View Full Version : New government elected = new education policy...

26th Jan 2013, 13:28
At least, that's the impression I have of the behaviour of UK and French governments over the past several decades. One of their very first moves after being elected, is invariably and always, to attempt to reinvent / change their schooling / education systems...

I don't know about anybody else here, but my own skooling never taught me how to change a fuse, wire a plug, repair my own domestic appliances or even just roll a joint or more innocent ciggy correctly. Apart from learning some rudimentaries of the French language (which served me well in later years - never thought I'd end up living and working in France for the past 22 years) and being able to write and speak my maternal or 1st language reasonably correctly, I can't think of a single other thing I ever learned at school and which I still use...

I recall liking the geography lessons, learning about animals, the geology and peoples inhabiting the Tundra etc. But history was too full of dates to be memorised (and as I know today, too full of history "as written by the victors" or whatever influence had been made on the authors and publishers of the books supplied to the schools). Biology and chemistry always turned me off. It may have been the smells, or just being made to disect live frogs on occasion.

Maths, well, I can count, use percentages, even use some formulae concerning volumes, diameters and circumferences etc. But the rest of it all - algebra, fractions etc. I never bothered with.

Whatever, every 5 years or so, the governments cause huge mayhem when trying to change or reinvent schools and/or the complete education system. And businesses / industry in general complain about the (usually low) quality of those they're attempting to employ and fill positions with.

I've given this a lot of thought. The ideal situation I think would be for all parents to embark with their kids on a 5-10 year long circumnavigation on a small sailboat. The parents would teach their kids all the basics required (about 2 hours of lessons per day) based on distance teaching in liaison with establishments on the mainland. The rest of the time, the kids would learn and be educated by truly interacting with their environment. By age of 16 or so, these kids might very well know precisely in what direction or subject they need to seek further education on etc. Compared with most education systems where 80% of the time when the child is at school, learns zero (it suits parents and everyone else that they can drop them off before going to work and pick them up again after work), only learning anything for 20% of the time spent at school. And why what is taught to the kids during this short daily period is so important...

OK, that can't happen (the sailboats and circumnavigation exercise etc.). Your average business / employer doesn't know who they're going to need to employ in 3-6 months, let alone next year, and they probably don't have the means to make any serious engagements by way of engaging 12 year olds on apprenticeships. Yes, 12 year olds are the ideal age.

Bearing all this in mind, shouldn't we responsible adults reinvent schools and education in general ourselves but on the basis of what the child might really need to know and find most useful in their future lives as adults? Knowing how to cook adequately (regardless of sex); change fuses (why not how to completely rewire a house?); replace a leaking tap (why not install your own central-heating or wind-turbine / photo-voltaic panels?); repair their domestic appliances; change the oil in their cars; learn how to deal with and evaluate the multitude of offers for bank accounts, loans, insurance for their homes, cars or whatever; learn how to use offshore tax-havens if they become sufficiently rich (why should it be always crooked politicians and others affiliated with them who most benefit?).

26th Jan 2013, 14:23
Interesting topic and true to a large extent.......

Remember being at school and learn but also being such an inquisitive bugger in finding out about lots of external stuff. Discovery channels would have being a god send to me growing up.

Got 2 littlies and think we deciding that instead of moving across to France in a couple of years, we will put them into a fee paying secondary school with a clear aim that they will learn in a different way.

Ok longer summer holidays may be utilised in planning a big 2 month camper van trip across North America in 6-7 years where they will hopefully learn lots.

Determined that they will be able to do lots of country stuff that is practical rather than educational.

26th Jan 2013, 15:24
Several good discussion points there Airship.
I'm currently writing the syllabus for a prospective Free School, employing only ex-Service personnel. We shall of course be doing a fair whack of outdoor work, plus many of the other things you mentioned.
I have taken a bunch of students skydiving, scuba diving and offshore sailing; highly successful it was too. That was 10 years ago though - never get it past H&S now.
To do all the rest, you are going to have to find teaching staff who are qualified yachtmasters, financial advisors, engineers, house builders, etc.
As it happens, I am all of those, but I have worked with many teaching colleagues who have at least one of those, and often other useful qualifications and experience. Some were even more widely experienced than me. They are called Independent school teachers. The independent sector (or at least the best part of it) actively recruits staff who have had a previous career. Dauntsey's even owns a tall ship. However, this is no longer working too well.
The problem with experienced, independent staff is that you have to allow them to do their own thing. Increasing government control has meant a lot of us have got fed up and left the profession. The best advice I can give the DfEE is..Foxtrot Oscar. Everything they have done in the last 15 years has made education worse. Everything. PM me for details if you need evidence, but I rarely meet someone who does (and they are usually part of the problem).
The root of the problem is bad teachers. The government has come up with any amount of policies, targets, standards and the rest to get rid of them for nigh on 40 years, to no great effect on the bad teachers. It has, however, completely stifled the good teachers, who are now filling in paperwork rather than developing engaging lessons. In an effort to show their failed policies are working, they have encouraged the dropping of exam standards to proclaim 'better' results.
I would offer one simple solution. Give teachers fixed term contracts. Say, five years. Renewal is entirely within the judgement of the Head. Notice must be given at the end of the fourth year by the Head if the contract is not to be renewed, so that member of staff can find somewhere else.
Then remove government control from everything to do with regulation of teaching content, style, etc.
It is a long way from the ideal solution, but it is simple, cheap and workable.


26th Jan 2013, 17:07
New government elected = new education policy...

Sort of. New government elected = new Education Secretary who needs to climb up the greasy pole. That's not going to happen by tacitly agreeing that the status quo is fine.

F3's point about teachers accepted, we get the education system the pollies give us, not the one we want.


26th Jan 2013, 22:54
It is most disconcerting to have all your preconceived ideas on education turned upside down, however there are alternative ways of educating kids and some may be better than the current ones.

One of my beliefs was that if we just returned to ‘traditional’ values and schools we’d improve our schools no end. This idea was strengthened every time I read a newspaper extolling the results obtained by principals who ran such schools, usually starting from scratch. Several of them have been featured in the UK newspapers and the stories just reinforced my beliefs.

I have been a School Trustee, (elected position for our district) for seven years. Last November, with a new Superintendent of Schools and in our search for a better way of doing things, we visited High Tech High in San Diego. The first day I wandered around in a daze. The kids seemed to have no discipline at all. Some of the classrooms were just chaotic and whatever time of day there seemed to be small groups of students walking around the halls discussing odd things or writing on the walls (To be fair in places clearly designed for writing on!) Also that suppressed tostesterone feeling you get in a regular high school was completely absent.

The school is based around Project based Learning. (PBL) Instead of the students learning in traditional discreet subjects the disciplines are intermixed. Although we saw many projects in the secondary school I think one we saw in Grade 4 really explains best so:

The Grade 4 students were set a problem. As the Buena Vista school is on the edge of a desert there is an over abundance of mice and rats. The kids looked at the problem and decided (with guidance, of course) to build owl boxes to encourage a local predator. First they wrote up and presented a rationale. Then they designed owl boxes and made prototypes in half size in cardboard, then a second, improved iteration. When we were there they were making full size cardboard prototypes and after that they were going to make them from plywood. (And THEY were making them. Ten year olds with big knives cutting out the cardboard on the floor, walking round discussing designs and helping each other!) Finally they would put the boxes out and then make a presentation based on what results were achieved.
This is not a process in thin air, so to speak, there are both criteria and timelines. The significant criteria are:

MUST be a real world project.
Must work in collaborative groups.
Must go through several iterations, (Finished product must be amazing and beautiful!)
Must go through peer revue along the process.
and critically
Must be presented to an adult audience.

Along the way the students learned, Biology, Geography, mapping, geometry, scale, hand craft, Art, How to research on the internet, writing and English, public speaking, how to solve problems collaboratively, and all without any apparent effort teaching them these things! (Don’t get me wrong, I know the teachers there put in a lot of effort!) And Everything they did they learned completely as opposed to the approx. 5% kids learn when a teacher talks at them for thirty minutes at a time.

There is a very strong emphasis on the physical world, ie, the walls are adorned with mechanical things, kids learn from touching and moving and feeling real things from bicycle chain mobiles to models and things they have made. This runs right from kindergarten all the way through.

We asked Larry (the principal) how his students did at state exams and SATs. “Of course we prepare them for those and they all pass. All our students write three university applications and all our students receive offers.” So, we asked, how do you select students to come here”
“Students are selected by applying and then in a lottery which accepts them based on a post code distribution across San Diego. In fact we have a slightly higher percentage of students with academic problems because, of course, those are the parents who consider their children need something more than the regular school.”

HTH is a charter school, that is it is independent but State supported. They have many students with problems at home etc but they have an excellent support system and, he said, students who leave for discipline or other reasons all come back within a few weeks. I think it is particularly interesting that the students work much the way people work in, say, Apple or Microsoft and the skills they are learning, beyond the simple academic Math, English etc are very much those we expect people to need as adults in the future.

As I said. It is disconcerting, at 68 years old, to have your ideas of what a good education is turned entirely upside down. We have seen so many blind alleys and red herrings in education over the last forty years but I do believe this may improve education almost beyond recognition.

27th Jan 2013, 00:11
As an idea, this is nothing new. I did similar cross-curricular work when I was at school in the 1970's. Also at Uni in the early '80s.

Furthermore, with their agreement, a class of 19 year 10 girls I was teaching in 2002 entered an earthquake-resistant building model competition run by a local Uni. It took half the year. All our entries placed highly. They won £250 in cash, which they were allowed to keep.

The reason this doesn't happen more often is 'the system'. Only 3 pieces of 'mark-able' homework were done in that half year. The girls were all over the school doing research. At any one time, only about a quarter of them where under direct supervision. There were no lesson plans*. Parents' evenings involved a report of "Well, she's having fun. She made a novel model floor out of glue and paper last week." as opposed to the usual "Her test average is 79%". Any Ofsted inspector is going to have a coronary. You got mutterings from several members of staff about 'disturbing their classes' (Fact was, classes were looking out the window at us because their teacher's class wasn't as interesting). Everyone in the system has to trust the member of staff, and the students, that they will behave and that it will all come good in the end. That level of trust isn't there in the state system, never mind the fact that it is against all modern management doctrine. There wasn't a SMART objective in sight.

They all got top grades at GCSE. One quarter of the year group chose AS physics, with 1/5 doing the full A level. That class produced 1 civil engineer, 2 mechanical engineers and 2 geophysicists (all girls remember), one of whom was offered a PhD by all the top Unis and is now at Caltech. And the rest of them enjoyed it.

Find good staff. Trust them & support them. Anything else is B#llocks.

*There was a heck of a lot of work, but nothing that looked like a standard lesson plan

27th Jan 2013, 07:03

We know we have an uphill battle ahead. Ironically the week before we went to San Diego the local radio station in Vancouver held a three hour debate “Is BC education broken?” just two days after the OECD reports came out once again saying Canadian Education was among the best in the world. There were many contributors telling us that their children were not learning at school. Again, ironically, if we succeed in moving to PBL our OECD rating will probably fall since the OECD measures education in a very traditional way (with tests of knowledge as opposed to ability to think.)

I think that when I was at school forty years ago the parents of those twenty percent of kids who were not able to work well within the system mostly just recognised that education was based on the needs of the majority and if they could not afford special attention they just put up with it. These days no-one “just puts up with it” and nor should they. Project based learning has the potential to engage all levels of students.

Further, given human frailty, I suspect that traditional teaching has reached perhaps 95% of its potential, that whatever assets are poured into it the return, in terms of academic achievement, will be almost negligible. The way kids seem to learn in PBL may just be the change needed to enable them to learn better and be better equipped for life after education.

Of course nothing is ever entirely new. As a student I didn’t do a ‘project’ in all my time at school. My kids did projects but they certainly didn’t meet the criteria for this kind of PBL. We also understand that changing the culture in our district is a major undertaking if it even possible but having seen the possible we have to try.

27th Jan 2013, 10:40
Does PBL teach thinking,or just offer opportunities to practice thinking? I've never met a qualified teacher who was taught how to teach thinking. Edward de Bono has one method. Furthermore, there is no incentive in teaching to be innovative, and a lot of disincentives. Lastly, I have found that most career teachers have very little experience of actual thinking. Not saying they can't, but there isn't a well of experience there. It's a routine job for most.

I think the 'traditional' method still has a long way to go, but the educational system hasn't. Teaching in Canada is a job protection scheme for very middling teachers, and in the case of physics those who don't really understand their subject either far too often. If you asked them to run projects there'd be a lot of accidents.

At least with the provincial education system you wouldn't have to persuade the Feds. It's also better than the UK since the teachers who are good have more time and freedom to do their own thing. Bringing in PBL via individual teachers is probably the way to go.

Lastly, I'm not convinced PBL is the way to go for all kids, all the time. The very brightest seem to benefit from more concept based teaching, and many of them hate getting their 'hands dirty'.

27th Jan 2013, 12:39
Sadly picking a Beacon school as the way it should be done doesn't help nor is every likely to help the majority of schools.

Remembering back to the Hawthorne experiement in Organisational Management one of the key items was that when people were focused on they improved.

Education must be mixed between Academic and Vocational. People who really have no wish to go to University to go on a 3 year shagging and drinking bender for a qualification which gets them a job stacking shelves as Tesco shouldn't be going to University.

Sucessive Govts have focused on Academic qualifications while ignoring vocational.

Remember talking to a teen (son of friend) 10 years ago suggesting he might consider plumbing as a career but he wanted to go to uni as felt he would get a job in The City because he would have a degree. His dad agreed with me, his mum didn't as she saw The City, we didn't.

Currently he earns about £20k a year but even he concedes after paying £90 to call out a plumber (before any work done) that maybe a vocational course would have been better but school not interested.

27th Jan 2013, 13:04
There is still a deeply entrenched attitude within British government, public service and the general public that technology is second-class (this extends to graduates - tell someone you are an engineer and they'll ask you to take a look at their washing machine). This does not exist in Canada. Local schools run pre-apprenticeship programs, and the post high school college has good courses, both for local industries and more general requirements.

27th Jan 2013, 14:22

On perceptions: I know you are a physicist, so you'll have a view. My daughter and I spoke a lot about uni and degrees. For a long time she believed that my will said she wouldn't inherit if she did an underwater basket making degree- you will recall the term from your service days.

She did a physics degree, and it was hard and she got a 2:2. Even so, every grad entry program she applied for waived their 2:1 minimum because her 2:2 was in physics. My point? Some people in important positions (in her case Unilever, Aldi, Heinz and others) DO recognise the difference- still.



27th Jan 2013, 15:42
Glad to hear it.
The Government doesn't however, and neither does anywhere that uses computer filtering of CVs.

I know that at one non-selective school I taught at, several students each year went through clearing. Whatever the degree course, the only question asked by the accepting Uni was "Did you pass physics?"

Interesting that Government policy is that all A levels are identical in difficulty.

I had a fellow baby pilot on my Initial Officer Training whose degree was in Underwater Archeology - Not even Underwater Basketweaving; just looking at someone else's.

Hope you are enjoying retirement!

27th Jan 2013, 19:58
When I worked in a local Secondary school some years ago, I had a difference of opinion with a member of the teaching staff who maintained that the purpose of education was solely for the sake of education.

When I opined that there should be a good helping of preparation for working life, she just dismissed that out of hand.

Worse still, the Headmaster was passing and he completely agreed with her.

27th Jan 2013, 20:13
I have some sympathy with this viewpoint. Career teachers (i.e. straight from Uni to school) have little experience of 'real' life and no training in teaching it. In my limited experience of state school teachers, they are pretty crap at preparing kids for it too.
Preparing kids for 'real' life is primarily the job of parents in my view. If the government wants to help kids with careers and financial management because they feel this is necessary, then they should bring in specialists to do it. The same applies to extreme behaviour management. Teachers are not trained social workers.

Do you ask for legal advice from your doctor?
Why assume teachers can do the job of other professionals when they have no training or experience in it?

In general, this is not true for independent schools career advice. Either the school has teachers who have done other jobs, or they fix up a placement with somebody actually doing it. Takes a lot of work, but it does work very well.

27th Jan 2013, 21:34
You have a good point there.

It was my experience that the best teachers were always those who had been employed in another career.

Some of those who had gone directly from school to university and back to school as teachers were at best unworldly, many had a quite childish outlook (and even behaviour http://images.ibsrv.net/ibsrv/res/src:www.pprune.org/get/images/smilies/eek.gif )