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Peter Tait Education

Education and Ethics

Curriculum Posted on Mon, August 27, 2018 12:27:12

What sort of
world do we want for our children?

– An introduction to a New Framework

“Strange that the qualities we value in
friends–thoughtfulness, sympathy, intelligence, a sense of humor,
fair-mindedness, civility – seem hardly
to matter in contemporary politics. & children are supposed not to cheat,
steal, plagiarize. How to explain such profound dissonance?”

Joyce Carol Oates

And, you know, there
is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are
families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people
must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then,
also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in
mind, without the obligations
.’ – Margaret Thatcher Interview 23 September 1987

Recently a story that has been doing the
rounds in social media of three men who left a restaurant without paying. A few
days later the restaurant owners received a letter containing the money due and
a little extra with an explanation that they had left to find an ATM machine
and then realised the last train was about to leave so were unable to do so.

What is remarkable about this story is
that it is ‘remarkable,’ as if such behaviours, such actions, don’t fit with
what we now perceive to be normal. As such it highlights the place where
society is at, that when ethical behaviour occurs, it is seen as extraordinary.

When looking at writing a new framework
for education, it is evident that this is a good place to start, not with
content, but with values and behaviours. Change, when it happens, needs to
start with the foundations rather than merely adding to or reconfiguring an
already bloated curriculum which has been ravaged by educational change for a decade
or more. We need, instead, to start from
a new vantage point altogether, to establish a philosophy which includes and
embeds different attitudes and behaviours, one that puts ethics at the core of
our learning and teaching. Some of this process
will be in making schools and the curriculum more relevant, accessible and
open-ended; the greater challenge, however, is persuading society of the
importance of seeing education as a part of the whole, a continuum that
involves everyone for their life-times, and grounded in the very ethics and
behaviours we want our children to grow up with and our society to reflect.

The absence of any ethical framework,
and the dearth of societal values, is evident in every walk of life. We can pick
any profession: law, accountancy, the pharmaceutical industry, industrial
farming, property development, sport, the Church – the
list is almost as long as is the list of jobs. Stripped down, we don’t take long to find examples of worker
exploitation, cost fixing, drug taking, sexual abuse or putting profit above
people by ‘using’ tax loopholes. There is no moral imperative at work. We saw
it when the boil was exposed (if not properly lanced), with the behaviour of politicians,
bankers, fund managers and venture capitalists, whose criminal actions and
self-interest were exposed through the expenses scandal and the banking crisis.
The fact that so few were held to account merely reinforces the impression that
we are living in an ethical wild west, a view that hasn’t changed since. Recently,
the founder of the SLC group, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, Nigel
Oakes called for more regulation admitting that he operated for years ‘without much of an ethical radar’, before
going on to defend his decision by saying ‘It’s
above my pay scale to decide the ethics of this.’
Not so. Ethics are beyond the weight of the purse
and should apply to all of us at every level of society.

But the faultlines
go much deeper than this. The behaviour of the big four accountancy firms who
earlier this year were accused by MPs
of “feasting on what was soon to become a
as it emerged they banked £72m for work linked to collapsed
government contractor Carillion in the years leading up to its financial
the rotten underbelly in which everything was alright as long as it turned a
profit. One time-tested way of doing so is to strip and ravage the environment
and natural resources, preferably off-shore, by over-fishing, by the ruthless
destruction of forests for palm oil industry to shore up UK pension funds, by dumping
of waste, the proliferation of off-shore tax havens and an unelected House, many of whose
members pocket their daily expenses and contribute nothing. When Artemis, (self-titled as The Profit Hunters) boasted
that their ‘global hunters’ spend their lives carving through the atlas for
opportunities for profit, we need to understand that such companies are the
product of our economic model and that any subsiduary interests or concerns,
environmental or moral, are subsumed by the goal to maximize profits.

Self-interest rules and it can come as
no surprise then if you ask children what they want to be when they grow up
that the most popular answer is rich and famous for that is the model they see
every day. And where are ethics in all of this? Worse, where is it leading us?

We need, somehow, to move the Titanic. The
obsession of governments with GDP as a measure of economic well-being is deeply
flawed as is well-known, measuring both good and bad economic activity, from
farming to drugs and gun running, but taking no account of voluntary work or
raising a family, implicitly favouring quantity over quality and having no
truck with such green-tinged schemes as recycling. Having a philosophy that
relies on endless growth with no ethical boundaries continue to undo us unless
we educate the next generation about sustainability and the ethical use of our
planet and each other. Simon Kuznets, Nobel Prize winner who developed the
measure before the war, had quite different aspirations, intending GDP to
measure economic welfare and well-being, (but being ignored in the post-war US-UK plans), mitigating against the
unequal distribution of gains and ensuring
we were not growing at the expense of our environment.

With the spread of fake news,
nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, ethics takes on more importance
than ever before.

The need to be able to make decisions
that are not rooted in economic or personal self-interest are compelling. Waste,
such as the amount of foodstuffs thrown out by supermarkets (over 200 000
tonnes each year) is simply unacceptable on a planet with so much poverty.
Recently, the big food chains have made an effort to reduce waste, increase
donations of food to foodbanks and cooperatives by building up partnerships
with local charities, but it is the tip of an iceberg that is founded on waste
and obsolescence. Nor should we excuse the fashion label, Burberry who destroyed more than £28m worth of its fashion and
cosmetic products over the past year to guard against counterfeiting. No waste
is acceptable and even planned obsolesence, deemed good for economic activity,
is short-sighted and harmful. We simply cannot afford to treat our
planet and our society in this way any longer or allow government, acting in
our name, to behave unethically (selling
our waste to Thailand, investing in dodgy enrionmental areas, importing
teachers, doctors, nurses and selling arms
to Saudi Arabia which are then used to bomb civilians in the Yemen are current

We need to keep asking the question:
what are our ethics and are we, and those who represent us, acting in
accordance with the principles we believe in?

Nor is education ‘clean.’ Sharp practice
in school recruitment, using overseas students as cash cows, setting up campuses
abroad, to bring money back to the UK (neo-colonialism at work?), stopping
students moving into the 6th form or from sitting exams for fear
that they will negatively affect league tables results, (more than 20% of
teachers were aware of ‘off-rolling’ in schools they had taught in), are all
unethical practices that are not uncommon in schools. Plagarism is at a level
where schools routinely now feel compelled to purchase software to identify it;
while cheating, by students and teachers, has risen fuelled by the drip-down pressure
of league tables. Essay mills, a business reputed to earn billions of pounds
worldwide has resulted in some 50,000 students being caught cheating in the
last three years alone while in the last year, exclusions have increased by
about 15% and now number around 40 per day. The recent de-valuing of academic places even raises
the question as to whether it is be ‘ethical’ to keep students on who will
perform significantly below the level of their conditional offers, but will get
places due to the rapacity of universities fighting for survival (and who themselves
may be acting unethically?) For that
matter, we should ask just how ethical
is selection which takes so little account of readiness and produces winners
and losers with all the consequent baggage and dulled expectations? It should concern us, all of it. For when
schools lose their moral compass and their understanding of what schools are
for, then we are in a moral mire.

But the problem is even deeper than
that. It is embedded in selfies, in the narcissism and insecurity they
engender, in selfishness and loneliness, in the closing down of communities, the
loss of collegiality, the disintegration of a society that prizes acquisition
above welfare, of the yawning gap between haves and have-nots and gaping social
and educational inequality. The reasons are manifold, and any list of reasons
would offer the breakup of the traditional nuclear family and the void left by the
disappearing systems of social cohesion that included the church and the
extended family. The gap is implicit in the debate between the self-esteem and
self-respect, between self-awareness and empathy, between self and community. Too
often we are left with a society that is focused on looking after yourself and taking
what you can get away with, with self-interest and avarice its drivers.

A wee bit colourful? Perhaps. But if we
are to change society, and to equip the next generation to make the ethical
decisions that will be required of us on technology and environmental issues
and to counter the atomisation of society through social media, rising
incidences of loneliness and an epidemic of mental health, we need to act. And
where better than at the very start of our education system?

So how to change? How do we try to instil the importance of
making good ethical decisions from a young age.
How do we make children think of themselves as part of a whole? How do
we embed kindness and empathy, appropiate behaviours, manners and attitudes conducive
to making good citizens?

How do we move away from measurement to the immeasurable? We could start by
delaying collecting the data to put children into boxes, respect readiness and
hold back formal learning until they have an appetite for it and see it as a
joy and a privilege rather than an entitlement and an unwelcome one at that. The
answers start with early education and developing the right attitudes to
learning, about placing children in a larger community and by encouraging them
to look outwards, not inwards and by teaching them to understand and look after
their environment and those who inhabit it, human, animal and plant.

Later, we should re-visit subjects such
as history to stop navel gazing and get our children to look outwards as a
nation that has had a large footprint in the world and needs to live up to it.
Or economics where we should be making changes to incorporate the doughnut of
planetary boundaries, to look at environmental impact, to address such pressing
problems like the 800,000 tonnes of plastic waste generated from our leading
supermarkets each year by putting environmental considerations and
sustainability to the fore – no easy task when big business and government is
determined to marginalise green issues as just an impediment to economic growth
and the endless pursuit of an ever higher GDP. It is teaching children to think
ethically, to make decisions based on values and to change behaviours and
attitudes – that is the challenge.

We need to teach the ethics of career
choices that are not predicated on power and money and give reward to those who
perform the more difficult, mundane and useful jobs in our society such as
nurses and carers. We need a paradigm
shift to understand that society and communities and countries only work well
if there is some common ethos. At present, we are bitterly divided and
rootless; the time is to take heed of the urgency of the situation we find
ourselves in.

All of which is a long winded way of
saying that we need to change our schools and our curriculum at their
foundations, to engage with children in a way that is going to make them think
and act more responsibly. After all, if we don’t teach children to think
differently and act ethically, heaven help us – because the earth will no
longer be able to sustain us.

‘All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when
one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a
better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the
bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the
congregation to come: so this bell calls us all …..No man is an island,
entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in
mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for
thee.’ –
John Donne Meditation

Why we need a new curriculum – a discussion with those in the know

Curriculum Posted on Sun, August 05, 2018 09:12:52


‘The test of a successful
education is not the amount of knowledge that a pupil takes away from a school,
but his appetite to know and his capacity to learn. If the school sends out
children with the desire for knowledge and some idea of how to acquire and use
it, it will have done its work. Too many leave school with the appetite killed
and the mind loaded with undigested lumps of information.’

The Future in Education, 1941 Sir Richard Livingstone

The new curriculum framework
will need to be open-ended and multi-headed to allow for either traditional
subject areas or for new subject bands – or both – as well as the increasingly
diverse ways of delivering curriculum. Testing and exams of knowledge and
skills will have their place in the future, but with new technologies
available, notably the use of AI for assessment, resourcing and teaching, the
emphasis will be on making best use of new technologies, creating ethical
approaches to the idea of community, business and politics and the environment;
and establishing new pathways at 6th form and tertiary level. There
is an argument that we need to fix school structures first (one put forward
again recently by Laura McInerney), and there is sense in that, but the two
can, and probably should, go hand in hand in a review of the whole education

is a discussion thread interspersed with commentary which covers a wide range
of topical opinions from a number of leading educationists and a variety of different
sources to try to tease out what should be considered in writing new
curriculum. The quotations and extracts are loosely aligned in a narrative that
drives the discussion.

‘The word
“curriculum” has no generally agreed meaning’
Dylan Wiliam

great place to start – looks like an open book then?

‘Curriculum is a
timetable; an aggregation of learning objectives (knowledge, skills and
understanding); programme of planned activities’

– agreed, but already worried about the
jargon creeping in. Perhaps we

should produce the draft
curriculum, then define it.

We can ask whether our
curriculum should be a ‘present’ to our children in the form of nice package of
prescribed knowledge and skills or merely the means for them to find them for

‘We can’t introduce children to the best that has been thought and said.
We can, however, introduce them to the conversation in which they can join with
others, living and dead, to decide what ‘the best’ might be. A good curriculum
serves as an invitation into this conversation.’

If we want a breakdown on how the
curriculum could be discussed, how about Steve Chalk’s four part definition:

Explicit Curriculum: Subjects that will be taught, the
identified “mission” of the school and the knowledge and skills that the school
expects successful students to acquire.

Implicit Curriculum: Lessons that arise form the culture of
the school and the behaviour, attitudes and expectations that characterise
their culture.

Null Curriculum: Topics
or perspectives that are specifically excluded from the curriculum

Extra Curriculum: School-sponsored programmes that are
intended to supplement the academic
aspect of the school experience

Mind you we are
starting with a national curriculum that is thirty years old and has been
subject to endless tinkering and is now, for all intents and purposes,
done for:

it is that, on its 30th birthday, the bloated corpse of the national curriculum
came to be found at the bottom of a river of teacher sweat, questionable
statistics, political counter-accusations, entrepreneurial snake oil and
thinktank dark money. The river burst its banks and, weighted down by
accountability, the curriculum was unable to swim to safety.’

as J L Dutaut warms to his task and is at pains to point out, what we have been
left with is

Frankenstein curriculum of parts pilfered from high-performing systems
according to Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) rankings,
stapled together with teachers’ self-purchased stationery supplies, and
electrified by political rhetoric. A zombie curriculum. A monster.’

that compelling denunciation of the National Curriculum, we can move on. The
question now is what to put in its place. What are the rules for building a new
curriculum – or is the argument that there should be no rules, no boundaries.
But start replacing it we must, even if what is produced is a loose
confederation of ideas. As ever, it is important that reform starts from the bottom up and
is not dictated from above. After all as Jill Berry points out

“The best
qualification & curriculum reforms start at the level of those most
directly affected: teachers in schools & colleges, working in tandem with
exam boards; higher education and employers, shaping a vision for a new
approach that is based on first-hand experience.”

How to achieve this? There are plenty of suggestions out there to consider,
some drawing on history

should start with a conversation, one which begins at the level of those most affected.
Look at the really successful curriculum innovations and a pattern emerges:
change begins from below, when a group coalesces around a new idea about the
curriculum. This group will involve teachers, academics, employers; it will be
open to input from students, too. Out of such a group grows a body of
practitioners who share an educational vision. This group drives forward the
innovation. The specification comes later, and later still, the qualification
and assessment matrix.
John Taylor

sounds pretty straight forward, but perhaps our education vision needs to
address the question of a whole new paradigm, not just innovations to the same
curriculum we have been using for the past thirty years. Let’s start looking at what we identify as
needing change and some of the philosophical and practical reasons for it. Possibly, Helen Clark is getting
close to what I believe should be a starting place:

‘In designing a
curriculum, start with human values + a common moral code. Stress the importance
of ethics, empathy + dangers of self-interest. If we look at what’s wrong with
our society, it’s in our failure to replace traditional codes of family /
church with anything meaningful.’

And, of course ….

“When educating the
minds of our youths, we must not forget to educate their hearts”
Dhali Lama

-so easily dismissed, but the moral vacuum and disintegration of
communities and families lies at the heart of the unease in our society. If
only we could instill the third world hunger for education into our satiated
first world schools.

Then there is the wider question of what education should
include at a time when teachers have become primary care givers out of class
and schools have taken on more and more responsibility for feeding and
providing all-day care for children. It is a problem not so apparent in other
European countries, as Professor Geraint Johnes points out:

“Here in the UK, if
any difference is to be made to school performance, it is clear that social
policy rather than educational policy needs the most attention.”

have got to measure education by ALL its outcomes, not just by grades, as
Akala points out when he states that

‘24% of all people in the UK prisons were in care as
children. 47% were expelled from schools’

statistics reflect our education system as much as do examination grades with our
schools are the frontline where such battles have to be fought and won. The
American economist, Bryan Caplan goes one step further in his book ‘The Case
against Education’, asking

. . . why we need to stop wasting public funds on
education. Despite being immensely popular–and immensely lucrative – education
is grossly overrated. . . . The primary function of education is not to enhance
students’ skill but to certify their intelligence, work ethic, and
conformity-in other words, to signal the qualities of a good employee.

Surely there’s more point to it than that – help! Perhaps an English educationalist can extol the real
value of education?

“What is education
for?’ My honest answer: ‘storage for children’ with a follow up answer ‘and
while they are there we may as well give them a bunch of experiences that we
hope will be helpful for them now and in the future”

Wow! Education is a time filler! But how do we ascertain what
are the best experiences?

curriculum defines “standards and curricula as coherent if they are articulated
as a sequence of topics and performances that are logical and reflect the sequential
or hierarchical nature of the content’
Professor Bill Schmidt in A Coherent Curriculum, 2002

I think I’m heading towards a largely incoherent model

‘Curriculum matters
for without common educational objectives, there is no measure of educational
outcomes, no educational research, no pooling of resources to address provision
at the systematic level.’

– sensible enough except I wonder
if commonality is going to be one of the casualties of change? Thirty years on,
are we going to just accept the national curriculum is immutable, too big to
tangle with except in a piecemeal fashion.
Not if JL Dutaut has anything to do with it:

‘Imagine the education system giving
birth to fraternal twins. One we will name after their departed sibling:
national curriculum. The other, we will name community curriculum. We will
raise them both in a loving, caring environment, and give them both the same
opportunity to flourish according to their own distinct personalities. And we
will raise them with faith in each other, in the spirit of all “Great
Debates” (and all great marriages) – preferring consensus over a sense of
victory, legacy over immediacy, and empowerment over accountability. It’s a beautiful dream, isn’t it? JL

trouble with it – you’ve spotted it? –
is that it’s a dream. Dreams aren’t much good where we are going. Education has
to have relevance to children, but also to parents and communities and the idea
of having a community curriculum may be the adoption of common values,
aspirations and a sense of being on an educational journey together. At the
same time we are beset with difficulties staffing our schools and are off
exporting from countries with similar shortages and much greater need. But
meanwhile we neither value our teacher properly, in status, support or in
monetary terms, nor properly recognise the influence of a teacher. We should
listen to Henry Adams who wrote

teacher affects eternity
; he can never tell
where his influence stops’

Or Terry

“They looked like tinkers, but there wasn’t
one amongst them who could mend a kettle. What they did was sell invisible
things. And after they sold what they had, they still had it. They sold what
everyone needed, but didn’t often want. They sold the key to the universe to
people who didn’t know it was locked.’
Terry Patchett’s description of teachers

but Terry, we’ve been told if we can’t measure it, it has no worth, that it has
to be tangible. And how long will they allow us to peddle things they don’t
want if they don’t understand their value? But I’m with you!

‘Someday, in the
distant future, our grandchildren’s grandchildren will develop a new equivalent
of our classrooms. They will spend many hours in front of boxes with fires
glowing within. May they have the wisdom to know the difference between light
and knowledge.’

– I recognise my apple mac as a box with a fire glowing within. Will it know
the difference?

‘Our education
system is cracked and broken. We need to let some light in
’ (anon)

who said this?

‘There is a crack
in everything / that’s how the light gets in’

the muse!

‘Education is not
the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire’
Yeats (attrib)

bet Yeats wished he’d said it because it makes sense even if it has been
hi-jacked by educationalists who do the opposite

‘Give us a light,


bridge too far? Well, it’s clear that what we have isn’t working. On this
subject, two of my former students wrote the following, describing the
secondary school experience as a world removed from what they had experienced:

‘I have vivid
memories of beginning secondary school; I was shocked at how my new peers did
not seem to have the same independence as me, both inside and outside the
classroom. Not only did I ask more questions than them, but if I were to
respond to a teacher’s request or statement asking “why?” I was perceived to be
both troublesome and a disturbance to the class. This continued until the end
of my time at secondary school.’

‘I did not get on
with the British Education system. It’s focus on memorization, ticking boxes
and ironing out children’s idiosyncracies has left me deeply frustrated and
(A* student / Cambridge)

(nb this followed her primary years which she described as ‘the
brightest example of how I believe learning should be. It was the happiest
experience I had whilst in school, allowing me to develop both creatively and
academically in a pressure-free environment.’

Pretty damning, albeit from a rather small sample. But it is
clear that too much front-loading of information without space for discussion
just doesn’t work anymore than does shutting out the light of enquiry and

Worse, there are long-term dangers in all of this that we often
see in some very well-educated people whose learning has actually stunted them.

‘Your mind, my dear
Mansfield,’ he told her once, ‘is uncluttered. There’s not the usual lumber –
religious, political, social.’ They were having lunch together in a restaurant
not far from the British Museum.
‘This is the nicest possible way of telling me I’m empty-headed.’
‘I would say unspoiled.’
‘An empty vessel into which you can pour . . . .’
‘No. A rational creature, to whom I can offer . . .’
‘Well . . .’ She smiled her gratitude for a compliment gracefully delivered.
‘I’m not sure it’s true, but if it is, it’s because I’m a citizen of nowhere. I
learned very little in New Zealand; but because that’s where I began, what I’m
taught here I don’t always accept or believe. Nothing ever seems gospel, you
‘The social imprint is thin.’ His eyes were bright, eager. ‘People of my
sort – Ottoline, Brett, Huxley – we have a lot to unlearn. Too much was laid on
us too early. We grow up fettered.’
(Katherine Mansfield and
Bertrand Russell in conversation from C K Stead’s novel, ‘Mansfield.)

– My underlining. I firmly believe this, that you can learn too
much and grow up fettered and lose the ability to think for yourself. It takes
a writer of fiction to deliver the truth.

‘What content we
teach (& how we teach it) in forward-thinking schools is radically
changing, but human kindness & empathy are subjects that will stand the
test of time as we look to the curriculum of the future.’

with this, but hard to teach and harder to measure – this is why we need to
teach morals and ethics (NB Get rid of measurement as the measure of
everything) –

‘How can we condone
a system that focuses on only two types of intelligence and then tells 40% of
our kids (mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds) that after eleven years of
study that they are the ones that failed?

un-condonable! A neologism delivered with force!

“model” of individual teachers doing a million different things all
sub-optimally & with systemic inefficiency is a 19th century “cottage
industry” approach to a mass product (school education). How many hours
are wasted on unnecessary duplication of lessons, worksheets, etc.’

– the role of teachers has changed, but in the wrong way, taking
them away from children, instead of in the other direction. They need to get
back to having more time with children and less time doing bookwork and

“The top three
skills needed in 2020 are complex problem solving, critical thinking and
Carl Robert TES IBCP in
an article from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) ‘Educating the Economic
Future’ The World Economic Forum

all should be an implicit (nb not explicit) part of any curriculum

“New technologies
seem to be moving towards a smaller proportion of very well paid jobs, and a
long tail of less well-paid and precarious jobs.”

This is a societal problem, but one that has to be considered in any new

“Technology will
provide the essential tools of the trade that will support teachers, allow them
to manage logistical challenges of (inter alia) personalisation at scale &
enhance their professional status.”

– This I need to know more about. Clearly with quantum computers
mechanical learning and AI will increase the pace of change.

“There will be as
many changes between 2016 and 2022 due to exponential technology growth as
between 1900 and 2000.”
Peter Diamandis

-how education reacts to this (or chooses not to) is an issue in

We don’t live in
the age of standardization, we live in the age of customization.”
Guatam Khetrapai

we have to counter this

must we throw out the baby with the bath water – so much of what we do, in our
schools and curriculum, is there because it works. Hard work and high
(realistic) expectations should be encouraged.

328 studies over 50 years show that direct
instruction (structured guidance for teachers, teaching discrete skills before
application, daily checks on learning, regular testing for mastery) has
consistent, large positive effects on student achievement’

– Dylan Wiliam quoting Jean Stockard, Timothy W. Wood,
Cristy Coughlin et al The Effectiveness
of Direct Instruction Curricula: A Meta-Analysis of a Half Century of Research


“…in 2018, there is still a
fundamental duty to teach students content: concepts, facts and principles.
Taught by teachers trained as experts in that content, with all the status and
resources and professional development that we would demand in any other expert
Alan Finkel Australia’s Chief

we mustn’t flog students whose lives are already overfilled. In this I would
disagree with Barnaby lenon, Chairman of ISC who advised students studying for
GCSE and A Levels to

“Plan to work seven
hours a day most of the Easter break”.

why we call it a break, right? Whatever we do, don’t give students time to
think or relax! And let’s keep focus on the subjects that are going to provide
employment because that’s what education is about – so they say.

“We don’t read
and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are
members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And
medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to
sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive
John Keating (Robin Williams)
“Dead Poets Society”, 1989

but a reminder of the importance of the humanities, of music and art that
should sit at the heart of education. Yet beware the liberal progressive who
has wrought such damage and still holds sway over large tracts of the UK
education industry:

“The saddest thing about the progressive movement is that it
hurts the very people it wants to help,”
Katharine Birbalsingh

we should not be afraid of change – it just needs to be measured and pertinent.
For we must always look forward:

We’re worried that many
young learners are being educated for the past instead of the future. We must
not risk them being failed by obsolete education systems, leaving them
dependent and poor
Dr Mmantsetsa Marope, director of
UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education

One of the prompts from above – so we need to take it seriously!

‘Timely and
continuous learning will determine who wins and who loses from the 21century’s
industrial revolution.’
Dr Mmantsetsa Marope

-Don’t say we weren’t warned!

‘We must develop
people who know how to learn. That’s the most important competency, underpinning
a person’s ability and agility to adapt to fast changing contexts of the 21st century.’
Mmantsetsa Marope, director of UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education

-Learning is no longer the preserve of schools and universities.
It has to become a life-long habit and we have to teach that habit

‘Change will be
mainly fuelled by human innovation and ingenuity.’
Dr Mmantsetsa
Marope, director of UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education

– is our system allowing for the identification and nurturing of
innovation and ingenuity? Or does this happen outside of / despite the

‘Start designing
your own education you can courses from the best universities in the world for
free. Start educating yourself. Find your tribe. Deep immersion. Connect with
people like us.’
Guatam Khetrapai

This is now; blended education is already making inroads into traditional
schooling and changing the role and function of teachers.

‘It is only when you
have determined your objectives (curriculum) that one can start to establish
what is the most effective means of achieving them (pedagogy).’
Crispin Weston

– Sensible – we do need to know were we want to end up and
prepare for a journey not some destination (to counter that A Levels, degree,
now we’ve arrived! But where are we and why can’t we even light a fire?)

Maybe part of our formal education should be training
in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were
reading writing, arithmetic, empathy.’
Neil deGrasse Tyson

– I think empathy, attitude, purpose, values should underpin any
new curriculum, but should be implicit in good teaching, not bespoke

‘We need a
different kind of education, one that combines deep thinking (head); growth,
character and dialogue (heart); and an ability to solve problems, generate
ideas and engage in the world (hand). School should be, above all else, a place
of learning in all its expansive complexity: learning how to think, learning
how to live, learning how to create.’
Peter Hyman School21 RSA

and this was some years ago and still resonates. As a rule we should not
jettison anything until we are sure we can improve on it and must hold on to
aspects of ‘traditional’ teaching, especially process and procedure that are
still relevant and work. For all the talk of new schools there are some who

all my meetings with people actually hiring graduates, no-one has ever said to
me: “gosh, we don’t have enough people who know how to collaborate”.

what they say to me is: we don’t have enough specialists in software
engineering. We can’t find graduates who are fluent in maths. We have meetings
where three quarters of the people in the room can’t critique a set of numbers
without pulling out a calculator and slowing us down.”

– Alan Finkel Australia’s
Chief Scientist

all the significant issues facing us all, the subject of sustainability of
resources, species, habitats, is at the front of the queue for inclusion in a
new curriculum. From the start of
informal learning, we need to underpin our curriculum in line with Rockstrom’s Planetary
boundaries (and Kate Raworth’s doughnut of social and planetary boundaries) the
world having having moved on from Rostow’s Stages
of Economic Growth model used to
describe and measure the stages of economic growth. No longer should we teach subjects
like Economics and Geography in isolation without consideration of their global
impact. So far, we are not doing very well:

education has failed because it is not keeping pace with environmental
Charles Saylan, Marine Conservationist

– an awareness of environmental and conservation is crucial from
a very young age and must be central to any curriculum.

The question of ethics pervades every part of our life from when
venture capitalists get going finding new projects to maximise profits for
shareholders to politicians abusing expenses. After all,

‘Selling our waste to Thailand and arms to the Middle east,
investing as a country in dodgy political and environmental areas and promoting
a programme of importing doctors, teachers and nurses, often from 3rd
world countries that can ill-afford to lose them, is just not right.’

The most important messages we need to embed in the young is an
understanding of what is ethical behaviour, of the concept of cause and
consequence, of being part of a global community, of looking outwards

kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world
contracts as our problems & preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on
others, our world expands.’

Dr Michelle Borba

-completely agree. Children need encouragement, to be taught, to
think out of themselves, less narcissistic and self-absorbed and develop the idea
of community, charity etc. On that, I
agree with Theodore Dalrymple’s distinction between self-esteem which can lead
to narcissism and self-respect.

The question of who owns your education is key. It certainly
works better when the child is the primary stakeholder:

‘Something really
great about my upbringing was that my parents were very much of the attitude
that you can learn anything better than anyone can teach it to you. In other
words, any curriculum that you design is going to be ten times better than what
someone will design for you. You don’t have to do that rote, prescriptive

Westover, who never attended school until 17 years old now with a PhD from

– I love the quote that you can learn anything better on your
own than anyone can teach it to you (whether that is always true . . . .) It is
at the heart of learning, the love of learning, the desire to learn.

Of course in changing the paradigm of education we need to look
at how the workings of the adolescent brain and the changes that are happening
and the way techology is changing social interaction

“Today’s students are more social and like to
learn in a more unstructured way’

Simon Noakes

At the same time we need to
look at assessment critically and see how it impedes, as well as drives,

‘Schools could have
more opportunity to focus on useful assessment if there were fewer formal
assessment points.
’ Daisy Christodoulou

Hear, hear to that, although there will still be too many for most. Of
course, Artificial Intelligence might just deal to us all. Jess Staufenberg
tells us that

‘AI will soon beat pupils
taught knowledge-based curriculum’

and Ruth Luckin, Professor of Learner-Centred
Design at UCL warns proponents of a
knowledge rich curriculum, (and there are plenty) that

‘Pupils will be unable to
compete with advanced artificial intelligence systems if they are taught a
knowledge-based curriculum.’

While summing up the fuss about examinations
with the categorical statement that

‘AI will be the death of

After all, despite being told that
AI will never capture the child as well as our obsession with test data, we are
already past that point:

A wide range of AI-driven
teaching technologies are already in schools. These include various ‘autonomous interactive robots’ developed
across East Asia. Elsewhere, millions of students now interact with
‘pedagogical agents’ – software designed to provide bespoke advice, support and
guidance about an individual’s learning. Also popular are ‘recommender’
platforms, intelligent tutoring systems and other AI-driven adaptive tutoring –
all designed to provide students with personalised planning, tracking, feedback
and ‘nudges’. Capturing over one million data-points per user, vendors of the
Knewton ‘adaptive learning system’ can claim to
know more about any student’s learning than their ‘real-life’ teacher ever

And a warning from Professor Neil Selwyn of Monash
University that

the obvious sense in preparing for an increasingly automated future, education
continues to be one of the least future-focussed
sectors there is

we need to take apart everything we do and ask ‘why’ and accept that with new
and more intrusive algorithms, assessment and measurement will change. In turn,
education – schools – will need to become more flexible and work out ways to
engage students rather than turning education into an endurance test with no worthwhile

“The problem with a one size fits all school model from a
very early age it effectively tells people they are worthless if they cannot
conform or do things in a very specific way.”


“Nobody doesn’t want
to learn. They just don’t necessarily want to learn what you want to teach.”
Will Shone

I can hear some teachers muttering, but an admirable sentiment. So where have
we got to so far. What little nutmeg of inspiration, what polished crystal of
enlightenment can sum up just what a new paradigm might represent and what its
primary goal might be

‘Helping other
people or a sense of purpose – those are the only things I have personally
found that can give me any kind of sustenance’
Russell Brand to John Bishop

yes, it takes Russell Brand to get to the very point of existence

Key article on Curriculum

Curriculum Posted on Wed, July 04, 2018 18:06:15

Creating a New
Curriculum – Answers on a Postcard

‘All major systems in
the world are experiencing disequilibrium. The challenge of the times we live
in is being felt everywhere; but education seems to be faring worse than most,
and is responding very slowly to the challenges.’
Dr Lesley Murrihy

‘The emergence of the
digital age, the growth of artificial intelligence, and the huge social
disruption that these entail have had fundamental effects both on our
relationship with knowledge and on the world of work. Yet school-based
education has hardly acknowledged this disruptive change.’

Last October, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, wrote a
paper which discussed findings from recent research on the curriculum. In it,
she provided her own definition viz ‘at the very heart of education sits the
vast accumulated wealth of human knowledge and what we choose to impart to the
next generation: the curriculum.’ Later, she alluded to a number of related
issues – vocational education; teaching to the test; the narrowing of the
curriculum, especially in Key Stage 3; and the importance of the Ebacc before
ending with the observation that ‘expertise in and focus on the curriculum had

The response was not slow in coming and debate has waxed ever
since. Initially, her attack on the culture of teaching to the test and
encouraging schools to show initiative by interpreting the curriculum was
welcomed, but there were soon rumbles. It was noted, for instance, that her
definition of the curriculum was not consistent with that given by her deputy,
Sean Harford last year with its three stages of intent, implementation and
impact / achievement. Crispin

Weston joined the debate with a paper entitled ‘Why Curriculum
Matters’ (sub-titled a response to Tim Oates, Dylan William and Daisy
Christodoulou) in which he criticised their views of the curriculum while
offering his own, a process being undertaken in three articles under the
heading of ‘Untangling the Curriculum.’ Apart from wrestling with the
definition, Weston was sceptical of the call for teachers to be more involved
in helping shape the curriculum stating ‘If the experts cannot sort out what
curriculum means, there is not a cat-in-hell’s chance that thousands of
isolated schools will be able to succeed.’

All of which is a long-winded way of suggesting that it may be
time to introduce some fresh thinking on the curriculum without the risk of
being drawn into debates over data and definition in some naval-gazing twitter
feed. Perhaps it is time to approach the curriculum anew, even if it involves
dismantling and rebuilding the education paradigm we are comfortable with. We
have waited long enough for experts to sort out a workable model moving
forward, but too much research and data has been focused on improving the
current paradigm, rather than looking at ways of reinventing it in a form that
may better meet the needs of children here and now. Dr Lesley Murrihy, in
advocating such a change, recently wrote ‘It is time for those of us in
education to stop simply commenting and to start creating proposals, to test
models and to look to hybrid solutions that take account of the complex nature
of the 21st century and of education and create positive sum outcomes’ asking
the question ‘If we, ourselves, cannot demonstrate this very same creativity by
creating solutions, how can we model this for our students?

How indeed? When we follow the education debate on social media,
it is hard to escape the view that a great deal of energy is being wasted along
the binary spectrum of skills vs. knowledge, growth mindset vs. fixed mindset,
STEM subjects vs. the arts or numerous similar debates, or by mining down into
cognitive bias, the place of technology in assessment, parenting and so on,
each thesis invariably accompanied by a new book for the exhausted teacher to read
at their leisure. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is time to stop dealing in the
finer points of interpretation, with nuances of meaning, shifting stances and
arguments about what is research and what is opinion sidestep the jargon and
hyperbole with such clichés as ‘smashing glass ceilings’ or ‘levelled playing
fields’ inhabited by helicopter parents and the snowflake generation. Perhaps
it is time for a more imaginative vision.

Does much of the current education debate we find in social media
help? In filling in the detail, yes, but in the larger sense, not so much. I am
not alone in hearing the fingernails on the chalkboards as teachers scream for
something more than endless analysis and proselytising? Something that
recognises why our curriculum is not working for too many of our children, why
its obsession with data and grades is distorting our teaching and why the
numbers of teachers leaving the profession keep increasing for reasons that
seem obvious, but for elucidation include ever-expanding workloads; more
bureaucracy; more pressure for results and assessment targets; greater social
and pastoral roles; the failure of successive governments to offer sufficient
separation between education and the
state; and the lack of support and status accorded to the profession.

So what am I suggesting? Not another curriculum review, or more
think tanks and debate over definition and degree, but a return to the
essential question, ‘what is the best education we can give our children’. It
should not be an exercise in semantics where we get hung up on debating what is
‘best’ (or ideal), in the first instance, but it should challenge us to risk
suspending, even abandoning our views on whether our curriculum works or not.
It may be that we need to establish some fresh foundations, thereby embedding a
different attitude towards education, towards the environment, towards
community, perhaps a whole new ethical framework or paradigm, that identifies
the impediments to change (which includes funding, inevitably, as well as vested
interests of the sector, inertia and uncertainty brought about by the advances
in nanotechology, brain research and technology; social stratification (as
pernicious as ever); and political will). We need to address the inequality of
opportunity, the shortcomings in teacher training and the adversarial nature
and irrelevance of education to too many children. What is needed is not merely
a bank of ideas to dip in and out of, but the answer to the question, ‘what
values, knowledge, understanding, and skills do we want for our children? ‘
Putting our prejudices about selection and what constitues a good education to
one side and uncoupling the carriages of curriculum and assessment may help us
see just what works and what doesn’t.

At the risk of sounding philodoxical, in looking for answers to
some very elemental questions, it is always better to put something down for
others to flay. There are too many raised voices for us to do otherwise. We
should rightly be concerned about the decline in the influence of the family
and church and commensurate lack of values and ethics exhibited by many of our
‘well-educated’ leaders (it is shameful they can still talk about ‘good schools
and bad schools’ without blushing). We should recognise the needs of the
increasing number of children for whom school is a holding bay because it isn’t
giving them the courses, the skills and knowledge or the future they need.
Citizenship, values, attitudes, environmental awareness – what we would broadly
see as constituting ethical behaviour should be an implicit part of learning
from the first day of school, so that they come to the more formal part of
learning better prepared. Instead of the push for longer schools days, we could
look at shorter and more targeted teaching time (I often wonder at those who
advocate longer school days when so little classroom time we have is used
effectively). We need discipline in our classrooms and schools, preferably
greater self-discipline and higher expectations, but conversely less pressure
and fewer parents and adults over-complicating their world by too much
information. Children don’t eschew hard work, but they tend to avoid it when
they see it has little relevance to their lives or is done at the behest of the
teacher and school rather than in their evident best-interests.

We all accept technology will play an ever greater part in
teaching and assessment, and that all courses will soon be available to
students on-line and that with more blended education, teaching may be shared
between teachers and facilitators or specialist tutors. We

should examine what we mean by a knowledge rich curriculum in
subjects such as History where the selection of what history we choose to teach
is hugely significant. We should even question the value in dividing learning
into subjects at all levels of schooling. We should push for the end of
academic selection (nothing is more irritating than those who equate selection
with academic rigour) and provide for more opportunities for SEND children by
recognising and meeting their specific needs. We should recognise such
attributes as a sense of purpose, manners, good communication skills and a good
work ethic as trumping the data that sometimes sits on children like a
straightjacket. And we should focus on the cause of issues such as the current
mental health epidemic and address them at their roots rather than just
offering aftercare.

Six years ago, Laura McInerney suggested a rolling curriculum
review, an idea which might be worth revisiting, but before we even get that far
we need to ensure we have in place a new philosophy of education that can sweep
children up and inspire them, that will help them see education as useful and
relevant and help make better citizens. We have dumped so much on our children
– stress, ambition, guilt, pressure. Now, we need to change the goals which
centre around money, jobs and individual achievement to recognise the diversity
of human types, qualities and abilities and extol the value of living well in a
new world in which ‘every person matters.’

Testing and Examinations

Curriculum Posted on Tue, June 19, 2018 12:22:50

When did Exams Become so Toxic?

Exam season was never meant to be easy, but reading
social media and talking to teachers and students, it feels like the pressures
have recently got a whole lot worse. The new GCSEs have increased the pressure on
teachers and students alike as has summative assessment for A Levels. In
primary schools, likewise, SATS have been criticised for placing undue pressure
on younger children, especially in the requirement to learn grammatical terms (do
they really need to know about relative pronouns relative clauses cohesion,
ambiguity, the active and passive voice, ellipsis etc when an unacceptable
number are still struggling to read and write?)

While the various threshold tests and assessments provide for
those students who have both the ability
and specific instruction on how to pass exams, they offer little to those
children who struggle to get their information / thoughts onto the page, those
whose abilities are not measured in exams or who are simply not ready for this
step. For them, SATS, GCSEs and A Levels
must feel like mountains and hardly relevant to their worlds.

Making education
relevant to all is crucial to the success of our education system: after all, the
outcomes of schools are recorded in knife crime, in mental health statistics as
much as in grades. Schools are not just for able, motivated and well-supported
children, but also for the deprived, the angry and the abandoned, those
children struggling for acceptance because of poverty, race, language or
learning and behavioural difficulties.

Yet when we look
at what is happening to our youth, most graphically in mental health figures,
it is not the just the raised bar that is causing so much angst, but the ways
in which tests are presented. For a long time now, our language when talking education
and examinations has been little short of scare-mongering One response has been
to survey schools to find the best ways of allaying stress (knitting being a
popular suggestion) which seems to rather miss the point.

What is not
considered often enough from the vantage of middle-age is how the parameters
have changed, how tuition fees and a shortage of jobs, extra competition for
university places and the fear of debt
have ratcheted up the pressure – and
once can understand why they have affected students and contributed to such
tragedies as youth suicide. In talking
of a snowflake generation, (and I believe they are more focused and
hard-working than most of the generations who have gone before), too many
adults conveniently forget that the pressures are quite unlike those of thirty
years ago

Inevitably, while
we can tell children that doing their best is all you can ask for, that these
tests will mean little in the run of things, each is given disproportionate
importance because of the pressure placed on schools and teachers, inevitably drip-fed
to students. League tables have been used by governments to measure
progress and to hold schools accountable, but what they have done to students
is often ignored, as the best interests of children are subsumed by those of
the State. The increase in cheating, higher incidence of depression and mental
illness in young children are indirect consequences of league tables and their
toxic influence continues to have a profound effect on the mental health of
students and teachers.

It is not hard
work that students fear, but the great beyond, the shame and despair of failing
and seeing doors closing, the pigeon-holing, often before childhood is over.
That sort of rhetoric has no place in today’s world

New Pathways must reflect new Opportunities and

There is a
compelling argument that exams are not about so much about education, but about
selection and economic convenience. After all, exams only test part of student’s abilities and cannot be fully cognizant
of attitudes, intuition, intelligence,
work ethic and purpose, traits that determine success. University is not for everyone, and the expectations
of parents and schools regarding university as their end goal needs to be

The government’s
response has been to promote technical education to sit alongside A Levels as
happens in many European countries. Sadly,
it is just another instance of government arriving too late to the party.
While that would have been welcomed some
years ago, what is needed are not academic and vocational strands, but
university and non-university strands, both ‘academic’, both signalling
different pathways, both with similar status and both having their own strands,
based on specific career options . BTecs
have been gaining favour, even at academic schools, but times are changing and
these need to be promoted and enhanced for what they are: pathways for
different aptitudes, interests, careers, every bit as academic and demanding, and not the default position. The idea of
technical qualifications being essentially mechanical is long past as is the
idea of education being fixed in time. Instead of more students being steered
into university courses because that is what their school’s DNA provides, often
ending up with huge debts, useless degrees and mental health issues, we need a
new mind-set that recognises the new world of work and an acknowledgement that
we do not yet have the tools to properly measure children and assuming exams on
their own are enough, is woefully inadequate.

The Future of Education?

Curriculum Posted on Tue, June 19, 2018 12:21:11

The New Education

‘What does education do?
It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook.’

Henry David Thoreau

At a time when the function and
role of schools is under the cosh like never before, it is somewhat sobering to
reflect upon those that avoided school, in part or in whole, those self-taught,
creative and unfettered thinkers who lacked the benefit of a formal education,
and still came good. A list of such autodidacts may include Benjamin Franklin,
Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Albert Einstein,
Charles Darwin, Stanley Kubrick, Thomas Edison and Margaret Mead – all highly
talented and successful in their respective fields who had the opportunity to work
creatively and imaginatively without the shackles of a formal education. And of
course, to this list we can add a vast array of women who were both denied a
formal education and a credible platform, and who still triumphed, women such
as the Bronte sisters, Mary Wollstonecraft and Flora Tristan. And they knew how
lucky they were, speaking up against the limitations of formal education, with
Bertrand Russell arguing that men
are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education
and author and autodidact Helen
Beatrix Potter being even more explicit in her criticism noting, ‘Thank goodness I was never sent to school;
it would have rubbed off some of my originality.’

is possible to see similar disdain for traditional education today amongst some
parents although usually for quite different reasons. As schools move further
to the left, and become narrower in their breadth of curriculum and assessment
in an effort to standardize educational outcomes, we see more and more parents
who have the means to do so, voting with their feet, to draw on the best
resources in themselves, in their communities and off the web, to go it alone.

are many reasons for choosing to do so. These include concerns about behavior
(bullying, disruptive classmates); how technology is being used (or not being
used); and the shrinking of the curriculum through the EBacc, in particular, reducing
time for the creative subjects. Families also have more personal reasons,
founded in religion or culture, (or exclusions), or from a growing number of
parents who just want to protect their children from the world and all its
horrors, however naïve this may sound. More recently, parental concern has
reacted to the changes in the function of education from the pursuit of academic and
social outcomes to societal ends, pushing a liberal social agenda which many
parents do not want foisted on their children. Nor may they agree with government
moves to ‘educate the whole child’ even in matters that deeply concern them
such as teaching children about relationships, especially sex and gender, at a
young age. While not all reasons are logical or even excusable, they are
symptomatic of a growing disillusionment with the current school system and a
belief that there are other, better ways of educating children.

The effects of this loss of confidence
can be seen in the growth of home
schooling. While not the same as being ‘self-taught’, there is no doubt that
the freedom home schooling affords, allows children to follow passions and
interests. It can cater for the increasing numbers of families taking gap years
and wanting education for their children in-transit. While we might question the premises, the
reality is that the trend is accelerating and that in the last school year, some
30,000 were home schooled in England and Wales, double the number of six years

it has also got easier to opt out of formal schooling with the advent of the
internet. Technology is a driving force with so many courses and resources available
on-line that parents can access almost all they need anywhere in the world. By
opting out, they find the extra time to devote to the development of special
talents in music, drama, sport, or specialist interests from coding to chess.
With whole university courses available on-line and blended education becoming
a reality in many countries, the means are there for children to gain a first
class academic education without ever attending school. What is not so clear is how the social and
cultural education, which is compromised from not being part of a community of
peers, is managed and compensated for. Nor is it easy for government to monitor the children
who are flying under the radar, largely unmonitored and unchecked, and in
danger of becoming isolated from their peers and communities or worse,

Allied with the growth in
home-schooling is the increase in tutoring. The
proportion of pupils who have had a private tutor at some stage in their
education went up from 18% in 2005 to 25% in 2016 (42% in London). While there
are many firms offering bespoke tutoring services, to the dismay of many head
teachers, a survey of more than 1,600 state school teachers found that 43% of them
have earned money as private tutors outside school, which considering the
pressures currently on teachers, is a substantial ‘extra’ workload, probably
indicative of their relatively low pay and the satisfaction derived from one to
one tutoring.

Tutors were
once seen as anathema by many schools and you do not have to dig deep to find
criticism of the industry with schools suggesting that agencies ‘trade on
insecurity’ or worse, that after-school tutoring is a ‘form of child abuse,’ as
Gail Larkin, President of the National Association of
Head Teachers said in 2014 – an interesting comment when schools still demand
entrance tests for children as young as three and who eject students who might damage
their performances in league tables. The truth is the world is changing and
tutoring for exams is only one part of an industry that is moving into the
mainstream of education, where tutors support parents who want a different form
of education by working in a more holistic way, assisting learning, by helping
developing good study habits, pointing the child in the right direction and
engendering the confidence that comes from 1:1 support.

Home schooling is not an ideal alternative to state education
in any country, despite its suitability for the few. What we need is a system that caters for a
wider range of abilities using a wider range of providers. New Zealand has begun
to allow students to construct their own curriculum, which often involves
accessing some subjects from home. As blended education proliferates in
different forms and guises and the role of the teacher changes from classroom
teacher to mentor and facilitator, it is likely we are seeing the future, in
which the responsibility of education is shared, when education without walls
becomes a reality. We are entering a time when, to paraphrase Yeats, things are
falling apart because the centre cannot hold and that is not altogether a bad
thing. We should not be frightened of the prospect, but instead prepare for it
and embrace it.

Mental Health

Curriculum Posted on Tue, June 19, 2018 12:17:08

up slowly is good for mental health

Natasha Devon, one-time Children’s Mental
Health Tsar, began Mental Health Awareness Week in fine fettle, beginning the
week by introducing a petition to get a mental health first aider into every
workplace and ending it by launching her new book ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Being Mental’. Feisty
and straight talking, Natasha has often been a thorn in the government’s side
by drawing their attention to what is the greatest crisis facing our young,
that of mental health.

We only have to look at the statistics to see how
serious this crisis is: the 700 young people who kill themselves every year;
the fact that the number with eating disorders
and self-harming has doubled in the last three years; the drop of the average age for
depression from forty five years in the 1960s to fourteen years today; and this
week, the news that the number of children under eleven being referred for
specialist support has increased by a third over the past four years. Over the poast decade, when funding for mental
health was decreasing, the proportion of GP consultations relating to
mental health grew to one third and yet many children suffering with depression
and mental illness are still not being offered the help they desperately need.

The Government’s response has been cautious. Their
recent announcement of a further £300 million to be added to their mental
health budget over the next five years is scant relief to a system that is
already straining to cope with the increase in referrals in our schools. What
is more, only part of this sum is to be set aside to help schools, specifically
by providing mental health leads and support teams, which in the view of its
loudest critics, will do little to stop the growing epidemic.

What is being overlooked in the race to get more trained
staff into schools and to provide better training and systems of referral are any
clear responses to the questions ‘why this is happening?’ What has led to this crisis that is
afflicting so many of the young? And,
pertinently, what are we doing to addressing the causes of this epidemic?

There are a number of areas where parents and
schools can make a significant difference. By way of an answer, Matthew Walker
in his best-selling book ‘Why We Sleep’ argues that a significant cause of
mental illnesses in our young is the result of a lack of sleep, noting in
passing that they are sleeping two hours less than their counterparts of a
century ago . By ignoring the fact the all children need at least eight hours
of sleep a night and that the circadian rhythm of teenagers means they need to
sleep later, he argues we are placing them at considerable risk of depression,
anxiety and schizophrenia. Compounding
this, is the desire to start schools earlier and the belief that the most
effective learning takes place in the morning. More regular sleep, including
insistence on bedtimes for the young and structured routines for teenagers (including
a down time for blue screens) would help; as would schools acknowledging what neuroscience
tells us, that sleep deprivation is a major causal factor in the onset of
mental illness.

Another cause that is in our gift
to fix is the number and language of examinations. As SATS begins this week (no
coincidence, surely) we read on numerous websites of advice being given to
primary children on how to handle the
stress of exams, ‘being prepared not scared’ or the ominously named “survival
guides” for GCSE.

If students weren’t worried
beforehand, they certainly couldn’t avoid a degree of concern on hearing a
former head telling them that seven hours of revision a day was required over the
Easter holidays if they wanted to do well. That primary children are experiencing
stress and anxiety because of the 11+ tests is unforgiveable, (and the presence
of the guide ‘Five ways to
safeguard children’s wellbeing during Sats week’ should make us all feel
queasy), not simply because the omnipresence of the testing
process, which is bad enough, but because we have hyped up the importance of
tests, dragged them into the public arena through league tables and then used
them to measure schools and teachers according to the performance of the pupils.
This generation are not afraid of hard work, but with exam stress listed as one
of the leading causes of youth suicide, we need to respond to the impact of too
much testing and the aggressive language that promotes the primacy of
examinations which is contributing to the increase in mental illness

A third cause is our conversations with children
and the encouragement to tell them
everything about everything, thinking they have the emotional and intellectual
maturity to cope. I don’t know how I would have coped at age eleven with all
the information young children have to deal with today, often about grim topics
or adult themes. Of course, with the internet the walls are partly down
although good parenting can delay and / or modify the impact of social media,
but perhaps we just need to make more effort to protect childhood and childish
things and not abrogate some of the responsibilities of parenting to the
internet. Yes, there are other factors
that have a very significant effect on the mental health of the young,
including the well-documented impact of technology on mental health and
systemic drug use, but many of the causes are to do with lifestyle: lack of
routine, lack of sleep, an absence of family nurturing and too much emphasis on
exams and the language of testing.

Our schools do need more funding, urgently so, and
the provision of trained staff, but as the crisis deepens and children’s mental
health continues to deteriorate, perhaps, just perhaps, a closer look at the
causes, (and not just the those noted here), may pay dividends – and even save lives.

The Vexed Issue of Testing

Curriculum Posted on Tue, June 19, 2018 12:13:29

Turning the Tables

announcement by the Schools Minister, Nick Gibbs, that some 290 schools are
about to trial new on-screen tables tests for 7 and 8 year olds is just another
example of the State getting involved in areas where it doesn’t belong. The accompanying comment that the tests will “help
teachers identify those pupils who require extra support”
is patronizing at
best and once again shows that the government does not trust teachers to do
their job, even in this most fundamental way.

His comments have
already received a predictable response from teaching unions and from the
Minister’s acolytes. Mark Lehain, a strong advocate for regular national
testing, has already given his support, labeling anyone who might deign to
disagree as ‘the usual suspects’ who previously
have decried the introduction of what
they see as another infringement on childhood innocence and teachers’ freedom’.

Apart from the sneer,
the issue is not one of freedoms or raising standards or the value of teaching
times tables; it is about the role of the state in education as is clear when
he goes on to note that the test ‘should
also be stress-free for kids: it won’t be used to judge them or their school,
and will provide information that will be really powerful for all those who are
involved in education.’

Really? Try telling
that to teachers who for too long now have been held to account by such data
accumulation, even when the process is patently flawed. How long before it is
used to pass judgment? Who is taking bets?

The question is not
about learning tables. Most, (I hope all) teachers believe children should
learn their tables, as the benefits are undisputed. It should be an implicit
part of mathematics. Tables charts,
table trains were always the norm in primary schools, most using stars on a chart to signify progress with
children supporting each other through the journey. Schools were given the
responsibility to ensure children learned their tables and took their progress charts
with them, year on year, so that in time, depending on their level of readiness,
almost all children acquired the requisite knowledge.

The joy of learning
tables and having teachers who introduced the ideas of number or even, as in my
case, simple things, like the sum of any
numbers multiplied by 9 always equal nine (9×3 -= 27, 2+9 etc). Some of us were
lucky in got to test the methods the Jewish
Mathematician Jakow Trachtenberg devised while he
was in a German concentration camp. Of all the rote learning that goes on in
school, nothing is more useful in life, or more regularly used, as tables, and
the ability to be able to make quick and accurate computations is something almost
every child is capable of.

However, I believe
every school does so already. Moreover the teachers would argue that they
already know who needs support and don’t need another measure that can in the
future, be used against them. By gathering data the nature of the test is
changed, for the teachers and schools, and becomes yet another pressure point.

The issue is with the
belief that national benchmarking is the way forward or is merely a giant
political straitjacket that ties teachers down to yet another measure. As Mark
Lehain wrote in an earlier article defending the 11+,

‘ . . . If we took SATs away there would be no formal
testing between Year Two and Year Eleven – so how could we reliably ensure that
children are actually on track and which schools are effective?

How indeed. Possibly by the same methods we used before
the introduction of centralized testing. After all, teachers have always been
expected to teach tables and were accountable in their own schools for doing so.
We should trust the professionalism of
our teachers and stop interfering. The dependence of national data gathering is
what really undermines the morale of teachers and the belief that ‘having a national check means every single
child will be assessed in the same way’
is a good thing when in reality, it
is anything but! In many countries, governments
are now devolving more power to teachers, learning to trust their judgment and
realizing the accumulation of screeds of national data may be useful for
turning children into algorithms, but actually just distract from learning. To
do that, of course, we need to raise the standard of teaching and invest more
in recruiting the most committed and able people into the profession. Sadly,
that, as the Minister knows, costs rather more money.

Ethics and Values

Curriculum Posted on Tue, June 19, 2018 12:03:47

and Ethics in our Schools

consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we
ought.” Pope Paul II

the Government continues its crusade to enforce the teaching of British values and character in our schools, there is a
much more urgent issue that needs to be addressed. Daily, we read of actions
and behaviours that show an absence of self-regulation and a lack of integrity,
morality or any sense of social responsibility.

the old social groupings of nuclear families, extended families, church and
local communities are replaced by imagined communities and the State, we have a
generation that includes many who are rudderless, isolated and lonely, drifting
without any moral anchor or structure to their lives.

as it may be to promote the values of democracy, the rule of law, individual
liberty and mutual respect, faced with an endemic focus on self and the
self-made, both in our society and in our schools, there is an urgent need to
dig deeper, to ensure that children first grow up with a proper understanding
of right and wrong through a study of morals and ethics.

we celebrate the freedom embodied in the Magna Carta, the consequence of rapid social change over
several decades has resulted in a society where many children and adults are
struggling to cope. Inevitably, it is not about freedom, but about the exercise
of free will and the absence of a moral construct.

we are looking for examples, we need go no further than the recent press about tax
evasion and tax avoidance – one illegal, one not, although both raise moral
issues, especially when laws are manipulated by large companies and the very
rich for their own ends.

while the wealthy may have recourse to financial advisers and use tax havens
because they can afford to, they are not alone in making choices without moral
recourse, for we can all be guilty of it to some lesser degree, even if just by
supporting those multinationals engaged in large- scale tax avoidance. In such
instances, there is rarely any consideration of community or
other people’s welfare, or any expectation to make decisions on any other basis
other than ‘what’s in it for me?’

we expect our children to grow up with a respect for the rule of law, (which
needs to be seen as fair and equitable for all), then we need to teach them
about making moral choices and having a value system as a basis for their

of this requires a change in the mindset that is prevalent in society, one that
says ‘if it is legal and if you can get away with it, then it is acceptable.’

order to make this change requires us to make time in our curriculum, through
assemblies and other school activities in order to teach our children to
consider issues and behaviour by a moral yardstick rather than more usual
measures of success. For without proper ethical considerations, we are in
danger of society becoming increasingly fragmented and unstable as
self-interest overshadows the public good.

other, powerful change in our society that adds to the ethical imperative is
the unprecedented and largely unregulated advances in science and technology
that are happening across the globe.

of the projects may appear inconceivable – as did mapping the human genome a
decade ago – and as implausible as the Gilgamesh Project seems today. The pace
of change and innovation is bewildering. Instead of going hand in hand with
ethical considerations, scientists working in the fields of nanotechnology,
intelligent design, cyborg engineering or engineering of inorganic life are
largely operating outside of any moral construct.

dangers of unregulated technology, of not grounding decision- making on futures
in ethics are potentially catastrophic. In order for adults to begin to make
the appropriate political and ethical decisions on using new technologies, we
need first to start training our children to ask salient and responsible
questions, based on a resolute moral and ethical framework. We need to train
them to think differently.

In the
first instance, it is up to those leaders in society, the wealthy, the leaders
of industry and public figures to lead the way. And yet, our experience is that
their example is often a poor one, highlighted recently by yet another chapter
in the cash for access scandal.

was Teddy Roosevelt who said: “A man who has
never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university
education, he may steal the whole railroad
.” What he didn’t
add was “and get away with it”. Sadly, that
is the popular perception of many of our financial traders and politicians. If
we look at the banking crisis and expenses scandals, those guilty came
predominantly from the well-educated, from leading schools and universities.

we talk of someone in such terms of ‘well-educated’, we are defining the term
in a very narrow and inadequate way, usually measured by their performance in
tests. Clearly, there is something missing in their education, call it
humility, empathy, honesty or some similar values. Too often they leave school
compromised, half-cooked, despite their academic achievements. Somehow, their
otherwise excellent education has let them – and society, down.

live in an age of everyone for themselves to lesser or greater degree and we’re
not going to change that while the public conscience is unregulated, at least
not without a significant moral shift.

current focus on mindfulness on happiness, on well-being and on character is
all very well, but there is a more fundamental challenge for our schools.
British values aside, we don’t seem to be challenging our children enough with
the really fundamental questions about how they should live their lives.

cannot put everyone in a single moral universe but we can teach them about
cause and consequence, about the value of charity and community and about
having values that are not able to be measured in material terms alone.

talking of developing grit and resilience, we should be
offering the children in our schools an education in morals and values for that
would underpin their lives like nothing else.

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