Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Up with Skool Part 2

Comments from yesterday's post - "15 minute lessons? How can children learn anything if they have to stop every fifteen minutes? And how's that going to prepare them for the real world out there?"
I also think that less able pupils will be equally less able to understand interest rates as they are to understand integration and differentiation. Though I guess it will be harder for them to argue that they don't see the point of it in the former case.

I'll start by saying that I saw a half-hour presentation which précised a considerable amount of preliminary work which, at this stage, is a possible way for this school to go forward. The specific ideas he had for the planning process, which are clever and, I believe, potentially very usable, are his intellectual property and I was told them in confidence at this stage. The newspaper article I linked to yesterday is on a similar theme, but was written by a journalist not an educationalist and I haven't received specific information about what the DfES* is actually planning. However, I'll explain a bit more from what I do know and can say.

Short lessons would not and should not be given in every subject but there are some things that could be taught, not necessarily by a specialist teacher, in short bursts. And not every 15 minutes, maybe one 15 minute lesson slipped in during the day, either as a brief reminder of a longer lesson the day before or as a quick stimulating introduction to a minority subject. For example (and this is only my example, not one being actually suggested), B@dgerd@ddy said that there is a petition going the rounds to have sign language taught in every school. Now, that would be inappropriate, I think, to have on the National Curriculum, but how about 15 minutes once or twice a week for half a term, with the option of following it up if you are interested? Or, for a group of pupils who have difficulty in reading, a 15 minute reading aloud session? Maybe in pairs, taking it in turns to read to each other. Perhaps the teacher spending a few minutes reading a chapter of a really eye-opening book that is beyond the pupils' capabilities to read but not their ability to understand? It will not, of course, be possible for a whole school to keep shifting round to different rooms every few minutes, but focusing on that and ridiculing it risks ignoring real potential in an idea.

I didn't suggest teaching the minutiae of interest rates (and it was, again, my example, not the school's), the whole principle of how you can end up paying for something over and over again, which people can't understand or they wouldn't do it. How the 'easier' the payment, the longer you will keep paying it.
There is an article in todays E@stern Da1ly Pre$$, which I would link to if I could but it seems that I'll have to subscribe to their website to do so (silly buggers), saying that teenagers are building up worrying levels of debt. People in their first jobs are being granted loans from banks that would entail them paying back more than their monthly salary each month. "Most young people do not budget ... and have no idea ...good financial habits are not something that are talked about at school" said the spokesman from the C1t1zens' Adv1ce Bure@u debtl1ne (I do hope these annoying twiddles keep Google away from me here, does anyone know?).

Just because someone is not an academic high flier does not mean that he or she is not capable of learning to run their own life and understanding practicalities. But they need to be taught them. When I was young, I would not have been able to borrow more money than I could pay back. The first thing this government did was to charge fees to university students, while simultaneously taking away their grants, which caused much of the problem and is just one of the many crimes of a so-called 'Labour' administration which has spent the last ten years screwing the poor.

Dandelion also asked "What was wrong with the old education system anyway?"

Which old education system do you mean? The one when you were at school? When I was? The fact is that there are an awful lot of kids who spend 12 years in school and have nothing to show for it. If, instead of starting with a rigid curriculum to follow, you can start with a range of options that cater for the aptitude of each pupil and, as far as practicable, to tailor the education to the child. There is a good deal of it happening already, with the amount of vocational education going on. Pupils who are simply not going to get good marks in a wide range of GCSE subjects can focus on a few, and learn a trade at the same time, such as hairdressing, building or catering. They can take exams which give them GCSE-equivalent qualifications and take the core subjects too. Disaffected students can do work placements for part of the week; an 'alternative curriculum' that keeps them out of school some of the time, which can be, frankly, a benefit for everyone, but which is useful and does not simply lose them from education altogether.

And there is a lot wrong with education for more academically able children too. Back in the 1970s when comprehensive education was brought in, so much was thrown out as elitist and highbrow. The opportunity to broaden and enhance education for all children was wilfully thrown away in favour of 'dumbing down'. This hit poorer, disadvantaged but intelligent pupils and drove wealthier ones to the private and selective sector. I'm not meaning to be political here, but successive governments have each followed their own idealogical agenda in education rather than actually looked at the people - pupils and teachers - involved, and it is taking years to put right.

But it is getting better. There are possibilities and I'm hopeful about them. There are going to be blind alleys and daft ideas, but that's the way with something new. If all we look for are the things that can go wrong, we will not see the opportunities. I reiterate, the DfES must let go and trust the schools. Not dictate everything that goes on, not make it relate to league tables, let schools go the traditional way if it is working well and they do not want to have a shake-up forced upon them. Give their attention to the schools that are failing and struggling and let the others, such as mine (while we've got some bloody good staff with ideas, ideals and practical, pragmatic enthusiasm) have a go.

*Department for Education and Science

PS. I'll get back off the soapbox and back into the kitchen now. Time to make marmalade.


Dandelion said...

Well, I clearly over-interpreted the 15-minute idea. I'm liking it much better now. I'm just not entirely sure of the motivation behind it.

And I'm not entirely sure that the reason some children can't concentrate for 30 or 45 minutes at a time isn't at least partially a psychological one. I gather there's plenty of research on factors influencing motivation and concentration in education other than brute timespan (Deci and Ryan, 1991 being an oldie that springs vaguely to mind). I just don't think treating the symptom is necessarily the best solution, especially when a large proportion of children don't display it.

I think your suggestions are all very excellent, but I just have a slight issue with changing the whole system just because some kids are disaffected, when I really don't believe that the education system is the cause of their disaffectation. Having said that of course, it's a vicious circle and you have to break it somewhere in the chain.

I think children who reject the culture of school by being aggressive and failing to see the point are communicating something important, but accepting their rejection of teachers' authority and the value of learning (though I don't completely think that's what you're advocating) bodes ill for the cohesion of the rest of society in the future. It's like saying it's ok to be excessively attention-seeking or aggressive and disrupt other people - changing the education system for the sake of these kids kind of takes away from them the responsibility for their own behaviour.

Of course I don't advocate forcing square pegs into round holes, but if round pegs are what society needs, and square pegs are expensive and damaging, then we should be chiselling away at the square pegs, not carving out square holes for them.

I also think the pattern of gender distribution in disaffected kids (ie skewed towards the males) supports this view. It's funny (and disturbing) how the feminisation of education has had such a massive effect on boys.

As for "the old education system", I was aware that it was a bit of a stupid question. I was educated in the eighties in the private sector, and although that school let me down somewhat, I do feel it was on balance a relatively good education, not least because it taught me a social responsibility, by not pandering to the disruptive, de-motivated, few. Real life skills like money and first aid and democracy would have been handy though, I agree.

I guess I was wondering why the state sector can't just be more like the private sector, and I suppose it's because the state sector gets lumbered with the "difficult" ones?

Z said...

I don't think that the 15 minute lesson thing is the point, certainly not one to get fixated on - it's that there's a debate, an invitation to educationalists to come up with constructive ideas that build on what's good, not (at last, not) to throw away everything for the sake of innovation.

Also, this is not aimed at pandering to disaffected kids. The aim would be to encourage and enthuse all of them. I think it's a great pity that education has been going down an ever-narrowing path for the last 15 or so years, teaching purely to pass exams, stultifying curiosity and enthusiasm because it doesn't accord with the National Curriculum.

I would have loved to have more opportunities than those offered by my private convent school, old-fashioned educationally in a bad way (although I won't fault their values, there was much that was good there) and I'd love for clever, academically curious children to be stretched more than many of them are.

And if you do have disaffected kids, wouldn't it be better to engage them in their education, so that they do not grow up to be disaffected adults? When you look at many family backgrounds, school has the potential to give them their best chance in life.

Dandelion said...

Yes I know you're right. Especially wrt the last 15 years.

I think I may be suffering a touch of the prodigal son complex. You know, I made effort to be good and socially conscious and learn to spell and so on, and no-one bent over backwards to care about my feelings or to make school be a pleasant engaging thing for me. I'd have been ruder and more rowdy and stabbed a few teachers if I'd known it would get me good things. I could have been somebody, you know?

Z said...

Yeah, I know, I'm with the brother. The dutiful one who didn't blow his inheritance, who stayed home and worked on the farm and who was completely ignored.

If ever, and this is not very likely, I'm asked to give the speech at Speech Day, I'll put in a word for the ones who come second and third. Who keep their heads down, get on with the work and do well without wanting to be all thrusting and win the prizes. Like you and me.

Wendz said...

Oh dear - this is all so interesting but I can't do it justice. I shall just say that you are on my wave length Z and I hope things will start to change the way you envisage it.

Now, after that uninspiring comment, I shall slink off the titter at Go Fug Yourself.

Wendz said...

bugger - i meant slink off to titter at.

Z said...

I know darling, I'm scary when I get intense.

Why is it that we make so many typos in comments? The instant we press 'publish' we see them, why on earth not the instant before?

The moment I've potted the last batch of marmalade, I'm off to check on the Fug Girls too! About half an hour from now.

hey bartender said...

This is really fascinating. The school I attended (public, middle-to-lower-middle class) in the 80's had programs that taught practical skills. Many of the kids I went to school with were sent out to another school a couple days a week to learn how to fix cars. They showed an interest in and an aptitude for the subject, and were encouraged. Great. Many of my classmates who did not read or write as well as I did are probably making a lot more money than I am now. I think that everyone needs at least a minimal understanding of math, reading, and science, but not everyone is going to go to college, and not everyone should. Of course, they stopped the program shortly after I graduated...

No child left behind, indeed.

Blue Witch said...

"Disaffected students can do work placements for part of the week; an 'alternative curriculum' that keeps them out of school some of the time, which can be, frankly, a benefit for everyone, but which is useful and does not simply lose them from education altogether."

While I don't disagree with anything you've said, I'd just like to point out that these kinds of reduced timetable programmes are still unofficial and, technically, illegal (see
section 7 Education Act 1996).

Blue Witch said...

There is a move within my profession at present to get the DfES to change the status of this practice that has been going on for... oh... longer than the 23 years I've been involved in it.

Personally, I think it needs to be part of a much wider review of education in this country, but, until we get a sensible government again, it's not going to happen. Probably never, then...

Z said...

Yes, BW, it's a complete fudge. I certainly know of cases where it has been used as an alternative to permanent exclusion and as a means of getting a pupil out of the classroom, sometimes for the protection of other pupils. They are done with the full knowledge of the Local Authority which was very alarmed by the increasing number of exclusions and there's an awful lot of juggling going on.

There are new Pupil Referral Units being set up too and a Vocational Centre within our catchment area for kids for whom full-time traditional schooling isn't going to work.

Sensible government. Darling, that would be fairyland, wouldn't it?