Posts Tagged ‘education’

What do you reckon is the most boring job on the planet? I don’t mean the worst one –  that award would more than likely go to a septic tank operative – I mean the most mind-numbingly tedious, thanklessly dull occupation you can possibly think of.

Well I’ll tell you, seeing as I’ve experienced it this week. Exam invigilation. It’s the absolute pits. Usually school buys in outside invigilators but this year, surprise suprise, not enough people came forward for this drearily monotonous position. They’d obviously had enough last year and signed up for something much more exciting – like recording the types of car entering a car park between the hours of daylight or that kind of thing. So who do they get to fill these incredibly necessary but vacuous hours? The support team, of course: they’ll do anything.

While you’re standing for at least ninety minutes in a school hall, watching 120 pupils poring over their GCSE papers, making sure they don’t cheat, time seems to stand still. I suppose that’s how many of the candidates view it too, unless they’re the ones equipped with the suggested highlighters and are industriously annotating their papers, writing the plan as per the taught techniques for attaining the top grades. Never mind that they haven’t learnt any of the actual content – as long as they understand a mark scheme and can deliver to a formula, they’re laughing. One lad I noticed, scribbled away for all of ten minutes, put his pen down, pushed his paper away and sat for the rest of the time wearing a glazed expression. At least he had a chair.

As the clock ticks ever louder, you are forced into thinking about all the other things you could be doing with your ninety minutes. Watch a football match for instance, or travel to and back from Waterloo with minutes to spare, allowing for the inevitable commuting delay. Mow the lawn, do a complete wash cycle, probably get round the supermarket and put it all away once home; fly to Paris – probably even further but I’m being realistic; drive to Stonehenge. So many things could be achieved in that time.

Then you count all the pupils with dark hair; all the redheads, all the blondes. Count all the left-handers (reassuringly more than you’d think – not so sinister, after all); you go through each row trying to name each one and failing miserably; you look for the prettiest, the ugliest, the thinnest, the fattest. You check the clock. An astonishing fifteen minutes have passed by. You walk up a row to alleviate the deadening pain in the small of your back and realise how loud your shoes squeak. You wait in desperation for a student to put up their hand for extra paper or a toilet break. Neither of these occurred on my watch, sadly.

Thank goodness we have a half term break next week. Never mind the students, revising madly for the next raft of papers to hit them in early June. Never mind that the exam season always falls during the best weather of the summer and at the worst time for all those hay-fever sufferers. Spare a thought for the invigilator, and while you are, watch this – it’s hilarious.

I’m off on my travels next week so may well miss posting but I’ll do my best to keep up with reading all my favourite blogs – from whichever airport I’m delayed in. 🙂

 

 

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As I feel the need to stand on my soap box and get something off my chest this week I apologise in advance for  my work-related rant and won’t be at all offended should you wish to click away now…

picture courtesy of Anxiety UK

picture courtesy of Anxiety UK

So, two weeks back into term time and already I have signed a petition to remove the Secretary of State for Education. I don’t add my name to anything lightly but I really do think it’s time for Gove to go. His unrealistic and ever changing demands on teachers is creating an exhausted, de-motivated and de-moralised staffroom; the delivery of our national curriculum with its incessant assessing puts unnecessary pressure on students, creating stressed and apathetic pupils. Do children actually enjoy school these days? Ask a few – I did – and they looked at me as if I’m barmy. As far as many of them are concerned, it’s a place to meet their friends – what goes on in classes is just a damn nuisance.

To maintain league table positions, schools have to chase grades. Targets are imposed on students and it is up to the staff to make sure these targets are met, never mind the anxiety felt by hard working children who aspire to, but sometimes fall short of, their aspirational targets. The government recently implemented performance related pay for teachers. In any other profession or line of work (except perhaps the front line of the health service) I’d say this is more than acceptable – in the corporate world it is probably essential. But teaching?  Where we are dealing with the lives and minds of young people? I don’t think so.

Some kids, however hard they work, however much they try, however much guidance they receive from dedicated teachers just aren’t going to reach that magical A-C banding which means that staff, not fulfilling their quota of ‘passes’ will find their pay packets lacking. This system is just crying out to be abused by unscrupulous heads of department who could cream off top students for their own classrooms thus ensuring a constant flow of suitable, remunerative grades.

A-C grades at GCSE (exams taken at age 16) are the keys to moving onto further education and eventually university. Grades convert to points which in turn, convert to cash for funding. It is not unusual nowadays for many top level students to achieve ten A or A* grades at GCSE, which is great for the students and for the school coffers but how does this happen? Are that many students good at everything? In my dim and distant past people generally leant towards either maths/science or English and the arts with only the odd few who were more than competent at everything. What can this possibly mean? Are we breeding a race of super students now who are as good at creative writing and art as they are maths and physics? Who can turn their hands to practical subjects and still be ace at computing and chemistry? No of course we aren’t. Our national curriculum is tailored to ensure that kids jump through hoops with the drained direction of their dedicated teachers.

When they’re not taking exams, pupils are being constantly assessed. I’m sure this has always been the case – just not so obviously to the students as it is now. The students are shown a framework for success criteria and in some cases, the mark scheme, before they even open a book and assessments are churned out in every year group, from ages 11-16, sometimes as close together as one every three weeks in one subject alone. Multiply that by the number of subjects on the timetable and you have one hell of a lot of assessments not to mention BORING BORING BORING.

To what end? Where’s the learning? More importantly, as far as I’m concerned, where’s the fun? It seems to me that we are only teaching them to pass a test, to excel in assessments and that any actual knowledge they may acquire is a happy additional benefit. I wonder if this is all a government ploy to create a generation of analysts… because that’s what they are learning – to analyse, not to create. Short sighted, in my opinion. Eventually, without creators, there will be nothing left to analyse. Rather like when our government got rid of all the manufacturing industries. They really don’t think things through, do they?

During my schooldays which, incidentally, I loved, we were afforded the opportunity (and the time), in English classes, to spend whole lessons discussing books plays and poems around set texts. We were taught to love Shakespeare and poetry before we had to start picking it to bits: we were given a lifelong love of literature which is why I get so exasperated with our older students who think that reading seven novels about an irritating little bespectacled wizard is sufficient recreational reading material for a potential A* student. (I ranted controversially once before about Harry Potter, which you can read here if you’re interested).

My Art lessons were peppered with visits to galleries and History to museums while Geography offered field trips which included wading around in the River Dart and getting lost on an unknown fell in the Lake District. We survived without need for all the health and safety legislation required now to take groups of students anywhere remotely interesting.

(Actually a colleague and I did manage to evade the red tape once and take a group of our students to the theatre. This trip is probably worth a post in its own right, as it turned out).

I know things have moved on substantially since I was at school – of course they have and facilities these days are fantastic. Just what is the point of it all if the learning is secondary to the testing? I wonder if, a few years down the line, our students will remember anything about their schooling or whether their memories will be of one long assessment – and how sad if that is the case.

Hopefully equilibrium will be restored next week but in the meantime, should you feel inclined to sign the Remove Gove from Office petition, you can do so here and if you’d like to read my poem on ‘Free Range Children,’ just click here.

Phew, that feels better…

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Lazing around in an underused deckchair as I was last weekend, enjoying the summer I knew would arrive with the start of Wimbledon, a word popped into my head during my soporific state which wouldn’t go away. The word that bugged me, (a bit like the mosquitoes I was trying my best to ignore), was ‘shed.’ Probably because I could see ours, tucked away in a corner of the garden through the bleary corner of my eye, it invaded my consciousness with an urgency which it didn’t really warrant. Or perhaps it did. What an odd word. Written down it doesn’t look finished: the OED tells me that ‘shed’ is a Middle English derivation of the word ‘shade’ which is the complete opposite of the modern usage of ‘shedding some light’ on a situation.  Well, let’s try.   ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

This underwhelming word that disturbed my lounging has several different meanings. The first is obviously the innocuous little building that most of us have, filled with miscellaneous outdoor detritus and spider webs. The little wooden building that could be put to so much better use if it were managed by someone who had some understanding of the tidiness concept.

In Scotland, if you have a parting in the hair, you have a shed. I have no idea how I acquired this piece of miscellaneous knowledge so I’ve just checked the dictionary to make sure I didn’t dream up the notion somewhere along the line, and it’s there in black and white. So if I’m ever stuck for a coiffure in the Cairngorms, I feel fairly confident now that I’d be able to converse comfortably with any hairdresser north of the border.

There may be bloodshed, especially in Shakespearian tragedies and we can be envious of folks who win shed-loads of cash in the lottery.

Well, that’s the nouns dealt with – let’s have a look at the verbs. Trees shed their leaves, snakes their skins and humans their hair (some more quickly than others – not that I have anyone particular in mind). Lorries often shed their loads across three lanes of motorway, usually in the rush hour or during a major holiday weekend. We are triumphant at shedding a few pounds in weight but may shed a few tears when we put it all back on.

Isn’t our language strange? There must be hundreds, if not thousands of words with multiple meanings to which we normally pay no attention because we rarely have time to laze about in deckchairs cogitating. The evolution of language and its words is constantly changing – the latest revolution being the abbreviation of words for social media communication. Last term we delivered a module in multi modal language (text speak) and while I found it fascinating that so much research and therefore money has been poured into the subject I did wonder if, that by affording it so much attention, we are giving our students licence to spell badly. It can be argued that to abbreviate a word, you need to know what you are leaving out, but that’s only true for the first person who does it, IMHO. Others will follow blindly on, not even considering a word in its entirety.

Does it matter? Well, to me it does, which is why I make a point of using as few abbreviations in my sparsely sent text messages as I can.  Will it matter in the future? Probably not; the employers of tomorrow are today’s younger generation, brought up learning to read and write without the use of phonetics to help them. They won’t worry that their potential employees are unable to spell because they will be looking for different skills. And so the world and its languages move on.

I wonder if anyone in Middle England ever pondered  the shed/shade debate. Did they even have deckchairs back then?

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Unusually for a household which includes family under the age of twenty-five, we have no game consoles.  My son had a play station when he was younger but preferred the great outdoors and often played by himself while his friends were attached to a handset.  I feel the affectionate use of the term Sofa Loafer when alluding to him may well have given some people the impression that all he does is lounge around watching Top Gear repeats on television. While he does do a fair bit of this, once he comes in from work, he is also multi-tasking. His laptop is constantly open so he’s either writing, researching, communicating or networking.  Or eating, come to think of it, sometimes all at once: impressive, eh?

Well, as I’ve been allowed to see some of the results of his research, I have to say that I think it probably is fairly impressive and it’s why I’m giving him a bit of free publicity.

With a passionate interest in WW2 history, his ultimate goal is to become a battlefield tour guide, but for now he has been working towards producing a book, containing anecdotes, historical facts and old photographs related to the American 101st Airborne division’s time in England, when they were billeted in Wiltshire before the D Day jump into Normandy on 6th June, 1944. His manuscript is almost ready for editing and he has sourced a publisher.  He has created a Facebook page where you can keep up to date with his progress, but his personal D Day is for it to be ready in 2014, in time for the 70th anniversary.

This year he’ll be escorting a very important person to Normandy for the celebrations – an American veteran who he met during his trip to America two years ago and who is now retracing his steps in Europe during a two and a half week stay on this side of the pond.  He and his travelling companion will be staying with us and revisiting his billet site (as well as Stonehenge, at his request), before the ferry journey across to France, from where he will travel on to Belgium and Holland, meeting up with other friends there.

While I am delighted at the prospect of this visit, my main concern at the moment is locating some Anglo-American bunting. This is most definitely an occasion for putting out the flags.

I’ll leave you with a few pictures from Normandy, a place now of tranquillity and historical interest, but whose inhabitants and the landscape saw some of the fiercest fighting of World War Two.

Utah Beach, late afternoon, now a peaceful place for a stroll

Utah Beach, late afternoon, now a peaceful place for a stroll

The American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer where over 9,000 graves face west, towards home

The American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer where over 9,000 graves face west, towards home

Stained glass window at a delightful little church in Angoville au Plain commemorating the Airborne

Stained glass window at a delightful little church in Angoville au Plain commemorating the Airborne

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Having only just discovered Sir Ken Robinson, I realise I’m behind the times as he gave this talk in 2006, but I want to spread his word. So, apologies if you are already familiar with his sound sense, and if you’re not, I urge you to watch this short video.

http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

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Earlier this week I was sorting out a pile of papers and files in the room we ambitiously call our office. It is the smallest bedroom and contains a bookcase and a desk, where we all dump stuff which gets forgotten about until one of us (me) has a tidy up and throws most of it away. I found the following poem, amongst a lot of school-related detritus, which I remember scribbling down a couple of years ago during a never-ending invigilation session. The inspiration came from something my son once said to me when he was at school, about feeling like a battery chicken. Having spent last term with our students doing wall to wall assessments, and who are now preparing for next term and wall to wall exams, I think this posting is probably timely. Especially in light of the recent vote of no confidence awarded to our Minister for Education.

                

I want my child to be free range

To experience a host of new things

I want him to learn for his interest

Not have the state clip his wings.

Some kids refuse to be moulded –

They’ve seen the warning signs –

They’re doomed to fail,

They’re proper pests

Fidgeting, chatting and larking about…

…While the battery chicks sit their tests.

But these kids have something

That the others lack

A sense of singularity –

They refuse to follow the pack.

Light distraction’s healthy

A joke or two just fine

Children learn in many ways

Not sitting exams all the time.

Let’s not bother quite so much

About levels and being graded,

Mock exams; the marking, the testing,

Leaves teachers feeling jaded.

Name, rank and number, our fathers gave

In order for us to be free

But our kids aren’t allowed to think for themselves

With this processing for bureaucracy.

Assessing and checking and following graphs

And measuring year upon year

The homogenisation of eager young minds

Keeps the education dept open, I fear.

A – C grades win big prizes

Not only for students – the schools!

Our kids are used as pawns in a game –

Inflate the league tables –

That’s rules!

We teach them how to pass

Any number of things

But are they learning for life?

Or is it all gone in an instant,

As soon as the papers are sent

To AQA, Ed Excel – whatever

To run through a scanner,

Be multiple-choiced

A 25% chance of success.

Oh, let our children be free range!

Please give them a looser rein

To be individuals,

Unique, thoughtful beings

Not churned out to be all the same.

picture from techcentral.ie

picture from techcentral.ie

Cynical… me? 

 © jennypellett 2013

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This is unbelievable. 5c69a200365ea3301f1631c76b2fe278[1]The humble flapjack is now a health and safety issue according to a school in Essex. One of their students was hit in the eye with a triangular-shaped flapjack during a food fight so now the canteen has been instructed to serve only rectangular ones.

This raises a couple of interesting points. Well, four, to be exact, on a rectangular flapjack, which must be potentially more dangerous than the three-cornered version.

Surely a circular biscuit would be safer. They really haven’t thought this through.

The fact that no mention has been made of pupil behaviour leads one to believe that the food fight was a routine occurrence. Is this a revolutionary idea to promote social interaction?

Perhaps I have been missed off an email somewhere that informs us that food fighting has been added to the Health and Social Curriculum. If this is the case, then dinner ladies everywhere should be downing their ladles and taking strike action. (Not with flapjacks, obviously).

The formidable witches who oversaw lunchtime when I was at school strutted their stuff like camp commandants between the rows of tables, ensuring we ate up our gristly mince and not-quite-boiled potatoes in complete silence. We were only allowed outside once our pudding bowls were clear of stodge and custard but at least we were trusted with metal cutlery and heavy-duty china tableware. I guess they’ve been deemed dangerous somewhere along the line as food is now served either on paper plates or plastic trays with disposable cutlery.

Imagine this happening in France. A nation where food is the most important part of daily life; where table manners are taught as soon as an infant is able to sit up and where school children have napkins laid on their tables and know how to use them.

Meanwhile, here in UK, (or should that be YUK), we unnecessarily treat the symptom without considering the cause.

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