Reading not only brings joy; it could make or break a person’s life. This much Dr Roz Sendorek, a former head-teacher based in Windsor, made clear to me and Ahmad Fakhri as we listened to her views on snapshots of the British education system.
Dr Sendorek was relating her experience teaching at a prison in her early days, where she discovered that 86% of the inmates, aged 17-22 and incarcerated for serious crimes, could not read. It reminded me of the Australian Children’s Laureate, Jackie French, who wrote I Spy A Great Reader. “I’m dyslexic,” wrote Ms French, “but books are my life. . . Every child can learn to read,” Ms French went on to say, “Every child must learn to read.”
“The majority of juveniles in those days came from broken homes as well as criminal homes. These days, kids turn into juveniles because of wrong company. Drugs is another factor. [Some] rich young kids end up in rehab,” says Dr Sendorek.
Dr Sendorek was proud of her many students. “There are many success stories,” she says. “For example, a former student of mine informed me that she plays the cello for the London Symphony Orchestra,” says Dr Sendorek, who teaches music as well.
The photographer being photographed.
“Every child has a bright spot,” says Dr Sendorek, who retired from service three years ago. As a National Advisor for Teachers, Dr Sendorek worked a lot with parents. She offered to have this interview at our host’s home, a more convenient venue for travelers like me. Her thoughtfulness saved me and Ahmad Fakhri the effort to make transport arrangements upfront.
What is important for British parents and educators, says Dr Sendorek, is that children grow up to become happy and balanced adults. “We treasure kindness, sensitivity, being part of the community, although these are not measured by OFSTED,” she says.
“Children’s success is related to parental expectations,” says Dr Sendorek. “Independence is very very important. We foster independence at school. Apart from that, creativity is much valued in subjects like Science. In Math, the focus is on problem solving and less on computation.”
Dr Sendorek might have retired, but it was clear from our conversation that she’s very much an educator for life; her eyes shone every time she spoke on the subject.
“In the 1990s, teaching was very much left to teachers,” says Dr Sendorek. “Then the government discovered that children who were being helped by their parents were doing much better. This practice was done by the middle-class parents and it provided evidence pertaining to the influence of parental involvement.” To help students in school, this practice was extended to school where volunteers came to aid struggling students. Over time, it has evolved into paid extra tuition at school.
When asked about the famous Eton College, Dr Sendorek smiled. “Eton is unreal and does not represent the norm in British education. Eton is only for the affluent.” It occurred to me, you can read so much about a country, and not get a balanced understanding of what’s going on. Eton has often been cited as a nurturing ground to prepare leaders.
Are children segregated in the British education system according to their smarts? “Students are streamed within individual subjects,” says Dr Sendorek. She pointed out how parents need to strike a balance between choosing a well-known school and knowing who the teachers are. Sometimes a school might be reputed to be good, but a child might still not do well for a variety of reasons. At the end of the day, it’s the quality of teaching that matters.
Both the British education system and upbringing, says Dr Sendorek, have changed over time. “When I was fourteen, my parents decided to move to another house. I never was asked by my parents what I thought about the move. The rule back then was: Kids are seen not heard. Today, it is quite usual for parents to ask for their children’s opinion on such matters.”
The good thing about involving children in such decision-making process is that, they feel their concerns are acknowledged, at the very least, even if the final decision might not be what they want. It helps them to move on. At the same time, there are children who have grown up feeling entitled, demanding that their interests and concerns be given priority over everything else. Raising children, I guess, is a never-ending journey. Certainly it helps if we parents are more aware of the dynamics of their developments.