what happened next.

I was inundated with parents asking why their child had not received a medal.

I am not even going to begin to justify this, as I didn’t then. 99.9% of the kids didn’t care, had had a brilliant time and were shattered by the two days out in the open air, having made new friends, been given a chance to compete on an even playing field (actually the pitches weren’t that good but you know what I mean!) and learnt new stuff.

As a parent isn’t it better to sit down with said child if they question it and address why they didn’t get the medal and look at what they could do to achieve it next time…that’s if you are attaching a significant meaning to a medal in a two day course for mini rugby players in the first place.

That’s a specific example but it’s the general attitude that I am talking about.

Returning to our friend the disgraced teacher, he was eager to point out that from his perspective this was not due to pressure of government figures and I suppose that there is no need to examine the veracity of his comments.

I don’t know about you but the thought of one of my teachers colluding with me to cheat in a school test let alone a national examination is laughable and I am not for one minute taking ‘the good old days’ approach (if you’re anything like me you will be thankful of this, as the very thought of Leonard Sachs in evening dress at a lectern with a gavel in his hand is enough to make me feel giddy with nausea. In a lifetime of developing television where there really has been some poor output I cannot think of ANYTHING more likely to get me feverishly reaching for the off button in a manner reminiscent of my dear old Dad with the car radio when I was a kid whenever Greg Edwards came onto Capital Radio) , there were some nasty, sadistic and frankly unwell teachers employed at my alma mater as it saw out its last days as a grammar school to become a comprehensive, but, as with most things these days, the polarity is striking.

Now, talking about getting hot under the collar, the Ashes approacheth like a v-shaped depression on the horizon, excited and nervous in equal amounts, it will be interesting to see how we fair, particularly in the absence of ‘Rocky’ Stokes (another person suffering trial by media, I do think that the way peoples’ names get bandied around before they are proven guilty is wrong – that is not to exonerate any of them, and I know many have admitted guilt but if they are innocent it will taint them for life, regardless).

Let us hope that the England Rugby team’s victory over Australia is an omen, if it is half as entertaining and close but yet with a great result there will little singing in the valleys of Goonoo Goonoo this winter (lets hope there won’t be the gnashing of teeth in the Valley of the Thames!).

Doing what I do I get little enough sleep as it is, but come the end of the winter, if it appears that the series is worth watching (and probably even if its not) I will emerge wraith-like looking even more like Uncle Fester than ever!