Colin Lever

Author & Educationist

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 2)

Is Competition Healthy?

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In any competition there are winners and losers. We learn from our mistakes or at least that’s what we like to tell ourselves. Whilst we cannot protect our children from experiencing setbacks, it is the nature of the defeat that shapes our character. I am not an advocate of wrapping children up in cotton wool but surely there should be a limit to how much we should expose them to failure, in terms of frequency and intensity. Robustness takes time to instil in a child.

 

On many a classroom wall there is a star chart, tallying up points for good practice for each child. Healthy competition? Providing a challenge and motivation? Invariably it is the same pupils that win (usually the most able or the naughty ones). Consider the quiet, compliant child at the back of the class. They barely get noticed. In fact there can be only one winner. How many times do you have to lose before you give up?

 

In China, classes are taught in mixed ability groups. Lists are put up for all to see, showing the rank order of best to worst. The ones at the bottom are, literally, named and shamed and this in a culture that places a strong emphasis on family honour. Achievement is raised through negative motivation.  Nobody wants to be bottom so they work like stink to avoid being the class dunce. They are subjected to this trauma from when they first start school at the age of five. It is no wonder suicide rates among teenagers are so high in the Far East.

 

Those over a certain age might be wondering what all the fuss is about. We were also taught in very large classes, using a chalk and talk approach. School reports always showed your position in the class.  Failure meant ridicule, laziness was sanctioned. ‘It did us no harm’ you say, but I bet you can all remember every blow as vividly as if it were yesterday. What have changed are the motives that drive education. The difference between then and now is that children were not seen as a commodity.

 

In Jersey, each teacher’s performance is monitored to ensure that every child in the class follows a linear progression in their learning. Deviations are seized upon, pressure is brought to bear on the teacher and subsequently on the pupil, to bring them back into line. What if the child is suffering a family trauma? Should we not expect that the child be excused such pressures, at least until the problem eases?

 

When every grade matters it is easy for the wellbeing of the child to be compromised for the sake of raising achievement. As a parent what comes first, your child’s wellbeing or getting those grades? It should be a ‘no brainer’ but for those in education the choice is not so straightforward.  We are now hearing the football manager’s cliché ‘we are in a results business’ echoing in the educational corridors of power. But should education be just about results? And if so, why are those not delivering, sacked, as football managers frequently are?

 

Be under no illusion, it is not just pupils that are now competing. Each and every school on the island is in competition with the other (we’ve all seen the banner at the top of St Saviour’s Hill). There institutional micro-management? It is compromising the ability of teachers to take a holistic view of the children? We exchanged one form of abuse for another. Are our children winners or losers in this game?

 

At what point does zealousness on the part of the professionals become exploitation of the child? What checks and balances are in place in school to ensure that the unscrupulous do not cross the line in their desire for ever higher results? Accountability should be as rigorous when it comes to wellbeing as it is in the pursuit of academic improvement. Yes there are policies and support in situ but surely it is more important to be pro-active and this involves putting the wellbeing of pupils and staff before results.  There can be no compromise.

 

The statistics regarding child mental health are a worry, so we need to know if there is any substance to these tales being told out of class. And what of the teachers? Stress and anxiety are contagious. How can we expect staff to be understanding of the pupils when they, themselves are not in a ‘good place’? We need to get at the facts and this can only be achieved by asking those directly involved, the pupils and the teachers.

 

 

Adapted from article in JEP

 

Child development and the pursuit of GDP

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While arguments rage about the efficacy of means testing parents who want to send their children to private nurseries something much more fundamental is being overlooked. 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 most versatile. Children learn to walk, talk and to co-ordinate. Theirs is a world of inquisitiveness as they explore their environment. The same is true of their emotional 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 that secure attachment may be compromised. 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 being catered for. 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, leading to anxiety, stress, affecting their emerging self-esteem.

 

Much is made of children being born into poverty but what of the child born today in any social demographic where the parents are absent for long periods during these formative months? 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’. It is well documented that insecure attachment can manifest itself as A.D.H.D, O.D.D, or P.T.S.D and other socio/emotional behaviour conditions. S.E.B.D is no longer the sole domain of the poor in society.

 

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. Governments encourage a debt driven economy which may create jobs but the consequence of rampant consumerism is that both parents have to work to maintain their lifestyle. Something has to give. There has to be compromise if we are to ensure the wellbeing of our children.

 

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 a person’s life, be that parental divorce, bereavement or other 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. Basic maternity leave on Jersey is 18 weeks but in the UK it is 26 weeks 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 better support a child’s mental health development. This of course would have financial implications. But why should a parent have to choose between having a child and having a career? Can they not have both without risking the wellbeing of their child?

 

If a child has to have childcare, parents want to be assured of a high quality of provision. At present there are minimum physical requirements that early years establishments have to meet. These include staff to children ratios, square footage etc. There is also a pre-school quality framework that nurseries have signed up to. This includes; relationships, organisation, learning and achievement. On Jersey assessment is largely through self-assessment. However, the degree of quality assurance is not evident. There is a lack of transparency and a dearth of independent information meaning that parents have little to refer to in order to help them facilitate choice.

 

Nursery managers have to have a level three qualification in childcare. But that is not the case with all childcare ‘assistants’ who make up the majority of the adults who, in turn are not well paid. Why is nursery education not a degree entry profession like the rest of education and paid accordingly?

 

Jersey has one of the highest numbers of working mothers in the world and so the demand for childcare places is high. The island spends far less on Pre-school education as a proportion of GDP than the UK(1.2%). Raising children in today’s society is an expensive business and parents bear the brunt of that expense. The three new nurseries will be a welcome addition but of all the areas within education Pre-school is where there is least investment and yet this is where the foundations of social, emotional and educational development are built.

 

Adapted from article in JEP

Child protection and the role of the school

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Haute de la Garenne was a scandal involving children in the care of the States of Jersey. People were employed to provide a ‘duty of care’, but as we now know, a small number of adults abused their positions of trust. Every employee within the care system has the same responsibility to the children under their guidance, from States Ministers right through to frontline staff. Whilst those identified as ‘abusers’ take the blame there is  a corporate responsibility to ensure that there are not only policies and procedures in place but that the necessary checks and balances are actively implemented.  One states minister has been accused of telling lies, another finds himself having to apologise for committing a ‘grave political error’ and a third does not see the efficacy of putting the needs of children first. These are examples of a lack of empathy with the whole issue of child protection, people seemingly putting their own political careers foremost. It is symptomatic of child abuse tragedies in the UK and across the world. Other ‘managers’ within the system are just as complicit, hiding behind policies and procedures. It should be a case of being not doing. Child abuse is still happening on Jersey and elsewhere. The need for a Children’s champion has never been greater.

 

Whilst the focus is on the care system, many children that are at risk are still under the supervision of their parents. It is the policy within social care to keep the child with its parents if at all possible. Their position is an invidious one and fraught with risk to the child at the centre. Jersey has appointed an advisory panel to look the recommendations coming from the resultant enquiry. I am not sure how far the remit of the newly appointed advisory panel extends but it must look at the broader picture in respect of child protection. Child abuse takes on many forms. Sexual and physical abuse make the headlines but emotional abuse and neglect are perhaps the most prevalent. Children in need rarely express their concerns openly. Challenging behaviour in school is often an expression of an unmet need and it is the skilled professional with the time to consider the situation that draws the right conclusion. Herein lies the rub.

 

All schools have policies and procedures in place with a designated staff member holding responsibility for child protection. Secondary schools have school counsellors and primary schools have visiting wellbeing experts. It is within these confidential conversations where children express their anxieties that many issues of abuse come to light. The referral route is well established, the problem is the ever increasing demand and the shortage of social workers. There were over 244 referrals to Children’s Services last November on Jersey, double the monthly amount.

 

However, it is also the case that classroom teachers get wind of children experiencing personal problems. A child might become more challenging in class or more introvert. It is a concern that with the present climate in schools staff, where they  may not pick up signs of abuse, so focussed are they on improving academic performance. It is an essential part of a teacher’s job but one which is being increasingly compromised.  This a prime example of management putting profit before people.

 

If behavioural issues are resolved using only punitive sanctions they can quickly escalate into something much bigger. Ultimately the child might receive an external suspension, putting them back into a family situation that increases their risk of being abused. In Jersey secondary schools, external suspensions have increased by almost 20% in the last five years. The maximum time allowed in respect of external suspension on Jersey is 45 days with a maximum of 15 days for each term.  The vast majority of school suspensions are for verbal abuse. Exclusions are an area that the advisory panel might want to look at. Children that are externally suspended might be being returned to a high risk situation. There are alternatives.

 

Another issue relating to school and child protection is the issue of vetting in respect of adults working in schools. All staff employed by a school are subject to standard police checks but what about jobs that are put out to tender, many of whom are new to the island and not cleared via statutory police checks? Such cost cutting is putting our children at risk.

 

The actions of some teachers as they attempt to maintain discipline and improve academic performance can be questionable. In most cases it comes from frustration at being unable to manage an individual’s behaviour and it is often the most vulnerable children that are the most challenging. Many teachers and management in school are not adequately skilled in dealing with child protection issues; more training is needed, especially in intervention techniques, if schools are to offer protection to all children. It is essential that schools do not become part of the problem.images

Industrial Relations

Industrial Relations

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In 2016 one of the teaching unions in Jersey (N.A.S.U.W.T) agreed an ‘educational partnership’ with Jersey States. It appeared to welcome in a new era of employer/employee industrial relations. On its anniversary in 2017, Education Minister, Deputy Rod Bryans stated;

 

“One of the main drivers for creating the Educational Partnership was to avoid the confrontational approach …and to put children and teachers at the heart of our decision-making.”

Kathy  Wallis, president of the NASUWT  UK added;

“It is clear that it is having a beneficial impact on the development of Jersey’s education system.”

A survey carried out soon after its creation saw 87% of teachers satisfied with their lot.

 

As this summer recess approaches we see;

  • Teaching staff turnover is almost double that of the UK (almost a third of the staff in one secondary school are leaving this summer)
  • Cutting class teachers salaries to balance the books of schools that have a large overspend (almost £1.5 million across all state schools, with one school accounting for over six hundred thousand pounds in the last two years)
  • A significant rise in the number of teachers being disciplined
  • A growing number of grievances being brought against senior management by teaching staff
  • One headteacher leaving following significant staff turnaround at the school (65 staff in seven years)

 

The tales of debilitating micromanagement emanating from many schools are increasing. Some think that conflict is an unfortunate consequence of trying to effect change in working practises.  New teachers coming into the profession know no different, they are cheaper and more accepting of the latest terms and conditions. But the principle of teaching being a vocation is being eroded and this it at the heart of the ‘troubles’. In the UK, one third of teachers leave within five years and 13% of NQT’s quit after just twelve months. Jersey’s education system cannot sustain a lower pay, high turnover approach to management. The graduate teacher training programme cannot meet such demands and the recruitment of Science and Maths teachers from UK universities has sourced less than five staff in the last two years.

 

We used to attract high quality teachers to the island, encouraged by competitive salaries, pay and conditions. In the UK about 10% of experienced staff that teach core subjects has left their posts.  There is evidence of this happening here. In the UK not enough people are taking up teaching, leading to significant staff shortages. It is naive to believe that Jersey is not affected in the same way. The Chair of Education has given reassures that ‘all teaching posts are filled’ for the start of the next academic year; but what with? It is impossible to get an accurate picture of how shortages, especially in the specialist subjects, are hitting Jersey schools as the education department remains tight lipped. This is an issue for ‘Scrutiny’.

 

Information relayed to the public speaks of standards rising. But this is because the data being used takes an average of the schools on the island, State schools and significantly, State Funded Private schools. It is difficult to get a homogenous sample but the latter group skew the data favourably. Take them away and difference is evident with 52.6% 5 A* to C at GCSE (with three schools well below that average). The UK average is 67% and their international record is mediocre. For parents with children in the primary sector performance data for 2016 is still not available. Why?

 

It is easy to blame frontline staff for any short fall in achievement but they are being coerced into following an education pedagogy  who’s progress, to date, can best be described as glacial. UK Educational ‘advisors’, the education department and top heavy senior management in schools must bear the bulk of the responsibility for any shortcomings. It is they who are enforcing this change of practice. But where is their accountability?

 

Where does this summer of discontent leave industrial relations and what effect is all this angst having on our children’s wellbeing? When it comes to educational management on Jersey, the needs of the child are not the top priority. Attempting to improve productivity whilst cutting costs is a difficult task but we are not dealing with on-line parcel deliveries or high street sports retailing. Our children are not a commodity. There are more efficient, less draconian, management models, ones that will empower teachers, engage children and raise standards significantly; and they will cost the tax payer no extra money. Why do we not use them?

 

Adapted from an article in the JEP July 2017

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

4TH IR

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)

secret techer Jersey

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)

 

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