There’s been a call for an educational revolution.
Perhaps Russell Brand, amongst others, might join the ranks of thinkers and professionals who believe that a revolution in education is needed in this country, and beyond. We need to see some real change happening for the benefit of our children and young people.
What are we doing to our children with our current educational system?
Here are a few examples, real examples of incidents that have taken place over the last few weeks.
1. A six year old child, doing very well academically and socially in school, had forgotten (or perhaps refused) to put his name at the top of a piece of work. His punishment for this was to miss his playtime. Where was he sent? To the school’s “detention room”! Please note this child was 6 years old, not in Year 6 or 16 years old: 6 years old.
No doubt there were other disobedient children in this room with him, who had probably forgotten to tie their shoelaces or had accidentally crossed out a word when they should have put brackets round the error.
There’s a huge difference between maintaining order and insisting on compliance – for the sake of what? Of course we want our children and young people to learn that sometimes in life we have to adhere to things that may not be to our liking but sending a child to detention or even having a detention room in a primary school seems somewhat extreme.
2. Another child, this time seven years old, had dutifully written his learning objective at the top of the page and had proceeded to write, to the best of his ability, the response to the question to prove that he had indeed understood what he was supposed to learn. He’d made a mistake when writing the learning objective. So what did the teacher do? She tore the piece of work out of his book.
The child returned home in tears, utterly dejected, and explained to his mother that he’d done something wrong in his work and that the teacher had “ripped his work up”. Infuriated, the mother in question asked the teacher about the incident, whereupon it was explained that it wasn’t quite that bad. The teacher had gently suggested that he start again as his book, up to this point, was immaculate and she didn’t want him to feel disappointed with this particular piece of work.
Regardless of her motives, the child in question was mortified that he’d got something wrong and further mortified that his work was deemed worthless enough to remove it in quite an abrupt way. He was left with a feeling of hopelessness that was hardly beneficial or conducive to him attempting such a piece of work again.
3. A teacher of Year 3 was writing on a social network site about her pupils’ inability to write a date, learning objective and title for a piece of writing. This was what every child and every teacher in the school had been asked to do. She bemoaned the fact that many of the children had spent so long writing the learning objective down that they hadn’t actually managed to write about what they had learned. Therefore, she had no real evidence for learning.
Of course, she did have evidence. It was in her head. It was what she observed from the lesson and the pupil’s response to her teaching. She could have written these observations down as well. What she didn’t have was complete adherence to a regimented process of recording, and she panicked. What on earth would she do if Ofsted walked in the next day? How could she prove what she had been teaching?
This may be controversial, but for some children, writing the learning objective at the top of a page is merely an exercise in handwriting. For some children, copying a sentence from a board is a loathsome and laborious task. It means very little to them, it doesn’t reiterate the learning outcome and it takes up so much energy that they have little time or space for anything else, i.e. doing the very thing that would “evidence” the learning outcome.
4. A sixteen year old student had recently received her GCSE examination results. She had 4 A*s, 6 As and a couple of B grades. She was disappointed. In fact she was disappointed to the point of being embarrassed and concerned about whether the school would let her do the A-levels that she wanted to do.
What transpired is that the school did encourage her to consider what was the best course of action and offered her viable alternatives to the traditional A-Levels that she wanted to take. Willfully, she explained that she wanted to take biology A-Level but like so many schools, this particular one said that in order to take biology, she also had to take chemistry – a subject that she didn’t particularly enjoy. She’d always been certain about what she wanted to do as a career, and she knew that she needed a biology A-Level to do so. So she set about her new course with gusto and was wholly motivated……… until she realised that she really hated chemistry.
Subsequently, she’s dropped both the sciences and decided to take two new A-Levels instead, thus potentially forcing her to reconsider her lifetime idea of what she wanted as a career.
To add to these few small anecdotes, the Daily Telegraph published an article this week with the headline, “Less intelligent pupils barred from taking history GCSEs”.
The report said that a survey by the Historical Association had found that pupils were being deterred from taking history because of the new stringent reporting of the EBacc. If the less able failed to reach a decent grade it would bring schools’ overall grade down.
Whilst this has been refuted by the Department for Education, we know, through other anecdotes and conversations that this is indeed happening, and it’s not just restricted to the study of history.
So, in each of these cases, where is the child being placed? At the heart of learning or as a commodity in the education scoring game?
Who considered the welfare of the six year old boy who wasn’t allowed to play because of some pedantic ritual? Was the teacher, who was so concerned about the messy state of the second child’s book, really thinking about the effect of tearing his work up? Was she thinking of him or was she thinking of herself and how such a piece of writing, without the appropriate learning objective, would be seen by others who were observing her work? Had the teacher who was moaning about her children’s inability to write a learning objective really considering the worth of such a task? Had she not thought of an alternative to recording the learning objective in another book that she wrote, thereby enabling the children to actually get on with the real task of learning? Was the teacher who insisted that the sixteen year old took chemistry A-Level really considering the needs of that young woman? Were they all just doing what has been drummed into them by an intransigent system of conformity?
In a recent programme that can be seen on the Huffington Post website, Medhi Hasan interviewed Russell Brand about what he actually meant by his call for revolution. Brand responded that he wasn’t suggesting all-out anarchy, and he certainly wasn’t suggesting violence. What he was suggesting was that we should consider acts of non-compliance, and that this mass defiance might actually cause some shockwaves for policy makers to reconsider their inept and irresponsible actions.
As we said at the beginning of this post, maybe Russell Brand might like to consider supporting a “non-compliance” to league tables and SATs. Maybe he would approve of teachers coming together and saying, “enough is enough”. We want our children to learn. We want them to know what they are learning and why they are learning it, but that doesn’t mean we have to write every single learning objective on every piece of writing that a child does.
Let’s be non-compliant – and put the needs of children above and beyond the need to look good on league tables. It’s common sense isn’t it? How can it be right for a child to have a clear view about which subjects they want to study, only to be thwarted by the system or a decision that they might not be good enough to get an A or an A*?
We need to get right back to the aims of education. What are we actually aiming to achieve? What do we want for our children and young people? What real freedoms to do we want as a profession to enable us to teach and foster a love of learning in each and every child according to their will and their ability? Do we want children to merely learn facts or to learn about themselves and society? Do we want them to be able to communicate, cooperate, become excited by learning?
Answering these questions honestly, might give us an idea as to what we hope to achieve, and in silent and slow revolution, we may start making a difference to the offering of education that we give to our children and young people.
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