Sunday 17 December 2017

Diary of a schoolteacher: Why REM's Michael Stipe and Take That just don't mix

E Grade

Imagine that instead of asking Robbie Williams to rejoin, Take That had hired Michael Stipe of REM to swell their ranks.

Now, I'd actually listen to REM if it weren't for Stipe's whiny and tuneless voice, the factor that in my opinion spoils their best work. I think he has the worst voice in rock music.

So, let me extrapolate this musical nightmare; Take That (with Michael Stipe) record the excellent Circus with an American guy who can't dance, is bald, and worst of all is 14 years older than the peerless Robbie.

Now imagine the reason for Take That taking Michael under their wing is because the Minister for Culture insisted that the hard work and talent of good singers like Mark and Gary should be used to benefit rubbish singers (no fault of their own). They would 'bring them up' and old Baldy's singing would improve as a result of contact with Take That.

Of course it's all nonsense; that slouching piebald grazing on a patch of waste ground won't win the Grand National by sharing a stable with Don't Push It.

Yet this is what we seem to believe in most of our schools as we 'set' the less able (including the downright unwilling) to learn alongside our best pupils.

Streaming was outlawed in Irish schools because it was argued that this way we were creating an educational form of apartheid and so we were told to organise pupils according to subject choice, not ability.

This way, it was argued, we might have several classes in each year, all of them 'mixed ability' but each form differing only in the variety of subject combinations.

Yes, and your kid, who is reading Pride and Prejudice in her own time has been stuck on page 10 of a Maeve Binchy short story in English class since last November.

As a teacher I would forgive you for thinking that if some of your daughter's class have problems grasping a story set a few miles away from where they are sitting, about the kind of people passing by the gates of the school at this very moment, then both those needing extra support and the more gifted should both be allowed learn in their own time. And space.

The very cynical among us might see in this the interests of unelected bodies (quangos) taking advantage of a convenient ideology so that they can set up research programmes and then issue publications to justify their salaries.

In my experience as a student and then a teacher almost nobody benefits from mixed-ability classes.

As a pupil I started in a mixed-ability honours maths and ended up being taught along with my fellow cretins how to scrape a pass by the PE teacher who actually dribbled on to my copy! But nowadays pupils require patience as well as brains, as they wait for their classmates to move on or for their teacher to bring them under control.

It doesn't work in life, why should it in classrooms?

Irish Independent

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