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Government nudges schools and academies to give more prominence to character education

31 Dec

On 5 November 2019, the government published a new set of benchmarks for schools and academies to rate how well they are doing to promote character education.  The guidance urges governors and headteachers develop, promote and assess pupils’ character within their normal curriculum.  They are also asked to encourage pupils to volunteer.   This mirrors the benchmarks that the former Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, set out for careers education Gatsby Foundation.  However, character education (unlike careers) is not statutory.

Ian Bauckham, chief executive of the Tenax School Trust, led an advisory group, which included representatives from other schools and academies, the unions and the voluntary sector, in the spring and summer of 2019 to create the benchmarks.

In the halcyon days, we would have described character education as the key component of the hidden curriculum, which is now being given a more prominent thrust.   In developing character education, a school/academy needs to reflect on six overarching aspects, which are as follows.

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Supporting children in care and all young people to handle social media

31 Dec

Parents and teachers face several challenging when bringing up young people.  Two groups of young people stand out.  The first is children in care.  The second relates to young people who are in danger of being addicted to social media.

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Young People Say the Funniest Things

31 Dec

Teachers regularly have unusual exchanges and encounters with their pupils, a key reason why they become who and what they are professionally.  Below are some pithy descriptions of these encounters. 

(1)        Teacher: Why can’t freshwater fish live in salt water?  Student: The salt would give them high blood pressure.

(2)        Teacher: Mira went to the library at 5:15 and left at 6:45. How long was Mira at the library? Student: Not long.

(3)        Teacher: What do we call a group of stars that makes an imaginary picture in the sky? Student: A consternation.

(4)        The headteacher was walking through the hallways at his middle school, when he saw a new substitute teacher standing outside his classroom with his forehead against a locker. He heard him mutter, “How did you get yourself into this?”

Knowing he was assigned to a difficult class, the headteacher tried to offer moral support. “Are you okay?” he asked. “Can I help?”

He lifted his head and replied, “I’ll be fine as soon as I get this kid out of his locker.”

(5)        Student: I don’t understand why my grade was so low. How did I do on my research paper?  Teacher: Actually, you didn’t turn in a research paper. You turned in a random assemblage of sentences. In fact, the sentences you apparently kidnapped in the dead of night and forced into this violent and arbitrary plan of yours clearly seemed to be placed on the pages against their will. Reading your paper was like watching unfamiliar, uncomfortable people interacting at a cocktail party that no one wanted to attend in the first place. You didn’t submit a research paper. You submitted a hostage situation.

(6)        In an exam, a student once wrote: “Drake circumcised the globe.”

(7)        Teacher:         What is the capital of England

Pupil:               E

Is children’s welfare being undermined by the twin obsessions of academic success and social media?

18 Apr

I        Children’s Well-Being

There was a time not so long ago when young people, particularly boys of an ethnic group, hated to be told that they had mental health problems.  School leaders and teachers fuelled this loathing when they (the youngsters) behaved badly with remarks such as: “You are crazy and mad!”

The pendulum has now swung the other way.  It is now quite “cool” for a young person to aver that s/he has mental difficulties.  And it is not just the “snowflake” generation.

This apocryphal story epitomises this splendidly.  One man, in a conversation with his friend, said: “My health is being ruined because of worry.”

“What are you worrying about?” asked his friend.

“I am worrying about my health!” came the riposte.

Notwithstanding, research reveals that mental ill-health is on the rise.   People (especially in the West) live longer than ever and cures have been found for an increasing number of maladies.  But the Cinderella of the Health Service is mental health. It is, therefore, unsurprising that children’s suicide rates are up 67% since 2010.  A quarter of those referred for help were denied treatment. Despite the need, according to the Care Quality Commission, 23% of child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) were rated “inadequate” or “required improvement”.

Of all the causes of young people’s mental ill-health two stand out.

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Teach children to fail well and fast

17 Aug

Summer is a time of tests and examinations and autumn of league tables.  Throughout the year we have inspections.  All three have one thing in common.   Achievement.   God help children if they fail and thus threaten their schools/academies with a lower rank on the national league table.  God help schools/academies if they fail their Ofsted inspections.   The education culture in our country appears to be obsessed with success and terrified of failure.   I question whether this is the culture we should be promoting.

Education is sometimes compared to a three-legged stool.  The first leg constitutes the disciplines/subjects that are taught, often, discretely, subjects such as mathematics, history, geography and music.  The second leg is each of the cross-curricular themes that help develop children in a rounded manner – such as expression/language and the ability to think.   The third leg is the way education is promoted, e.g. how teachers teach (e.g. telling and teamwork) and enabling children to learn (e.g. discovery, imitation and observation).  The late Professor Ted Wragg of Exeter University ascribed a different metaphor to this calling it the cuboid curriculum.

But there is a fourth leg (going by my analogy) or dimension (going by Professor Wragg’s one) – i.e. the qualities that we wish to promote within our children, a key one being resilience.   Intrinsic within resilience is managing and coping with failure.   Because every school/academy wishes to be at the top of its league table, governors, headteachers and staff do everything it takes to succeed.  This desire is both, intrinsically and extrinsically, passed on to the pupils.   And when they fail, their skies come tumbling down on them – as it did with chicken-licken in the toddler’s story.

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New Opportunity Fund to boost provision for bright, disadvantaged children

17 Aug

It is now official.  Bright children from disadvantaged backgrounds are underachieving.  Some time ago, the Sutton Trust were banging the drum for them.  Rebecca Allen, Director of Datalab who carried out the research for the Trust, revealed that a much higher proportion of children on free school meals or from disadvantaged backgrounds were unable to go on from primary SATs to secondary GCSEs and achieve similar results – even for those in the highest 10% of results at state primary school level in England.

The Social Mobility Commission had pointed out in the past that disadvantaged children of all ages underperform.   Allen’s research specifically compared the results of most able disadvantaged children at the primary stage with their later results in GCSEs.   She discovered that one of three boys eligible for free school meals – where households earned £16,000 or less annually or on benefits – who attained top marks at the end of Key Stage2 failed to feature among the top 25% of those at GCSE level.   Meanwhile, a quarter of disadvantaged girls who attained top Key Stage 2 results, failed to feature in the highest quarter of GCSE grades.

Allen wondered: “The highly able Pupil Premium children had the school and home support to do really well at primary school, so why do things go so wrong for some of them at secondary school?

“Nobody’s looked at how this happens; what sort of qualifications highly able Pupil Premium children take, or where this missing talent is in the country. Obviously, it is in areas that are underperforming generally, but there are also areas with good schools that nevertheless do poorly for highly able children.”

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Proposal to add VAT to private school fees – a knee-jerk notion

18 Apr

Two politicians at the opposite ends of the spectrum of thinking – Michael Gove, former Education Secretary, and Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party –  have come together on a plan to “soak the rich”.

Writing in The Times (Put VAT on school fees and soak the rich) on 24 February 2017 Gove pointed to “group of highly successful enterprises that is pretty much insulated from the present row about business rates” – private schools – because they are charities.  Because private schools are VAT-exempt, writes Gove, “the wealthiest in this country” are able “to buy a prestige service that secures their children a permanent, positional edge in society at an effective 20% discount”.

Turning to the knotty issue of the number of scholarships and bursaries these schools provide, he criticises (with a rhetorical question) the small number of students given educational opportunities from depressed areas of the country such as Knowsley, Sunderland, Merthyr Tydfil and Blyth Valley.

Two months later, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s leader, and the Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, came up with a not dissimilar proposal to charge parents VAT on the fees they pay to private schools, with a view to using the income to offer free meals to all children in primary schools.

Rayner told the BBC: “There are many private businesses that are paying VAT that are struggling.  I don’t see why the state school system should subsidise the private sector.”

She added: “The evidence from the National Centre for Social Research (NCSR) and the IFS (the Institute of Fiscal Studies) have both been quite clear that actually providing universal school meals at primary level will raise attainment.”

She was backed by Labour’s headquarters which claimed that research had shown that access to free school meals improved educational attainment by two months.

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