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The Problem with Schools

As a student in my final year of compulsory full-time education, many of my peers and I have definitely had our fair share of breakdowns and senses of wonder about the efficiency of the current education system.

A common criticism many people have of the school system is the relevance of curriculum content compared to “real life problems”. This involves not learning enough about what we actually need to know in order to pay taxes or acquire student loans and about what happens after school, including how to apply and get a job, all of which revolves around money management. Most likely the fact that this knowledge cannot be tested and a grade cannot be acquired from teaching it to students, means that it is not necessarily taught to the extent that many people may like. I personally feel like my school has provided me with some key interview skills and some basic information on student finance through PSHE days and assemblies; however, this is not the case for many other schools that my peers attend. Surely, these skills are most important for the next steps in all of our lives? As, no matter which path of life we choose to take, we will definitely need to manage money to some extent; whilst the skills we learn in normal lessons are more specialised to particular fields which we are much less likely to engage with from day-to-day.

Furthermore, another criticism of the current school system is that the curriculum content in itself has some flaws, from being able to ‘cheat the system’ in terms of coursework, to the limited amount of time given to cover the content. At GCSE Level for example, English Literature has a variety of books to choose from that can be studied; however, in my own experience, the school seemed to feel pressured into studying the shorter book options, such as The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. This was due to the length of time given to study the course and learn the texts to a high enough level that we would feel confident to answer questions about any section of the book. Ultimately, this feeling of pressure boils down to the fear that there isn’t enough time to cover the content. This has put extra stress on both teachers and students to learn the content in time, and is only elevated when we move forward to A-Level. In Years 12 and 13, we are expected to do further research around topics on the syllabus – above and beyond what we are taught in lessons – to allow us to access top grades; however, there is no real indication of exactly how much we need to be doing.

Between the mass of homework, revision and consolidation of previous topics to ensure we are ready for the dreaded end of year exams, I have often felt that there is no time for a break or even the teenage experience that many of our parents tell us made up the greatest years of their lives. If these are indeed the greatest years of our lives, I dread to look forward to the future…

My mother has often told me that I am a workaholic, as in my life from Years 7-11 I often spent my holidays doing homework, or writing revision notes. However, many of my friends did the same, and only now, as I reach the end of my school career, do I realise just how much of the holidays I wasted feeling that if I didn’t do enough work, I would get nowhere in life. A social life was, therefore, sacrificed and yes, this was my own decision, but as a teen I felt forced into this choice. Meanwhile, my school – alongside many others – claim that we should be doing much more with our time than just working, in order to further our future prospects, such as reducing stress by going out with friends, or taking up extra-curricular activities that we can write about on our CV or use in interviews. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one misled into doing Bronze D of E to write it on my CV when in actuality interviewers don’t really care about something that every man and his dog has.

Furthermore, this doesn’t even include household commitments that many people have, or the need to get a part-time job to support their financial situation, which can also severely reduce time given to research all of this “extra information” needed to excel in the ever-growing competition that is the education system. This led to me personally not feeling that I could reduce stress by going out with friends, as every time I did I felt myself feeling guilty about the fact that I wasn’t working. This is clearly just unhealthy, but I know for a fact that I was not the only one who repeatedly felt this way. As someone with a desire to work in the education system in the future, I feel strongly that this mentality needs to be eradicated as soon as possible, as I would hate for this issue to intensify later in life, know how these children feel, and know that nothing has been done to improve it since I was in their position.

This brings us onto the issue of mental health. Now, I believe that each school faces slightly different issues around this issue, but I can only speak from my own experience. Going to a grammar school and seeing the constant pressure put on us by teachers, parents and ourselves to prevail in an environment of extremely academically able students has led to many feeling like they are not good enough – which is extremely damaging to their self-esteem – when in actuality they are still some of the top academics of their age in the UK.

There are also many people at my school who suffer with other conditions, such as anxiety and depression, rates of both of which being diagnosed in young people are on the rise. However, having spoken to some of my fellow students, I have found that many of them feel that the network at this school in particular in terms of communicating to teachers how they feel is very good in terms of helping them cope with the pressures of school and their own personal problems. It is the students at other schools who aren’t necessarily so lucky.

But inevitably, the pastoral care at schools is becoming increasingly noticeable as not being equipped to deal with these issues. Teachers may have basic knowledge of how to deal with children with mental health problems, but aren’t equipped with the level of knowledge they may feel they need to truly help and be above the level of simply being able to be there for students to talk to and to listen. This is not their job, of course. They are not there to be pastoral care; their primary role is to facilitate our education; however, I strongly believe that there should be someone in place to deal with these issues at all schools and that it should be just as mandatory as having form tutors, as surely our pastoral care should stretch as far as being at a high enough level to make a difference to our mental health?

Now, a common response to the above is that we don’t have the money to put that level of pastoral care in place, which brings me to the next problem: school funding. The next generation are being educated in these establishments for most of the impressionable part of their lives, and are acquiring the skills they will need to help continue and develop the prosperity of our nation and planet. Therefore, should we not give schools the level of funding necessary to ensure the level of education is kept to a high standard, and the students don’t feel that they are trapped in a place they don’t want to be?

This also includes providing the appropriate space for schools. With an ever-increasing population, schools are forced to take on extra students. However, in my school’s case in particular, this is simply not feasible. The new space built to accommodate the children may work in terms of classrooms, but the nature of the school being too small is evident in the tiny corridors jammed with students between lessons, in which people are shoved and squashed together like gridlocked traffic. My peers at local schools have also expressed the same concern about this, which may seem like a trivial issue at first, but the fact that the building can hardly take the strain of the children contained within it, shows that the resources are being seriously strained.

These “resources” are not just limited to laptops and textbooks either, but they also include teachers. It is not unknown the level of extra work that teachers are expected to do on top of standing in front of five classes a day in lessons, and the level of respect I have for this has led to me wanting to pursue my own career in the field of education. But the increase in lessons needed for the extra classes has led to a higher workload that can be argued to lead to a lower standard of teaching being maintained, as teachers are chronically overworked. This in itself will lead to a lower-quality education system. (This seems to logically lead to the conclusion that teachers should be paid more, but that in itself is a completely new debate.)

These legitimate issues with the education system need to be sorted instead of just constantly discussed over and over. Recently I was in a room with over 20 people and everyone was shocked when one person said they had never cried over school. Is this really an acceptable approach towards education that we want for our children?

By Shaan, Year 13