A great day with Dave Keeling and Barry Hymer on Friday confirmed what many in education believe – the importance of children’s ownership of their learning. Both talked about ‘learner helplessness’ and the danger of simply waiting for someone to give you the answer. Prof Hymer used the Daily Telegraph headline ‘Spoon fed pupils can’t cope at college’ to drive home the point that we may be approaching education in a way that is ill suited to the needs of children. He asked us to think about what we thought was the purpose of education and following on from discussion around this question, he reminded us that Chris Woodhead’s response to this very question some years ago had been that the purpose of education was ‘the transmission of worthwhile knowledge’.

The encouragement of both speakers for a constructivist approach to learning resonated with those present. Both believe education is more about learning than teaching, more about enquiry than transmission and more about generating curiosity than cramming to pass exams- and then forgetting. Two quotes summed up Dave and Barry’s thinking about education for me:

‘Learning is a two way stretch, our role is to assist in learning. Knowledge without action is simply storage’. Dave Keeling

‘Failure is very much a part of learning. If we’re not failing we’re rehearsing what we already know.’
Prof Barry Hymer


Posted: March 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

Following another lengthy summer break we’re back at school.   Over the first few days I spoke to many children, parents and staff about their holidays and what they’d been up to.   None of them complained about the holidays being too short.   None of them felt it was the right length.   Indeed all of them believed the holidays were too long and couldn’t understand why a six week break was necessary in this day and age.   The historic reason is routed in our agricultural past, as whole communities would spent the long summer days helping to gather the harvest.   I can categorically state that none of our children gather the harvest!

After a six week break the children need time to get back up to speed.   To get used to routines and procedures once more.   Staff need time to get back into the swing of things and parents have to look again at arrangements in order to balance the school run with work and other commitments.  There is a great deal of lost learning time while we once again ‘adjust’ to work.

Many believe it is time for a wholesale review of the school holiday pattern.   A popular suggestion is six week blocks followed by two week breaks with longer holidays in summer and at Christmas.   If schools had different holiday patterns, travel companies would also find it difficult to hold those in education to ransom when it comes to booking breaks.

How do you feel about the long summer breaks?  Have you changed the holiday pattern in your school?   It would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

In 1930 the Haddow Report claimed

‘The curriculum is to be thought of in terms of activity and experience rather than knowledge to be acquired and facts to be stored.’

Where did it all go wrong?

Decades of dependence on facts that can be easily measured has created a curriculum that is irrelevant and to many simply a hindrance to their ‘real’ learning. We test what’s easy to test not whether it is useful or not. What kind of curriculum has this given us? One where passing exams is more important than enjoyment? Gerald Kelly stated in a TES editorial recently:
‘A fetish for testing has replaced a love of learning’
Mick Waters asks if children are ‘complying or engaging with learning?’ It is up to us to ensure it is the latter.   Schools are not about preparation for life, they are life, rooted in the now.   Everyday is a new experience for children and our challenge as educators is to make that experience as memorable, exciting and stimulating as possible.

Jamie Oliver‘s latest social experiment ‘Jamie’s Dream School’ hardly got off to a great start for those celebrities billed as an inspiration in their fields. It very quickly became apparent that working with a live audience of disaffected teenagers is somewhat different to paying, appreciative crowds or armchair viewers watching on tv from the comfort of their own home the usual way these experts share their expertise with millions.

It is a pity that Jamie, and TV chiefs at  Channel Four think that these greats simply need to walk through the door and these teenagers will suddenly be inspired on turned on to education and learning – as if years of experienced teachers have not attempted to engage them week in week out for the last fifteen years. It’s a pity they didn’t consider that teaching might just need more than someone who is passionate about their subject to engage learners, and maybe a few years of training might help. What we witnessed this week was people taken completely out of their comfort zone and left desperately out of their depth as they tried to function as teachers, ill prepared and lacking experience and support. If any positives can be drawn from this latest social experiment it is that teaching is a rewarding but tough, challenging job that requires an awful lot of support, training and preparation. It isn’t something you can just walk into and expect to be successful at, whoever you are.

David Starkey epitomised many of thing things that are wrong with education today, a lack of empathy, unfairness, injustice and a pompous know it all attitude that simply alienates students who are made to feel they are not good enough. His opening line that they were all there because they had failed was insensitive and betrayed how ill prepared he was to work with these students. Event the most ‘wet behind the ears’ student teacher would never make such a basic mistake. He followed this up by ridiculing a student over his weight! It was almost unbelievable, and indeed Jamie couldn’t believe it. He questioned the student and assumed he must’ve thrown the first proverbial punch (indeed Starkey then went onto lie saying this was the case!) I was delighted that the session had been filmed and that HT Mr D’Abbro was able to put all this into context. If Starkey had been a teacher this performance in the classroom would have warranted disciplinary action. This is the school Jamie has created! I am looking forward to the next installment and hope that the teachers are better prepared next time around and the students grasp the opportunity presented to them..

The Government’s idea of teaching schools is admirable and no one would argue that school to school support is a fantastic recipe for improvement. Unfortunately if you only allow outstanding schools this status, the likelihood is that many of the trainers will not have experienced the problems of the trainees.

Schools with supportive communities, high levels of parental support and a stable cohort of pupils will generally fair well under Ofsted criteria where exam results are the be all and end all, but will those schools have experienced the range of problems that can often befall schools serving more difficult communities?

The training school model is a great idea in principle but the government needs to recognise that schools facing difficulties need to work with other schools who have been through similar problems and lived to tell the tale. Pairing such schools up with a leafy green, high performing, outstanding school won’t provide the kind of support they need and could simply serve to accentuate the social divide.

The introduction of a Y1 phonics test shows how little the government trusts schools to educate children. In a time when cuts are striking at the very heart of our learning institutions, the money being poured into yet another ill thought out and needless assessment scheme shows how little understanding the government has of how education should be supported and ultimately improved.

Testing children at five years old maybe proposed as a way of supporting schools but it is no more than a thinly disguised way of heaping more accountability onto them. Accountability to develop children in the way the government tells us. Perish the thought that we, as professionals working with children daily, might have some ideas of our own. That would require trust.

Posted: January 27, 2011 in edchat, education, teaching, teaching and learning
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The teaching and learning group are looking at questioning this term.   As part of their work we have begun to unpick open and closed questions, what they are and how they are used in lessons.   The children are visiting classes across the school and keeping a tally chart of how many open and closed questions are asked.   We’re then going to look to see if there is any pattern as to when certain kinds of questions are asked – at the beginning or end of a lesson or topic, differences between questioning in the infants to the juniors?   We’ll be sharing our findings with our network (each school’s T&L group are focussing on this) and looking at how we can make better use of questioning to support learning.

In his book ‘What’s the point of school?’ Guy Claxton noted that researchers found that ‘in normal classrooms in both secondary and primary schools, children are hardly ever stimulated to ask their own questions or to think about the nature of questioning’.   We hope to look at questioning of both the teacher and learner.   We are looking forward to asking questions about questions.