QT goes to GYCA

I couldn’t think of a snappy title or any incredibly deep and meaningful quotes to put in this post (poet laureate I ain’t), so I am just going to share a snippet of honest detail about my trip to Great Yarmouth Charter Academy. The truth is that it’s extraordinarily ordinary: all pupils are polite, happy, safe and can learn, and all teachers can teach. This is how it should be in every school, shouldn’t it?

Barry breezed into the reception area where I was waiting and then all of a sudden we were practically Olympic walking through the corridors and into the classrooms to see how the children and staff were doing. One of the teachers was accosted en route and was asked to tell me how things used to be: teachers were afraid to go into the corridors because it was so unsafe, it used to take 20 minutes just to get pupils to write the date and the learning objective and pretty much every simple request would be met with defiance and rudeness. Staff used to be told that if they made their lessons engaging enough and if they got the differentiation right, then children would behave and would want to learn, but no matter how hard the teachers tried, it was hellish to work there – I was told of a teacher who would throw up on their way to work on a Monday morning, such was the anxiety, and of how the school was blacklisted by supply agencies because it was too dangerous to send supply teachers there.

And if it was that bad for staff, imagine how it was for those pupils who had SEN, or who didn’t look quite right, or who were in any way unconfident or different. 

The expectations are very high now. Your typical educator or Ofsted inspector might look at what is going on and think that the pupils are being prevented from being creative, from being ‘themselves’, but when you think about it, they’re actually liberated, set free from the typical teenage experience (that frequently descends into chaos) and given unfettered access to higher level thinking that comes from knowing more and more. There are now many rules and routines that require the pupils to control their own inherent distractions such that in any lesson you will never hear the errant tap of a ruler or see pupils look pretty much anywhere other than at the teacher or their books (after clear instructions). There is no space for opt out of any kind. Many adults would struggle to conform in this way because they have had a lifetime of slouching, tapping, whispering, ignoring, fiddling and interjecting without thinking first, but these children have been given the keys to the kingdom of the best that has been thought and said – you can hear it in their full sentence replies to teachers’ questions and you know that those interesting words, phrases and concepts will trickle into the local community such that even everyday conversations will evolve. Imagine the happiness that will result from that.

Charter is a very civilised place now and yes, this even includes the canteen! But the magic isn’t really in what is happening in the corridors and the classrooms, the magic is what is happening inside the children’s heads because of what is happening in the corridors and the classrooms. Barry and his senior leadership team bring a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm to GYCA and it is a very positive place to be, so if you’re an intellectual teacher or aspiring leader who wants to, shock horror, ensure that children learn, then I recommend you get in touch with Barry. You won’t regret it.

Who’s with me?

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Is it really a retention crisis, or is it a leadership crisis?

I saw some stats floating around about a recent increase in new teachers leaving the profession, but couldn’t find exactly what I wanted, so I ended up looking at this. I’m doing a leadership course at the moment and it’s suddenly occurred to me that the focus might be a bit off and that the way we choose, promote and train leaders might be part of the reason so many teachers leave the profession?  You’ve got your guidance on the management of various resources and decision making that ultimately leads to improvement in attainment for specific groups of children as well as, for example, responsible financial planning, but I’ve always wondered how thousands of people doing NPQSL and NPQH haven’t collectively managed to improve attainment of historically low achieving groups of children such that the UK should now be the best in the world at education? What I think might be happening is that resources (and I’m including a rather vague resource called ‘enthusiasm’ in this) are being shuffled around to raise attainment in certain sections of pupil cohorts and these cohorts are typically older cohorts because leaders tend to be based in upper key stages in both primary and secondary schools. The leader then proves a short-term point (and passes a course) but when the educational equivalent of externalities are created, such as a completely worn out teacher, or a whole unseen cohort of children who fall behind, that leader is long gone by the time it’s all found out. It should be noted that leadership courses seem to revolve around training leaders to be reactive (let me identify a problem) rather than proactive (let’s be the best at X), both due to the expectation of results delivered within the time frame of the course, the expectation to focus on one small aspect and of course the assumption that whole school systems and ethos are already in place. I could be wrong though.

I think there is real appetite out there for change in terms of a more proactive approach to leadership and the academisation process is a force for good in this regard – you only need to look at how academies and free schools are leading the way on what is possibly the most proactive and evidence-based approach to improving reading comprehension in older children: that of ensuring systematic synthetic phonics is taught and practised to the point of automacity at an early age, combined with a systematic teaching of knowledge and the vocabulary in it in all subjects from an early age, culminating in pupil reading a text many years later and really understanding what it means. It will be a fair few years before we start seeing the really positive effects, and possibly an entire generation before the steady decline in language and literacy in deprived communities reverses, but it takes real vision and bold leadership to put that process into place, particularly if that leader knows that the fruits of all the hard work would be reaped years in the future. There exists now more possibilities for leaders in other industries to transfer their leadership knowledge to the education sector and I think this will also drive a positive change in leadership styles within schools.

Granted, some of the above is a quite cynical and probably naive view, but if any part of it were true, it would certainly go towards explaining the prevalence of inefficient and overly reactive intervention culture in both primary and secondary schools in the UK – the continual movement of educators and the relentless resource-consuming campaign to have smaller and smaller and smaller groups such that everyone ends up endlessly doing interventions in their spare time, including early morning, during breaks, after school, during holidays and at the weekends (or feeling guilty if they’re not doing it). Even my own children and their friends have noted that KS3 seems to lose out or be a lower priority to KS4, such that they will get the supply teachers rather than the permanent staff, have their class sizes increased, and then they will also say year 8 is the best year because it is, apparently, it’s the last year of ‘no cares’ – they internalise, just like year 5s, that they can slack off a bit because it doesn’t seem to matter so much at that point. Talk about indoctrinating a tendency towards procrastination! I think we all need to be careful to avoid the usual ‘Wait till year X and then you’ll see what is really expected of you’ lectures that inevitably make the child think ‘Well year X is a lifetime away, so it doesn’t matter!’. When I look back at my own secondary experience, I don’t remember key stages at all – we just worked hard and aimed for top percentages in our yearly exams all the way to the ultimate yearly exam called the GCSE.

What I have observed is that leaders do what previous leaders do and this tends to involve an intense focus on teaching (sometimes the leaders end up doing the teaching themselves), unquestioning implementation of practice that is out of date, debunked by research or mandated at some kind of local authority briefing, as well as put forward ‘nice ideas’ without rigorous attention to detail that would involve at least considering the possibility that someone or something would be detrimentally affected by any such decisions. In essence, this is about the bigger picture, but the bigger picture doesn’t factor when everyone’s scurrying about doing observations, burying their noses in data, or putting small group interventions and nice ideas in place. My children are fortunate enough to be in top sets and they tell me that it’s pretty normal for top sets to get the heads of department teaching them, and the less qualified/newer teachers get put with the lower sets. Now, many would immediately be thinking that some kind of cruelty or discrimination is at play here, but I tend to think that most educators and leaders are really caring people who want what is best for children – something else must be happening, so naturally I asked the teenagers in my life for some thoughts on this and they replied that there’s no point in putting your toughest and most intellectual teacher with the low sets because the low sets just muck about and don’t care, so it would be a ‘waste of brains’ for all involved including the high sets because they won’t be pushed as far or expected to work as hard. To me, this isn’t about allocation of human resources, this is about absent whole school ethos and systems that would otherwise make all children work hard regardless of who their teacher happens to be; there’s no point in putting a great teacher or intervention in place if things just aren’t civilised. I guess it also points to a lack of subject specialists too!

It’s just a hunch, but I think maybe not all leaders genuinely look at the bigger picture of a school’s USP, how they’re working hard towards winning the hearts and minds of staff as well as putting in place systems that enable efficient and dare I say it easier teaching. Teachers and student teachers get blamed all the time, and there is always this hope that a certain teacher or combination of teachers will solve all the problems of underachievement in any particular cohort. To me, anything that relies on ‘hope’ within the decision making process should ring alarm bells, not least because it puts immediate problems on the back-burner until the perfect solution is found, only for those problems to get worse and worse in the meantime – behaviour is one such ‘problem’ that tends to get worse, sometimes out of control, if people are hoping for a magic solution such as the perfect teacher combo from September, or the children miraculously maturing over the summer holidays, for example. That magic teacher might get tired of having riotous classes put upon them and just sod off to the next school or out of the profession altogether. I believe this process also puts student teachers on the scrapheap before they’ve even been given a chance to reflect and improve; we must do more to ensure that new teachers aren’t so likely to give up and leave.

Don’t get me wrong, I love numbers and data, and if a child is falling behind in the basics then they absolutely have to be caught up. But I also like stepping back and seeing the bigger picture – why are those children falling behind in the first place? Frequently, the answer is not because they have SEN, but because, for whatever reason be it for example cultural or behavioural, they’ve not paid attention or worked hard enough during the lessons and then I think, as a leader, how can I cause those collective children to pay attention and work hard regardless of who is teaching them at the time? Surely this is where the systems, routines, habits and school culture come into play (which is ultimately my responsibility)? It might be that they’re falling behind in maths, and as the resident maths bod I could look to putting in place extra maths, perhaps by teaching some children myself – but maybe they’re also falling behind in other subjects which would indicate that wider factors need to be considered and then dealt with.

Perhaps this is where we need to understand the difference between leadership and management.

Who’s with me?

 

 

Teaching little children about the world of work: good or bad?

This is an immediate response to a collective dislike of a TES poll indicating that many believe we should teach children in primary schools about the world of work. The fear is that in teaching children about work, we risk teaching them that the purpose of school is to prepare them for work. I don’t think this is the case because primary schools have always taught children about the world of work – and people still go on to do PhDs and love knowledge for the sake of it.

Many children at our school have no family members who work for a living. They genuinely think that their future will involve youtube, football or TV stardom of some kind. In the absence of good role models or a realistic understanding of the wider world, these young people are genuinely vulnerable – the lure of easy money awaits on the street corner, ready to give them a free mobile phone and the promise of instant freedom, respect and admiration. We can teach them knowledge, but I don’t think knowledge is enough (although it should be). I think a school’s culture, its USP, is so powerful and when I think about my time at school where we had a fiercely competitive and academic reputation, this was enough to keep us girls on the straight and narrow – we girls worked hard and we were successful (mostly), even though we had all sorts of struggles (mine was housing issues). When I look back, I don’t remember the content of the lessons (although I know it was good) as much as the ethos, pride, strict adherence to rules, routines, deference to authority, a way of life that made us put our very serious worries to one side and instead focus and work hard towards a higher goal. I was so lucky to have those grumpy nuns in my life.

I was aiming to be a scientist, but I changed track and decided to work in financial services instead and if you must know, it was because I realised that academia would not be an option for me – I was just too poor to go to university like everybody else. However, it was this focus and resilience (as well as good grades) that helped me out of a pretty sticky situation.

So, that’s why I don’t think it’s a bad thing to teach little children about the world of work. For many children we teach, work, particularly the kind of work that involves knowing a lot, is the only way out of poverty. It was for me.

Therefore, I think it’s ok to tell a 5 year old about the possibility of being a scientist, just as it is important to give them the beginnings of scientific knowledge.

Who’s with me?

 

 

The wrong enemy

Around the time sometimes referred to in our house as ‘schmuberty’, young people start to rebel against The Man. Now, The Man takes many forms: sometimes he’s your collective parents seeking to hold you back from discovering your true self, and sometimes he’s the government being mean to a certain minority of people, it doesn’t matter who they are, that causes you to get all feisty at the dinner table and start using words like ‘woke’ (which, apparently, I am banned from using). After a few years, you pass through this phase of being angry for the sake of it, you chill out, start to see what is commonly referred to as The Bigger Picture and then realise that the real enemy is not some ‘other’ person or organisation holding you back from becoming your ‘true self’, but the chubby person staring back in the mirror who is contemplating a beer and a plate of chips instead of a run followed by a salad.

Judging from this flurry of ‘schools are the enemy‘ type blogs, articles and tweets, I think there might be quite a few people in education who are still stuck in teenage mode. These people genuinely think that there is a mysterious collective of Gove-lovers who hate children and want to make their lives miserable, so they flounce around in their ‘Well I didn’t ask to be born’ mode and just as they failed to see why their own parents made them eat their vegetables, be civilised at the dinner table, do chores for pocket money and come home from a party by 10pm (and ‘no you can’t go out dressed like that’), they fail to see why school leaders ‘force’ children to eat their vegetables, be civilised in the corridor, do tests and SLOP, or even come in for 8.45am (and ‘no you can’t go into the assembly hall dressed like that‘).

Sometimes I want to ask these ‘Won’t somebody please think of the children!’ warriors whether they genuinely think people like me enjoy organising centralised detentions, for example. Do we instill routines and rules for fun, because we enjoy putting children through a small amount of hardship so that they may learn better habits? Last time I checked, every single one of those leaders who oversee calm, happy and successful schools where children from all backgrounds achieve well are working very, very hard indeed – they are incredibly caring people who want the pupils in their school to have choices and happiness in life. And despite what these warriors may read in the Daily Mail, parents and children actually prefer these kinds of schools too. If they’re in any doubt about this, perhaps they could check the very long waiting lists for the more traditional Catholic schools, or perhaps ask thousands and thousands of parents what they are referring to when they say a school has a good reputation because, trust me, the answer won’t be along the lines of ‘They let children make their own rules, have lots of fun (bullying each other) in their lessons rather than work hard, and they can wear whatever they like’.

Thank goodness there are some real grown ups working in education.

Who’s with me?

Some proof that EYFS does NOT need to be extended into year 1

At this time of year, a few boys in reception year are being brought to my attention by staff, or making themselves known to me – they’re starting to push the boundaries a bit, maybe get a bit too rough. All the free choice is definitely not good for them because they’re mostly drawn to stress-testing lego construction rather than choosing the independent writing table. The clock is ticking and while we can’t do much about what is happening now (because of the requirements of the EYFS), we know that what these lads need is authority, routine, structure, a clear division between work and play. Everybody says it, even their parents.

When I first came to this role, I was told that our children couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to cope with formal learning and I was advised to extend the early years experience into year 1. This is considered good practice in the early primary teaching community, as evidenced by this recent article – the children coming up to year 1 were very behind academically (low baseline too) and had received less phonics instruction because of decisions to minimise aspects of formal learning in reception year. So, what was envisioned was that they would have more play in the classroom, carousel teaching with the rest of the groups maybe choosing their activity etc – not too much writing because they ‘weren’t ready’. These instructions came from a place of love and what is considered best practice, but I, with my funny-shaped evidence & research hat on, felt uncomfortable. Why? For a start, it’s just not logical to expect children who are behind to catch up by going slower and doing less than their peers in different schools. The thought of letting them spend another year going slower than everyone else in the country made my stomach churn. I couldn’t allow it.

So I made a difficult decision. We needed to be radical; we just went ‘formal’ from 1st September and OH MY GOD IT WAS GREAT. For many of the boys who had not done much in the way of academic learning (or anything else really), it was a bit of a rude awakening, but they did something that was amazing – they adapted. And very quickly too! Behaviour, ability to concentrate, handwriting, knowledge of number bonds massively improved. They’ve gone from being a year group on track to achieve half the rate of phonics passes, to being above average for the county (based on last year’s data). This turn around was no miracle because all we did was apply logic and our knowledge of how memories are formed – the need to minimise cognitive load, and provide plenty of opportunities to practise in order to secure whatever is taught into long term memory, backed up by retrieval practice so that those memories don’t fall out of their heads. It’s not rocket science, but it does require departing from the guilt-inducing, soft and fluffy ‘let them discover and choose and have a lovely childhood’ mantra which comes in various guises. It goes without saying that all the staff involved worked so very hard, day in and day out, to help these children catch up. There is no glory on edutwitter for this, but they deserve a medal for doing something amazing which is turning these children into readers and in doing so, have changed their lives for the better. We relied heavily on volunteers too to hear the children read, or help in the classroom.

The children are so much happier because they are proud of what they can do. They still get to play and sing and hear lots of stories, and we also have our opportunities to develop confidence and social awareness, but make no mistake when it comes to the job of academic learning, we have the same expectations as any private school. They can do it, and if they can’t, then we need to make sure that they are given the opportunities to make accelerated progress and catch up, and we need to give them rich knowledge too. At no point did we bury our heads in the sand and say to ourselves that they would catch up naturally, and somehow miraculously be on track in year 2 or 3. I’ve seen too much dodgy data to know that that kind of attitude would not be in the best interests of the children (and certainly not the future men and women they will become), rather a dereliction of duty. We’re not here to ensure that every second of their time in primary school is about having fun and jumping around, we’re here to do a job: educate. Besides, the way children are, everything is fun and interesting anyway. We still have loads to do and we will not rest on our laurels.

The author of the article I link to above disputes whether we should teach the national curriculum and then asks the following question:

“Perhaps we need ask not how we can get children school ready, but how we can get school ready for the children?”

I completely disagree because this is not how the world works. Time is precious and we need to weigh up our desire to indulge children during lesson time (which could hold them back) with the pressing need to prepare them for the much longer lives they will lead as adults. I think all children should be given the chance to have happy and successful lives which means giving children what they need, not what the ideologically driven educator wants. There are probably many in our community of educators who think that it doesn’t really matter what goes on down one end of primary school where the small people are, so long as we have a massive push in KS2. Unfortunately, the statistics don’t support this view – the early years of education are crucial and this is what Hirsch was on about after all!

Next year, we will do this all over again, but even better. Those boys I mention at the beginning of the article? They’ll be fine.

Who’s with me?

 

 

Is it dangerous to teach little children new knowledge?

For many on edutwitter, it seems the answer is yes, for the following reasons:

  • 4 and 5 year olds aren’t ‘ready’
  • It is better that they pursue their own interests, even if it means mostly playing with lego, rather than have an ‘adult-imposed’ curriculum
  • If we simply teach them, then it won’t be as meaningful as if they had constructed that knowledge for themselves
  • If we simply teach them, then they will be actively stopped from becoming independent, resilient learners

I think the above doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny, partly because of the way the immature brain develops: we teach and new knowledge remains in working memory, and through ensuring lots of practice, new knowledge pretty much transfers to long term memory – then the child has lots to think about and be creative with (deliberate simplification here to keep this part of the blog shortish). There is hardly any neurological difference between a 6 year old and a 5 year old, unless you read up on EYFS ‘best practice’ whereupon you be reminded of Piaget, Rousseau, Montessori and then be under the impression that 5 year olds are perhaps an entirely different species.

The other reason the above bullet points don’t hold up for me is because of what we know about parenting. Your average parent is constantly teaching and reminding little children about various bits and pieces of important world knowledge such as names for common birds. Sometimes the child might ask first, sometimes the adult might just volunteer the information and then when they’re at the duck pond misconceptions will be addressed (No, the robin red breast doesn’t go in the pond and the duck doesn’t really go in the tree) and there will be some retrieval practice going on such as, ‘Do you remember what that bird is called and what it likes to eat?’ The parent is not likely to artificially create a duck pond simulation for the child to choose to play with and then wait for him to gently co-construct the knowledge ‘when he’s ready’. The parent will simply say ‘We’re going to the duck pond now. Get your coat.’

Of course some parents won’t be doing any of the above, which is why it’s even more important that we really do teach all little children.

Anyway, I wondered whether any little children had been taught knowledge in the past and if so, did teaching them knowledge cause them mental health issues, stop their brains from forming properly, or maybe switch them off of learning for life? Luckily, we all have access to book archives* now, so I thought I’d share with you some delightful yet typical books for little children in the 1800s, perhaps we can make a few inferences along the way:

catechism

The above book is dated 1797 and what’s really interesting is that it’s entirely composed of questions and answers to be shared between adult and child like this:

table

No need for silly cartoons there. The straight facts are interesting enough.

But how abstract can you go? I mean, little children might find some relevance in the above book because of course they would see the moon and stars in the sky and ask questions. History books for little children would surely be about the very near past and we couldn’t possibly expect tiny little children to learn about, say, the ancient Greeks?

greek history

Oh. It would seem that little children in the late 1800s could be taught about the ancient Greeks and we know there would’ve been a demand for it otherwise it wouldn’t have been published (unlike nowadays where any, ahem, ordinary person can just start up a blog). What’s interesting about the above book is that the medium of instruction is a series of short stories for the adult to share with the little child. Woah there squire! An adult sharing a fact-infused story with a child? That sounds like an adult-imposed curriculum to me. How very dare they be so cruel, especially with those latin names!

Screenshot 2018-06-17 at 8.06.48 AMScreenshot 2018-06-17 at 8.08.32 AM

OK, let’s take it back a notch. We might be teaching little children about basic astronomy and the ancient Greeks through the medium of Q&A, or the more popular story mode, but what about every day life? Surely children would be allowed to just freely discover without some kind of ghastly adult-imposed curriculum?

front pagebusy workerswheat

Admittedly, books like the above would’ve been used with well off little children, as you can see from the front page, not that that should change our view of the capacity of all children to learn really. If you look at the medium of instruction through, you’ll see that the child is expected to imagine that they’re on a magic carpet, flying around the world and learning about children in other cultures too – this is so much more than mere lego, or the iPad. The language used to describe the physical appearance of other peoples does make us modern folk cringe, but I’m not sure we could infer that it was derogatory, more an honest reflection that little children of the time would have indeed found the differences in appearance surprising, shocking and intriguing (don’t forget that in the Far East there were also odd observations of us Westerners).

What really surprises me are the very high expectations and acceptance that little children can be simply told new knowledge, albeit while they’re mostly imagining they’re on a flying carpet (a common theme) – the range of vocabulary below, used to share new knowledge with very young children would flummox many of today’s year 7s, perhaps even some adults:

tin

I couldn’t resist including the following book, not least because it reminds us that there were an awful lot of aunties out there in the late 1800s – an attempt to portray new knowledge for little children as being friendly, safe, associated with happy times. If you think about it, this helps us to understand the kind of age range these books were aimed at – the use of an informal name too, would you expect that in the late 1800s? Does this not run counter to our stereotypical view that adults in charge of children at the time were somewhat austere, foreboding individuals who preferred their children to never be around them?

lizzieBirghton

If children in the past were read to, and what was read to them was happily infused with new knowledge and its associated vocabulary, surely children in the past were not expected to practice using that knowledge, or retrieve what they know – they weren’t expected to hold a pencil at the age we expect children to hold a pencil now…….

So, it would appear that very little children were expected to have some fun drawing from memory. Back to history though, and here is an example, again using the ‘transport yourself to the past’ story mode, this time through fairies as a way of piquing the imagination.

What I love about the above book is how the author uses the the concept of fairies and time travel to help the children with their imagination (the picture of the toddler is the youngest of a set of siblings who are central characters doing the time travel), yet ensures us that everything that is taught through this book is factually correct.

Whereas most of the knowledge books for very little children are designed to be read to them and tend to involve their imagining they are going on a magic carpet, for example, I’m going to finish this blog with another history book from the late 1800s which is designed to be read independently by a child. Here is the front page:

Screenshot 2018-06-17 at 9.38.06 AM

Fortunately, there is an inscription as it was presented to a child on his birthday:

Screenshot 2018-06-17 at 9.42.50 AM

So, this child was 7, and if he were here today, he’d be in year 2. Let’s have a look at what he’s reading about:

mapauthor notes 1

authors notes 2druids

questions

The level of detail and vocabulary used – could today’s 7 year olds answer these questions? Many primary schools are still having to teach year 2s how to read (if they did not pass their phonics tests) yet today’s children are bigger, stronger and healthier than children over a 100 years ago so there’s no excuse, is there? It really does go to show how much our expectations of little children have dropped over the last few generations, and much of this isn’t helped by a view that the first year at school should be a time where children direct their own learning, with only the lightest of input from the adult – no wonder children would be unable to access a typical 7 year old’s book from the late 1800s if they’re not being taught much by the adults when they’re 5? As I write this, there is some kind of protest about alleged impending changes to ELGs. Here are a couple of comments:

Screenshot 2018-06-17 at 10.07.36 AM

It is telling that so many in EYFS begrudge even the requirement to teach phonics, let alone teach children about the world around them. However, these wonderful books from the past shine a light on what is possible and that includes re-igniting the tradition of adults sharing (explicit teaching!) all kinds of knowledge with little children, and the joy of stories and rich language that really does fire up the child’s imagination. Much better than leaving them to play with lego all day long.

Who’s with me?

*Images courtesy of the wonderful Baldwin Library

 

Knowledge is great. And that’s OK.

Apparently I’m a racist now. Just like Father Ted.

Anyway, it all blew up on twitter because I reacted to a blog that was stating the following:

  • It’s better to have knowledge about a subject, than to have gone to a museum and just had an ‘experience’
  • However, the museum, for children used to mostly visiting JD sports, is life changing
  • A knowledge curriculum should be more than [merely] a series of facts
  • You’ve got to choose which bits to teach because you can’t teach everything
  • Therefore, we need to choose the knowledge relevant to them by making sure it’s linked to the hot/relevant topics of the day (which they already know about) – like the war in Syria
  • Because if we don’t do that, then children will grow up to be racist, like Arron Banks
  • The main purpose of teaching knowledge is to make children more compassionate and responsible, so that they can make the world a better place, rather than just recount the past/regurgitate facts
  • If we just teach knowledge, then how will children learn to be compassionate, creative, critical thinkers? We need to teach them the right way to think!
  • They can’t just learn about Kings and Queens! We’ve got to make sure they know that some monarchs are maniacal despots!
  • The children in my class just love writing
  • I used knowledge such as the history of the Fire of London to teach children how to have CONCERN

This seems to be a view mostly held by teachers of history – I’ve yet to hear a physicist say that their subject should be used to mostly teach children how to have concern, as if the knowledge doesn’t really matter, so long as it’s picked to teach the children the skill of creativity, compassion or critical thinking (the right way of critical thinking, mind). This is basically progressive education 2.0.

May I ask why we need to make a special mention of Syrians in a lesson about the Romans? Yes I may, as it turns out. Apparently, this helps the Syrian refugees in our classrooms – those Syrian soldiers probably felt the same. And then of course the other children would feel compassion for their refugee friends. Do we really need to slather a bit of emotion like this on top of the history lesson? Can’t we just teach history and it be interesting and powerful, and then maybe the children will make connections with some of the themes covered in their R.E lessons? What’s with all the political agendas? Is knowledge not interesting enough for its own sake? Perhaps that Syrian refugee in your class really doesn’t need to be reminded of their situation yet again.

Also, I find it odd that so many bang on about protecting children’s childhood when it comes to testing, yet they are more than happy to load up little children’s minds with worries about pollution, endangered species, racism, war, refugees, gender identity, Brexit, austerity, obesity, healthy eating, slavery. I never had that as a little child, and neither did you, so why are we so keen to give children so much to worry about, especially if they can do nothing about said worries. As usual, I have to add in the usual clause (because of all the histrionics on twitter) that states that just because I’m saying not all lessons should be about reminding children about racism, does not mean I’m saying we shouldn’t teach racism ever. I would put it to the twitterati that it is not OK for a disadvantaged child who already lives in a shitty tower block wondering where the next meal will come from, to spend lesson after lesson hearing a middle class teacher indirectly tell them how they need to care more about the way war affects poor people around the world.

It turns out I’m quite naive on this because I thought knowledge in and of itself was more than enough without all the posturing and emotions and correct thinking draped over the top, shrouding the content. Many don’t really want to teach children knowledge because it empowers, but because they have their own agenda to get children thinking just like they do and this makes me worried about my children. We know creativity comes from knowing lots about that particular area you are trying to be creative in. We also know that you cannot be a critical thinker until you have lots of knowledge to think about (and then come to your own conclusions). How do we teach compassion? Lately, I’ve been thinking that in addition to cognitive load theory, we might also have emotional load theory. Essentially, you cannot think of others until you have learned to control your own emotions and stop thinking about yourself most of the time. This comes with routine, rules and good manners – freeing up emotion and headspace to care for others.

In the meantime, I put it to you all that knowledge is interesting enough as it is. You could choose to hijack history lessons to teach a little child to care for others, or you could maybe get a class pet, like a hamster.

Who’s with me?