Empowering learners not entitling them.

In the current teacher accountability climate, has the entitlement culture been inadvertently born?


I remember sitting in a staff meeting and hearing an experienced TA say “our students don’t see the benefit of studying, teachers are working harder than they are, it’s a shambles”. Bearing in mind this was moments after we saw an NQT burst in, do his photocopying, make a coffee, check his post & look utterly demoralised.

What this TA was referring to was the ‘culture of entitlement’. Whereby students have the “you owe me” value system. Lessons, assessments, trackers, data, work scrutinies, detentions, even handing out stationary, they all feed into this. Yet, as much as teachers want and aspire to create an independent learning ethos, there remains a constant push for results. Results, accountability, league tables & making sure every stone is left unturned to ‘cover your back’. So the question remains, are WE creating an entitlement culture as teachers? Is it a symptom of educational policies? Or do we just have a disengaged and entitled zeitgeist?

BBCs Are our kids tough enough aimed to shed light on learning cultures in China. Such shows have highlighted the stark cultural trends abroad whereby education is more of a privilege & less of an entitlement.

Snowflakes & Heartaches

I don’t like the term ‘snow flake’ and neither is this a right-wing rant about our cherubs! This isn’t Educating Yorkshire & neither am I blaming parents but the entitlement culture is feeding into this tick-box, spoon-feeding narrative. As I left school in 2011 and couldn’t remember doing a mock exam, revision classes being held or even stationary being given out. And I attended one of the first Blairite academies! Just 5/6 years later, I found myself virtually sitting the exams for my students. Was I a child genius? Did my school not care? Or has there been a cultural shift of accountability that has created entitled & passive learners?

There’s incredible pressures on teachers. Coming to false correlations about lazy students who won’t revise; these generic assumptions add to the wider narrative that ‘kids are getting dumber’, ‘teachers aren’t doing a good enough job’. Children are naturally curious and learning is a natural journey. But when learning becomes so heavily goal-orientated (grades, trackers, teaching to assessments), we lose their engagement & willingness to be curious. Also, teachers are innately aware of how learning works, many know the work of Piaget or Vygotsky almost off by heart. But we find ourselves in a paradox as such. Do we foster independent learning at the risk of students not understanding the content or do teach EVERY single element of the course just in case?

I’m not naive to suggest that every child is disillusioned because they are disengaged. Yet rather, this entitlement culture is top down, not bottom up. It permeates from educational policies and trickle down into classrooms.

What can be done?

Doing less will make getting an education a privilege & not an entitlement:

The range of ‘interventions’ teachers are expected to undertake are pretty untenable. Teachers are doing far too much, almost as though it’s their career on the line with each cohort of pupils. And given the shotgun accountability measures that are in schools. Education is a privilege and in some parts of the world, particularly what we call the ‘Third World’, education is a privilege. Appreciation, gratitude and a enthusiasm to learn drives students. Students want to learn. They want to be successful and they will do everything in their power to make it happen. This doesn’t mean the teacher can rest on the laurels but rather they can innovate, support & facilitate learning rather than force it. Doing less means less intervention on behalf of the teacher & more action on behalf of the student. Instead of handing out a glossary of key terms, get students to make their own! Rather than providing revision resources, get your pupils to create something memorable & revision worthy themselves.

Changing a culture by promoting more independent learning.

Education policies rarely reflect Educationalists concerns. Independent learning doesn’t mean reading out a textbook page number and students just getting on with it. It’s more about indecent enquiry & giving students ownership over their progress. Independent tasks such as; create your own revision resource or analyse a key text. Activities like this, although may need monitoring from the teacher, they alleviate the teacher-driven & dictated learning which evidence totally discredits. I’m not talking about a free-for-all but rather small, short & sharp activities that will mean onus is on students to make the correct decisions about their learning. Make students work to deadlines, e.g. have task X completed by next lesson. Give them a sense of time management & independence.

Holding students accountable: the relationship has to become less lopsided:

Detentions, phone calls home, sanctions & even one to one conversations have to be held, and regularly. During my PGCE, I witnessed a Geography teacher routinely pull back students to redraft assessments and classwork that they did poorly in. His mantra was “-1 off your target grade – break time, -2, I’ll have your break & lunch, -3 after school”. He has the most difficult class; predominantly boys, many Pupil Premium but he installed a military-esque work ethos into them. Students were afraid of failure & would go the extra mile. This teacher put emphasis on students, getting them to critically reflect on their own grades. In a sense, he gave them ownership over their own grades! Which is EXACTLY what we should all be doing. Those grades don’t belong to us as such, yes they are our data but we don’t take them home, they have to mean more to their recipients!

A truly toxic cycle: Kids nowadays don’t want to learn.

With fears over retention & recruitment continuing to rise. I believe the DofE released some data today suggesting 1/7 NQTs have quit teaching within one year of qualifying, this discussion is so multi-faced. Teachers will, year upon year, churn out interventions in the hope to get results. Some succeed others don’t, bit like students. But at what cost? Teachers burning out? Leaving the profession? ‘Support planned’ into quitting? Students doing little or no work is giving them the green light to say “the teacher will do it for us”. A teacher that may be clutching on to their career, with a family or mortgage? That’s a cycle that needs to be broken because it’s a cycle that is breaking so many fantastic teachers. A cycle of shotgun accountability, constant reference to “what are you doing to help those off target”. Leading to heavier workloads & eventual burnout. Again, we can include teacher wellbeing into this as well. It’s a cycle and one that does need eviscerating.

I’m not a believer in the ‘Kids nowadays don’t want to learn‘ narrative. This is a tabloid headline I don’t want to endorse. But rather the current high stakes climate of education is preventing a love for learning & wrongly empowering students & chastising teachers.

It’s my education, it has to mean more to me!”

Upon reading an article from Tom Rogers about how limited input a teacher can have on a students progress, realisation does sink in. That as much as we plan, mark, assess, create resources, knowledge organisers, differentiate, seating plan, work sample & observe, a student that wants to succeed & do well, can and in theory will make progress regardless of who is or isn’t teaching them.

Every teacher in the UK is working their fingers to the bone. Many putting in graveyard shifts but there’s things we can’t control and one of them is how much our students want to succeed. We must empower them with the feeling that they are incredibly privileged to be educated, largely for free, here in the UK & not take it for granted.

This is such a tricky subject but let’s hope, as with teacher wellbeing, we can start a dialogue about how we can create a cultural shift. In the 100metres race that is teaching, absolutely no way should a teacher be running the 99.9metres. Yet, then be held accountable for 00.01metres. It has to mean more. More than a grade, more than a mark, children in the UK are incredibly lucky to have the educational infrastructure they have. It’s not perfect but so many teachers are doing their best for their students. That alone is a perfect as it gets.

Thank you for reading

Shuaib Khan

Twitter: @shuaibkhan26

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