Colin Lever

Author & Educationist

Author: Colin Lever (page 2 of 2)

Wellbeing in Jersey schools

Wellbeing

What is the connection between the Duchess of Cambridge and the fact the Jersey has one of the highest rates of alcohol consumption in the world? The answer? Wellbeing. The Duchess is the patron of the children’s mental health charity ‘Place2Be’and alcoholism is one possible consequence of a lack of wellbeing.  Others include;

 

  • The number of people taking anti-depressants on Jersey increased by 50% in 2015.
  • Jersey has twice as many drug users per head of population than the UK
  • There are children as young as 12 taking ‘legal highs’
  • Suicide rates in men on Jersey are higher than in the UK
  • A 2012 survey looking into the Mental Health of Jersey’s population, assessed it as mediocre.

 

We have physical health and we have mental health. Whilst we are usually aware of our physical wellbeing we are not always conscious of how fit we are mentally. Both are shaped by life but our mental health is not always within our control, especially in our formative years. There is a continuum in respect of mental wellbeing from the cradle to the grave with the former influencing the latter. The World Happiness report of 2013 stated that half of the adults who are mentally ill experience the onset of their mental health problems by the age of fifteen. Jersey is no exception.

  • 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a mental health disorder (around three children in every class)
  • 1 in every 12  children and young people deliberately self-harm
  • Over 8,000 children aged under 10 years old suffer from severe depression

 

Developing wellbeing is as is important as learning Maths and English; some would argue more so. And that development begins at birth. Carol Dweck and Professor Michael Seligman have shown that by attending to a baby’s emotional needs in their first year, parents can begin to establish resilience in their children. They advise that it is better for a child’s mental health to acknowledge effort regardless of achievement; a ‘well done’ rather than only rewarding success. In that simple change of emphasis lie’s the key to educating for wellbeing. How often do you get praised for doing something well and if so, how does it make you feel? And if you don’t?

 

In pre-school there is the rise of what is described as ‘seating time’ and a pre-occupation with teaching literacy and numeracy as opposed to structured play. Parents may push their offspring to be readers before they start full time school so that they can be ‘ahead of the game’. Yet recent research shows that structured play is essential in developing mental wellbeing.

 

Once in full-time schooling, children largely follow a prescriptive structure where emotional development is no longer a priority. The emphasis in Jersey schools, from the age of four to eighteen is to hit set targets. Attention is given to attainment rather than effort. Teaching is becoming formulaic and putting the profession under increasing stress as they too have to meet targets. Stress is infectious and, combined with parental pressure to succeed many children are growing up fearing failure. Ten GCSE’s with a D in Maths or English is failure. The child who works really hard to get an E or an F does not even get a ‘thumbs up’. Continuous, performance based education does not sit easily with wellbeing.

 

Whilst every parent wants their child to do well at school they do not want success at any price. Parents are taking notice, putting the needs of their child first. Some are home-schooling rather than starting their children too early in full-time education, others are making the conscious decision to ‘back-off’ and work towards achieving a better work-life balance for their children even if that means not performing to potential.  They are realising that their children need support and protection, nurturing in an environment that is conducive to their long term mental health.

 

It is disappointing that in Jersey’s Educational Business Plan 2015/18, there is no mention of wellbeing, of children or staff. Yet the part education should play in society’s wellbeing is crucial. Mental health has to be sown into the fabric of education if it is to work. It needs to become a part of Jersey’s educational ethos. In the Primary sector Jersey has an established ‘Wellbeing’ team. Every States secondary school has a school counsellor. These facilities play a key part in supporting our children’s mental health but they are largely reactive, especially in the secondary sector. Wellbeing is not just about ticking a policy box. It is a case of being rather than doing. Our education system should be pro-active. It is encouraging that plans are afoot to raise awareness of mental health in schools but before any attention is paid to raising attainment surely our education department has to ensure the mental wellbeing of the pupils it has in its care.

Originally published in the J.E.P 10/03/2016

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What is the point in doing Maths?

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The mantra for as long as I can remember has been that it is essential for children leaving school to be numerate (and literate). But beyond the four rules of number it is difficult to find any real advantage in pursuing Maths to the level demanded at present. Who uses quadratic equations and, other than down at the bookies, what use is probability for most folk? There is always the cognitive development argument but it holds little sway with the majority of folk who just don’t get Maths.

 

Maths is a little like Marmite. You either love it or hate it. You end up competent or scarred for life, possessing an innate fear of anything that involves numbers. Nowadays there is no need to stand for ages in front of supermarket shelves trying to work out the best deals when you can do it in seconds on your mobile phone. Mental arithmetic is a thing of the past. When was the last time you worked out a ‘sum’ in your head? The answer is likely to depend on your age.

 

Business is always complaining that compulsory education does not meet the needs of the job market. It could be argued that the chasm between the two is wider than ever. At present the focus is all about performance with us competing against other countries to rise up the P.I.S.A league table (at present England ranks twenty third when it comes to maths) but education is changing as world leaders are realising that chasing grades is not delivering growth; be that economic, environmental or social.

 

Yet schools persist with taking on board the South East Asian approach to teaching, especially in maths. There is no doubt that learning by rote and ‘practice makes perfect’ provides competence but, as Einstein said “Never memorize something that you can look up in a book”…or find out on a phone!

 

Our brain is our greatest resource and, up until now we have barely touched on upon its capability. The fourth industrial revolution, cyber-technology has already begun. It is about combining the digital with the physical and expanding our minds using innovative, educational approaches. Science fiction? The traditional skills we have relied on for so many years are becoming defunct. So what skills do we need as we move forward?

 

Specific subjects will give way to more generic themes such as problem solving, critical thinking, emotional intelligence and working collectively.  The new global economy is looking to maximise human wellbeing as opposed to capitalism. Freedom of speech is being overtaken by the principle of freedom of thought, something the Chinese approach to maths just cannot deliver.

 

In this fast changing technological world ‘the basics’ still provide the bedrock but it is not just what is taught rather how it is taught that is going to shape education.

 

Consider this;

80% of twelve year olds can correctly divide 225 by 15 but only 40% can solve the following problem; “If a car maker has 225 cars to place equally in 15 showrooms, how many would be in each?”

 

Cyber-technology goes much further. It combines the digital with the cerebral in order to solve real world issues. For example we might ask the question;

 

“Are men better drivers than women?”

 

Using key questions to stimulate activity is just the start. Work like this can then lead into some high end Maths. The pupils explore the internet, investigate and analyse available data. They might work as a team or individually. All the while they are developing much more than basic mathematical skills. Using evaluation techniques they can go deeper into the social side of the problem, using maths to assess reliability of information. Approaches like this provide, motivation and challenge, propelling pupils to perform at a much higher level than they would using traditional methods. They unlock the black box that is the brain. And if local companies provide the initial problem/data even better.

 

We now have computer coding in schools. This is a start but without a complementary educational strategy its value will be diminished. Most schools use educational software programmes that mirror traditional teaching methods. These do not develop the skills needed to progress. There is still a debate in schools about the efficacy of using digital technology in the classroom as old traditions resist change.

 

In 2018 P.I.S.A is going to assess skills such as problem solving and critical thinking. It will be interesting to see where we are in this league table.  What happens in schools affects the success of our economy. Where is the ‘think tank’ for education that will take a longer term view of educational needs on the island? Without forward planning we will forever be late to the table and that puts our economic potential at a significant disadvantage.

 

Proposals for changes in education on Jersey

Medium Term Financial Plan

 

It is worrying that the proposed savings in education may result in lost jobs but the cuts go far deeper than is at first apparent. We were all under the impression that the education budget was supposed to be ring fenced, indeed the States Assembly recently voted to invest further. So how come it is now facing a £25 million cut?  Is this what Nicola Sturgeon describes as ‘a whopper’?! We would all agree that the needs of every child on the island should be paramount so how do the proposed savings stand up to this fundamental benchmark? The fact that Jersey has one of the lowest education budgets in the world (2% GDP) is not an auspicious start.

 

When seeking to make efficiencies within a workforce the spotlight inevitably falls on staffing and work practices. It is a delicate operation trying to maintain services whilst seeking to balance the books.  Schools receive their budget based on an age weighted pupil unit (A.W.P.U). It is a complicated formula (aren’t they all!) but for each child it averages out among the States secondary schools at around £6,500 per pupil.

 

The States subsidise fee paying schools (50%) and when you factor in fees paid, their A.W.P.U is significantly in excess of that in the States secondary schools. In 2014 public money give to the fee paying secondary sector amounted to nearly £8 million. There is a proposal to reduce this by three percent but think of how many more children would benefit if these schools were truly independent.

 

As in many government departments, education is rife with bureaucracy and resultant inefficiencies.

The approach adopted at head office in order to facilitate raising attainment brings with it press officers, data-analysts and professional partners, educational enforcers that tour schools Rottweiler like, making sure everybody is on message. A £100k saving here is hardly biting.

 

Around 1/5th of secondary schools are senior staff, all on generous timetables and very generous salaries. Having given teachers only a 1% rise the proposal is to increase differentials at a senior management level. How does this help the children in the classroom? Most of these posts are administrative and could be delivered by lower paid, non-teaching staff. Management finding jobs to do is nothing new. The proposals talk vaguely about making efficiencies, perhaps they will look here. Primary schools, although smaller, do not have such cumbersome management structures.

 

Messrs Bryans and Donovan are looking to address what some see as the archaic system of selection at fourteen, combining Hautlieu with Highlands to create a single F.E college.  This would significantly reduce costs at a management level and open up choice for post sixteen and but then the proposals to cut financial support for students in H.E stifles any social mobility.

 

In September, the department is about to launch its ‘inclusion’ policy. They are to be commended for doing this but to get it right does not come cheaply. Off site ‘support’ is arguably more expensive than what is actually offered in situ as some schools are already reducing specialist expertise for the most needy. The 50% cut to JCCT; removal of funding for Brooke; increasing music tuition fees are all proposals that will affect the wellbeing of the vulnerable in society, despite the injection of the pupil premium. Something as innocuous as outsourcing cleaning and gardening contracts needs serious consideration. Are all these private contractors going to run the necessary police checks on their zero hour employees?

 

Getting quality (any!) teachers to come to the island is proving a challenge so cutting starting salaries for new teachers is not going to help recruitment. Turning to on-island training is fine but what is on offer at present does not meet the standards for the UK and many other countries at present.  And what exactly is vacancy management? Does this mean not replacing teachers as they leave or using supply staff? This leads to larger classes and a shortage of expertise across all subjects, which is already an issue in schools.

 

In the education business plan 2015/18 there is a hint that state schools on the island could become more autonomous. Does this open the door for the much vaunted academies? These schools manage their own budgets. Perhaps Jersey might decide to go one step further and buy into ‘For profit schools’.  Good housekeeping? Fiscal prudence? The whole exercise is morally bankrupt. There is no investment and it will still be the case that those least in need are the most heavily resourced.

 

There is another alternative, one that does not rely on slash and burn management, one that would fit into the economic orthodoxy that rules the island; Train and resource all teachers to a standard that would empower them (like doctors and lawyers). This would remove the need for top heavy management structures, expensive and inefficient bureaucracy, restrictive practices and overpaid (over here) advisors, with the needy having to rely on charitable hand-outs. Ensuring the highest teaching standards throughout would remove inequalities, raise attainment and simplify the whole system at no extra cost.

 

 

Colin Lever is an educationist and writer.art reflecting education 1

Are Teachers an Endangered Species?

In any working environment motivation is provided either by carrot or by stick. Carrots materialise in the form of incentives, bonuses etc. Those unlucky enough to be employed by establishments that use the stick to beat their employees tend not to stay long. Staff turnover is high, mental health issues increase. This is what is happening in teaching.  Half consider leaving in the first two years and around two fifths do leave within the first five years.  In some schools almost 20% are supply teachers and even more are inexperienced or are teachers that would not normally have been considered for the post. Teacher shortages are starting to bite. There are fewer applicants for advertised posts, especially in key subjects. In secondary schools, subjects like Maths and English are being taught by non-specialists, more so now that they occur more often on the timetable.

Over the last few years teaching has changed beyond all recognition. Those entering the profession soon become disenchanted with what has become teaching by numbers. The days of being inspired by teachers who had a passion for their subject and a belief that they could transform lives are fast disappearing, replaced by automatons that are made to teach to a highly prescribed script. Innovation and enterprise are consigned to a few guerrilla tactics by those who dare defy. The sole aim is supposed to be to ‘raise attainment’ but this political sound bite is misleading the public.

art reflecting education 1Teachers now work to a strict meter. Lessons follow set workbooks, each lesson a new page. Every child, in every subject has a ‘flight path’. From a base point their progress is monitored, plotted against a predicted linear progression.  But children do not learn in a linear fashion.  If a child falls below expectations teachers begin a paper trail eating up precious planning time. Learning walks by superiors ensure teachers are following instructions. It all boils down to micro-management of ‘nit picking’ proportions. Big Brother is watching you! It is soul destroying. There are no carrots.

To quote Leicester City’s manager Claudio Ranieri; ‘volere è potere’; “To want is to be able to do”. Parents want results, children want to do well. In this respect nothing has changed. But expediency is exploiting underlying anxieties to the extent that children, often as young as five or six, are being taught in a toxic atmosphere where they fear failure rather celebrate effort. The motivation to succeed has always been there, it is how schools manage and channel that desire that is key. Children are not financial investments they are human beings that need to be nurtured.

Parents in England are taking action to protect their offspring. Assessment, formal or otherwise, is essential but it is the emphasis that is being placed on the outcome and the effect it is having on wellbeing in the classroom that is eating away at the profession.

The motive behind the push to ‘raise standards’ in education was revealed by the UK Schools Minister, Nick Gibb. In a recent interview on the BBC he let slip that tests and assessment;

“….are there to hold teachers to account. They do not affect children.”

There are numerous other ways to ensure accountability within a workforce. And to fail to recognise the extra-ordinary pressure our children are being subjected to in order to achieve that aim is, at best, naive. If what is happening in schools compromises a child’s wellbeing it should not be taking place.

The reasoning is, that by holding teachers to account this will increase competition and so teaching standards will rise. The reality is a counter-productive scenario where broader achievement is compromised. Intelligence is certainly falling.

There are teachers who will remain, for financial reasons or because of habitualised altruism. Like any workforce, others will step up to the plate but whether like is replaced is like is an unknown. Teaching was once seen as a vocation but the integrity of the profession is being eroded and this legacy will impact on future generations.

There is a third way of managing employees, empowerment. But this involves trust, handing staff responsibility. I have worked in ‘failing schools’ that have turned themselves around and what they all had in common was Ranieri’s belief that by empowering  a workforce this provides the motivation to deliver exceptional results.

This article has been adapted from my book Children in Need: Education, wellbeing and the pursuit of GDP. I’m also the author of Understanding Behaviour in the inclusive classroom (Routledge).

Child Development

It is well established that the first twelve months of a child’s life play a pivotal role in a person’s physical and mental development. This is the age when brain development is, arguably, at its highest. Children learn to walk, talk, co-ordinate. Theirs is a world of inquisitiveness as they explore their environment, all of which is new to them. The same is true of their emotional and behavioural development. In a loving and caring environment the child gains esteem, building a positive resilience in the knowledge that they are being supported. In the first twelve months, the young child endeavours to build secure attachments to their primary carer, usually the mother, and then with other family members.

If a child is placed outside of the family unit at this formative stage then secure attachment may be compromised. Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need as a benchmark, placing a baby in childcare may result in their physiological and basic health and safety needs being met but we cannot be certain that its emotional needs are met. The younger a child is when placed with a carer and the longer it is away from its parents the more likely its sense of belonging will be compromised. It would be natural for a baby, developmentally between the ages of 6 weeks to 7 months, to strike an attachment to the adult it spends most of its waking day with. This might be the childcare adult in preference to the parent. This situation may create uncertainty in the young child, leading to anxiety, stress and affecting their emerging self-esteem.

Much is made of children being born into poverty and the deprivation that ensues but what of the child born today in any social demographic where the parents are absent during these formative weeks and months? Diana Baumind identified four types of parenting one of them being neglectful. We have all seen the upsetting pictures of child neglect but is this too strong a term to describe parents who, as Nicky Morgan the Education secretary did in a BBC interview?

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

Other parents compensate for their absence by over-indulging their children. This permissive approach can lead to dietary issues such as child obesity and tooth decay, conditions not normally associated with negligence.

Research tells us that the absence of a discrete primary care-giver leads to insecure attachments which in turn reduce self-esteem and builds a negative resilience, sometimes described as a ‘survival instinct’. The rise in challenging behaviour in schools is often put down to an eroding respect for teachers and their inability to discipline but the root cause goes much deeper. It is well documented that insecure attachment manifests itself as ADHD, ADD, ODD, PTSD and other socio/emotional behaviour conditions. S.E.B.D is no longer the sole domain of the poor in society.

We cannot expect childcare providers to provide the necessary ‘emotional nurturing’, although many do exactly that as a result of their professional expertise, because by doing so they run the risk of, literally, taking the place of the parent in the eyes of the child. Nor can we assume that leaving children with a family member will fill the emotional vacuum. So where does this leave the child?

Modern day parenting is driven by social trends. The demand on some families is such that both parents have to work in order to keep a roof over their heads. The situation is further complicated by issues over equality and the rights of both parents to have a career. There is also the more insidious aspect of governments trying to boost GDP buy encouraging a debt driven economy which may create jobs but the consequence of the ensuing rampant consumerism is that both parents have to work to maintain their lifestyle.

Something has to give. There has to be compromise. After about 12 months, although child development is continuing, the resilience of the child is better established.  It should be borne in mind that insecure attachment can occur at any point in person’s life, be that parental divorce, bereavement or other cause of emotional trauma so any change in routine needs to handled sensitively.

The timing of moving from full-time parental care to a part-time one is significant. In many countries maternity leave is quite short, around three months. This coincides with both parents being back at work when secure attachment between primary caregiver and child is at its most vulnerable. If leave of absence was longer, around twelve months, this would support wellbeing and a child’s mental health development in these early stages. This of course would have financial implications for governments and for business. Is it right for parents to have to choose between having a child and having a career? Should they not be able to have both without risking the wellbeing of their child?

There are those in society who think that parents today are trying to have their cake and eat it. But society has changed. Yes there are families who may have their priorities wrong and put material assets before their child’s wellbeing, deluding themselves that all the extras will somehow improve the child’s quality of life. However, for many families today, both parents need to work just to keep their heads above water.

Businesses that value their employees play their part but some are more interested in profit than helping their staff. The link between business and altruism is at best a tenuous one. Unscrupulous companies are reluctant to support maternity leave let alone allow employees to take a break and then resume their careers where they left off.

Around 78% of families use some sort of childcare. Those that run nurseries have to have a level three qualification in childcare. But that is not the case with childcare ‘assistants’ who make up the majority of the adults in childcare. Much of the pay at this level is barely above the minimum wage.

Why is nursery education not a degree entry profession like the rest of education and paid accordingly? Of all the areas within education Pre-school is where there is least investment from all levels in society and yet this is where the foundations of social, emotional and educational development are built.

This article has been adapted from the book ‘Children in Need: Education, Wellbeing & the pursuit of GDP’. I am also the author of the book ‘Understanding Challenging Behaviour in the inclusive classroom’ (Routledge).

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