Back to the Basics

What a week it has been for education! I would go as far as to say that the sector hasn’t seen this level of coverage since the infamous Cabinet reshuffle (which was actually only 5 weeks ago…).

To kick the week off, the Sunday papers were splashed with headlines on THOUSANDS of senior teachers at high-level schools across the country caught facilitating cheating in exams. Although this headline was overshadowed by news of the Oxfam scandal, it did still get notable mention on the prophetic Andrew Marr Show.

The grim news for education continued when on Tuesday the Department for Education (DfE) announced that due to the inability to recruit and maintain teachers in this country, we would be letting teachers fail their exams…multiple times.

Then on Wednesday the DfE set up camp on the telly to discuss a new multiplication test for students in Year 4 which promises to see pupils able to robotically regurgitate their times tables by heart. But isn’t there already enough testing? Especially for primary schools.

This announcement was possibly overshadowed by the Good Morning Britain interview where Nick Gibb refused – even after being allowed time to do the maths – to answer ‘What is 8×9?’.

These stories don’t exactly compel you to put your faith in the UK education system…

At least by midweek we had a little ray of sunshine: Mrs Zafirakou from Brent council in North London made the shortlist for the Global Teacher Prize hosted by Bill Gates. Did she make the list because she had the highest standardised test scores? No. Was it because she received an ‘Outstanding’ rating from Ofsted? No. Was it because the content of her lessons met and exceeded all areas delineated by the national curriculum? No.

She made the list because of her extraordinary compassion for children and because her dedication to what education truly means to individuals shines through all of the many, many layers of bureaucracy that she undoubtedly has to work under. She turned her classroom into a haven of learning. She became a beacon of possibilities for her students. She took the time to get to know her students and her community, and she went above and beyond to give them the basics.

When she learned of various crowded conditions of her students’ home lives, she planned additional lessons, including on the weekends, to give students a quiet workplace. She learned to communicate basic phrases to her international students and their families – a whopping 35 languages! And she has been a bridge between various public services including the police and mental health care.

Not to say that Mrs Zafirakou is the only teacher in the UK who is going the extra mile, but it certainly isn’t an area that the DfE is picking up on. After all, it is pretty hard to put a scale on compassion…