Colin Lever

Author & Educationist

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How education divides society

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The purpose of a pupil premium in the UK is to raise the academic achievement of ‘under privileged’ children, seeking to lift them out of their cycle of poverty and help to create a more equal society. The early signs  are that the initiative is working, albeit slowly. Success is measured by comparing the achievement gap between those registered and the rest of the school population. That gap is closing in the primary sector but in the secondary sector the gap is proving harder to bridge. The likely reason for this discrepancy is that as pupils get older their sense of failure becomes more ingrained. Getting a teaching assistant to help them is tantamount to sticking a dunce’s hat on their head. The very act of trying to support them stigmatises them in the eyes of their peers.

There are those that think it is throwing good money after bad as the odds against these children succeeding are substantial. Children who exhibit significant behaviour problems mainly come from this cohort and as such provide a real challenge. Hence, the quality of support is vital if the pupil premium is going to be a success. Does that degree of expertise exist in enough numbers to meet the demand?

The project is being funded, on Jersey, to the tune of£850,000 per year. Just over two thousand pupils are eligible. Each primary child selected receives an extra £700 and £450 for secondary pupils. It would be churlish to criticise such philanthropy but whilst States members congratulate themselves on a vote winner they remain silent about that other piece of educational patronage; the eight million pounds that is allocated to the two thousand pupils that attend the rebranded ‘States Funded Private Schools’, an oxymoron with serious societal implications. It is TEN TIMES the amount apportioned to the pupil premium. The States also subsidise other Independent schools to the tune of £4 million, with the highest paid head teacher on the island, being in charge of one of these. And what of the majority of pupils that receive no extra financial support? Most islanders cannot afford to send their children to a S.F.P.S yet it is their taxes that subsidise them.

Every pupil is given an ‘assisted weight pupil unit’ or A.W.P.U. This is tallied up to decide school funding. For example the A.W.P.U for a child in a State Primary is around £3,500 and for a secondary school pupil is about £6,500. The A.W.P.U for a child from a S.F.P.S is around half that of a child in the states sector. However, when school fees and sponsorship are added the figure is far in excess of that in the States sector.

In the UK, Independent schools register themselves as a charity.  By registering they save £522 million in  taxes, revenue that could be used for the benefit of all children. The argument used by those that send their children to private schools for continuing the ‘subsidy’ is that they are paying twice. But it is a facile argument. If they want to pay extra, that is their choice and it brings with it exclusivity and privilege. Most parents do not have a choice.

For this taxpayer’s investment in private education what does the island get for their money that a state school could not offer? The number of pupils with Special Educational Needs and/or those with English as a second language are marginal (compared to a school like Haute Vallée that has 13% with S.E.N and 39% E.A.L. Haute Vallée also includes a unit for pupils with autism and integrates pupils from Mont a l’Abbé special school). State funded schools are supposed to promote inclusion and equality, the S.F.P.S  are by their very nature exclusive.

To any outside observer, seeking to make efficiencies in our education system this would be a no brainer. £12 million would pay for free places for all Nursery children, cover the cost of the pupil premium, fund the Jersey Childcare Trust, provide a free music service for all pupils, under write a H.E student loan system  and raise attainment across all schools. Supporters of S.F.P.S say that they are saving the States money by taking their children out of the state system but any school receiving funding from the States should embrace inclusion and equality of opportunity. Likewise, by continuing to provide capital, the States are openly shoring up societal inequality whilst purporting to advocate inclusion via the pupil premium, at a ratio of £10 to £1.

Whilst politicians pay homage to the pupil premium in the hope that some of its political fairy dust will come their way, to rage against the machine is to commit political suicide. The ghost of James Reid (the ex Education Minister that dared to propose cuts in funding for private schools) haunts the States Chamber as a warning to any that dare question the status quo and is testament that the lobby upholding S.F.P.S funding is potent. This institution is a window into the soul of the island. It is a pillar of the established order that maintains a glass ceiling way beyond a person’s formative years. Children learn much from their time at school and until the educational divide is removed the divisions in society on Jersey and in the UK, will remain.

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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

G.E.R.M or S.T.E.M? The fight for hearts and minds

 

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The digital economy is about much more than automation, on-line gambling and computer gaming. The whole fabric of society is changing and its possibilities are endless. Imagine a transport system where everything from traffic lights, vehicle speed and parking is controlled in real time (Bristol, in the UK, is trialling this at present); or how about your vital statistics; your blood pressure, diet and fitness accessed by your GP again in real time? All this can be achieved via data assimilation and subsequent analysis. There will be readers old enough to recall punch card coding machines. The twenty first century equivalent is much faster and a heck of a lot more information is gathered.

 

It is anticipated that the digital economy could be bigger than that of finance. At present it represents around ten per cent of G.D.P in the UK so if it is to compete the necessary infrastructure will have to be put in place to allow it to blossom. One key component of that infrastructure is education and training.

It is widely recognised that there is a lack of teacher expertise when it comes to computer coding (teacher training uptake for computing is only 68%). Yet binary was part of the curriculum up until the nineteen seventies; advances in science and maths education under Nuffield and Salter’s, also in that decade, were followed by changes in ‘craft’ subjects to more technological subjects such as electronics and systems in the nineteen eighties and nineties via the Technological and Vocational Educational Initiative, in the UK. All this ‘expertise’ has been lost in the last two decades as the pursuit of examination prowess has taken hold.

A brief survey has shown that coding is now being taught in key stages, one, two and three (11-14 years of age). There are also courses in computing being taught at Further Education level.  But, apart from the private schools, the uptake in Key Stage four is patchy. The discrepancy is not just about resources but also about priorities.

Globally, the chase is on to be dominant in the digital market and this has initiated a worldwide battle within education. At stake are the hearts and minds of our children. A global education reform movement (G.E.R.M) has taken hold in countries such as the USA, Australia, the UK….. and Jersey. It is an educational orthodoxy that relies on standardisation of practice. It focuses only on core subjects with examination results as its single benchmark. This political ideology does not meet the demands of a digital economy. As a consequence, a new movement is gaining traction. It is called S.T.E.M (science, technology, engineering and maths). It is the antithesis of G.E.R.M. Yes it is biased towards certain subjects but it is not so much the content that is the issue but rather how it is taught.

There is a place for instruction and a place for learning. By learning I mean pupils actively taking control of their work, through engagement, enterprise and understanding. The G.E.R.M approach utilises learning by rote. It stifles ‘thinking skills’ and is ultimately de-motivating. S.T.E.M is the polar opposite, it even blurs the boundaries between the subjects, working on common ‘problems’ or themes to effect learning.  G.E.R.M is de-skilling both the teaching profession and our future workforce and, as such, is not conducive to the construction of an infrastructure to support and develop the island’s digital economy. Computer coding cannot be taught by rote, pupils have to be given time and space in class to develop the necessary cognitive skills. This is why it is marginalised at key stage stage four where the over-riding priority is to get those five A* to C grades. Only the better resourced schools are able to facilitate both.

 

Billions of pounds a year has been put into  raising achievement at GCSE level which has only improved marginally. That money could be better invested training  teachers in computer coding. Which do you think gives better value for money? All governments need to look to their future and to have a workforce with the necessary skills to contribute to the economy, providing development for future generations.  G.E.R.M offers very little, S.T.E.M (and the pedagogy it utilises) does much, much more.  G.E.R.M warfare has begun and it is a battle we must win if we are to rescue the hearts and minds of our children and build a sustainable economy fit for the twenty first century.

 

Adapted from Colin Lever’s article in the Jersey Evening Post (31/01/2017)

 

Education and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

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Education and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

There have been three industrial revolutions and we are in the early throes of the fourth. For the record the first three were; steam power to drive mechanisation, electrical power to facilitate mass production and electronics/computing to develop automation. The common feature of all of them is the replacement of labour intensive practices.

The fourth industrial revolution is no different and, arguably, will be even more brutal in respect of causing mass unemployment. The prediction is that up to fifty percent of the present workforce will become surplus to requirements within the next twenty years. This latest ‘revolution’ is a fusion of the digital and the biological, with data recording and analysis as the link! The difference between the fourth and the other three is that rate of change is predicted to be exponential, affecting not just low paid jobs but all aspects of work from agriculture to accounting and from shop assistants to administration. It is estimated that each ‘AI’ will take the place of around ten people.

We already have A.T.Ms and self-service checkouts. Planes mostly fly themselves these days and automation accounts for at least a third of investment banking practice. It is an interesting exercise to speculate which jobs cannot be automated. Stephen Hawking believes that the only jobs left unscathed will be those relating to care, creativity and supervisory (including maintenance). I also believe that specialist construction work will survive. There are already computer programs that negate the use of a teacher. Combine these with distance learning which has been around for more than half a century and you begin to get the picture.

Rather than becoming a thing of the past, zero hours contracts, or at least short term contracts, will be the order of the day. Jobs for life are becoming increasingly scarce, to be replaced by ‘freelance’ expertise that is bought in, much like plumbers and electricians. What is left of the workforce will have to compete for short-term posts.

How will the unemployed survive? There are moves afoot to create a universal basic income (U.B.I) a basic income paid to all families, upon which they will be able to live. This will allow people to choose whether to work or not and it will transform society. It is hard to comprehend for those of us who have been raised with the idea that you must work hard to earn a living and that nothing should come from free. But with mass unemployment looming what is the alternative, a return to Victorian poverty?

What has this to do with education? Everything! I recall when I first came to the island finding it hard to motivate pupils to focus on their exams, the reason being that there was zero unemployment and most could walk into a job in finance. Although the cause was different the effect will be the same.

At present, supposed academic subjects have been given priority, with ‘softer’ subjects such as the Arts and technology increasingly marginalised. Yet in the not too distant future the whole approach will have to be turned on its head as the skills inherent in these subjects become more valued. The emphasis will be on developing basic life skills and the pursuit of leisure as opposed to a career based approach. Traditional crafts like cooking and working with materials (woodwork, textiles etc) may make a return; possibly sports, culture and an increased emphasis on maintaining a clean environment. The teaching profession, assuming that we will still have one, will have to engage, enthuse and inspire if it is to stand any chance of maintaining pupil focus.

As with all the other industrial revolutions, job losses in traditional areas will be replaced by new ones, albeit far fewer. Already we are seeing that education is struggling to meet the growing demand for expertise in the emerging digital economy. Unfortunately, like those who ignore global warming until the waves are lapping at their door, policymakers remain blinkered in their insistence on sticking to old, ‘familiar’ habits. The speed at which education adapts to change is predictably glacial, and not just on Jersey. Rather than being ahead of the market it is forever playing catch up. To ignore the fast changing world that is happening outside education is to build up a whole stack of problems for future generations. From its present narrow focus, education will have to return being both broad and balanced if it is meet the needs of society and the economy of the future.

(adapted from my article in the Jersey Evening Post 03/01/2017)

Secret Teacher (Jersey)

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Secret Teacher (Not me b.t.w!)

The squeezed Middle

When I started teaching my ambition was to run a department. This was my chance to build an educational experience that would produce sheer pleasure for all involved. We would be creative, successful, inspiring and would take on the challenges that teachers face as a supportive team of talented practitioners. I knew I cared intensely about them. I knew I cared intensely about the students and what was best for them. I knew I could develop a group who would support each other and not be afraid to take risks to get the best outcomes. Most of all, I knew I loved being part of the education profession, where teachers would hold their heads high as valued members of society. We would help build the future of our young people. If we got this right, and taught our subjects with passion and quality, the exam results would come.

 

I also believed that my head teacher would support me because they would see all of my qualities and trust me. If it went wrong they would support me as I supported my staff. It was not about blame or power, but about teaching; the most important profession in the world. How could this not happen? It was exciting and I would be the proudest person in teaching.

 

It started to unravel with the introduction of the label “middle manager”; a bit like when homes became properties. I now have a defined role. That’s great I hear you cry. You know what to do! But that role has changed the nature of my experience and squeezed the passion out of me. This is the role of a squeezed middle leader:

  • Learning walks.
  • Data analysis of many kinds
  • Book scrutinises
  • Faculty improvement plans to write and continuously update
  • Continuous new initiatives to introduce, given to me by the growing senior management team.
  • Constant monitoring of teachers performance both formally and informally
  • Appraisals and follow up appraisals
  • Department reviews
  • Lesson observations for the aforementioned appraisals
  • Follow up learning walks
  • Constant evidence gathering to prove we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. That we are implementing the latest initiative
  • Curriculum development!
  • Manage the ever shrinking budget.

Oh, and I teach a full timetable. I keep my passion for this. I prioritise as much as I can. Of course I cut corners. Ironically, marking and lesson planning. I do not practise what I am meant to preach anymore. Instead, I talk a good game and do as much as I can to balance the demands from the ever growing senior leadership team with the realities of what my colleagues can actually achieve. Caring has become an exercise in protection.

 

Curriculum development is a treat. Unfortunately this cannot be given the time it needs. The knock on effect is constant catch up and a deskilling of me as a teacher. I do this under a mantra from senior managers that have phantom timetables created under the heading “work smarter”. To perform the task of a classroom teacher required by the layers of demand made, you have to work a minimum of 50 hours per week. To perform the role of a “middle manager” this has to be at least 60 hours. And you will not complete everything. You have to accept this from day one.

 

So, I am burnt out. And like a washing machine that has been spun too often; I need repair. In the modern market place of teaching, just like in our kitchen, it is easier to buy a new one. It probably has more modern features anyway; uses less energy and takes a larger load. It even has a faster spin speed and comes with a 3 year guarantee. And it’s cheaper, even if it needs replacing every 3 years.

 

I still care intensely about my profession. But it does not care about me. Instead, school leaders look outside of middle managers to find inspiration; to fads and fashions in teaching; to any one of a plethora of educational gurus who will come and ‘advise’, like modern day snake oil salespeople of education. So farewell to the dreams. Now it’s about survival. Tick all the boxes, keep senior management happy; enjoy what you can and try to make it to retirement with something left to retire with.

 

Good luck to those who take over. You have my support.

 

The Secret Teacher.

(First Published in the Jersey Evening Post, November 2016)

 

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).

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