By Laura Clark
‘Orwellian language’ in schools turns pupils into ‘customers’, finds damning report
Schools using the ‘Orwellian language of performance management’ are undermining teenagers’ education by turning them into ‘customers’ rather than students, a landmark report says today.
Teachers who are forced to use phrases such as ‘performance indicator’ and ‘curriculum delivery’ lack enthusiam for the job, the six-year investigation found.
The Oxford-based Nuffield Review, the most comprehensive study of secondary education in 50 years, said that ‘the words we use shape our thinking’.
It notes: ‘As the language of performance and management has advanced, so we have proportionately lost a language of education which recognises the intrinsic value of pursuing certain sorts of question … of seeking understanding [and] of exploring through literature and the arts what it means to be human.’
Teachers are inundated with the language of measurable ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’, ‘performance indicators’ and ‘audits’, ‘targets’, ‘customers’, ‘deliverers’, ‘efficiency gains’ and ‘bottom lines’, the report continues.
In a damning indictment, the report said that a culture of hitting targets, where ‘cuts in resources are euphemistically called ‘efficiency gains’, has led to ‘the consumer or client’ replacing ‘the learner’.
Among the jargon were such baffling phrases as ‘performativity’ (the emphasis that government monitoring has on achieving targets) and ‘level descriptor’ (the outcomes that a learner should reach).
‘Dialogic teaching’ (an emphasis on speaking and listening between teachers and pupils) and ‘articulated progression’ (allowing pupils options for their next step in the qualification system) were also singled out in the report for censure.
And the report’s authors accused the ‘micro management’ of education by minsters for forcing schools ‘to teach to the test’ and called for ‘a return to an educational language’.
The report also said that hundreds of thousands of youngsters better suited to practical work leave with poor qualifications because their skills go unrecognised.
Woodwork, metalwork and home economics have all but disappeared while geography field-work and science experiments are in decline.
Instead, a culture of testing has brought about a narrow focus on written exams at GCSE and A-level. This has consigned a generation of pupils to an ‘impoverished’ education.
The study said school attainment remained ‘low’ despite unprecedented investment in education.
The Government’s school diplomas covering 14 industry areas do little to improve matters, because they put greater emphasis on ‘learning about the world of work’ than on practical learning, the review warns.
It says the entire system needs to be overhauled because it has suffered years of tinkering and piecemeal changes.
Universities now have so little confidence in A-levels that 45 are setting their own admissions tests to help them distinguish between the most able candidates.
Professor Richard Pring, who led the review team of academics from Oxford, London’s Institute of Education and Cardiff University, said concern about the achievement of young people was ‘not new’.
A generation ago, hands-on lessons were ‘very much part of the learning experience at school’, he said. But the introduction of the national curriculum in 1988 had hastened the ‘demise’ of practical learning.
‘We now have a rather narrow view of success in learning,’ he said.