Consistency in Education

Here is my latest conundrum: what role does consistency play in Education today? Where is the future for consistency?

Sparked by an observation made by a friend (another teacher) I have been thinking about consistency. He was disappointed with the lack of consistency he witnessed in the dealings with some students. Shouldn’t we, as teachers, as a school, be a beacon of fairness, equality and consistency to all – modelling the society we would like to live in?

Especially troubled students, where the teachers and the school would be the only institutions in their life to ever treat them consistently, should experience that the same rules apply to all… or should they?

By attempting to apply the same set of rules to students who live in a world with unclear and often lacking rules, are we putting ourselves on the wrong foot from the onset? When trying to “make” these students follow the same rules as all others – are we immediately lining ourselves up for an argument where they are, potentially, antagonising with us rather than engaging with us? Do we need to find some common ground first and then, once the dialogue is established, try and bit-by-bit get them to follow one more rule at a time?

How do other students, the vast majority of students in most schools, perceive this from the outside? Are we selling our credibility when turning a blind eye to some while making others follow rules? Can they see that there are bigger issues at work behind the facade when student XYZ can wear nail varnish or non school shoes?

I know the “zero tolerance school” idea is not new and not currently hotly debated and I am not seeing this black and white world of a zero tolerance approach as one of the positions I am putting up for debate here – extreme positions tend to be too vulnerable and also often too removed from the daily reality. I don’t work in a zero tolerance school (nor would I want to) and I believe that most teachers face questions regarding consistency in a variety of shades of grey, hardly ever black or white.

Is the answer to be seen to be consistent, while in actual fact one might not be quite so?

So, I invite you to propose some ideas, shine some light on the issue of consistency, please!

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Progress in Education

The latest round in changes to the UK educational system, dubbed Life after Levels, has made me reflect on “changes” vs “progress”. Which changes to the way we educate children do you think have meant actual progress? What is different now to any previous state of education that means that children leave school better educated than before?
I know, this is a) very broad in its remit, b) extremely difficult to measure, hence verify and therefore c) likely to lead to anecdotal rather than empirical evidence. In other words just a bit of daydreaming rather than solid science. Sometimes that must be allowed…
You can also turn it on its head and question: this “new” thing we’re doing now surely hasn’t actually improved the student’s education.

Homework?!?!

http://www.theweek.co.uk/daily-briefing/63902/ten-things-you-need-to-know-today-saturday-6-jun-2015

Now, there is an intriguing headline… I will look at the issue from 3 perspectives: as a student (in my own experience), as a teacher and as a parent.
Part of me thinks “thank god – no more homework” the bane of my life, that is from all three positions.
However, how does it sit with the necessary practice of skills learnt in school? Like any craft or skill, expertise and fluency comes from practice – are we saying there is enough of that happening in school? Or is homework only completed to an decent and useful standard by those students who work hard anyway, do revision when required and always give their best in class?
Possibly, I say.
BUT, help me out here, how does “no homework” square with the need to learn to “take work home”, which is, as far as I can tell, common practice in colleges, universities and jobs? When do we best start to instil this practice? At college? Too late then? Or best to scrap that and finish work at work, and at home live a ” free” life? What do you think?

Exam boards told to change their suggested exam papers

News came in yesterday the other day that the exam boards were asked to change the exam papers they were suggesting (in GCSE maths). 3 out of 4 were told their proposals are too difficult, 1 the opposite – their paper is too easy. (check http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-32831905 for the full story)

This might very well be a standard procedure that only now, with the new curriculum about to start, is making headlines. However, it gave way to another controversial thought: to what extend are exam papers and of course the crucial grade boundaries a political “game”? How do the exam boards tread the fine line between attracting customers, i.e. schools and students signing up with them in order to secure a maximum amount of pass grades on the one hand and on the other fulfilling demands (and endeavour) of a rigorous examination? How do they serve the political need of ever improving exam grades while ensuring quality assessments that do not suffer (even more) inflation? Will a “C” grade in maths in a few years time still stand for a dividing line, or will it have to be a “B” then? Well, of course they will be called differently then… so a cynic might say that this re-labelling of GCSE grades is evidence of just this inflationary shift of grades.
Speaking of cynical: what do you think about the process of establishing grade boundaries? Check: http://store.aqa.org.uk/over/pdf/GUIDETOSTANDARDSETTING.PDF
Should they not be found and published before the exam is live? So that a candidate knows they need x amount of marks on their paper… or is this counterproductive? Or not fair?

Tell me, what’s going on with our exams…

Study leave

Here I am again with yet another thought. Study leave, what do you make of it? No seriously, why on earth are we having study leave? In your experience, do you really think that the majority of students learn/revise more and better when being left to their own devices, or in school with a teacher?

I just struggle to get my head around the concept of study leave. Maybe it would make sense if the teacher in school would drum on with a meaningless curriculum, while the student could be revising. But where is that the case? Sorry, I can’t see it happening, all I can see is teachers trying every method known to man in order to increase their students chances of doing well in their GCSE exams.

Or am I being too naive here?

Here is some interesting reading I found on “study leave”:
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/year_11_study_leave_policy

It would be interesting to hear the views from teachers (on their students) who are also parents (on their children). Does the change in perspective change one’s verdict?

Tell me if I’m wrong…

What to do with these kids in school…

Recently I have been reviewing what we are teaching the Y11 as GCSE revision… Well, it all sounded very familiar. After a little while I couldn’t help thinking: one could pretty much take this (Foundation) revision list, re-label it and call it the Year 7 scheme of work. Or the Key Stage 3 scheme of work. And no one would notice! Or would they?

Anyway, by coincidence I came across the suggestion to include driving lessons in the syllabus at secondary school. A whole range of good reasons for it were listed (I will publish them here at a later stage, for now think for yourself). Great, I thought, but where are you going to find the time for this? Everyone is keen on getting teaching time for their subject when it comes to timetabling. Eyeing geography and other departments jealously when they take chunks out of “curriculum time” with their field trips…

But! Hang on a minute! What do you think? Is there any reason to believe we could axe entire terms of repetitive work and much rather fill the time with practical skills? Such as the driving lessons? Or taking KS3 students up and down local hills until their map reading skills are top notch – and with it “bearings”, “reading scales”, bits of ” unit conversion “, “angles” and possibly even “trigonometry”. What about all sorts of household skills: gardening, fixing anything from lightbulbs to locks, bike tyres. Light decorating, general handy work.
Is there a chance that once they have succeeded in such skills and grown as a person, they would be more “ready” to attempt more academic learning? A bit like a “Steiner” philosophy where children are taught to read when they are ready to read.
I don’t want to limit this thought to Waldorf ideas though. My issue is that there seems to be too much repetition in the current secondary syllabus. Is their space for reduction of the current content? What could we fill this new void with? So that rather than almost out of reflex asking for more of the same, we were looking for a different approach. Quality instead of quantity.

Or is this not correct? Is the brain or mental muscle that needs to be exercised regularly and repeatedly? Just like one spends hours honing physical strength and stamina through (structured) repetition.
Does our brain need to work on pretty much the same a number of times for it to become routine, i.e. for us to become good at it.

Over to you, what to do about our curriculum!

UPDATE – UPDATE – UPDATE – UPDATE – UPDATE – UPDATE – UPDATE – UPDATE:

This gives some further food for thought: http://chemreview.net/blog/?p=384

Maybe there is room for some repetition and hence memorization of key techniques in maths?

Controversial ?!?! Do “sink groups” work????

Right, let’s start with a bang.

I would love to know (or at least ponder for a while) if “sink groups” work.

Not in the moral sense of course, there are plenty of very good arguments against these. No, for the moment I do not want to consider the moral implications and judgments involved. I am just interested from a performance perspective.
Do the grades of a school, a department OVERALL go up when you congregate particular students in traditional “sink groups” and focus teaching efforts elsewhere. Does this create a much better learning environment for enough other students to improve, so that the (likely) weak grades of the students in the “sink groups” are outweighed? Hence the school’s average would go up.
Or can one never make up for the losses? Is it a question of numbers? Is there a critical number of students one can tolerate in “sink groups”?
Or do other students quickly fill the voids left by the “sinkers” and given enough time one is back to the status quo?

Just so we are clear, I would not want to see my child in a “sink group” either. I just find it interesting to ponder these questions.
Also, I feel that before one can discuss “fuzzier” concepts like the morality of such setting, wouldn’t it be useful to know what benefits if any can be expected at all?

Over to you!!!