Our previous post invited readers to “consider this week’s UK news and commentary about the need to tweak exam results to allow for underachievement amongst summer-born children . . . and then consider the need for a worldwide revolution in the way that education as a whole is perceived and organised. They’re already getting it in places like Finland, Singapore and China. When will the rest of us?”
In other posts we’ve said there’s no point in “rearranging the deckchairs” in a flawed education system. We need to reinvent education, looking at the whole purpose of education, especially when we consider the ongoing revolution in information technology and the access to learning that is available independent of schooling in the 21st Century.
We were intending to make some comments about the issue of summer-born children but as with so many educational concerns, this is not the real problem.
Let’s illustrate this point with a brief anecdote.
In the local authority where I lived as a child, there was a policy of admitting children into school at the start of the term they turned five. This meant that a child born in the summer had two terms less teaching and learning than the September-born in their cohort. Similar systems continue to this day, despite the fact that we’ve understood for decades that summer born children are disadvantaged by this system, given that tests and exams are taken at the same time by the entire cohort.
My own father was reprimanded in 1971 for being foolish enough to have a child in April. The headteacher of my infant school said to him, “Being a headmaster, I would have thought you would have known better than to have a baby at that time of year.” I, on the other hand, was congratulated for having the foresight to produce both of my children during the autumn term!
Maybe I would have benefited from having my examination results recalibrated to allow for the month of my birth, but would this really be fair? I may have started school after my fifth birthday in the summer of ’71 but I’d been fortunate enough to have a solid foundation of learning within my own home for years prior to entering school. I benefited from the opportunities afforded to me from parents who had a strong philosophy of education and learning which enabled me to teach myself to read at the age of three. We visited museums the length and breadth of the country during our various holidays. Many of the children who started school on the same day as me didn’t have such opportunities.
So should we start recalibrating examination results to take account of gender, race, poverty, class and income? When much of the current evidence for underachievement in schools is directly related to the economic background of the child’s family, then surely this ought to be the first point of tweaking examination results.
Or alternatively, perhaps we should consider whether our current education system is actually fit for purpose and whether those examinations that drive our policies on education are, in themselves, deeply flawed.
The exam results of summer-born children are an issue. Many children born in the summer months are disadvantaged by the fact that they’ve not had the same amount of schooling as their autumn-born peers, but that is because of the inflexibility of the system.
There’s also the whole question of “readiness for learning”. Will every child be “ready” for the standards driven approach to education? What do we mean by learning? Are we all to learn exactly the same way, for the same purpose, without any regard for individual interests and abilities?
Despite there being a disproportionately higher number of summer born children on many Special Needs registers, they don’t have “delayed learning”. They just haven’t had the same amount of formal learning to enable them to be accommodated into the fixed mode of testing that we inflict upon our children at a ridiculously early age. It’s the system that has “delayed learning” – delayed to the point where the understanding of child development and the acceptance of individualism is still not accommodated for within our education system.
Teaching and learning in many Early Years and Foundation stage classes should be observed by teachers from all phases. Learning through play, personalised learning and keen observational skills from nursery practitioners, which are used to guide and support activities for the individual child, are now common practice. Nursery teachers and their supporting adults have skills that teachers in other phases would do well to regard – focused on being an enabler and a facilitator as well as a deliverer of “facts”. We shouldn’t be fooled by the negative press that would have us believe that children walk into the nursery each day for a free-for-all session of doing precisely what they like. That’s not the case. The activities, the teaching, the “free play” are all carefully structured to develop the whole child in their personal, social, academic, spiritual, moral and cultural development.
This is what we should be offering to all children throughout their school life.
As Sir Ken Robinson says in his most recent “Ted Talks” video, education is a “human system” not a commodity driven system. We are not dealing with a process that results in an end “product”. These are human beings. No child is the same and yet we provide them with an education system that tries to homogenise us all to the same standards and the same expectations, irrespective of our gender, sex, ability and indeed whether we were born in November or July.
In education we are in the business of working with human beings, and yet we don’t personalise their learning experience to enable them to flourish to their greatest potential.
(More on Sir Ken Robinson’s talk in future posts)
Let’s not be sidetracked by this issue of summer-born children. It is an issue, and it’s one that would be remedied if we continued from Foundation stage learning throughout a child’s schooling with an acknowledgement that we are all individuals with individual styles, individual needs and abilities, and that all children are entitled to an education system that meets their needs – rather than the inappropriate demands of those who fixate on standardised examination successes.