To educate: To draw out not to kick out

I am delighted that the governors of St Olaf’s have reversed their policy about those that their school is there to serve. Might this be one case where the diocese has played an important role in changing hearts and minds?

Could this be one of the turning points in education history? Might all state schools now consider the purpose for which they are funded: to educate all and not just promote the seeming best. The quote from C S Lewis, cited in my previous post, really does look like it belongs to a previous age. His Narnia chronicles may still resonate with children and parents, but his views on education certainly shouldn’t. There was an inkling of the national mood last year when the idea of more selective schools was doing the rounds in the more old-fashioned segments of the Conservative Party.

Now is also the time to ditch the culture of league table schooling. Those with a good understanding of the revolution caused by the 1987 Education Reform Act will recall that alongside financial devolution and the National Curriculum ran the concept of ten levels of achievement. This allowed every child to have another level to aspire to achieve. Even a child at level one had a goal and the school could work to help them achieve it. Sadly, somewhere along the line, we ditched the ‘every child has a goal’ for the measure of the gaol achieved by the school as a collective. Naturally, this led to a desire to remove those that weren’t helping the school maximise its potential.

Now, as we approach the 150th anniversary of the 1870 Education Act that helped create schooling for all, it is time to redefine our beliefs in the role of education. We should no longer be looking for reasons to exclude, but for methods to challenge our pupils to succeed. Such a change will reinforce the great work already undertaken by many teachers and could even help to attract more entrants into the profession.

As a next step, the government might like to evaluate whether the over-insistence on the English Baccalaureate is actually hindering the aim of all pupils achieving both personal goals and goals of use to society? As a geographer by background, I welcome pupils studying the subject through to Year 11, but not at the expense of subjects such as design and technology. That subject has been so decimated by government actions that it is suggested that only 315 trainees had taken up offers of places on teacher preparation courses by late August. This is compared with more than 1,100 a few years ago.

Yet, a love of technology, or design and certainly of food can become an important motivator for life after school. Yes, homes and even TV programmes can play their part, but the motivation and support provided by schools remains critical in the development of a child’s education and their future progress as an adult.

The Secretary of State should now reaffirm the purpose of state education as developing the potential of every child entrusted to the State by their families. Those that want to enter a high stakes risk form of education, where lack of success mean exclusion, can still use the private sector.


New retreat from East of Suez

The Geography Key Stages 1-3 programmes of study published this week rightly starts with an appreciation of the local area. Although requiring all seven year olds to know the names of all seven continents and five oceans seems a bit like setting them up for participation in a pub quiz team or TV quiz game. Perhaps the BBC will revive ‘Top of the Form’. Personally, I would be happy if a child by the age of seven knew what the earth looked like, and that there were masses of land and lots of water. Drilling a seven year old to spell Antarctica doesn’t seem very useful in this day and age.

At Key Stage 2, the opening phrase seems telling; Pupils should extend their knowledge and understanding beyond the local area to include the United Kingdom and Europe, North and South America. So, having learnt of Asia and Oceania by name at Key Stage 1 they can be cheerfully ignored for the next four years with all examples taken from the Western Hemisphere. Hopefully it fits in with a study of the Maya and Aztec civilizations in history. By eleven, every child will no doubt know of Lake Titicaca and volcanoes such as Mauna Loa. They will also know about biomes. I confess that beat me, but fortunately there is a very good entry on Wikipedia including the main classifications. I think I will go with either the Walter or WWF classifications.

So, how will China, Japan, and the commonwealth countries of Africa, Asia and Oceania react to this geopolitical determinism that seemingly ignores them completely during the first six years of schooling in geography across England? Of course, teachers can draw in examples from beyond North & South America, but there seems little incentive to do so. At least Africa and Asia receive a mention at Key Stage 3. Oceania doesn’t seem to, so perhaps it’s not good news for the tourist industry of Australia, as pupils won’t be coming home full of the Barrier reef, the outback or the wonders of the west coast.

Fortunately, I trust teachers together with the powers of modern technology now available to schools and pupils to widen geographical horizons well beyond the narrow confines of these programmes of study. At Key Stage 3, I would have the interactive volcano and earthquake maps always available on my whiteboard or classroom computer. I would encourage pupils to tell me if they saw an interesting event and then the class could discuss it in real time.

The real debate is about what vocabulary of the subject children need to learn in order to help them progress? The capes and bays of Victorian schooling have been replaced by the continents and oceans, and capitals and countries, at a stage when children should be made excited about the subject. The challenge for the non-specialist primary teacher will be how to make geography exciting in this modern age, but still meet the programmes of study. But, if they are not assessed who will care anyway?