Monday, 11 February 2013

What's the Point of School?

The title of this blog is stolen from the incredible book by Guy Claxton - "What's the Point of School? Rediscovering the Heart of Education" (see a brief video explanation from the author here).
This book is truly inspiring and made me seriously reconsider the purpose of education, and my place within it as a teacher. In the current climate where teachers and the teaching profession seem to be under constant scrutiny and are regularly being told that they are not doing enough to help young people progress the ideas presented by Guy Claxton are much needed. The basic premise of the book is to consider how we as teachers can move from a culture where we are 'teaching to the test' and where acquisition of knowledge is prioritised to a culture where the skills required for learning and for life are the aim of education and educators (see the National Curriculum consultation document - link here).
Recently I've been feeling a little bit uncertain as to how I can make a change as 'just a classroom teacher' but "What's the Point of School?" made me realise that even though you may not necessarily have any power over government policy you have the ability to influence the learning and the futures of hundreds of students every week. This led me to start making a few changes in my teaching - making all the skills that we inherently include in good teaching more explicit and presenting these to students as skills that they will require for life, as well as handing more responsibility over to students for their own learning (particularly at post-16 where students should be making the transition into the 'real world'). I've even asked a few classes "what's the point?" and had a variety of responses. From younger students - "because science is amazing", "we're here to learn", "we're here to get an education", from older students "we're here to get a good grade", "we're here to pass the exams". An interesting contrast undoubtedly caused by the education system that we are working within.
I met up with a friend from University this weekend (also a teacher) and we spent a couple of hours discussing the proposed reforms to the education system, the speed at which they are occurring and what we might do if we were Secretary of State... Most teachers agree that reform is required, but it's disappointing that such reforms are being proposed without speaking to some of the key members of the profession. I'm doing my Masters in Science Education part-time at King's College, London and have been overwhelmed with the amount of research that has been done, and is still currently being done into what works to help students learn and make progress - and yet none of this is being referred to. I've been following the work of the Headteachers' Roundtable (click here) and am in awe of the many amazing Heads that are striving to ensure that children and their learning remain at the centre of policy making - and yet they are not being consulted.
If I could ask for just three things to be changed about our education system (three wishes anyone?) they would be...
1. Thinking - changing the courses and examinations that our students sit to place more value on skills, understanding and creativity rather than content as well as recognising the advantages of formative assessment over summative assessment. 
2. Progress - the achievement of an individual child or school should be based on progress instead of attainment. There seems to have been a slight shift towards this with the new "Best 8", however, the EBacc measure appears to still be a part of this and technical or vocational subjects are not being given the appropriate consideration.
3. Uniformity - perhaps moving towards a single exam board wouldn't be such a bad thing. Can a fair comparison (usually in league tables but also by Universities and employers) really be made when students are able to get a GCSE from a variety of exam boards?
Perhaps this is too much to ask for but I'm going to continue to hope that those that have more influence than myself have a similar aim.
Finally, I had a miracle moment today whilst teaching my (often disengaged and unmotivated) year 10 class. I've been concerned for a while about how they don't seem to see the value in learning and decided to take action to see if I could change their attitudes. At the start of the lesson every student was given a post-it note to write their name on and stick on their desk. I explained that doing 'good' things in the lesson (asking questions, answering questions, completing work, participating in paired, group or practical) work would earn them a 'dot' on their post-it. However, doing anything that would earn them a 'consequence' (a warning, part of our behaviour policy) would mean that their name would be put on the board and every 'consequence' would cancel out one of their 'dots'. At the end of the lesson the student with the most 'dots' would win a chocolate bar. I wasn't entirely sure how comfortable I was with resorting to bribery, however I soon got over this when I realised that the system meant I had a whole class begging me to check over their work and answer their questions so they could earn 'dots'! A really useful positive behaviour management technique that meant the students really engaged with their learning, and just maybe realised what the point of school was this afternoon...

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