|Not sure how he’s going to master the pen!|
The children were asked what would make a perfect school and I thought how different a school could be depending on who was asked.
If I was a child my perfect school would be one where all my mates were. I’d be allowed to play and chat whenever I wanted to. There would be no homework and the lessons would be interesting. I would like to be top in my class at everything but if I couldn’t be I wouldn’t want to be laughed at. I also wouldn’t want my teacher to shout or sneer at me. I’d like a decent lunchtime with nice food and then enough time to play. I’d like my school to be nearby so I didn’t have to spend all my time on buses. I’d like longer summer holidays and fewer exams. As I get older I’d like the teachers to notice and stop treating me like a baby and appreciate that my hormones are absolutely out of control, as is my ability to be awake at 9.00 a.m. Finally, when I pass all my exams I want people to say “well done” not “exams are easier these days”
If I was a teacher my ideal school would be one where I was valued. My boss would support me and back me up as would my staff. I would be well paid to reflect how important what I do is and I wouldn’t be mocked for always being “on holiday”. When I entered a classroom it would be great if there was silence, it would be lovely to have a class of students ready to learn. It would also be nice to know if my students could speak English or if they had been moved care homes the night before. It would be nice not be called a “stupid b**ch,” it would be even nicer that, if the name calling was reported, that disciplinary action might take place.
I’d really love to be able to teach a subject the way that I knew worked. I’m sure I would get very fed up at having to take on a new teaching style every two years to reflect a new government policy. It would also be great if the examination system could just stay the same. I’d also not like to be judged by double standards, if my pupils fail an exam that’s my fault but if they pass an exam then the system’s too easy.
If I was a parent I would like my child to leave school believing that they could rule the world if they wanted to. I would want them to look back at school as a happy and enjoyable time; I would also want them to have learnt useful and interesting things. It seems that it’s too much to ask but if they have a cookery lesson I would like them to learn how to cook rather than how to assemble a salad and design a wrapper for a pasty. I wouldn’t want my child to be so stressed by the idea of failing to get 30 A* GCSEs that they can’t sleep night after night. I wouldn’t want my child to see drugs in their school and teachers being sworn at
I would want them to be safe from intimidation from other pupils and I would not want my child to come home to tell me how much their teacher shouts at the whole class the whole time. I’d like them to do more games and sports and more homework. I’d like the school to keep in touch with me and let me know how my child was doing. I’d also want the school to have greater power to dismiss bad teachers before they ruined my child’s brief stay at school.
The one thing in common would be that whoever I was, teacher, child or parent I would want to be treated with respect and I would behave accordingly.
I was on St Austell Bay Radio on Tuesday and had great fun, much less scary than I thought it was going to be but then I hadn’t anticipated DJs on pogo boots, school kids and chocolate rolls.
I was in to talk about books for children which is trickier than you’d think. Too many children are put off reading at an early age because reading is made to be competitive due to the progressive reading schemes. The minute you make something competitive you have losers and there will be some children left behind. Children who get left behind end up disliking the activity.
First of all reading is a functional skill which takes us a while to get, for some of us it takes longer than others and the way we teach reading in this country means that for some children they will feel like failures as they fall behind their friends on the book schemes. If a child hasn’t completely learnt to loathe books by the time they are functionally literate then the next hurdle is finding something they enjoy. There’s a whole world of books out there and yet we seem to limit what kids can read to a narrow range of fictional titles.
We have an obsession with age specific reading (more pressure) and ditch picture books at the first opportunity because we think children are too old for them. I love Anthony Browne and Asterix and my childhood days are way behind me! If a child asks you to remove their picture books, box them up and “rediscover” them again a year later. They will leap on them with such enthusiasm. Picture books are fabulous, you can tell your own stories, there’s different stuff for your brain to do, analysing images rather than processing text. Children should never be made to feel that picture books are for babies.
And it’s not just picture books that get dismissed. Why isn’t the Guinness Book of Records an acceptable reading book? Men tend to prefer non-fiction so maybe boys would prefer to read non fiction as well? What about comics and graphic novels, they’re telling stories, why aren’t they considered acceptable?
All that we are left with is fiction but even then, that gets whittled down. We don’t all like Fantasy so why on earth do we assume that all 11 year olds will love Harry Potter? Just because you liked Jane Austen as a girl why assume that your daughter will? And just because someone has decreed that Dickens is a classic it doesn’t mean that they are right. Reading is about freedom, not coercion.
Having gone through all that, it’s a wonder that anyone enjoys reading. There should be no pressure to read the popular title, or the approved title, or the hard book, or three books a week or to finish a book once you’ve started it. Just let kids pick up and put down books all day long, let them have a huge range of titles, don’t test them on them and don’t encourage them to read a certain amount. Just let them be and don’t worry; if they’re relaxed about reading and have access to books then one day something will click.
Is there anything more insidious than a league table? The glory of being at the top, the shame of being at the bottom. Those at the top will happily declare it’s a fair system and clear for all to see; those at the bottom will try to explain why their circumstances skew the figures. League tables never seemed to matter unless of course you were of a sporting persuasion but over the last decade league tables have sprung up everywhere. Who has the best council, best hospital and best school? At least in a football match the league table made sense; scored goals, go to the top, failed to stop goals, go to the bottom. But league tables for schools? How can you judge how one school is better than another?
At first it was simply done on who got the most children passing the most amount of exams. Already widely flawed and open to interpretation. Then they added a “Value Added” column this indicated how much progress a child had made from their previous school. Unbelievably nebulous. Now they’ve decided that the initial measure of how many exams they were passing failed to show the right sort of passes, so they’ve brought in something called the English Baccalaureate.
The EB is achieved if a pupil passes 6 subjects with an A* – C grade, these 6 subjects must be English, Maths, 2 sciences, a language and Geography or History. Previous exam grades had been 5 passes A*-C in Maths and English and any three others. These three others could include ICT, Child Care, Health and Social Care.
So what has been the effect of this new column? Well it seems that schools that had a pass rate of 50% now have a pass rate of 18% suggesting that the majority of schools and pupils are taking more of the modern subjects. Some critics are up in arms about this apparent slump in attainment, some seem to be suggesting rather quietly than these modern subjects are easier than the standard history or chemistry but I don’t agree. All exams and syllabuses are set to the same standard, to suggest otherwise denigrates the efforts of pupils and teachers to get students to pass. Maybe more children take and pass child care than chemistry because it seems more relevant and easier to get a handle on? If I had been offered photography or physics at school it would have been no contest.
But what is the long term cost to our society? Shouldn’t we be educating our future generations in as broad a spectrum as possible before they start to settle into their career subjects? A population that hasn’t studied history is doomed to repeat past mistakes, knowledge of geography helps people to understand the world around them; the same is true of science, by knowing how things work helps people to look at issues and problems with greater clarity. A foreign language helps to broaden the horizon and consider other cultures as well as our own. I have no issue with the modern subjects but I believe the traditional ones give us a population that is more roundly educated about their heritage, the community they live in and the world around them. After 16 they can then continue down an academic path or a practical one but on either path they will be more roundly educated.
Well it’s time for things to go bump in the night again. I love this festival and we always made a big thing of it when we were little. Coming from a Catholic background we were far more in touch with the concept of Satan and all his minions coming out for the night until the midnight bell rang summoning all the souls back below and coming from an Irish family the witches and little folk were also running amok. When I was little Mum took us to see Disney’s Fantasia and they played Night on a Bare Mountain. Wow – there was my Hallowe’en up on the silver screen exactly as I imagined it every year, it was thrilling and terrifying at the same time.
Beyond all the religious and historical significance which of course stretch back past Christianity to Samhain there was also the fun side of things; nothing was so thrilling as walking down a long dark unlit tree lined drive to knock on a strangers door and call trick or treat. Then home to eat a plate of fried brains and human guts. Great fun. There are those who claim that trick or treat is a modern Americanism, not a bit of it. It’s a very old European tradition way back into the 14th century and probably before. After all life was truly scary back then, so sometimes it was nice to make fun of it and of course we were all far more religious back then as well as being more in tune with the changing seasons.
It bothers me to see children and teens abusing it by being rude or intimidating but it bothers me just as much when adults are rude and aggressive to those who call at the door. It’s an opportunity for communities and neighbours and different generations to all meet each other on a fun occasion. One of the mothers on my road goes and “prebooks” all her childrens visits, she asks if the neighbours are happy to be called on and leaves treats for them to hand to her children when they knock on the door. How thoughtful is that?
And it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Last year our eldest son went off to an arranged party leaving a disgruntled little brother behind. So armed with only a torch the rest of us got into the car and drove to the Kings Wood. Thankfully it’s a walk we do often so despite the dark we didn’t get lost. It was really good fun, strange noises would rustle in the dark, odd animal cries called out through the dark, every so often Steve would disappear with a scream as something gruesome dragged him off the path and from time to time our torch would “fail” and we’d have to walk in bible black darkness. It was the perfect sort of terror, lots of giggles, some nervous, some screams and then hot chocolate and marshmallows when we got home.
This year we’re going to go to the scream and skate at Eden but I bet we manage to fit in another night time fright walk, well we have to the eldest insists!
I’m currently reading Pillars of Earth by Ken Follett and it’s marvellous and I’ve just discovered that Channel 4 are about to turn it into a series. Talk about coincidence, but I won’t watch it, it will spoil the characters in my head. I put a link to Night on Bare Mountain on the blog so you may be transported to a night of terror and demons. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Txo06c1k9sk&feature=fvsr Fabulous stuff
There are days when I can’t get a handle on this column at all. No matter what I want to say I can’t seem to make it come out right or make sense of it, this week’s topic is one that has been sloshing around in my head for a few weeks now and I couldn’t work out what the “angle” was but I’ve found it now so please read on.
Just the other day a group of six 12 year olds swam across the English Channel, they took turns swimming a mile at a time and made the crossing in 13.5 hours. The only reason I came across it was because someone retweeted it on Twitter. I was amazed not only by the feat but also by the lack of coverage. What a fabulous story this could have been. Such endurance and teamwork and for a section of the community that are often vilified as hoodie wearing hoodlums. I scoured the internet news sites looking for the story and only managed to find a short paragraph in the BBC Bristol pages where our aquatic athletes came from. However, whilst I was trying to find more news on this story I stumbled across a far sadder story. Another six children this time aged 13 to 18 drowned whilst playing around a river bank in Louisiana. One of the boys slipped in the deeper water and as he couldn’t swim started to panic. None of his friends could swim but they all tried to save him and died in their attempt.
The contrast between the two stories was so stark and yet I couldn’t find a way to shape it. The majority of the channel swimmers came from independent schools, was that the story? In the last Olympics 34% of our athletes came from independent schools yet only 7% of children go to independent schools. There’s a whole column there but not one that seemed relevant to these two stories. Then there was the fact that the American teenagers were all black and the Bristol children were all white. If there was an angle there I’d be blowed if I could find it. Maybe it was the fact that we don’t do enough in our media to praise the efforts of teenagers but would rather focus on negative stereotypes. I must admit this was where I was going until I opened the letters page in the Cornish guardian to discover that Polkyth are considering the removal of the springboard from the swimming pool.
Suddenly the angle was so obvious that I was amazed I hadn’t noticed it before. Children need to know how to swim! They need to be confident in water. Tom Daly started his Olympian career from a 1m board, the fact that there isn’t a high board in all of Cornwall is another matter and if St Austell do get rid of their board there won’t be a 1m board in the whole of Cornwall either. The loss of a diving board is not the loss of a swimming pool but it is the loss of a skill; it requires confidence and technique to go head first off the end of a sprung board. Even if that doesn’t appeal, who can forget the fun of running, bouncing and soaring off the end? All children are attracted to water and we need to make them safe. From confident swimmers we may get channel swimming, record breaking Olympians but more importantly, we will not have grieving communities, struggling to cope with the loss of their loved ones who died trying to save their friends.
On the school run this morning I had three 11 years olds all saying their favourite word. We had a 5 minute recital of Bum, Freak and Wag where they sounded like the frogs chorus with my 9 year old laughing his head off. They then launched into Postman Pat and promptly forgot the words. It was a fun trip and I was thinking how much they enjoyed going to school, I don’t remember much laughter when I used to go to school. Surely the mark of a good primary school is not where it sits in league tables but where it sits in a child’s heart.
Over the years the boys have learnt to sail, surf and swim, played in football matches and run cross country for their school. They’ve walked the Saints Way from south to north coast and run miles for Sports Relief, they’ve cooked for the Royal Cornwall Show, taken part in concerts and hosted radio shows. In amongst all of this they’ve also learned to read, write and count to a squillion. As parents we’ve joined the children on bike rides, trips to the Minack, humiliated ourselves in the parents’ swim race and joined in the family feel of the school. That is what a good school should be, part of an extended family. It should be a place where a child runs in every day laughing, where they discover teachers that they will remember for the rest of their lives, where they try as hard as they can because they want to not because they have to. I’ll confess at this point that my children aren’t always that motivated, before any teachers reading this choke with laughter or disbelief. Like any family there are going to be grumpy days as well as good ones.
Too often schools seem to be criticised for failing to gain suitable SAT levels, teachers are deemed unsatisfactory if their paperwork isn’t properly presented. Head’s are stressed by the amount of hoops the have to jump through, introducing initiative after initiative whilst wondering where the money is going to come from. But surely primary school should just be about developing a child’s love of learning, keeping children safe and happy. Secondary school is going to be tough enough without children already arriving disenchanted. When I worked at Newquay Tretherras I saw such world weary, fed up children arrive in year seven and I would wondered how rotten their primary years must have been. So thank you to all the teachers out there, that love and care for their pupils, who know that a happy, motivated child is more important than SAT levels and attendance figures. I’m glad that you are in the majority and I hope that you all enjoy your holidays. On a personal note, thankyou to all at Roselyon for helping transform my stumbling toddler into a confident, happy young lad.