So, what's wrong with school?

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How schools fail children

A recent article in the Times Education Supplement points out that the focus in schools on literacy makes it difficult for those with other talents to show what they can do. I believe the problem is worse that that – the very bright, scientifically minded kids who hate writing and analysing poems but love fiddling and messing with real things, are turned off learning and can be labelled with ADHD because they need to be doing stuff instead of listening to stuff. This problem extends beyond school, where “writing about” scores more points than being able to do something. Access to higher education is on the basis of performance in written exams – now even more so since the practical element of many exams has been removed by the toxic Govean changes.

A friend’s son, hugely gifted in 3D visualisation and practical hands on skills to make or mend anything, struggled in school as the requirement to show everything in written form to get the marks meant he hovered near the bottom. He did get to university at some point to study design, and was brilliant on the actual process of designing using computers and other means, however he failed his second year because he couldn’t get his ideas onto an exam aper in the required format in the required time.

This has an effect on all aspects of society, where being able to bullshit on paper, and parade your grades from written exams, gets you the interview whether or not you can actually do the job. “Evidence of doing” has become more important than actual doing. Many children are failed by this – not just the potential engineers who never get to do.
Tens of thousands of potential engineers missed due to exams’ focus on literacy
Helen Ward 25th May 2017


Children Should Have The Right to Vote

In England and Wales, children aged 10 are deemed criminally responsible and can go on trial in adult courts for serious offences. Yet it is not until they are 18 that they are deemed to be capable of having a say in the laws to which they are subject. Arguments against children having a vote don’t hold water when the same arguments could be used against many adults. Saying children will vote for the parties that give the most sweeties, ignores the fact that many adults vote for their own personal best interests. This does not disqualify them.
Arguing that children are not yet rational beings should let them off the hook over crimes, but many adults are not rational either: they vote for the handsome guy, the sweet talker, without ever looking at policies and evaluating them.
But children will be influenced by their parents and their peers and will be easily manipulated, say some. This seems to assume that adults are immune from these influences. Many people simply vote for the party their parents did.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children’s views should be taken into account in everything that affects them. Having a vote would enable them to voice those views in the same way adults do. Children voting would focus policies and politicians on the needs and wishes of children to enable us to become a truly child-friendly society. Examples of democratic schools, with pupils and teachers deciding the rules together, such as Summerhill, do not lead to chaos and rebellion. On the contrary, by having a say in how things are run, there is a greater commitment to the community.
If the consequences of children’s political participation is the reform or radical overhaul of schools, or even their abolition, then that is the message we must hear. If children vote in their millions to do away with homework, we need to acknowledge their right to leisure. Political participation in the young could be an antidote to political apathy later on. Being involved in decisions that affect you is a right for all, no matter how young.

This Article was published in Education Outside School issue 9 Autumn 2013

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Lessons in democracy

In the UK budget last week, George Osborne announced that all schools in England would be forced to become academies. What does this tell us about democracy? That a party that received votes from 24% of registered voters, but with a majority in the house, want to force upon schools, parents and children something that was not in their manifesto.

Parents, teachers (and of course, pupils) will not be able to object, parents will not be on the board of governors (because we need professional ideologues in that job) and teacher’s contracts will be “negotiable.” Sponsors choose the majority of those on the governing body of academies already (1) eliminating any pretence of democracy.

The academy report card is hardly glorious. In 2014 half the schools in one large academy chain were failing. (2)
This model is ripe for corruption, with little true oversight. One academy chain paid consultancy fees of £800,000 over 2 years to companies that the sponsors and trustees had a financial interest in.(3) Public money is being used to line the pockets of dodgy folk who see children’s education as a way to make a quick buck. Head teachers’ salaries are also soaring in academies and “free” schools.(4)

There is a possibility with academies to ditch the stifling National Curriculum and offer something else, but parental choice (never pupil choice) is a fallacy. (see The Myth of Parental Choice) When a leading arms manufacturer is running a school, we have to question the ethos that will be promoted. (5)

Measurement can become the problem. “Good” schools get “good” exam results. “Good” teachers have students with “good” exam results. But when 4 out of 5 of the exam successes going to university have mental health problems (6), with one third contemplating suicide, what exactly have our “good” schools produced?

Academisation is, of course, one step on the way to total privatization of education. Removing schools from local authority control destroys local democratic accountability. One person (Secretary of State for Education) becomes the dictator of all schools with regional commissioners overseeing thousands of schools (7), if all become academies. Pupil money flows to private organisations, who can make a profit out of warehousing kids, reduced to economic generation units in the industrial model. Public money goes to private hands to redefine children.

Each pupil will have a price tag/ profit tag on their head. Accountability becomes, instead, accounting. “How can we save money?” becomes how can individuals make more profit from imprisoning children against their will, inflicting upon them something neither they, their parents or even teachers have chosen

All mainstream schools are undemocratic – pupils have no say, parents have limited say, teachers too do not play a major role in decisions in most schools (they may be able to decide who to punish)

Maybe, after all, it is a model of the type of democracy we have – the illusion of having a say in all aspects of your life by being allowed to put a cross on a paper every 5 years. In the UK, where only 24% of the electorate voted Tory, this is hardly the will of the majority. So schools may be a perfect preparation for life in a democratic society but it doesn’t have to be like this or limit our view of the possible in this way. Democratic schools like Summerhill (8), where the rules and decisions are taken jointly between staff and students, point the way towards what true democracy can look like. It isn’t braying men in suits in an antique “house” inflicting their toxic ideology on us all.

Posted on twitter   @McewenB   , a lesson for us all:


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Children should have a right to resist education

Janusz Korczac, a Polish-Jewish paediatrician ran an orphanage for Jewish children in the Warsaw ghetto during the second world war. In his diaries and books he listed the rights he believed children should have. Many have made their way into conventions such as United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) with one notable exception. Children, he said, should have the right to resist education that conflicts with their own beliefs.
Concerns worldwide are with a right to education, rather than rights in education and it is never matched with a right to resist or refuse that education if it is inappropriate, damaging, remiss or just plain boring. Children have no right to demand an education that better suits them.

Adults can choose not to exercise their human rights, but children cannot. In fact the right to an education is really a duty on parents to ensure their children receive an education and a duty on children to access whatever education they are told to.

The rights of children are limited by the concept of their best interests as decided by adults. The UNCRC states that children’s wishes should be taken into account in all decisions that affect them. Truants and school-refusers are stating clearly and categorically that they do not want to be in school. We need to respect the statement these children are making.

Children have no say in whether they go to school, which school they are forced to attend, what curriculum they are made to study while there, who teaches them and what educational and behavioural policies are inflicted on them.

If schools were places where children wanted to be, where they felt safe and cared for, and had their needs met then truancy and school-refusal would not be a problem. When truancy is criminalised and refusal is medicalised the blame is shifted. Schools are let off the hook as the problem is seen as feckless parents and mentally ill children.

By naming refusal to go as “school phobia” it creates a psychiatric condition to be treated. Children’s voices are silenced and ignored, their distress dismissed. This labels children saying NO to school as having a medical condition in the same way that drapetomania was a mental illness exclusive to slaves who showed an “irrational” desire to run away. Similarly, dissidents in Soviet Russia were hospitalized as insane.

A phobia is an irrational fear. Although children may be made ill and driven mad by school, school-refusal is not an illness or madness. To refuse to enter a crocodile pit is not crocophobia, but discretion as the better part of valour. To refuse to go to a prison when you have committed no wrong is not prison-phobia.

The treatment (for if it is a disease then it must have treatment) is to send refusers back to school as soon as possible. Accounts of this treatment are harrowing and tantamount to child abuse. They aim to break the child or drug them into submission and total denial of their own needs. Giving children the right to resist and refuse education would ensure that schools and parents listen to the needs and wishes of children and make a more humane world for us all.

To buy my book in paperback, click on the book cover on the home page or visit   To order a PDF use the CONTACT form on this site or the BUY PDF page or email jmwanzia ( at) Not available on Amazon

I am an extremist


5th July 2015

Proposed ‘extremism’ legislation should terrify us all. David Cameron said in May:”
“For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.” We should all worry how the thought police are going to define extremism.

“Asserting our system of values” (as Cameron stated on Radio 4) is, of course, fascism. Being “intolerant of intolerance”, while being a quirky paradoxical sound bite, stinks of Orwellian Newspeak and redefining words. If obeying the law is not enough, the “intolerance” can be applied in a partisan way.

Our unjust wars are legitimised and violence by the other is labelled terrorism. The US government set up research groups to come up with a definition of terrorism that could exclude their own violent expansionism. Easy – states cannot be terrorists because they have a legitimacy. That is why there is concern about the term Islamic State – oh dear, if it is a state it can’t be terrorism. Back to using ISIS or ISIL or something now that the idea it is Islamic is firmly rooted in people’s minds.

So what are these British values?
Democracy? – the will of the majority? Well, 24% of the electorate voted Tory, yet we have an unjust extremist government thrust upon us. I’m against that. I’d prefer a proportional system where every vote counted. A bit extremist of me. What if the majority of the population don’t want democracy?

Rule of law? Well, I’m critical of a legal system that fails to prosecute: bankers who destroyed our economy; ‘law enforcers’ who kill prisoners in custody, abusers of power and the rich and powerful, while sending a young ‘rioter’ who stole a packet of crisps to jail for 4 years. Cuts to legal aid mean justice for the poor under the law is compromised further. I’m not convinced – the rule of law seems to be one rule for the rich and another for the poor. I’m against that too.

Individual liberty? Yes, I am in favour of that in a way that this proposed legislation seems to attack. Freedom of thought? Freedom of expression? Surely they are an intrinsic part of individual liberty that is attacked by this. Again our language is being redefined. We have freedom of speech so long as you, or your child in school, does not say anything against the government or contrary to “British values”. How is that any different from the dictatorships we justify invading?

Mutual respect? I want to stand alongside my Muslim friends and neighbours and proclaim that I am an extremist. It is safer, at the moment, for me – a white Westerner of no specific religion, than it would be for them, That is how fair and just our society has become. Of course Muslim people are fleeing the persecution they can see coming here.

Schools will be the thought police in this scenario – your children utter innocent statements and the stasi turn up to interview you and put your children on the at risk of radicalisation list. Your daughter wears a headscarf? Oh dear they will have to unradicalise her with exposure to page 3. Your son goes to the mosque? – maybe he is being radicalised there so they will close the mosque and re-educate your son.

Here are some questions asked of primary children in Waltham Forest :

“The survey asks children as young as nine living in Waltham Forest, east London, detailed questions about their beliefs and poses several leading statements for them to assess, concerning the strength of their feelings and how far they might go to defend their religion.

They include: “Religious books are to be understood word for word”, “I believe my religion is the only correct one”, “God has a purpose for me” and “I would do what a grown up told me to do even if it seemed odd to me”.”

Doing as an adult tells you is extreme in school? Such as filling out a stupid questionnaire when asked to?

First they came for the Muslims and I did not speak out because I was not a Muslim. Then we were all called extremist for protesting.

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Cheating and dishonesty in schools

15th June 2015

An article in today’s Guardian indicates the extent of cheating in schools and universities. This is not a new phenomenon. As I wrote in my book (Reason 33. Schools promote dishonesty), dishonesty and cheating occur at all levels and are part of the culture. Schools and teachers cheat and collude with students to cheat as the stakes for all are set so high and are dependent on a young person ticking enough boxes. League tables. performance-related pay and achievement awards for schools all put pressure on to get the grades. Ofsted reports are also often a fictional representation of what actually happens. At a nearby college Ofsted visited during A level mock week when no lessons were taught and all students were off site. Specially selected students were bused to speak to inspectors. In one adult class, where only 5 out of 13 had passed the first assessment, 4 of the “successes” were told to talk to the inspectors about their experience.

In a culture of dishonesty. lying and cheating to survive or gain advantage becomes acceptable. In a punishment based system (with reward as a shade of punishment) young people learn to do whatever they can get a way with.

The problem is not that students cheat, but that the pieces of paper are seen to count for more than any other criteria in the job market and in deciding whether someone is a success or a failure in life. The pursuit of qualifications, regardless of their intrinsic worth or the knowledge they may represent, contaminates education systems world wide. The incentive and rewards of cheating outweigh the risks of getting caught.

Schools exist to create winners and losers, successes and failures to feed into the machine. Dishonesty is not a problem in this scenario. We need human beings, honest,insightful humans, to navigate our way out of the mess that has been created by this way of being.

See Book Extract 33. Schools promote dishonesty

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School makes teachers sick

Radio 4 file on 4  Sick of School

I wrote about this in my book, how teachers are overwhelmed and undermined, stressed and distressed, falling sick and becoming absent with more leaving than ever before, now standing at 4,000 leaving the profession every month (one in 12)

In an online survey of 3,500 teachers in UK the NASUWT found 68% seriously considered quitting and 48% had visited a doctor in the last 12 months for physical or mental issues related to their work.

Nigel Utton, by all accounts a brilliant head, quit in  2014:

The measurement and testing of special educational needs pupils is “disgusting”, a head teacher has said. Nigel Utton, head of Bromstone Primary School in Kent said he had decided “enough is enough” and he would be leaving his job.29 Apr 2014 He argues that schools are about statistics and data and not about children.

Schools are inhuman places with added burdens of bureaucracy and “accountability”. Those taught by stressed, distressed teachers are also damaged. Humans need to come before the numbers generated to satisfy pointless targets.

To buy my book in paperback, click on the book cover on the home page or visit   To order a PDF use the CONTACT form on this site or the BUY PDF page or email jessica.mwanzia125(at)