Colin Lever

Author & Educationist

Month: March 2017

Is raising achievement making our children less intelligent?

Is Raising Achievement making our children less intelligent?

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A recent study carried out by an Oxford University professor, Danny Dorling, showed that the UK and the US were the worst countries for teaching to examinations. He showed that when students between the ages of 16 and 24 repeat exams in literacy, numeracy and problem solving performance drops significantly. In the UK just over half of our students achieved the benchmark of 5 A* to C grades and how the pupils are taught in our schools is no different.

 

Such is the pressure to ‘perform’, many schools in the UK are not averse to using subterfuge.  From sanitising schools; to massaging results; to the use of quack-science, no stone is left unturned in this pursuit.  It is a sad situation when those we entrust with our children’s wellbeing have to resort to cheating but this is typical of education today.

 

Whatever happened to ‘nurture’?

 

The political talk is of raising achievement but there is a world of difference between improving examination performance and raising educational standards. Be under no illusion, what is taking place in schools across many countries has more to do with political expediency than it has about trying to raise a child’s career opportunities. There is a global, political, imperative to be seen at the top of international ‘performance’ leagues. It is akin to a country topping the medals table at the Olympics. Internationally, politicians believe that being the top, reflects the superior nature of their ideology. Nationally, the pursuit of ever improving performance targets seduces voters into believing that the government is actually raising attainment.

 

In their drive to ‘raise achievement’ a number of schools have lost sight of what role they play in society, deluding themselves and the general  public that educational standards are improving. To ensure accountability in the system, a whole circus of advisors and data systems have been acquired, sucking out vital capital from the classroom and replacing it with angst and anxiety as teachers and pupils feel the heat.

 

The present educational model is unsustainable. You cannot expect a year on year improvement because capability in the population is not exponential. You will always have a range of abilities and there will be those who will not be able to pass at the required level no matter how much time, effort and money you throw at them.  Intelligence is one of a number limiting factors that will cause improvement to plateau at some point in time.  Making examinations ‘harder’ just creates more failures.

 

We have to ask ourselves what it is we actually want from our education system? Focussing purely on ‘performance’ is a false economy, it does not provide a workforce that is skilled enough and will affect economic growth. In terms of social and emotional development this narrow approach to education is creating adults with significant mental health issues, people who do not have the resilience to cope with modern day life. Far from removing social barriers, focussing on performance alone is, in fact, re-enforcing social division and introducing a pupil premium is not going to change anything.

 

Intelligence, like many other human traits is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. We can improve a child’s basic intelligence over time but to do so they must get the right kind of stimulus and motivation. Learning by rote does little except create disaffection.

 

The mantra in education used to be ‘broad and balanced’. Although more content has been added to the curriculum at all levels it cannot be said that it is either broad or balanced. Training children to pass examinations does not teach them to problem solve, apply knowledge, analyse, synthesise or evaluate. Many students emerge lacking the capability to think independently and Professor Dorling’s research emphasises this.

 

Maybe this is a political ploy, to under educate the masses whilst raising the academic ceiling so that the majority can never really aspire to anything. For to improve intelligence would be to create a wider  public with the capacity to reason and to question what is happening around them, and that might not be advantageous at election time. In the end, some politicians stand for nothing but re-election.

 

But the politicians need not worry, the signs are that our children are becoming less intelligent. Professor Dorling’s report is just the latest in a long line of research indicating as much. In 2006 Professor Michael Shayer carried out an extensive study of primary school children which drew this same t conclusion. In the UK the ‘Flynn effect’, an adjustment that is made to standardise the IQ test every generation, is actually falling. In England  just under half the school population cannot pass their GCSE’s. Many leave still unable to do the basics. Our education system is actually deskilling the future workforce.

 

If there really is a desire to raise educational standards then educational policy should be looking at how it can improve the intelligence of ALL children. This requires a change in how children are taught, the volume of information they are expected to acquire, the quality of teaching and learning available and a broad and balanced curriculum with an emphasis on the development of thinking skills. The irony is that if we were to move in this direction, performance in examinations would improve as a consequence.

Adapted from an article in the Jersey Evening Post 01/06/16

Colin Lever is the author of; 

Children in Need; Education, Wellbeing and the pursuit of GDP

Understanding Challenging Behaviour in the Inclusive Classroom

The pursuit of GDP and rise in challenging behaviour of pupils

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Family Matters

One in two marriages end in divorce. The average life of a marriage is eleven years. 1.9 million single parent families with dependent children. The average household debt in the UK stands at £54K and has doubled in ten years. 78% of children attend a childminder. Children spend around six hours a day in front of a screen. Nicky Morgan (UK, Education Secretary) is quoted;

 

“Some parents struggle to find just ten minutes a day to read to sons and daughters because of the demands of work.”

 

The statistics paint a picture of families reliant on debt and working as many hours as they can to manage that debt. How reflective are they of family life today and what values underpin them?

 

If a family is to function properly, it must be able to satisfy the needs of each member. The most basic needs are physiological, health and hygiene etc. Yet, one in three children are now clinically obese and 50% of under eights have serious, tooth decay. If these, most basic of needs are not met what effect will this have on the child?

 

A family should be protective of its members and provide emotional stability. Where physical or emotional abuse is evident, family members may feel insecure.  In England, 48,000 children are in need of protection and 68,000 are in care. Physical abuse is all too obvious but emotional abuse is much harder to detect.

 

A child may be ‘cared for’ by having their basic needs met but if there is a lack of affection in the home this may affect their wellbeing. Parents that are ‘too busy’ may shower their children with gifts. Pampering them by giving in to their demands does not foster a sense of belonging. Lack of belonging is one of the reasons why some children are susceptible to being groomed, whether by paedophiles or extremists.

 

Strong relationships within the family help to build self-esteem and confidence. Insecure attachments can lead to feelings of inferiority or depression and to difficulties in forming long-term relationships. Relationships become brittle and may be brutal. Mental Health issues are often the result of insecure attachments.

 

Some parents convince themselves that they are ‘providing’ for their children by going out to work but the reality is that they are using this as an excuse to satisfy their own, selfish, needs. Getting the balance correct is not an easy one. Compromise is inevitable but if intrinsic family values are sound they will act as a stabiliser. Parenting styles shape the child and become self-perpetuating.

 

If needs are not met then a person is unlikely to achieve their full potential. What emerges is likely to be somebody that is self-centred, focussing on purely on their career, ambition etc.

 

My parents were part of the society that voted for a National Health Service and a Welfare State. These were ideals supported by a strong sense of collectivism on the part of the whole nation, a new beginning after the ravages of Two World Wars. The sense of community was strong with family values such as living within one’s means, respect for others and being neighbourly.

 

The altruistic ideals that created our National Health System and a ‘cradle to grave’ Welfare State have changed. Progress is now judged largely in terms of material acquisitions. It is more about image than wellbeing. We look in horror at a three year old plucked dead from the sea yet we use the maxim ‘charity begins at home’ as an excuse to stop immigration in all of its forms?  Our culture used to be one based on tolerance.

 

Raising children is no longer viewed holistically. Parents put the emphasis on their careers, some even have children as a ‘to do’ item on their checklist, disregarding the commitment required to raise the child. If a child is placed for long periods with a child minder for long periods from whom do they learn their moral compass?

 

Following the financial crash of 2007/8, austerity has chipped away at the institutions created by our forebears. The vulnerable in society are squeezed, the elderly, the disabled and the poor. They are the ones who are forced to make sacrifices caused by those individuals who put self first. Society’s leaders, many of them products of an elitist culture, do not comprehend the human cost of their decisions on the needy.

 

There is a distinct deficiency of empathy running through all levels of society as people now display individualism rather collectivism. The rich get richer and the rest endeavour to emulate ‘the haves’ rather than trying to help the ‘have-nots’.  Politics shapes family values which in turn defines our politics. There is no doubt that families matter.

Adapted from an article in the Jersey Evening Post 13/10/15

Colin Lever is the author of; 

Children in Need; Education, Wellbeing and the pursuit of GDP

Understanding Challenging Behaviour in the Inclusive Classroom

© 2017 Colin Lever

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