Education Quandary

'Our college has been inspected, and lecturers told to make improvements. But manystudents don't want to work. Shouldn't they have obligations, too?'
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Hilary's advice

Hilary's advice

Of course they should. Education is contractual, and if one or other side isn't buying into that contract, then it simply doesn't work. Further education colleges suffer because they have to cater for all ages and all types of students, including a fair number of youngsters who are there either because schools don't want them any more, or because they no longer want to go to school.

We are not talking about a bit of staring out of the window, or a little chatting with friends. The attitudes of some students would shock to the core those unversed in the realities of today's education. There are students who make a virtue of being blatantly uninterested in whatever is being taught; who turn up late or not at all; who fail to bring the most basic equipment with them; swear at teachers; sleep through sessions; use their mobiles; and even brawl in class.

Lecturers - and teachers in schools - need to speak up far more freely about the kind of behaviour and attitudes they have to deal with, so the world at large can see just how closely their job, under such circumstances, resembles pushing boulders uphill. They tend not to, because they know that it could backfire on them (who wants to look powerless?) and because they are often laudably loyal to their students, understanding that so much bad behaviour stems from problems at home, and battling away, however hopelessly, to contain or prevent it.

Even so, the accounts of teachers such as Stuart Williams, the maths teacher who recently published a vivid diary of life in a Shropshire comprehensive, and Francis Gilbert, whose book I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out of Here! painted an equally eye-opening picture of classroom realities in London, show that the profession as a whole is finding new courage to stand up and tell it like it is.

This is how it should be. Teachers and lecturers must be accountable. They must do their best to motivate every student who sits before them. But they shouldn't also have to be social workers, police, probation officers and family therapists. If students are unteachable because they don't want to learn, teachers should not be expected to carry total blame for their lack of achievement.

Readers' advice

You always get some switched-off students in a college. The real issue is what you are doing to address this. And it reads as if the answer is "not much", other than transferring the blame. Unless you take some degree of ownership of the problem, you will forever be locked into a cycle of passing your negativity on to the students, and then you become part of the problem rather than its solution.
John Bateman, Worthing

Students respond to the kind of teaching they get. When I was at college two years ago, we had one lecturer whose classes we always messed around in, and another who made us listen and think. Lecturers who respect students and make classes interesting will always get a better response than those who can't be bothered.
Heather Graham, Leeds

Whose job does the reader think it is to interest further education students and "make them behave", if not the teacher's? This is what good FE teachers do best - enthuse and socialise youngsters, many of whom have been failed by school and by their home lives. Such teachers do this by continually adapting their methods, and with boundless patience. Yet they are accorded less pay and lower status than their counterparts in the secondary sector, some of whom are only too glad to leave it to FE teachers to do what they have been unable to.

Sadly, they cannot expect any official acknowledgement of their value. This reader's comments only hint at the humiliation felt by many good teachers after a brush with an inspection system born in the schools sector, and showing little understanding of the special nature of FE.
Roger Dimond, Hertford

Next week's quandary

My daughter was planning to study A-level geography next year, but has been put off by current sixth-formers telling her that it is "just more of the same". Is this right? And, if so, why? She already seems to have studied the same topics several times over.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 14 June, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser