Comments from yesterday’s post – “15 minute lessons? How can children learn anything if they have to stop every fifteen minutes? And how’s that going to prepare them for the real world out there?”
I also think that less able pupils will be equally less able to understand interest rates as they are to understand integration and differentiation. Though I guess it will be harder for them to argue that they don’t see the point of it in the former case.
I’ll start by saying that I saw a half-hour presentation which précised a considerable amount of preliminary work which, at this stage, is a possible way for this school to go forward. The specific ideas he had for the planning process, which are clever and, I believe, potentially very usable, are his intellectual property and I was told them in confidence at this stage. The newspaper article I linked to yesterday is on a similar theme, but was written by a journalist not an educationalist and I haven’t received specific information about what the DfES* is actually planning. However, I’ll explain a bit more from what I do know and can say.
Short lessons would not and should not be given in every subject but there are some things that could be taught, not necessarily by a specialist teacher, in short bursts. And not every 15 minutes, maybe one 15 minute lesson slipped in during the day, either as a brief reminder of a longer lesson the day before or as a quick stimulating introduction to a minority subject. For example (and this is only my example, not one being actually suggested), B@dgerd@ddy said that there is a petition going the rounds to have sign language taught in every school. Now, that would be inappropriate, I think, to have on the National Curriculum, but how about 15 minutes once or twice a week for half a term, with the option of following it up if you are interested? Or, for a group of pupils who have difficulty in reading, a 15 minute reading aloud session? Maybe in pairs, taking it in turns to read to each other. Perhaps the teacher spending a few minutes reading a chapter of a really eye-opening book that is beyond the pupils’ capabilities to read but not their ability to understand? It will not, of course, be possible for a whole school to keep shifting round to different rooms every few minutes, but focusing on that and ridiculing it risks ignoring real potential in an idea.
I didn’t suggest teaching the minutiae of interest rates (and it was, again, my example, not the school’s), the whole principle of how you can end up paying for something over and over again, which people can’t understand or they wouldn’t do it. How the ‘easier’ the payment, the longer you will keep paying it.
There is an article in todays E@stern Da1ly Pre$$, which I would link to if I could but it seems that I’ll have to subscribe to their website to do so (silly buggers), saying that teenagers are building up worrying levels of debt. People in their first jobs are being granted loans from banks that would entail them paying back more than their monthly salary each month. “Most young people do not budget … and have no idea …good financial habits are not something that are talked about at school” said the spokesman from the C1t1zens’ Adv1ce Bure@u debtl1ne (I do hope these annoying twiddles keep Google away from me here, does anyone know?).
Just because someone is not an academic high flier does not mean that he or she is not capable of learning to run their own life and understanding practicalities. But they need to be taught them. When I was young, I would not have been able to borrow more money than I could pay back. The first thing this government did was to charge fees to university students, while simultaneously taking away their grants, which caused much of the problem and is just one of the many crimes of a so-called ‘Labour’ administration which has spent the last ten years screwing the poor.
Dandelion also asked “What was wrong with the old education system anyway?”
Which old education system do you mean? The one when you were at school? When I was? The fact is that there are an awful lot of kids who spend 12 years in school and have nothing to show for it. If, instead of starting with a rigid curriculum to follow, you can start with a range of options that cater for the aptitude of each pupil and, as far as practicable, to tailor the education to the child. There is a good deal of it happening already, with the amount of vocational education going on. Pupils who are simply not going to get good marks in a wide range of GCSE subjects can focus on a few, and learn a trade at the same time, such as hairdressing, building or catering. They can take exams which give them GCSE-equivalent qualifications and take the core subjects too. Disaffected students can do work placements for part of the week; an ‘alternative curriculum’ that keeps them out of school some of the time, which can be, frankly, a benefit for everyone, but which is useful and does not simply lose them from education altogether.
And there is a lot wrong with education for more academically able children too. Back in the 1970s when comprehensive education was brought in, so much was thrown out as elitist and highbrow. The opportunity to broaden and enhance education for all children was wilfully thrown away in favour of ‘dumbing down’. This hit poorer, disadvantaged but intelligent pupils and drove wealthier ones to the private and selective sector. I’m not meaning to be political here, but successive governments have each followed their own idealogical agenda in education rather than actually looked at the people – pupils and teachers – involved, and it is taking years to put right.
But it is getting better. There are possibilities and I’m hopeful about them. There are going to be blind alleys and daft ideas, but that’s the way with something new. If all we look for are the things that can go wrong, we will not see the opportunities. I reiterate, the DfES must let go and trust the schools. Not dictate everything that goes on, not make it relate to league tables, let schools go the traditional way if it is working well and they do not want to have a shake-up forced upon them. Give their attention to the schools that are failing and struggling and let the others, such as mine (while we’ve got some bloody good staff with ideas, ideals and practical, pragmatic enthusiasm) have a go.
*Department for Education and Science
PS. I’ll get back off the soapbox and back into the kitchen now. Time to make marmalade.