Posts Tagged ‘schools’

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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I’ve been learning about lines of best fit and anomalies in science with our eleven year olds this half term and have derived a little amusement just hearing them trying to pronounce the word, let alone spell it. (It doesn’t take much to keep me happy).

 I suppose you could say that my love of football is anomalous; an anomaly. It is incongruous amongst my other areas of interest.  If I were to plot a scientific graph, it would lie either above or below my line of best fit. I’m not quite sure what my x or y criteria would be, but I like the word anomalous, the way it rolls off the tongue. (Or not).

Come to think of it, my presence in a science lesson is in itself an anomaly, so let’s stick with football where I am able to hold forth from an even playing field.

Where did this all passion for the beautiful game kick-off, then?  You may well ask; I blame my mother.

Back in 1968 she let me stay up late on a school night, to watch the European Cup Final between Manchester United and Benfica on our black and white television set. Mum was keen to watch George Best play; I think she needed an ally and I was more than happy to miss bed time and oblige. Dad, who didn’t like football at all, sat behind his newspaper and emerged occasionally to cheer Benfica on, much to my annoyance. George Best scored a goal during extra time to help United lift the cup by which time I was hooked. Until he arrived on the scene, footballers looked much the same as rugby players: big and beefy. He was small and looked weedy but moved exceptionally fast with extraordinary skill. The fact that he had twinkly Irish eyes, a Beatle haircut and wore his shirt outside his shorts may also have added to his appeal, I don’t know, but it made me want a team of my own.

Mum said that however much we adored Bestie, we ought to support a team nearer home, (unlike 95% of current Man U supporters who have never even been to England, let alone Manchester), so she suggested Crystal Palace, the nearest team to us at that time. I went along with this for a while but wasn’t convinced as they never seemed to win anything.

A couple of years later, my friend Laura and I returned from a shopping trip where she had bought some hot pants in a shop called Chelsea Girl; it also happened to be the Saturday of the notorious Chelsea – Leeds FA Cup Final. Her grandfather, who ran our local pub, invited several of his regulars upstairs to watch the match once the bar had closed. Laura (wearing the hot pants) and I watched too. The men were all gunning for Leeds which made Laura and I all the more determined to cheer for Chelsea. The rest, as they say, is history.  Chelsea went on to win – eventually, after a replay at Old Trafford – and I found the team I have supported ever since.

Completely co-incidentally, my husband turned out to be a faithful Chelsea fan too, so Son had no choice in the matter and for several years we went to all our team’s home games. The sight of that green, green pitch never fails to impress; the banter in the stands provides much hilarity, albeit a little blue at times.

Football can be a great leveller, and as a female, understanding the finer points of the game can be a distinct advantage, as well as providing cast -iron street cred when necessary.

A couple of years ago, while supporting a geography class of rowdy under-achieving thirteen year olds, one of our, shall we say, less engaged pupils was lolling across his desk, semi-comatose, so I suggested that he sat up properly and got on with colouring in the rivers and mountain ranges on his pre-printed world map.

 He told me to eff off.

This kind of response usually results in removal from the classroom but it also involves paperwork which is a faff so I fixed him with my best icy stare and said,

 “You’re going to have to do better than that if you want to insult me, Peter; I go to football every week and hear much worse,”

He looked at me; he wasn’t expecting this – I had wrong-footed him. I could see him weighing up the situation; for a moment I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d scored an own goal. I held my breath and continued staring at him. Slowly he heaved himself into a sitting position and, with what I can only describe as a rueful grin of respect, began to colour his map.

1-0 to me, then. How I love having the last word…

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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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