Peter Tait Education

Peter Tait Education

Mental Health and Well-Being

GeneralPosted by Peter Tait Mon, May 13, 2019 15:41:25

A Tsumami is coming – a Mental Health Warning.

At the recent TEDXSherborne, it was sobering listening to the experience of a father talking at about the effects of depression and mental illness upon, first, his son, and then his family. The illness had started with his son’s anxiety about examinations and, without early intervention and the necessary expert help, soon deteriorated into severe depression before affecting other family members who began to suffer mental health issues of their own.

Andrew Grundell spoke bravely of the pain his family had been through and argued that things needed to change to avoid a ‘mental health tsunami’ – one that would overwhelm individuals, families and communities. His response was a call to action: early intervention, making use of the deep lived experience of families, better funding to speed up the process of referrals, access to specialist professionals and placing the patient at the centre.

It was tough to listen to, but so much tougher to live the experience and hard to avoid asking why, why this has happened? What has brought us to this point that mental health at epidemic proportions? What are we doing that has led to 1 in 4 suffering a mental health issue? More worrying, what is happening to our young: 50% of all mental health issues are established by the age of fourteen years with suicide is the biggest cause of death for those aged between 5 – 19 years. What are we doing to protect them during these most vulnerable years?

The very next morning, the Chair of the Exams regulator, Ofqual, was in the news stating that examination stress is the result of students being more “mentally fragile” and that stress was not the result of high-stakes exams. It was hardly cognizant of a landscape in which examinations now have a range of stakeholders: Teachers, HODs, Schools, parents as well as the students themselves, and that the drip down pressure of expectation and accountability this has generated has been hugely deleterious. We have to acknowledge that dealing with mental health issues by providing the changes that Andrew is asking for is crucial, but also important, I would suggest, that we take our heads out of the sand and look at the causesof anxiety in these most vulnerable years so as to prevent it getting a foothold: the language we use; the way we dump the detritus of modern life on young with no acknowledgement of their emotional and intellectual readiness; the way we sell education as being about winners and losers by our ‘one way for all’ approach; the pressure of exams and of self-image, fueled by social media; the effect of unstable home life, poor role models, poverty and the effects of marginalisation through race, faith or gender.

Well-being is the new buzz word in schools although the term itself has been about for some time now. Attempting to build self-confidence in children by talking about self, however, is not without risk as self-analysis can also lead to the early signs of anxiety and marginalisation. We are making children grow up too quickly and the results are plain to see.

An approach or course of treatment that works for one person might not work for another. Renowned psychologist Martin Seligman argues that we should stop treating depression as an illness to be fixed with pills. Last year, one in six people in England between the ages of 18 and 64 was prescribed antidepressants. Instead, we should employ other approaches such as cognitive behavioural therapy, and look at other ways of changing our personal space or environment, that having a dog is better for your mental health than Prozac and that nothing changes if we don’t change our thinking or behaviour. Whether it be cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling, other interventions or medication, the key is early intervention and access to professional help be available when anxiety becomes apparent

Even before that point, we can do more to help our children by changing their environment and their mindset, addressing the conditions in which anxiety is allowed to grow. Connecting with the environment, for instance, is one age-old way to ease anxiety and release tension. Not only does a walk in the countryside allow time to pause, observe and reflect on the wonders of the natural world, but it also gives time to focus on the more important things in life, family, friends and communities. With the pace of life as it is, old fashioned hobbies or interests may not have the same appeal they once had, but the idea of engaging with nature in some capacity or another, whether it be in rewilding, conservation, or even bird-watching is gaining currency. We should not underestimate the links between our physical and mental health and the world as we imagine it, and the natural world in which we live.

To stop the threatened tsunami of mental health will take a concerted effort by all stakeholders. Already, we know there is an urgent need to improve our mental health system through better funding, early intervention, getting rid of the stigma that is associated with mental health and how to get more specialist help. But as well, we need to work harder at identifying the causes of mental illness and, whereever we can, pre-empt them.

Changing the Paradigm: Education for an Ethical World Leweston Lecture Autumn 2018

GeneralPosted by Peter Tait Fri, November 30, 2018 21:45:16

Te tīmatanga o te mātauranga ko te wahangū

Te wāhanga tuarua ko te whakarongo.

The first stage of learning is silence

The second stage is listening

Education is on the cusp of very significant change – no surprise at a time when society, capitalism, western democracy is in a state of flux, a period of the most rapid social and technological change ever, of increasing environmental concerns about sustainability and climate change, of biological and genetic engineering and increasing social inequality. Stephen Hawking wrote of the inevitability of self-designing beings, a bio-hacked super race that will transcend our biological bodies - Yuri Noah Harari’s ‘Homo Deus’ - and already we can see the impact of the application of technology in the field of medicine: pacemakers, artificial hips and knees, 3D body parts, the artificial pancreas, use of implants to administer electric pulses and drugs, robotics, data mining and medical imaging, and yesterday the world’s first genetically edited baby. Everywhere, technology is driving change at a pace that is not allowing time for the ethical decisions that should accompany it. We watch on in wonder, unsure how to make sense of all the new knowledge and uncertain of how we can prepare for what is to come and prevaricate - and nowhere is this more evident than in our schools.

The fact that we have had the same model of education for over a century isn’t in itself the need to change - change for change’s sake is never a good idea – but society is facing challenges that make us question the traditional school model as old jobs disappear and new ones emerge with quite different skill sets, as old values are undermined by expediency and greed as the social and economic divide widens. Education should not be complicated, but like an old anchor it is covered in barnacles which are not easily prised away.

Our response must be through education, always, but education with a different premise, not predicated on a business model, but based on a human model values and societal need.

At the end of World War Two, the sum of human knowledge was doubling every 25 years; now it is every twelve months and soon to be every 12 hours so it is pertinent to ask and keep asking if we are teaching the right knowledge? I remember finding an old exercise book of my father from the early forties and seeing a lesson on ox-bow lakes and realising I was taught the same lesson, more or less and then taught the same lesson myself. Nothing against ox-bow lakes but we increasingly have to decide what we should teach especially when knowledge is only a google search away.

At the same time, the role of schools has shifted from imparting knowledge to taking on board the societal responsibilities to provide social, emotional, pastoral and psychological care of children. Schools are now charged with educating children – young children - about sex, gender, modern slavery, terrorism, even as recently suggested, teaching young children to recognise the symptoms of cancer – subjects that were once the prerogative of parents and to be raised when they felt appropriate according to the emotional readiness of their child - and we wonder why we have created a generation more anxious, more worried than any generation before.

As changes wrought through technology continue to threaten great swathes of employment by requiring quite a different skill set from that predicated on academic achievement, we have to return to the question, what is education for?

The challenge facing education is that it is trapped in its own paradigm. Fuelled by binary debates about how we measure progress, about formative versus summative assessment, a knowledge rich curriculum versus a skills based curriculum and so on fed by an avaricious and self-serving education industry. There are literally thousands of education publications and educational consultancies, all with their own target markets, advising parents and schools, feeding into more than 400 education conferences held each year, funded by advertisers of everything from textbooks to laptops. It is a huge business dominated by vested interests –one of our examination boards Edexcel – is owned by the education publishers, Pearsons who publish a vast array of revision textbooks to supplement their courses - and usually dominated by funding issues and money. Change to curricula happens, albeit slowly, because, as teachers know, the cost of even changing one topic to another in one GCSE course depends on being able to resource it. But that should not be the impediment to answering the pressing question, ‘what is the best education we can give to our children?’

But in asking why we need to change, there are more fundamental reasons for a new paradigm. The crisis in society is not just because of the forces of change and technology, new knowledge and a changing job market, but something far deeper.

Helen Clark, the former New Zealand Prime Minister who led the United Nations Development Programme from 2009 to 2017 recently wrote “In designing a curriculum, start with human values + a common moral code. Stress the importance of ethics, empathy + dangers of self-interest. If we look at what's wrong with our society, it's in our failure to replace traditional codes of family /church with anything meaningful.”

When we look at changing our education system, we assume we start by changing the pedagogy, the curriculum, the school type, by tweaking the data we use and how we measure outcomes. But this is not where we should begin. Schools are a reflection of our values, our aspirations, our communities, our society. If we don’t get the premise right, if we don’t have the right moral principles and know why we are doing something we will be hi-jacked – as has been our education system – or caught in some bureaucratic inertia.

So what do we do – how do we change our traditional school system from a pyramid predicated on university where those that fall by the wayside aren’t even mentioned. On the day that the 1.5 million students who sat A Level had their achievements splashed all over the media, where were the unheralded 3.8 million who did vocational courses or others who just survived through school, unrecognised and unrewarded, because the system did not measure their intelligence or talents? How do we get away from our focus on content that is dictating the pedagogy. As exam pressure mounts we see more tutorial centres being established creating what has been labeled a ‘shadow education’ that is one operating outside of schools. We already have a huge tutoring industry with an estimated 24pc of pupils in England have used a tutor over the past year, with that figure rising to 40pc in London. The market is worth £6.5bn in the UK with 2.8 million pupils being tutored at any one time. ‘And parents are going for it.’ Add to that an increase in home educated pupils up 27 per cent this past year, with many more likely to be “hidden from sight” and the drift towards what we call surface rather than embedded learning and we can start to see what a crisis looks like. It’s a system that teaches us more about memorising than learning, more about status than impact, an industrialised system of education adhering to a taxonomy of subjects designed for a 20th century job market with only a trickle going to university. A system in which 20% of our students leave school functionally illiterate & innumerate and 64% of teachers last less than five years before quitting their jobs. This is what a crisis looks like. It is a system that was criticised by one of my past students who left her senior school with outstanding grades, but felt that school’s focus on examinations and ‘. . . on memorization, ticking boxes and ironing out children’s idiosyncracies’ had left her deeply frustrated and concerned.

As we keep turning the screw there are other unexpected costs for which our education system must take some blame. We are in the midst of a mental health epidemic in all its manifestations of self-harming, of depression, of eating disorders and isolation often bound up with the unhealthy focus on self-esteem rather than self-worth. It is a war zone with the mobile phone on the front line. Meanwhile the constraints of the Ebacc on creative subjects and pressures resulting from a slimmed down curriculum are ‘fast turning the UK into the most philistine nation in Europe’ . Since 2010 entries in Design and Technology have fallen by 154,000 (57%), whilst entries in Creative Subjects have fallen by over 77,000 (20%) with 2,600 fewer drama teachers & 2,100 fewer art & design teachers since 2010 – and this, at the very time we need creative people in our workforce. The same with the numbers learning European languages that have plummeted. Mary Myatt warns us that we will ‘deprive our young people of intellectual, artistic and physical nourishment’ if we don’t get our curriculum principles and planning right.

Why has this happened? In the first decade of the 21st century, we doubled expenditure on education from 40 billion to 80 billion & there were no tangible improvements.

Since then, we flat-lined. Why? Because we didn’t have our priorities right. What we have is a school system based on exams whose purpose is put them in rank order for their various institutions, courses, careers. How sure are we that pushing all children through a system predicated on exams is what we should be doing? Increasingly many are not. About half of university admissions officers say they do not believe that students arrive “sufficiently prepared” for higher education, that they lack independent learning skills, are ‘unable to remember facts’ and have ‘a ‘Google-it’ mentality’ unable to even manage their own time or workloads.

Employers are saying much the same. That while exams may suit a cohort of well-taught, compliant, children, intelligence and employability are something else. Recent research from Google – a company which initially hired only brilliant computer scientists – revealed in January this year, the seven top characteristics of its most successful employees were soft skills: coaching, listening well, making connections with others to solve complex problems. Raw STEM ability (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) came last. Only two weeks ago, the Headmaster of Stowe School, Dr Anthony Wallersteiner wrote

“We’re working with an exam system that is not much changed from Edwardian times. The truth is, making students sit alone at their desks does little to prepare them for a world where they will be working digitally, flexibly and collaboratively. Tomorrow’s school leavers and graduates will require a range of skills, not just scores: over their careers, they are likely to have an average of 17 jobs in five different fields of employment. Core skills like mathematics, writing and science will remain key but modern employers demand new ones like collaboration, coding, digital literacy, fluency in languages, critical thinking, creativity and entrepreneurial skills. The most successful schools of the future will regard preparation for work as more important than preparing pupils for A-Levels and that ‘schools need to address the needs of the so-called “phigital” generation who see no distinction between physical and online worlds and will enter a rapidly changing, largely digital workplace.’

He finished with a word of warning for schools that they could find themselves cut out of the education process altogether by impatient employers offering their own online courses. All of which is almost clichéd so often do we hear it, but that doesn’t make it less true. As Anthony Seldon noted ‘To prosper in the new age future, our children must not behave like robots. They must not learn like robots. Not work like robots. The real robots will do all that.’ Yet my contention is that in designing a new paradigm of education we need to focus first and foremost, not in making good employees, but in making good citizens.

A new paradigm for education has to tackle the contentious subject of measurement that dominates our schools and strangles our teaching and learning and muffles our students. Another former pupil wrote of her time at her senior school ‘I have vivid memories of beginning secondary school; I was shocked at how my new peers did not seem to have the same independence as me, both inside and outside the classroom. Not only did I ask more questions than them, but if I were to respond to a teacher’s request or statement asking “why?” I was perceived to be both troublesome and a disturbance to the class.’

We have to see education as something other than just loading and measuring, especially given the narrowness of what we are measuring - in other words, we need to redefine what success looks like. Wellington College attempted to broaden its teaching by focusing on the eight intelligences: personal and social, creative and physical, moral and spiritual, logical and linguistic. The irony, however, is that schools merely pay lip service to the first six and only concentrate on the last two which are the two most easily replicated by machines as algorithms and artificial intelligence are outperforming human beings on most aspects of logical and linguistic intelligence. (So) the very skills around which we have designed our schools and our exam system are the very ones that will be rendered redundant within the next twenty years. We need to find different ways of measuring children, those that have a gift in one subject, but are failed by their singularity of purpose, those who don’t respond to our traditional ways of measurement, those whose time has not yet come, but need the chance. It was that well-known dyslexic, Albert Einstein who made the point when he wrote

‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Meanwhile, schools are struggling to make sense of it all. Gordonstoun has just released a report commissioned by Edinburgh University on ‘Out of classroom learning experiences’ OOCLEs that extols the benefits for education in the round and of the whole child. Other schools are extending their own offerings although they are inevitably drawn back into the bottleneck that are national qualifications. Until we change the way we measure children – a truly horrible phrase– we will continue to ignore their talents and compromise their futures.

Just as the digital revolution with its fusion of technologies is rapidly changing our world, it will also inevitably change our schools. Recently, the Chief economist of the Bank of England warned that we will need a skills revolution to avoid ‘large swathes’ of people becoming technologically unemployed’ as AI makes jobs obsolete and create widespread hollowing out of the job market, rising inequality, social tension and many people struggling to make a living. But that is all dealing in the here and now, within the current paradigm.

Which is why we need a new paradigm. It’s not just because what we have may not be fit for purpose or because technology is changing us or because our curriculum is redundant, all of which may be true, but because the premise is rotten.

Recently a story was doing the rounds on social media of three men who left a restaurant without paying. A few days later the restaurant owners received a letter containing the money due and a little extra with an explanation that they had left to find an ATM machine and then realised the last train was about to leave so were unable to do so.

What is remarkable about this story is that it is ‘remarkable,’ as if such behaviours, such actions, don’t fit with what we now perceive to be normal. As such it highlights the place where society is, that when ethical behaviour occurs, it is seen as extraordinary.

When looking at writing a new framework for education, it is evident that this is the right place to start, not with content, nor skills, but with values and behaviours. After all,

the absence of any ethical framework, and the dearth of societal values, is evident in every walk of life. We can pick any profession: law, accountancy, the pharmaceutical industry, industrial farming, property development, sport, the Church - the list is almost as long as is the list of jobs. Stripped down, we don’t take long to find examples of worker exploitation, cost fixing, drug taking, sexual abuse or putting profit above people by ‘using’ tax loopholes. There is no moral imperative at work. We saw it when the boil was exposed (if not properly lanced), with the behaviour of politicians, bankers, fund managers and venture capitalists, whose criminal actions and self-interest were exposed through the expenses scandal and the banking crisis. The fact that so few were held to account merely reinforces the impression that we are living in an ethical wild west, a view that hasn’t changed since. Recently, the founder of the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, Nigel Oakes called for more regulation admitting that he operated for years ‘without much of an ethical radar’, before going on to defend his decision by saying ‘It’s above my pay scale to decide the ethics of this.’ Not so. Ethics are beyond the contents of the purse and should apply to all of us at every level of society.

But the fault-lines go much deeper than this. The behaviour of the big four accountancy firms who earlier this year were accused by MPs of “feasting on what was soon to become a carcass” as it emerged they banked £72m for work linked to collapsed government contractor Carillion in the years leading up to its financial failure highlight the rotten underbelly in which everything was alright as long as it turned a profit. One time-tested way of doing so is to strip and ravage the environment and natural resources, preferably off-shore, by over-fishing, by the ruthless destruction of forests for palm oil to shore up UK pension funds, by dumping waste, the proliferation of off-shore tax havens, car manufacturers ignoring safety concerns to boost profit; over charging and failing to honour commitments by tradesmen, by professionals rounding up their hours; misusing expense accounts; misleading advertising; child labour; zero hours contracts; mis-selling; unpaid internships, currency fraud; tax optimisation and so on. ” It is frightening that 25% of UK employees still perceive corruption to be widespread in their businesses and 42% believe their senior management would act unethically to help a business survive.

When Artemis, (self-titled as The Profit Hunters) boasted that their ‘global hunters’ spend their lives carving through the atlas for opportunities for profit, we need to understand that such companies are the product of our economic model and that any subsidiary interests or concerns, environmental or moral, are subsumed by the goal to maximize profits.

Self-interest rules and it can come as no surprise then if you ask children what they want to be when they grow up that the most popular answer is rich and famous for that is the model they see every day. Is this what we want our children to aspire to? And where are ethics in all of this? Worse, where is it leading us as a society?

We need, somehow, to move the Titanic. The obsession of governments with GDP – gross domestic product - as a measure of economic activity is deeply flawed as is well-known, measuring both good and bad economic activity, from farming to drug dealing and gun running, but taking no account of voluntary work or raising a family, implicitly favouring built in obsolescence and having no truck with such green-tinged schemes as recycling. Having a philosophy that relies on endless growth with no ethical boundaries continues to undo us unless we can educate the next generation about sustainability and the ethical use of our planet and looking after each other. Simon Kuznets, Nobel Prize winner who developed the measure before the war, had quite different aspirations, intending GDP to measure economic welfare and well-being, (but being ignored in the post-war US-UK plans), mitigating against the unequal distribution of gains and ensuring we were not growing at the expense of our environment. We know from the role models all around us that if we are not on our guard we will be scammed, ripped off, tricked into signing up for deals we don’t want, confronted by insurance scams, by subtle changes to bank rates, pension providers, by cold calling, unethical behaviour by fuel companies, car dealers, by mobile phone companies, by small print, by the very people we should be able to trust – professional people, our leaders of industry, bankers and politicians.

With the spread of fake news, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, ethics takes on more importance than ever before.

The need to be able to make decisions that are not based on economic or personal self-interest is compelling. Waste, such as the amount of foodstuffs thrown out by supermarkets (over 200 000 tonnes each year) is simply unacceptable on a planet with so much poverty. Recently, the big food chains have made an effort to reduce waste, increase donations of food to food-banks and cooperatives by building up partnerships with local charities, but it is the tip of an iceberg that is founded on waste and obsolescence. Nor should we excuse the fashion label, Burberry who destroyed more than £28m worth of its fashion and cosmetic products over the past year to guard against counterfeiting or mail order companies that put returns into landfills. No waste is acceptable and even planned obsolescence, deemed good for economic activity, is short-sighted and harmful. We simply cannot afford to treat our planet and our society in this way any longer or allow government, acting in our name, to behave unethically (selling our waste to Thailand, investing in dodgy environmental areas, and selling arms to countries who ignore human rights. Which is why I am a trustee of the charity Operation Future Hope which looks to address such crucial issues as conservation, sustainability and the regenerative environment through education. And throughout, we need to keep asking the question: what are our ethics and are we, and those who represent us, acting in accordance with them?

Nor is education ‘clean.’ We have schools gaming the system by using different exam providers; or indulging in sharp practice in school recruitment through inducements and undercutting other schools; or setting up campuses abroad to bring money back to the UK; or stopping students moving into the 6th form or from sitting exams for fear that they will negatively affect league tables (more than 20% of teachers were aware of ‘off-rolling’ in schools they had taught in) - all common practice and all unethical. Plagiarism is at a level where schools now feel compelled to purchase software to identify it; while cheating, by students and teachers, has risen fuelled by the drip-down pressure of league tables. Essay mills, a business reputed to earn billions of pounds worldwide has resulted in some 50,000 students being caught cheating in the last three years alone. The recent de-valuing of academic entry to university even raises the question as to whether it is be ‘ethical’ to encourage students to pursue a university course simply because with lowered conditional offers, they will get in, in part due to the due to the rapacity of universities fighting for survival (and who themselves are acting unethically?) When are schools charities and when are they businesses? How many schools see overseas students as ‘cash cows?’ How ethical is selective schooling knowing that it produces winners and losers with all the consequent baggage? It should concern us, all of it. For when schools lose their moral compass and their understanding of what they are here for, then we are in a moral mire.

Then those things that affect the individual: selfies and the narcissism and insecurity they engender, the epidemic of loneliness amongst the young, the closing down of communities, the loss of collegiality, a society that prizes acquisition above welfare. And on this frontline we have the mobile phone that is dominating our time and attention like no other single device in history as we check our phones every 12 minutes on average and spending between two to three hours connected each day. What is that doing to us and how do we manage it? And in the debate between self-esteem and self-respect, between self awareness and empathy, between self and community too often the emphasis is on looking after yourself and taking what you can, with self-interest and avarice its drivers. A wee bit colourful? Perhaps. But if we are to change society, and to equip the next generation to make the ethical decisions that will be required of them to manage technology, to look after the environment and to counter the atomisation of society through social media, we need to act. And where better than at the very start of our education system?

So how to change? How do we try to instil the importance of making good ethical decisions from a young age. How do we make children think of themselves as part of a whole? How do we embed kindness and empathy, appropriate behaviours, manners and attitudes conducive to making good citizens?

How do we move away from measurement to the immeasurable? How do we move from values into ethics, that is moral principles that govern our behaviour, that demand we make judgments about good and bad, that we see our values in the effect that have on others, on our environment and on our communities?

This isn’t an issue solely for schools, but for all of us. Children need role models and particularly parental guidance as they mimic the example, language, values and behaviours of their parents (think using mobiles). As adults, we need to be more environmentally conscious, more ethical in how we act , more charitable and more community minded – we know that. Schools, likewise should not just talk their values, but walk them in their corridors, in their classrooms and on their playing fields. The answers lie in early education and developing the right attitudes to learning, about identifying children with their larger community and by encouraging them to look outwards, not inwards, to understand and look after their classmates, their community and their environment and all who inhabit it. The value of service to fulfilled lives. And this generation are up for it. They want change and they are right to question those who tell them otherwise. That’s why we go back to the why question. Why do we teach what we do? This week Stephen Tierney argued that the debate over the “real substance of education” was not about having a broad and balanced curriculum or having a well-conceived set of standardised and externally assessed examinations but “a life well lived.” He’s right of course, but I fear it is a little harder for Ofsted to measure.

There are a few green shoots: the announcement of the head of Ofsted to downplay academic grades in favour of character development; the announcement by the Singapore government that from next year, exams for primary years up to age 8 years will be abolished in a series of changes aimed at discouraging comparisons between student performance.

+ So what will this new paradigm look like? How do we engender third world attitudes into first world countries.

How do we grow an education system predicated on citizenship and values rather than one driven by measurement or GDP or academic qualifications that apply to the few. How can we get cross-party consensus to give education more autonomy from political interference? How can we get governments and communities to prioritise education? How do we convince the many vested interests involved in education that change is necessary? And how do we ensure we are giving children what is required to develop and live fulfilled lives in the future?

All big questions and I suggest it is by returning to the question I asked at the start, the one I always ask: ‘What is the best education we can give to our children?’ and then work out we go about it? Which is at the heart of the new paradigm.

In writing a curriculum for the first years of school, I started with four key attitudes: first, the idea of being part of a group of moving the me out of the middle of the circle and establishing the sense of belonging is so important, by extlooing mutual benefit, of service and charity, of thoughtfulness and kindness; second, of learning to have a respect for the environment and the world we live in sustainability, climate change, conservation ; third, of understanding the joy of learning, of being creative and the desire for knowledge and understanding being something they want to do rather than have to do so they grow up accepting that education is both a privilege and a joy, but also a constant in their lives, noting also the advice of Dr Tomas Ellegard that ‘there is a lot of research that suggests if you want a more academic child, start academia later”

And last, the right attitudes to self – health, well-being, fitness, growing self-respect through words and actions, developing the creativity and sense of purpose to do things for a purpose.

We already know that schools take on many different roles and functions for their communities. Inevitably, as Simon Noakes observed, ‘’Schools will evolve into social spaces for human interaction” –not defined by walls and buildings where education will be delivered in communities by a wide variety of providers. Hence, while many parents might see the first function of school to get their children out of the house and with their peers for an extended part of each day - and that is important, schools will take on an ever wider brief, where pastoral and social care, health and well-being are minded; and where through a marriage of the curricular and co-curricular, of vocational and incidental education, schools will become more relevant to the society they serve. More and more, education provision will be accessed from homes as well as schools, from tutorial centres and universities. At the same time, the new players: google, amazon and Apple will seek to become new education providers, rivalling government and independent providers. There is a difference between e-learning and screen time however, and we recognise that technology is a huge social experiment on children and that according to a recent report by Nellie Bowles in the New Yorker, persuasive psychologists working for tech companies, such as Apple and Google, ‘compete ferociously to get products into schools and target students at an early age, when brand loyalty begin to form.’ She goes on to describe these tools as ‘phenomenally addictive’ designed by psychologists ‘well-versed in the field of persuasive design’ that is influencing human behaviour through the screen. We should pause to consider why schools in Silicon valley are limiting or banning technology in some of their schools while child care contracts demand that nannies hide phones, tablets, computers and TVs from their charges. Or as Katharine Birbalsingh Head of Michaela Community School tweeted rathermore forcefully: “I say this to parents at school. The fat cats make their billions off giving your children the latest tech gadget while they fill their houses with books”.

Yet while some things may change, others may stay the same. We need to root out some of the ideas that have been allowed to creep into education, even the constant changes in language, theory and terminology, so that topics become unintelligible to parents – I’m thinking of new methods of maths or such grammatical terms such as causal connectives and fronted adverbials now required for SATs - or perhaps confusion is the intention? Of all the schools I have taught in and teachers and methods I have seen, when it comes to teaching children to read, to learn their tables, spelling and writing, nothing has compared to the rigorous and yet sensitive teaching by an exceptional teacher in the first school I ever taught at with its emphasis on practice, on developing memory, on repetition, on high expectations. She worked wonders with children who we would now label as having severe learning difficulties and by ignoring the difficulties, transcended them. Children came out of her class with the rudiments in place, with a standard of work that constantly surprised them and a self-discipline and pride that stayed with them. It is proven that direct instruction has consistent, positive effects on student achievement. While we need to change what and how we teach, discipline and rigor will remain at the heart of learning, aided and abetted by high expectations and a sense of purpose.

In the short-term we need to do away with league tables and find academic alternatives to A Levels - T Levels with teeth –and develop our vocational offering. We need to recognise that measuring and ranking students on applied intelligence to a prescribed body of knowledge is the antithesis of the fluid and flexible education our children will need in the future.

We hear so much about AI and technology, yet there has been no greater waste of resources and time over the past twenty years than the amounts schools have spent on technology - and this is unlikely to stop soon although education is the most resistant fortress of all. We know technology can embellish lessons and add to the learning experience, mill knowledge banks and gives lessons greater applicability and relevance through virtual or augmented reality. Yet for every teacher who uses it well, there are as more for whom it is a distraction, something that gets between the teacher and the learner. But change is coming as recently signalled by universities who will no longer accept hand written exams, by an increase in collaboration through cloud computing, the rise of the autonomous learner, coding and multiple learning stations,. . The state of Utah has been rolling out a state-funded online-only preschool, now serving around 10,000 children. It’s happening and we should be wary. What would be more helpful would be for algorithms to allow teachers more time to teach – that is rather than being a teaching tool creating different ways to teach that they will allow more time to teach, so schools are not tied to producing copious amounts of data and policy. With the large number of policies required to be on school websites - and for parents who don’t know, most schools even have a policy on policies, the human resources of a school are under ever increasing pressure. If new algorithms can help schools to manage admissions, policies, data accumulation, reporting, with pastoral care and record keeping, then teachers will be able to get on with their teaching.

Second, as teacher shortages grow, we need to look at what alternatives there are to our traditional methods of delivery. In many countries correspondence courses have been around for half a century or more. University degrees through distance learning, and now e-learning, and links to lectures through you-tube courses are commonplace. Yet it seems incredible that we are not utilised e-learning in all schools with e-learning will be the heart of our provision delivering a broad curriculum. This may involve subtle changes in the role of teachers so they take on a role akin to that of a tutor, but that is happening already. There are a number of learning platforms driven by algorithms that promote personalized learning by analyzing students work, pinpointing gaps in their knowledge, providing precision reporting and insights into the student's learning style and identifying specific abilities and areas to improve. In the future, the ability to measure ability by sophisticated algorithms will likely be the death of exams as we know them.

We will need to cut back on content to allow for other learning, of skills and the means to access new knowledge. Traditional subjects will be assessed for the relevance of content. New subjects like sustainability, a hybrid of economics, philosophy and geography will emerge; old topics like trigonometry and glaciation will be marginalised while some subjects may be cast out altogether. Traditional subjects may not change although as in the case of History, we may decide to distinguish between the history that explains where our country is today in relation to the countries we connect with and the history that centres on our island’s narrative and extolling the national mythology. Economics should take in to account the Resilience doughnut so we start to measure economic activity by assessing the cost of its effect on diversity and the environment for we need to educate our young about the environmental ceiling that consists of nine planetary boundaries, as set out by Rockstrom et al, beyond which lies unacceptable environmental degradation and potential tipping points in Earth systems. Mathematics and the Sciences will need to constantly trawl their content to update and incorporate new knowledge. And we will need to be more flexible, ready to embrace change cautiously and always without compromise, by revisiting our question, ‘what is the best education we can give our children?

Taking into account what we know of adolescence and sleep, it may be that schools will still start at 8.30 am as they must, albeit not for learning purposes, with the first 90 minutes given over to creative arts or physical activity. Core teaching time could be restricted for no more than three hours: 10.00am to 1.00pm, with its focus on the effectiveness of engagement. In the afternoon, there may be a hybrid approach of some traditional classes delivered in classrooms augmented by a wide range of subjects available on on-line platforms including academic and vocational training depending on age. Extra-curricular should be brought inside the walls; outside of the core subjects, diversity, personalised learning will become the norm as the model evolves. And evolve it must.

There would be an emphasis on creative arts and the skills that are required for this new world – music, art, design, drama, coding – and an emphasis on imagination and enquiry in all subjects. And languages, we must encourage languages, even more so as we slip out of Europe. A new survey last week found that half of young people feel that their education has not prepared them for the world of work’ – which is why we have to change the paradigm to provide the diversity and flexibility and skills required. As a counterweight, we need also to blush when we hear the label the snowflake generation for this is something we have created. Young adults, in turn, wll need to learn to be patient in their ambition, more flexible, prepared to spend time to learn, to understand the importance of loyalty, service and hard work and personal sacrifice in a quest not to make money, but to make a difference. Even if we haven’t told them so, at least not yet

To achieve this, we need to make sure that education reflects our beliefs and values as a society. This is the why to which we return, the ethical premise and the values, behaviours and attitudes which underpin our lives. At present, we are playing catch up at the very time the glaciers are melting and technology is taking us on a white water ride. Our moral principles have been compromised by not being explicit enough and this has allowed big business to ride roughshod over the environment. With climate change and conservation marginalized by those whose profits are affected and who therefore have no truck with those who fight for environmental change and for regeneration. This is why we need a new paradigm: it is not just about integrating technology or changing a curriculum, integrating new skills or growing emotional intelligence. It is also about fighting for our future by providing our children with an ethical framework on which to build a sustainable society for the future and to give purpose and direction to their lives.

Profit or Planet - our Choice

GeneralPosted by Peter Tait Sun, October 28, 2018 22:41:21

“Surely we have a responsibility to leave for future generations a planet that is healthy and habitable by all species” Sir David Attenborough

“Students need to learn what moral systems are so that they understand what makes a good society.” Charles Saylan Executive Director of Ocean Conservation Society and writer of ‘The Failure of Environmental Education’

Over recent years we have witnessed a quiet revolution in our schools by getting more and more children to engage with nature and the great outdoors. Many schools now have their forest schools or nature reserves which have contributed to their wider development. Teachers are more aware of environmental issues and have included them as the subject of debates and school talks. Biology and Geography, in particular, have included more conservation and environmental issues in their teaching and schools have increased the number of vegetable patches, wildflower areas, greenhouses, ponds and set up very successful recycling schemes. The Green Flag programme, the Sustainable Schools Alliance, Eco schools , even the BSA scheme to plant a tree at every boarding school help, as do in-house projects to collect waste plastic and reduce energy and our carbon footprint. We now have an army of motivated eco-warriors who have responded with the energy and optimism of youth to calls to save their planet without being given the scientific knowledge to really understand what is happening.

It is the adult world in which sustainability is seen as a throw back to the hippie counterculture or an encroachment on free market forces that has let them down. Economics, for instance, is still being taught without an acknowledgement of the effects on the environment in which we work, including the ozone layer, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification - the doughnut of social and planetary boundaries that will revolutionise the way we teach; and while Geography in senior schools at least has expanded its curriculum to take on more environmental studies and the importance of sustainability, at the age when we should be developing the habit and culture of learning about the environment, at KS 1 – KS3 there is no explicit content in the curriculum to address such shortcomings. For too long, conservation and environmental issues like climate change have been the preserve of fringe groups and activists and yet unless we put the topics at the centre of the curriculum, nothing will change. Walking round schools you will see brilliant work that pupils are doing on the environment. The will and interest are clearly there on the part of the children, but attitudes and teaching about sustainability and conservation needs to be embedded into schools and the school curriculum, not left on the periphery, reliant on the interest that may – or may not – be shown by members of staff. What is the point of teaching about glaciation if glaciers are disappearing? Or species that will be extinct before they become the subject of an examination? Or our oceans unless we preserve them? It is the challenges of the environment and sustainability that is occupying us and this should be reflected in our curriculum.

Make no mistake, this young generation are brilliant at seeing the importance of recycling and conservation, and I suspect they are leading their parents at home in regards ethical behaviour about waste and conservation. Parents, of course, can be the best (or worst) role models for their own children and can do a great deal by talking up recycling, the joy of growing their vegetables and introducing their children to nature. There are so many exciting things that you can do with your children at home, including recycling clothes and toys, growing flowers and vegetables, experimenting with insulation, generating power (solar panels and wind power), reducing electricity / oil / gas usage, conserving water; even helping with grocery shopping, a task fraught with danger from avaricious front shop counters, is worth the risk as is getting them involved in reading the fine print on packaging, or in the palm oil debate and the dialogue on climate change. There is also scope for children to use their own technology if they are still interested in such things, to identify trees and flowers, take surveys or photographic records or to set up their own studies, if they have the right sort of encouragement.

Many of these tasks will have their own intrinsic benefits at home, especially if the family fuel bill falls, but more important they will galvanise children and pique their interest in the wider world and even turn them into responsible citizens who see all animals as sentient beings inhabiting an inter-dependent world.

It is the schools, however, that need to take the lead, in regards the imparting of empirical knowledge and for planting the seed. Sustainability and conservation have to be prescribed and become an implicit part of the education to have any lasting success. Children are great in joining in with research and such organisations as the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS) are involving some of our children in cutting edge research on earth observations and our carbon footprint, but we cannot just rely on a few teachers who may be committed to such issues in every school. The curriculum needs to change in order to avert a growing crisis on land and in our oceans, to reverse the rate of extinction and reduce man-made pollution – that is our challenge.

This is no easy task. At a time when children are being pushed through hoops, defined by the data they have generated in their short lives, conservation, environmentalism, sustainability remain a bolt-on, dealt with effectively enough in clubs, assemblies and talks, but not placed at the heart of learning. We need to look at how we can influence the curriculum at a very young age so that the ethics of one of the most important issues facing this planet underpins the knowledge that follows.

In the south-west I have been involved in the setting up of a new charity www.operationfuturehope which has been established with the primary goal of educating our children about conservation and environmental issues. The website provides a stark reminder of the threats facing our planet, but also provides ways for schools to help young people address them. For we cannot ignore the threats facing our planet any longer.

Spending Time

GeneralPosted by Peter Tait Fri, October 26, 2018 15:22:22

‘They say we are better educated than our parents’ generation. What they mean is that we go to school longer. They are not the same thing.’ Douglas Yates

‘If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it’ Rudyard Kipling

'Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you. Carl Sandburg

In the poem ‘If’, (voted by the Nation as its favourite poem), Rudyard Kipling * offers us some succinct advice on how to use time. At a first reading, ‘filling every minute with sixty seconds run’ seems rather excessive, but the question of how we use time is probably the most important decision we make, day on day. I don’t think for a minute that Kipling meant us to keep constantly busy (an assumption, I know, from this prolific writer), but that we value time and don’t waste it. Working intensively on anything, determined or incidental, is not to waste time, for the learning is often in the application; nor is relaxing with a book or tracking a passing cloud. Invariably the biggest waste of time comes from trying to multi-task with the result that nothing is completed satisfactorily.

In education, the debate over how we use time usually translates into the question of how many hours, days, weeks children need to spend at school: how much learning and teaching time is enough and what is the optimum time children should spend at school –not the same thing. It is a complex issue with the loudest respondents being parents who have to negotiate child care, finances and work commitments to provide cover for their children - and who have plenty to say on why teachers don’t need such protracted holidays on the side.

When we look at how our schools compare with countries where children don’t start formal learning until age six, we should be asking questions. This was brought home to me when I found that our grandson, aged four, had a longer school day than our 16 year old neice in Australia. The whole debate about longer school days and shorter holidays gets even more muddled, however, when we consider the increasing social and child-care function of schools and, if we must, exam results as well, which brings into play other factors that determine academic performance: school type, socio-economic grouping, family, work habits, tutoring, quality of teaching and resources. Yet even considering all these variables, the general consensus of government and educators is still for more of the same, and for longer. By turning school into an endurance test and equating time spent at school with outcomes, we invariably confuse the quality of time with the quantity – and therein lies the rub. Learning to use time effectively (including discretionary time) is one of the most important lessons we can give our children.

Yet how often are we told there is not enough time for something to be done or that the task (whatever it is) cannot be done when all that is needed is for more effort to be made or better use made of the hours available? Something that needs to be done in a week instead of a fortnight can usually be achieved if the effort is doubled, if a little ‘can do’ philosophy is applied – the idea that if you want something done, give it to a busy person. To get a job done, commitments may need to be reprioritised and time and resources re-deployed, but if the attitude is right then we shouldn’t be deeming the possible, impossible, the time insufficient.

This lesson can be applied directly to education. In education, we should reconsider the amount of time children spend on ‘primary’ learning. Personally, would think that a maximum pf three and a half hours a day of focused learning is sufficient. Of course, there are caveats, the main one being that there needs to be an accord and shared sense of purpose and a positive attitude and shared sense of commitment between teachers and students. This is still probably more learning time than many schools achieve in a whole day where lessons are constantly interrupted or are reduced to exercises in classroom management. In the same way, we shouldn’t make the mistake of measuring learning by the amount of content taught, an approach implicit in the current emphasis on content rich curricula (contrary to Yuri Haval Harari suggesting that ‘most of what we teach children in schools is irrelevant’ ); instead, let’s be real about what children need to learn and then (because we have to) what they need to learn to pass an exam – there is a difference!

The rest of a school day could be given over to secondary learning, probably via e-learning in which tutor groups to help guide and facilitate learning, or cultural and physical activities. These need be no less rigorous, but as they will be more aligned to the students’ own interests, may be practical or investigative or be delivered by an external provider (e-learning), motivation should be less of an issue. We are more likely to get more out of students if they know they have some discretion over their learning and, more important, invest in it.

Of course, there are few areas of learning where time use is so poor as in the setting of homework, where children are often cajoled against their will to work under supervision of reluctant parents to produce something set by teacherswho sahre the sense that it is a waste of time and just something else to mark. Not all homework is like this, of course, especially as students get older and the measure should be on whether it represents an effective use of time. I always advocated at primary level, apart from some very short and specific memory work (tables, vocabulary, spelling words etc) that children should just be encouraged to read, and preferably not off a tablet. The reality is that, even at senior level, prep has often been more about filling time in an exercise teachers, parents and pupils dislike in equal part. Trying to force tired and reluctant children to do meaningless worksheets or some project work is not only futile, but can also serves to reinforce a negative attitude to learning in the round.

In looking at workloads, attitude is all-important especially in the elasticity of time with its ability to stretch or contract according to need it. As a Head I remember being asked by a sports coach if could have an extra sports practice each week. My immediate considerations was to ask if the time they already had was well-used, i.e. was everyone punctual, knew what they were doing and kept actively involved. The same in class: I would much sooner the pupils had well- planned and stimulating lessons and are completely focused rather than a tired and flabby diet of extra lessons and meaningless preps.

Of all the time children have at school, the most important is free time and the most important lesson, deciding how to use it (acknowledging that many schools still believe ’the devil makes work for idle hands’ as their justification for filling the days with extra activities. A better definition is that noted at the outset, of treating time as a coin to spend, a lesson which is applicable to all of us. It is a sad truth that too many parents and schools are scared to give children the coin and would rather spend it for them. Yet of all the lessons children need to learn, managing their own time is one of the most important. And they can only do that when they are trusted with the coin.

* Despite being tainted by the anti-empire virus spread by neo-liberal commentators and an increasing number of indignant university students

Common Entrance

GeneralPosted by Peter Tait Fri, October 05, 2018 09:52:34

The announcement in early October that St Paul's, Westminster and Wellington College were to abandon Common Entrance signals an end to a long-running battle to remove prep schools from the strait-jacket of the exam. It is some years since I spoke on this subject at conferences at Wellington College (and once to HMC Academic Deputies in Lisbon) and ten years since I wrote the article below - which I thought I should dig out for another airing to explain what the issues were - and not all were to do with education. For a time I was on the Board of ISEB, trying to help change from within before withdrawing my own school from the part of the exam and resigning. At that stage the Chairman of the Board was also the Headmaster of Westminster so pleased that the wheel has turned full circle.


In 1903, the first Common Entrance examination was established by the Headmasters’ Conference (HMC) in order to provide a common test for pupils wanting to enter their schools. Initially testing only Latin and Greek, other subjects were added over time although it was not until the 1960s that Science became a part of the mix. Conservative by nature, with a strong emphasis on rote learning and the acquisition of knowledge, the examination continued under the auspices of a committee of the Headmasters’ Conference determining and shaping the curriculum of the final two years or more of preparatory schools.

In the 1980s, the Independent Schools Examination Board (ISEB) was established, partly in a response to the new national curriculum, partly one suspects in a spirit of devolution to enable prep schools to be more involved in shaping their own curriculum. Subject groups were set up, headed by subject co-ordinators, to develop curricula and write examination papers. These groups were, in turn, responsible to academic committees of ISEB, and their work from time to time, subject to curricula reviews. The new body, however, far from handing any control for their curriculum to prep schools, ensured that the status quo remained – the Chairman was to be from an HMC school with the membership of the Board consisting of equal numbers of members from IAPS and the two senior associations, GSA and HMC. The Deputy Chair has invariably been a GSA Head. Other associations such as SHMIS and ISA are not represented on, nor do they benefit from, ISEB although they continue to use Common Entrance for the purpose of transfer.

Over recent years, the original purpose of Common Entrance, which was to provide a measure by which public schools could allocate places to their schools, has become blurred. More pupils entered public school from state schools or from overseas and were not subject to the same set of exams. An increasing number of schools were setting up their own entry criteria and examinations by-passing the common curriculum. More prep school pupils, likewise, were returning to the maintained sector and for them, Common Entrance was just a hindrance. None of which would be hugely significant if Common Entrance provided a well-grounded and well-rounded education not dominated by teaching to the test.

What has blurred matters more than a little has been the evolution of the body set up to administer Common Entrance, ISEB since the 1960s. While its initial brief was to provide a means of transfer between the sector, through its sale of old papers and, more recently, through a burgeoning publishing industry, it has become a significant source of income for the three associations although, of course, the monies are exclusively derived from the prep school sector.

In the summer of 2005, there appeared an article in Prep School magazine (ironically, directly following Michael Spinney’s article questioning aspects of Common Entrance) entitled ‘The Role of Textbooks’. While reading for all intents and purposes like an advertising feature, with its one illustration being that of one of their textbooks, this article by Nick Oulton, Managing Director of Galore Park, a publishing company founded only six years previously, was a vociferous defence of Common Entrance, extolling the success of prep schools and stating that ‘CE lies at the very heart of this success’ It went on to say that ‘It (ie the prep school world) bravely sticks to all that is best of the old in education, while embracing all that is new. And it is precisely this that drives the success of Galore Park’s prep school textbook range’ – textbooks written, as he wrote in the next paragraph ‘to support the needs of those preparing for CE’.

Nick Oulton, who is the husband of Claire Oulton, Headmistress of one of GSA’s flagship schools, Benendon, and an Executive member of ISEB from 2000-2005, no doubt saw prep schools as a potentially lucrative market. He would also have been well aware of the changes in the syllabus and the fact that new texts would be needed – something that perhaps could have been foreseen by ISEB and its marketing arm. With more than 570 schools with little cohesive voice and who traditionally did the bidding of HMC and GSA schools, Nick Oulton went ahead and made a formal approach directly to ISEB, seeking both their business and also, and most crucially, their endorsement for the increasing number of books they were producing, many of which were designed specifically to prepare pupils for Common Entrance, focusing on practice and testing (mirroring the publishing conglomerate spawned by the SATs tests). As the result of an agreement between ISEB and Galore Park in late 2006, a deal was agreed to outsource old papers and other publications to Galore Park in return for an annual payment of £180,000. By mid-2007, they had more than 140 books pitched at the prep school market, each with the ISEB imprimatur, for which ISEB are paid 5% by Galore Park. This is expected to be a significant source of income over the coming years, as Galore Park plays on the fears of parents and schools in getting pupils through Common Entrance, a fear often fuelled by prep school heads as a raison d’etre for their own existence. The sale of old papers alone is an industry realising over £100,000 p.a. with both schools and parents preparing their pupils for the barrage of exams (although it is estimated that only 30% of pupils enter public schools via the examination).

In a recent article in The Daily Telegraph (22 May, 2008), Nick Oulton attributed his success to ‘a crucial endorsement from an examinations board and a promotional flyer sent to the independent school sector to get Britain’s top private schools ringing up with orders’. Needless to say, no mention was made of his connection with ISEB, the fact that the publishing rights were not put out to tender and his access to the proposed syllabus changes. Since 2007, Nick Oulton has not always had a smooth relationship with ISEB, but the business partnership of his company Galore Park with the Board is a major impediment to any substantive change of the current curriculum.

In July 2007, annual profits from ISEB totalled £154,000, which were distributed three ways, with HMC and GSA receiving £57,750 each and GSA £38,500. The bulk of the Board’s revenue, some £555,000 each year comes from examination fees, (£74 per candidate at 13+ and £60 at 11+), income derived from the prep school sector and shared amongst the three associations.

Apart from the issue of two-tiered entry (pupils sitting scholarships or entry tests from the maintained sector pay no such fee; nor do scholarship candidates, even those using the Common Scholarship exams – a clear case of educational apartheid), it is arguable that the costs should be borne by the senior schools (such a move would inevitably lead to questions about the level of fees set and value derived from the exams) and not prep schools. A school that takes 150 pupils a year via Common Entrance on current rates would have to pay a total of £12,000 (the amount prep school parents currently pay). It is not difficult to surmise that they would find some other process that was both less expensive and better served their purpose if they were asked to cover the cost of what is, after all, their own entrance examination.

Not only are prep schools denied the independence to determine what they teach, therefore, or how they teach, but they have no control over an exam that is variously used for setting, selection, streaming, rubber stamping or qualification – or sometimes, I suspect simply because it is there and costs nothing to access. Prep schools have to accept that their sector is being used as an increasing source of revenue, with Common Entrance being the lever to prise open the safe – an arrangement in which IAPS is complicitous.

ISEB stated recently that it is the ‘servant of its patrons’ but not equally so. Prep schools are seen as passive partners whose expertise in the area of Year 7 and 8 education is constantly downplayed. In a response to criticism from a group of HMC schools in the South-East division in 2007, ISEB answered that its papers ‘ . . . are written by highly professional, highly dedicated subject specialists, the majority of whom are from HMC schools. They work in teams led, for the most part, by heads of department from HMC schools’

This assertion is quite accurate although whether it should be so is a matter of considerable debate. A review of the Common Entrance setting teams reveals that the four core subjects are headed by teachers form senior schools; not only that, but the teams are usually dominated by senior schools, aided and abetted by some of the most selective prep schools, There is little doubt that the leaders are strong on knowledge of their subjects, but arguably less so on what children are learning or capable of learning at ages 11-13 years.

The make-up of the teams makes interesting reading. English is headed by the HOD English at St Paul’s supported by a team of four, from Radley, St Mary’s Calne and two prep schools, Copthorne and St Andrew’s Woking

Mathematics is headed by the HOD from Brighton College supported by a team of two from Headington and Wellesley House School

Science is divided into three subjects, each headed by staff members from HMC schools (Clifton, Cheltenham and Cheltenham) with teams from Downe House, Harrow, Ampleforth, Malvern and St Paul’s Prep School, The Elms School, Clifton College Prep School, Tudor Hall, Quainton Hall School and St Michael’s Devon

French is headed by the HOD French at Eton supported by St Mary’s Shaftesbury and Dumpton

German is headed by Epsom College, Greek from Stowe, Religious Studies from Eton, Geography from Wentworth College (GSA) Spanish from Oundle, History, alone, has a team headed by an IAPS member. In summary, the four core subjects are headed by HMC schools as are four other subjects. One is headed by a GSA and one by IAPS

The grip is strong and the chances of effecting significant change to Common Entrance slight while there are such significant vested interests at play. There are many questions that still need answering: What is the original brief of ISEB? Is ISEB meant to be making considerable sums of money for its umbrella organisations? Why should GSA and HMC, as sleeping partners, be receiving money from the prep school sector? Who decides whether they should still have the influence they currently have over transfer, over curriculum? Why should prep school parents have to pay for Common Entrance when pupils entering from other sectors or sitting scholarships – even the Common scholarship – do not? ( a state of affairs that smacks of intellectual apartheid?) Who else was invited to tender for the business of ISEB in 2006? How is the future of ISEB (and Galore Park) affected if Common Entrance undergoes the very significant changes that are needed? And what avenues are open to effect the changes necessary?

If senior schools had to pay the costs for Common Entrance it seems inevitable, judging by their criticism of the exams, that there would soon be changes. A school taking in 125 new pupils each year would be faced with an annual fee of £10,000 for Common Entrance on current charges – enough I would argue for a review of the use of the exam and some decisions being made on what actual information / data was required and whether the current syllabus was fit for purpose. Because they neither pay for it, nor supervise it or even have to defend their marking, makes it a very attractive option for senior school. Nor can the cost of the exam be readily dismissed as being inexpensive simply because the costs are dispersed and not met by prep schools themselves – hardly relevant for an exam that is neither moderated or standardised, has no national standing, has variable pass marks and is simply a way of sifting, recruiting or confirming the places of potential customers.

The debate over Common Entrance has been going on for so long now it is hard to see it being properly resolved in the near future. In seeking a review, I was warned that the entrenched interests and the financial considerations of the three associations along with the resistance of schools to protect their brand would make any significant change unlikely. I was reminded of many efforts made in the past in the past that came to nought and I can well understand, now, two years on, why so little has changed. As long as educational considerations are subjugated to other factors, whether they be financial, ethical or simply matters of expediency, it is unlikely that significant change will happen in the future – and that, I would suggest, bodes ill for the independence of prep schools.

Why Fundamental Change is Needed

GeneralPosted by Peter Tait Sun, June 24, 2018 09:43:01

"Indeed, when did we just roll over and accept that there is nothing to be done about the way things are? Why do we fret over a Progress 8 score that will always put certain demographics to the back of the table? Why is it now commonplace for some schools to refuse to admit children with SEND (especially the more difficult types) because of the cost implications and the impact on outcomes? Why have some schools steadfastly refused to consider that flexible working may be one solution for the recruitment and retention crisis, or that going part-time is something you can do as an effective leader?

There is a hegemonic dialogue that too many have bought into. It suggests that school leadership is more about winning battles rather than considering what the battle is about."

Important questions asked by Keziah Featherstone and more reason for a new paradigm of education, to looking anew rather than playing toy soldiers.

What of the Children?

GeneralPosted by Peter Tait Sat, June 23, 2018 22:28:51

Pawns in a Game

“If I live in an area where there is gang warfare among my peers, why would I care about Pythagoras’s theorem?” Akala

It is difficult not to feel angry at what is happening in education. Whether it is in the paucity of Government funding, falling morale and teacher shortages, especially felt in comprehensive schools, the pledge to increase places in grammar schools and the inequity of provision in all sectors; or whether it is in the excessive amount of testing, the lack of appropriate pathways for school leavers, the lack of resources; the overload of bureaucracy and data or all the endless proselytising by experts, treading an endless cycle of conferences promoting their books and research, I often wonder where are the children in all of this?

I wonder how stark the mental health figures have to be to make government sit up and take notice. How many more suicides does it take for someone other than those offering palliative care to acknowledge that its obsession with testing may be a contributing factor and that while sitting 20 – 30 examinations that have been upgraded in difficulty over a month may be fine for one section of the population, it is not so for others. Moreover, to argue, as one Minister did recently that exams were as stressful ‘back then’ is to completely miss the point, which is that we have made exams toxic by the language we now use the importance we have given them for schools and teachers whose drip-down stress burns our children. The fact that 35 children are being excluded from school each day and others are being turned away because they will damage schools’ results at the end of GCSE or before is abhorrent or that schools spend time seeking out the easiest examination boards or are caught inappropriately helping their charges should tell us something about the pressure they are under. The business model that extols the value of Social Darwinism, that puts a price on success, that makes every educational institution scramble for children, for money using whatever inducement in their power (including the awarding of 1st class degrees) is not one serving children.

This is not the fault of teachers - far from it. They are the ones having to carry the load for family breakdowns, a dysfunctional care system, failed government initiatives, an examination system run by private providers and held to account by league tables and examination boards and universities vying with each other for custom. Rather, the fault lies elsewhere, with politicians and educationalists who have forgotten to continually ask themselves ‘what is the best education we can give our children?’

The fall-out of our focus on examination results is everywhere. Even the fact that 40% of our doctors only last in practice for more than five years tells us many things, one of which is that our measure of entry may be wrong. In our obsession to cream the top we are missing so much other students that would (a) be able to handle the academic requirements and (b) have a better range of skills, (listening, empathy, observational, recording) that would make them better doctors without compromising their professional standard skills. Our first past the post system has a lot to answer for.

When we look at the fierce competition in London for school places, we instinctively know that this has little to do with what is the best education for our children and more to do with how do we filter these children so only the most able get through to the top performing schools.. It is no wonder that the tutor industry is thriving on the back of selective schools trying to get the students through the door of the most selective schools and hypocritical indeed for the same schools to criticise parents for seeking extra help. Tutors are responding to a demand when they would rather be helping students in different ways. When one looks at the impact of selection, there is a lot to be said for having a lottery for school places.

And where are the children in all this? Where indeed! Mere pawns in a game, I fear.