Opinion: Troubles with the old kit bag

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The Independent Online
I hate school. I never did as a child, but now that my two eldest children are at secondary school, I dread term time.

Neither has adapted at all well to the organisational demands that modern secondary education places on them. They forget to take their kit or the right books for the day, fail to ensure that they collect all the bits of paper on which to do their homework, neglect to stick all the sheets in their books, lose their pens and generally do not cope.

I used to think it was all my fault, and I am sure that many of the teachers facing the inevitable problems caused by failure to bring the right books and equipment to lessons will blame me.

However, I know from many of my friends that they are facing exactly the same difficulties. Boys, in particular, seem to find it impossible to organise themselves, and find the whole school experience much harder than I remember.

I can't even escape from the problem at work. I am a solicitor, specialising in education law, and every day I see demoralised children who drive their teachers wild with their incompetence and then proceed to wreck the order of the classroom by getting up to borrow pens, or flicking bits of paper around when they don't have the right books with them.

According to recent surveys, the explosion in the number of exclusions has come mainly from disruptive behaviour. Violence against teachers and bullying make the headlines, but together they account for a mere 20 per cent of the total. Sixty seven per cent of all exclusions stem from the constant drip of disruptive behaviour, causing further stress to an already stressed profession.

It may be that modern methods of parenting are partly to blame. However, when trying to put myself in my children's position I have become increasingly convinced that many of our modern organisational methods in schools are making their lives harder, rather than easier.

Most schools have now got rid of desks. Many will say that this is because desks are old- fashioned and not so adaptable. I would not be surprised, however, if one of the main motivations is simply that tables are cheaper.

The net effect of this is that pupils have nowhere to keep their books. They have to keep them at home and remember to bring the right ones in each day. How many adults would survive if they had to remember to bring in everything they needed every day?

In addition, all this lugging around of books and equipment leads to extra strain on our children's backs and tends to mean that the equipment gets battered and damaged during its constant to-ing and fro-ing.

Books are another contentious issue. Many schools simply do not have enough for each pupil and rely on children writing down detailed notes in class, or taking home photocopied sheets that they should stick in their folders or exercise books.

Digging around in the bottom of their backpacks to find a two-month-old epistle from school, I regularly come across pieces of photocopying that look important, but now stand little chance of being retained, let alone being sufficiently legible if placedin an exercise book.

If children are ill, they have vast amounts of copying up to do and cannot simply rely on reading their textbook in order to revise for exams. I know that if I am ill and have to work twice as hard over the next few days to catch up, I resent it. Children resent it even more, and regularly fail to see why they should do double homework.

None of this would matter so much if we weren't putting so much more pressure on our children to perform. When I studied law, it was possible to get into one of the most respected law faculties with a B and two Cs at A-level. The same university is likely to insist on at least one A and two Bs now.

In addition, all the GCSE requirements have been changed to place even greater emphasis on organisational skills, because of the course work and assignment element. Homework becomes even more important, even though most adults don't like to carry out work-based activities once they have left the office environment. This may be all right and proper, but added to the difficulties children have in just getting their act together, we seem to be producing another ready group of failures simply because our expections of their organisational skills is too great - certainly greater than the demands placed on most adults.

If we look at our schools through the eyes of the pupils and fund the organisational changes necessary to help them, we might even end up with a happier teaching profession and, at the same time, help to stop the rot in boys' exam results that seems to be worrying some professionals.

The writer is a solicitor specialising in education law.

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