Monday, 25 June 2007

Hey, Teacher! Leave Them Kid's Alone...

School may be out for what we are laughingly calling the summer here at present, but Monkey Pipe has been talking, reading and thinking about education quite a bit this weekend.

I’m not sure where it came from, this interest or drive to think about educational reform, perhaps it was me trawling through some graduate programme prospecti over Saturday, my constant desire to learn, or my sad feeling or inadequacies when it comes to my schooling past.

There have been a couple of reports and articles that I’ve read recently too, about possible changes in schooling practices in the UK – articles that rarely make for pleasant reading. Often talking of those children being left behind and being forgotten, being let down or left behind.

At brunch, yesterday, I had a brief discussion with a primary school teacher friend, who I haven’t seen for a while. She was bemoaning the fact that at this time of year her work is all about the SAT’s. Now, she teaches 6-7 year olds, and they are having exams. The reasoning behind this test is to determine how effective their schooling has been, to date. I may be mis-remembering here, but at 6 and 7 all I was thinking about was climbing trees, reading books and comics, and Star Wars.

The friend said that there is an incredible amount of pressure to do well in these exams, as the school is an Infants only school, so the Ofsted measure of the entire school rests on these results. She then said something interesting; those schools that are infant and junior combined – those that teach up until eleven – are actually better served by having bad results in these first exams, so that when the second batch of exams happens at eleven, the school can look to be showing a massive improvement.

I love conspiracies – and would have gone along with the above anyway. However for the past few months, Monkey Pipe has been working for something that would like to call itself a health care service. However, with it’s obsession with numbers, reports and the speed at which someone can be past through the system, it has little care for health and more for figures. It reminded me of what this teacher was saying.

How would I change those wonderful school days? It seems to me that the first thing that needs to go is the obsession with statistical analysis. There needs to be a greater sense of parity in the teaching practice. My proposal sees the schooling day change in format to a model something like as follows;

50% of the school day is taken up with lessons, with a more streamlines curriculum, fairly traditional in model – in my memory school was fairly arbitrary, and there was no flow or process and no sense of progress.
20% is taken up with social studies and practice – interaction with peers, learning to communicate, creating a greater sense of society – debating skills and the like.
20% is taken up with totally practical studies. Early on teaching basic maths and reading – I don’t think a single teacher ever once taught me what a noun or verb was before asking me to dissect a book. As you progress, the practical lessons can move on – teaching you about changing plugs, tyres, managing a bank account, what a mortgage is, job and employment skills. Also, diet should be taught as a practical lesson – what different foods do to you and why. Recycling too.
10% is taken up with physical activity and exercise. Not just running around or playing football, but different activities, yoga would be a good one, wall climbing – you could also learn about sports, sport psychology and even biology and health.

School’s sense of community could be developed in this manner, I think. At one of my old schools a teacher has brought about a process of community service – for those children who have broken a rule, rather than punishing them in the traditional manner, they are put on community service, made to wear a florescent jacket and clean the playground at break time, for example.

I’m not in the least bit suggesting this is a perfect model, however the great concern that seems to crop up on more than once occasion is that children aren’t learning to belong in the world. Also, the disruption of moving mid-schooling should be less painful, if you are moving from one school to the next, but the lesson structure remains, then at least that is one less thing to worry about.

Okay – a bit of a disjointed post – but this stuff is genuinely playing on my mind for some reason, and I just wanted to think aloud.

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