We’ve written about this before, and a recent Twitter conversation leads us now to reiterate some thoughts on Personal, Social, Health Education (PSHE), as well as reiterate our commitment to enabling young people to be numerate, literate and independently able to learn about our ever-changing world through advanced computer technology.
First and foremost, when we talk about PSHE, we are not talking about a curriculum area. We are talking about a commitment to wellbeing; a holistic wellbeing whereby every teacher and every adult in a school assumes a degree of responsibility for developing wellbeing and the six intelligences – intellect, instinct, intrapersonal, social, physical and spiritual intelligence. Some might call this personal and social development. We think it’s deeper than this since the development of the intellect, the instincts, the physical and the spiritual (or metaphysical) is an integral part of wellbeing that goes beyond knowing yourself, looking after yourself and understanding the importance of positive relationships and the ability to empathise.
Whilst some of these areas can be developed in the dedicated curriculum time of a PSHE lesson or tutor time, this is never going to be enough. What we need is a holistic approach to PSHE. It needs to be embedded in the shared values of the school to support healthy and virtuous living. PSHE and wellbeing need to be an integral part of learning. It needs to be understood by all in school. This is about an education about life, for life.
As someone on Twitter quite rightly pointed out, this isn’t a dichotomy between “attainment” and personal development. The two should go hand in hand, and if we concentrated a little more on the development of PSHE, we might see more pupils choosing to “achieve” rather than being driven to results through a harsh, exploitative regime of booster classes and teaching to the test. As another commenter on Twitter said, “GCSEs will open doors but it’s the young person’s confidence, resilience and wellbeing that takes them forward”. Thank you @JeniHooper.
Our problem is that a commitment to the holistic development of the child to “take them forward” has been strangled to the point of annihilation by the “standards agenda”, and we’ve lost sight of what we can and should be doing for the development of the whole child. Furthermore, we are completely ignoring the needs of young people and their expressed desire to learn more than just the ‘facts’ that will bring them academic success.
We must NOW readdress this imbalance through a dedicated commitment to a new learning revolution, a reinvention of education, a new model of education. Call it what you will, but we can’t stand by and see yet another generation of children and young people cheated out of their chance to be educated properly, creatively, holistically, and through that become enabled to discover their true interests, strengths and weaknesses, and eventually find their ‘element’.
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Sadly, there is a very pertinent case in the news this week that in some ways illustrates just how far we have taken our eyes off the whole point of a holistic education for our young people.
Yesterday’s news media reported the devastatingly tragic story of Daniel Pelka, who was brutally abused and murdered by his mother and her partner. This is almost too distressing to discuss but there are some important issues that must be reported on and, as yet, this hasn’t happened.
Firstly, we have to say that we are not completely aware of the specific circumstances of the social care provision for this family, or for the type of education that the school that Daniel attended provided – other than what we know through the media. We’re mindful too of the lasting trauma that this case has placed on children, young people, parents, carers and adults working in the school. We are not here to criticise individuals or particular institutions but we are here to draw attention to a system that has failed this young victim and may well do the same to others.
During the Baby Peter case, (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11621391) we heard a comment from a Director of Children’s Services who said that the problem with this case was that the social workers didn’t look up from their paperwork in order to see what was staring them in the face – an abused and neglected baby.
Years later, nothing has changed.
The difference between the Baby Peter case and the horrific tale of Daniel Pelka is that this young boy was attending school. So one has to ask the question, how did this happen? Why didn’t anyone in the school notice the devastating issues that this young boy was facing? Why didn’t they do anything?
As we said, we don’t know the school and are only left with media snippets – of a starving child who found and ate pancakes in a playground, of the adults who noticed bruises but put them down to the fact that the child was underweight and therefore more likely to bruise, of the fact that the mother concocted an elaborate story about eating disorders which the teachers and managers in the school felt was compelling and understandable. It all sounds very damning and there is a certain amount of incredulity that these signs were not noticed and acted upon.
But then we also have to consider the circumstances in which this school found itself.
With the briefest of internet searches, we find that the school was placed in special measures in March 2010. The school wasn’t meeting its “floor targets”. The Ofsted inspection said that the school needed to;
- Accelerate rates of progress and raise attainment in English and Mathematics
- Raise expectations of all pupils
- Create a sense of urgency to raise attainment
- Improve the quality of teaching
- Develop leadership expertise throughout the school
(Any mention of personal development? What exactly does Ofsted mean by “expectations”? One suspects it’s all about academic attainment.)
Subsequent Section 8 reports suggest that by September 2010, the school, with significant support from the local authority, was improving. By the time of the next inspection in March 2011, it was deemed that the school no longer required special measures but there was still the issue of “underachieving” children that needed to be addressed.
By 2013 Ofsted reported that the school was “good”, despite the fact that their floor targets still weren’t met. The reason for the school being categorised as “good” were,
- Good progress at reception age
- Teachers know pupils and plan practical and imaginative lessons
- Good systems for tracking pupil attainment
- Relationships between staff and pupils are good
- Pupils feel safe
- School leaders expect the best
Our point is that this sort of improvement doesn’t happen without a considerable effort on behalf of the staff, and with the threat of special measures or imposed academy status, the focus must have been wholly on improving the teaching (nb not learning) and raising standards in order to get them out of the sticky and revolting condemnation of a “special measures” label.
Like the social workers in the Baby P case, the teachers were probably up to their necks in paperwork and targets, completely committed to raising attainment. But the point is, whilst this was happening, a child was walking about the school unable to tell a single person what was happening to him. A young child whose weight had fallen below two stones was seen by adults on a daily basis and presumably the main consideration for this child was whether he could attain Level 2 by the time he was 7!
This isn’t just an indictment on the school. It’s an indictment on a system that prevents us from seeing the child – seeing each and every child – as an individual human being, with individual needs, individual abilities, individual interests and individual problems. Ofsted inspectors have been trained to look at attainment, not education, and they certainly haven’t been trained to look qualitatively at the other vital aspects of education that go beyond teaching for academic attainment.
In the same report, it said that “pupils understand the risks associated with alcohol, smoking and the internet, including what to do if they think they are the victims of cyber-bullying” and “The school’s emphasis on spiritual, moral, social and cultural development has successfully promoted the values of tolerance and respect.”
Really? Did any of this help Daniel Pelka? What exactly did he learn about tolerance? That he should silently suffer and hope that it blew over? Should he “respect” his mother and her abusive tendencies? Did he really understand the risks of drug abuse or did he merely suffer from the side effects of them? Precisely what criteria are Ofsted inspectors using to make such glib statements about other areas of education when their sole purpose is to look for signs of improvement and sustainability of the fact factory?
The answer isn’t to disregard the need to educate children to be literate and numerate, but this case once more indicates our need to consider our children as individuals who need support in learning, in developing their thoughts, their voice, their ideas, their values, their beliefs, their understanding, their creativity, and that there are some things in life that can’t be measured but are nonetheless hugely important.
According to Radio 4 yesterday, there are 50-70 children murdered by their parents or carers in the UK each year. There are hundreds more who suffer a level of abuse that we can’t even begin to imagine. There are thousands more who are neglected and thousands more again who are not engaged in the current education system because it’s irrelevant and meaningless to them. There are thousands more who effectively work through this education system but feel severely let down by their inability to break free and engage in the type of learning that is meaningful to them. There are many, many children who don’t know how to speak about the troubles in their lives, and we continue to ignore their needs. Some of these tragic and unfortunate children come to the attention of support agencies and charities like Kids Company, but the vast majority do not.
We need to reinvent education, and yes, we need to put PSHE, wellbeing and the development of all of the intelligences at the forefront of the educational debate. And we need to do this now, without anyone having the stupidity and audacity to say that this should in some way be of secondary importance and value to the acquisition of GCSE certificates – which even the CBI has deemed to be meaningless compared with the personal and social attributes of a young person.