Posts filed under ‘Young people’

Play the ‘Mock the week’ Ofsted exam game


In their wisdom Ofsted have decided they are going to make it harder for schools to achieve an ‘outstanding’ rating by placing greater emphasis on raw exam results.

What a great idea. Just when we are being lulled into some sense of hope that the general exam regime is being relaxed in favour of other forms of assessment Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert takes a significant step backwards.

“Our focus is on getting a better deal for children and young people,” Ms Gilbert said. I don’t suppose the young people themselves will see it that way. I don’t suppose anyone has bothered to ask them!

Anyone who watches ‘Mock the week’ on BBC 1 (and Dave) will know that there is a section of the programme where the stand up comedians come up with ‘things you are unlikely to hear’ in certain situations. Here is my version:

Things you are unlikely to hear young people say when asked whether they would like exam results to be even more important than they are considered now.

‘It’s a great idea. I don’t think I suffer anything like enough stress at school at the moment’

‘It’s a great idea. It will help teachers just focus on the things we need to do for the exams.’

‘It’s a great idea. I’m enjoying school far too much at the moment’

‘It’s a great idea. Confirms that people who aren’t good at exams are failures’

‘It’s a great idea. Means that schools will do less creative stuff.’

‘It’s a great idea. Means I’ll do much less of the stuff at school that I really enjoy’

‘It’s a great idea. I get very nervous about exams and am not very good at them. This will help me to pull myself together’.

‘It’s a great idea. I burst into tears before my last exam. Hopefully this will mean more people will join me and burst into tears also.’

Why not add yours, either in reply to this post, or @MickLandmann on Twitter, and I will compile them all and do my best to get them to Ms Gilbert.


June 12, 2009 at 1:59 pm 1 comment

‘Stories out of school’ misses the point

stories out of school small

I attended an event called ‘Stories out of school’ in London yesterday, organised by Futurelab and presented by Martin Hughes, professor of education at the University of Bristol. This was based on an ESRC funded research project run by Martin that looked into ways young people learn outside the school environment. The event was, I think, put on as part of the research remit to disseminate the findings widely.

The conclusions of the research itself as presented at the event, that young people want adults to listen to them, to respect them, to not label them, and to recognise that their lives can be tough, presented no revelations. Any parent of teenage kids could tell you this, simply from observation. There was also a general conclusion that kids don’t like school. Hmmm.

The research followed specific young people in their involvement in a chess club, in a rock band, in drama sessions, in sport, in poetry and there were displays of the ‘outcomes’ at the event. Martin Hughes also presented the general findings and showed two DVD’s of dramatic work some of the young people had undertaken and presented.

Whilst I don’t doubt the veracity of this research, I don’t think it went anything like far enough. In particular conspicuous by its absence was any study of the out of school use of technology by young people, i.e. gaming, social networking, etc. or as someone pointed out any study of out of school activities that didn’t involve organised activity as such but rather ‘hanging out’.  These were, in my view, serious omissions given the amount of time young people spend with technology and their love of hanging out.

A clue as to why technology was omitted perhaps is in the fact that Martin Hughes clearly was desperately uncomfortable with technology himself. His PowerPoint slides were awful, he was unable to get a link to a website he wanted to show and after much fiddling he did eventually manage to show DVD’s of some drama activities, but had the volume up intrusively too loud. Clearly he hadn’t bothered to set these things up in advance.

And this was my greatest problem with the whole event. The presentation was appalling, including the scrappy presentation of the young peoples work and conclusions on display panels around the room.

This meant a disappointing afternoon for, I suspect, all attendees, but more significantly showed disrespect for the young people who figured in the study. It is my view that young people are not shown the respect they deserve and are certainly not trusted with any real responsibility for their own learning through the education system. To simply not bother to make the effort to present their views in any sort of reasonable fashion through a study that presumably is intended to fight their corner simply serves to exacerbate that situation.

June 10, 2009 at 10:54 am Leave a comment

Kids cravings – addicted to gadgets

addicted to gadgets small

I have just come across a social experiment, ‘Teenagers try to go without gadgets’ that, as a parent, has added to concerns I have for my kids.

For any parent this is real food for thought and an aspect of addiction to technology that is not focussed on games addiction. It is, though, more worryingly focussed on the potential general addiction of young people to their everyday gadgets – mobile phones, mp3 players, i-pods, social networking sites, TV et al.

It is an experiment that was conducted amongst teenagers in Los Angeles who went without their electronic gadgets for a week. The results are worrying and illuminating. The teenagers themselves recognised their addiction, recognised that the uncomfortable feelings they were experiencing were akin to, or were actually, withdrawal symptoms.

One teenager talked of feeling empty, one described being without her gadgets as ‘being’ weird, one that it was harder than she thought, one described her desire to reach out for her mobile phone as a ‘craving’.

Part way one described feeling ‘at peace’ without any music blasting in the background, or TV or phone. One celebrated the fact that she met new people on the metro because she was not absorbed in texting etc.., and she also heard birds singing outside. One that whilst reading in her room she realised she could hear the crickets outside and the wind blowing.

I remember a few months ago when my 14 year old daughter had to do without her mobile phone for a few days whilst it was being repaired. She described her felling to me of it feeling a bit like having lost a limb. She was seriously uncomfortable without it.

I also remember one day when I took a day off work during school half term and spent it with both my kids (11 and 14) all hanging out together at home. We did a bit of baking together, some painting of egg cups, chatted, all things that have become sadly too rare in a household of working parents and electronic communication.

The interesting thing that I noted was how relaxed the kids seemed because there was no peer pressure on them, how my daughter went without any make up for the day (usually unheard of), how neither of them niggled at each other, as though this was a momentary respite from the charged world they have become used to.

I have tended to feel that addiction happens mostly on the fringes. Now I’m worried I may be wrong about that.

May 18, 2009 at 12:45 pm Leave a comment

Fast track to nowhere

This morning my daughter will take the first part (the oral) of her French GCSE. She is 14 years old, in Year 9 and this is part of the fast track scheme within her school.

A few weeks ago she, in common with school pupils in Year 9 around the country, was required to select the subjects she will be taking up to GCSE for the rest of her secondary schooling to that level. The process of identifying these subjects (which are in addition to core subjects) was agonising for her, for us, and for the many other parents and young people we know who were going through the same process.

The reason this was so agonising is that the decisions taken at this time require ‘second guessing’ the future academic and professional paths of the youngsters concerned. Yet they are only 14 years old.

This is exacerbated by the fact that a young person can be put off a subject simply because it is not taught well. Because in making their choices for the future there will be a natural and understandable tendency towards those subjects that they ‘enjoy’  (mostly because they are taught well) a subject that might have induced deep interest had it been brought alive by its teaching might be lost to a young person.

Although my daughter is undertaking fast track French, and by all accounts doing well at it, she decided not to continue French to AS level after taking her early GCSE. This decision was partly predicated on the fact that although she is doing well she has felt that she has been struggling with the grammatical structure of the language, and that she does seem to have a somewhat uninspiring teacher (for her) both of which have marred her enjoyment.

Her decision not to continue French is now ‘set in stone’ so inflexible is the system. But last night she dropped a bit of a bombshell. During the intense revision she has been undertaking prior to her oral exam, many of the aspects of the grammar that she felt she had been struggling with have suddenly clicked into place for her. The result of this is that she now regrets her decision not to continue French to AS level as this new level of understanding has reinvoked her enthusiasm for the language.

A recent study published in the journal of Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability on primary schooling has concluded that ‘having a bad teacher in the first year of primary school can damage a pupil’s entire education’.

I would go further. Whilst having great admiration for teachers who struggle against the myriad changes to the system made by meddling politicians I do believe that bad teaching throughout school life (not just at primary level) coupled with an inflexible system that requires too much too soon of young people ‘can damage a pupil’s entire education’.

April 27, 2009 at 11:10 am Leave a comment

SATS make you stupid!

Here’s another interesting angle on the debate about SATS. According to an article in the Economist I am just a poor boy, though my story’s seldom told research at Pennsylvania University and Cornell University has shown that children of poor families learn less well than children of middle class families because their working memories, critical in learning, have smaller capacities.

This is not put down to poverty per se, but to stress, presumably induced by being poor. I know some high achieving children who come from poor families. I also know some children of well off families who undoubtedly undergo a great deal of stress, nor because they are poor but for a whole variety of other reasons.

So if stress is the issue as is suggested then one would imagine that this would permeate the whole spectrum of wealth.

And if stress is the issue this would be a very strong argument for ridding our kids of the stress of sitting SATS tests, which, if the research is correct, can only get in the way of their learning.

April 14, 2009 at 3:18 pm Leave a comment

19th century education meets 21st century building under BSF

I was having a look at a Teachers TV video about a building completed under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.

This is the  Hadley Learning Community building in Telford which was completed in January 2007 and is regarded as a flagship building under the programme.

The building is designed to house facilities for primary, secondary, children with severe and profound learning difficulties, early education and childcare, and a variety of community activities and is something of a behemoth

There were a couple of issues that were raised in the video that I found disturbing and perhaps typical of what goes on under the BSF programme.

Firstly it became clear that when the building opened to secondary students the needs of the students in respect of their settling into this radically different environment (from their older, smaller school) were not properly accounted for.

In fact the centres principal Dr Gill Etough, who guided the whole building project from its beginnings, doesn’t feel that ‘anybody in the whole Building Schools for Future has really [noticed that we need to know how to] deal with the kids to make them more settled’.

This is astounding considering that the secondary school exists to serve the needs of its pupils, or should do. I suspect that the senior management of the centre were blinded by the glory of the building itself.

Secondly when Dr Etough went into one of the classrooms and the children didn’t stand up she said to them, ‘Aren’t you supposed to stand up when I walk into the room’ to which they were all required to stand up and intone ‘Good morning Dr Etough’.

This is astonishing and something from the 19th century, not the 21st.

For me this one of the issues with the whole BSF programme. Apart from the fact that it is attempting to ‘predict the future’ at a time when the future is particularly unpredictable, there is a disconnect between the architects vision of the 21st century school building and the education vision of those who will run it.

As one of the pupils commented when asked what she thought of the new building, ‘It’s ok, but schools, school’.

March 16, 2009 at 1:08 pm Leave a comment

Boys and girls alone

There’s a programme on channel 4 at 9.00pm tonight called ‘Boys and girls alone’. It’s about ten boys and ten girls aged between eight and eleven who live on their own in two houses (one for boys and one for girls) for two weeks without adults.

I haven’t seen the programme yet (it’s a four part series) but I heard an interview with the commissioning editor, Dominique Walker and some of the parents and children who participated:

The programme is intended as an exploration of the issue that many parents face of achieving an appropriate balance between doing for your child, and letting them do for themselves. Do we tend to wrap up our children in cotton wool, do everything for them and then wonder why they struggle when released into the world in their own right?

As the Dominique Walker rightly pointed out children these days get very little time when their lives are not being dominated by adults. There is far less unsupervised, unstructured time than ten or twenty years ago when children played more on the streets and were free to wander farther away.

The result of this is that children take far less decisions for themselves than they used to even though they are capable of more than we allow.

By all accounts the experiences of the children in the programme were varied and at times harrowing. What was interesting to me, though, was comment of the mother of a boy of eight called Jason who took part.

Jason, it seems, did have something of a hard time during the two weeks but was also of the view that the whole experience had been worthwhile. The mother said that the lesson she had learned from the experience was that we don’t allow our children enough control, and we tend not to allow them to take responsibility for things.

As a result, since the experience, Jason has been allowed greater control and greater responsibility in many things. The result, she says, is that he takes a pride in discharging these responsibilities and feels a real sense of achievement as a result.

What this says to me is that, ironically, our attempts to protect our children actually dispossesses them and leaves them less prepared for the world.

And this extends to the world of education where our young people are given no real responsibility for their learning, this being undertaken by their elders.

February 3, 2009 at 1:30 pm 1 comment

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