Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Article excerpt

Watching a group of unruly children make mincemeat out of a well-meaning teacher has become a television staple and Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School , a factual entertainment series that debuted on BBC2 on Tuesday, is a case in point. We look on aghast as five teachers from China struggle to manage a class of ordinary 14-year-olds in England. They quickly discover that the techniques that have made Chinese schoolchildren the envy of the world don't work with Kevin the Teenager.

On the face of it, the Chinese educational model has much to recommend it. Shanghai is at the top of the Pisa international education league tables in maths, while the UK is in 26th place. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are two and a half years ahead of their British equivalents and outperform the children of British professionals. It seems we could learn a great deal from Chinese teachers, particularly in boosting the performance of our lowest achievers.

So why does it all go pear-shaped when they try to ply their trade at Bohunt School, a comprehensive in Hampshire? Bohunt is a pretty good school by English standards. Last year, 87 per cent of pupils got five GCSEs with grades A* to C, including maths and English, way above the national average of 52 per cent. Yet when Yang Jun, a teacher from Xian in central China, tried to teach his class some basic science, they seemed incapable of paying attention. While Chinese children would be sitting quietly in rows, hanging on his every word, their English equivalents preferred to chat about One Direction and what they saw on TV last night.

'In China, we don't need classroom management skills because everyone is disciplined by nature, by families, by society,' he said. 'Whereas here it is the most challenging part of teaching.' Part of the problem is that nearly all Chinese pupils place a high value on education, seeing it as their ticket to a better life, while a significant minority of English teenagers don't. This leads to a great deal of low-level disruption, which was singled out as a problem by Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw last year.

One Chinese teacher at Bohunt School blamed our over-generous welfare system. 'Even if they don't work, they can get money, they don't worry about it,' said Wei Zhao. …

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