For Real Education #Scotland101

ABOI KEY IDEAS 101 (1)More from our series from Commonweal’s Book of Ideas.  #101 Place the emphasis on positive, happy development of pupils at school, not testing or other practices which create anxiety. 

Education should, at heart, be about improving our quality of life. This can mean many things. It can mean exposing us to ideas and thoughts which expand how we see ourselves and our lives. It can mean learning coping skills to help us respond positively to the things that happen to us throughout our lives. It can mean giving us the skills to do the things we enjoy. It certainly means making us feel good about ourselves as valuable members of society. It certainly shouldn’t mean creating a system driven by the need to pass exams as the means of avoiding a bad life. The cycle of pressure and anxiety that an educational regime driven by testing exerts has been shown to change the brain chemistry of children and can effect them throughout their lives. You cannot test a child into being a happy, constructive, and productive citizen.

Education should be an empowering time when children don’t just learn but learn how to learn for themselves. Of course there are certain core skills (literacy and numeracy), and of course education should prepare for work—both those who will go straight from school into work, and those who prepare for further learning. But there are virtually no areas of work remaining which rely on a child’s ability to memorise answers and no further learning which expects it. So it is a pointless cruelty to create a system which drives a child’s development in these directions.

If there are to be formal tests applied in schools they should be held until the very end of school—or better still, should become entrance exams in the trades or learning institutions they go on to after school. Assessment is necessary to be able to support development, but it should be continuous assessment based on a holistic approach to development.

Otherwise, we should be creating a school system not structured along the fairly arbitrary lines of this subject or that subject. Pupils should learn in mixed groups through project work which cuts across many subjects. In this process, pupils should learn how to draw learning out of their experience. The attributes we should hope for are curiosity, creativity, empathy, and understanding. Being exposed to big ideas, to the sweep of history, to art and literature, to how technologies or plants or our bodies work, how food is grown and cooked, how our society functions—these forms of knowledge will produce children who can be happy and interested in their own lives and the world around them. From there, they can do anything they want.

 

Comments (19)

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  1. SteveT says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this post. But anyone know a school that teaches like that? I’d send my 11 yr old and 9 yr old there in a second. At the moment they both go to ‘good’ schools that seem hell-bent on hammering them into intellectual conformity, boring them into submission, pummelling them with pointless homework, and generally removing any concept of education as a source of continuous joyful learning.

    1. LizM says:

      I think the Steiner schools come as close as anything I’ve found to teaching in a way that the blog describes. My kids go to the Edinburgh Steiner school http://www.edinburghsteinerschool.org.uk/ where they’re not tested at all until national exams in the final years, and where the teaching focuses as much on developing an interest in the world, and an ability to observe and ask questions to help learning as it does on learning or memorising facts. They do a lot of cross-curricular, project work (which they carry on with til 18 regardless of exam choices), as well as the usual specialist subjects like languages, music, maths etc. And there seems to be a good balance between academic study and more practical skills like crafts. Sadly the three Steiner schools in Scotland don’t get any government funding so are in the private sector, albeit with much lower fees than most other private schools, but I gather all three schools would rather be in the state sector – and I would support that as a parent, to give a more pluralism and choice.

      1. steinerboy says:

        Seconded, I went to Steiner Schools in both Aberdeen (unfortunately now closed) and Gloucester. Central to the approach is the role of imagination in education and to integrate intellectual, artistic and practical learning. I feel I have benefitted from the emphasis on broad, varied and holistic education. This gave me invaluable opportunities to explore my scientific interests as well as my creative side and paved the way for my current studies of Physics and Music at Edinburgh University. As LizM says, I only wish Steiner education was more available to those not able to afford the fees (although they are relatively affordable).

  2. manandboy says:

    My younger son has just left secondary. The fact is that the universities and the professions require entrance qualifications, so exam passes in good grades are a fixture. But I have to say that both my sons had access to many non-academic activities within school as well as lots of stuff we chose to do quite separate from school. You paint a picture of exam slavery, and to a necessary extent that’s true, but it’s by no means the whole picture.

  3. Jim Morris says:

    It certainly means making us feel good about ourselves as valuable members of society… As a hyper tested educated person, 6 Highers and 3 Uni Degrees, I now live in a country which does not believe in self-determination, nor in honesty in politics or business, nor in cultural diversity or history (except that written by the victors), and which demonises the most vulnerable and fragile in society. Who wants to be programmed as a valuable member of this? Besides all that, schools are not natural: no child has 24 brothers or sisters of the same birth year, and no teacher (in loco parentis) acting as a substitute for a parent who has had 25 children in the one pregnancy, and all this to begin at the age of 2 or 3 when the child is incapable of separate identity and so suffers separation anxiety every single school day.

  4. john young says:

    I totally agree with the above and for a long time now I have thought that the school curriculum is/was outdated,most of our kids are not suited to it and are therefore consigned in most cases to the dustbin,we should have schools monitoring children how they play re-act and what they are good and happiest at thereby we could shape their future to suit.Having been involved with kids in the sporting sphere football mainly,I always watched how a kid walked or held themselves pretty rudimentary but it gave you a fair idea as to how they would shape when involved in sport you were never far off the mark,so many institutions/parents delude themselves as to what children will/can achieve then scratch their heads when the “square peg round hole” theory fails them and their children.I am in favour of a “holistic” approach,the ancients weren,t far wrong “ying yang” balance in life is all important.The holy trinity of “body mind soul” are very very important,if you are not right in the body you go to the doctor to try to remedy it if your mind is ill at ease you try to treat it if your soul/spirit is wounded most ignore it but you are out of synche/unbalanced,in our secular world most do not/cannot repair or balance the spirit and we are paying a heavy price.

  5. lawrence says:

    I must admit as a father of 2 boys, one just finished high school and the other just going through high school, to be one of those that were in favour of testing, not from a point of view of one-upmanship but as a way of finding the best and learning from that, but my eyes were well and truly opened when I was discussing this with friends down south and they explained what was happening there with academies and the trust that were running their local school (basically private companies by another name), the constant testing that’s going on and how its affecting the kids and their general well-being.
    The present way of learning in Scotland is a step in the right direction but we shouldn’t stop here. I am now a convert to this more open way of learning and I would definitely fight against the introduction of a more test based system.
    Children are naturally curious and it is the education system that has in the past knocked this curiosity out of them, I definitely don’t look back on my school days with any fondness. Any system that feeds off of that inquisitive nature that kids are born with is a winner.

  6. Ryan says:

    I want to point out some mistakes in written English in this article.
    This article has 4 paragraphs. There are some examples of bad, or poorly written English, in the article. The mistakes are in the 2nd, penultimate and final paragraphs.
    (1)The first mistake (in the 2nd paragraph) is:
    “Of course there are certain core skills (literacy and numeracy), and of course education should prepare for work—both those who will go straight from school into work, and those who prepare for further learning.”
    This sentence does not make sense. Read it and correct it please.
    (2)The next mistake (in the 2nd paragraph) is:
    “But there are virtually no areas of work remaining which rely on a child’s ability to memorise answers and no further learning which expects it. So it is a pointless cruelty to create a system which drives a child’s development in these directions.”
    Both sentences do not make sense. Read it and correct it please.
    What do you mean “there are virtually no areas of working remaining which rely on a child’s ability to memorise answers and no further learning which expects it?” Can someone explain/expand on what this means?
    In the next sentence, I think the inclusion of the indefinite article “(a) or the word “a” is a mistake and should be taken out of the sentence.
    (3)The next mistake is in the final sentence of the 3rd paragraph:
    “Assessment is necessary to be able to support development, but it should be continuous assessment based on a holistic approach to development.”
    Again, it is bad and poorly written English. It does not make sense.
    Why is assessment necessary to be able to support development? I thought the article was arguing to eliminate assessment from education altogether (or not held until the end of school – the final year of school before they leave school for good)?
    Oh and by the way, I think there is another mistake with the English in the article: it says “If there are to be formal tests applied in schools they should be held until the very end of school”. Shouldn’t that sentence include the word “not”? By that, I mean the sentence should read that any assessment should NOT be held until the final year of schooling? (inclusion here of the word ‘not’ into the sentence)
    (4)Why does the final paragraph start with the word “otherwise”?
    Why is “otherwise” the right word to use, and to make the article flow and show a link to what is written in the previous paragraph?
    The rest of the article is fine. The article is absolutely brilliant. But just correct the mistakes in the English and it will be fine. Thank you.

    1. Angry Weegie says:

      You missed “effect” in the first paragraph when the author meant “affect”.

  7. Erick says:

    Ryan is obviously a secondary school teacher 😉

      1. Susan Brownlie says:

        I’m a secondary English teacher by trade. Can I buy the book with the text as is? I don’t want it ‘corrected’ thanks (don’t think it needs it). Sending a virtual praise sticker! 🙂

        1. Ryan says:

          Oh for goodness sake. I was only saying.

  8. florian albert says:

    Rather than embark on a utopian, total transformation of Scottish schools, a social democratic response would be to deal with the most serious defects of the existing system.
    Two stand out.
    The failure of a significant minority – about 18% according to the Scottish Government’s own Literacy Commission – to acquire the literacy skills needed to continue successfully in education and in society.
    The attainment gap between those schools in prosperous areas and those in deprived areas.

    Although both the SNP and SLAB have recently committed themselves to dealing with these problems, particularly the latter, there is little sign that they will be tackled with the energy and commitment needed to deal with them.

  9. Wul says:

    My son, in 5th year at one of Scotland’s better-preforming state secondary schools, was recently told that his class needed to work harder, so that; “you can have a nice car when you are older”.

    It does seem a bit mad to me that pupils are made to study Calculus and Trigonometry but not, for example, Citizenship, Democracy, Ethics or Social Change.

    By citizenship, I don’t mean a Duke of Edinburgh Award.

  10. Para Handy says:

    Ah, pedagogy, that most wonderful thing.

    You have to agree with the sentiment of the article, however, what admittedly limited research I’ve managed to do into alternative, Western approaches to education systems that are successful in improving outcomes shows a marked lack of evidence-based decision making in the majority of countries. There are successes but they never seem to make it intro the mainstream.

    Does anyone anywhere know of any educational model that truly addresses a significant gap in attaintment between rich and poor?

    Who knows, perhaps it’s not about education but about privilege…

  11. Steve Arnott says:

    The Commonweal project has produced some good policy ideas, but this happy clappy middle class nonsense is not one of them.

    This sounds like a retread of the tired old memes of the Curriculum for Excellence which has seen pupil attainment fall in literacy and numeracy and teachers snowed under with a blizzard of tick box excercises and cma.

    Schools being happy places might be a desirous thing – but it is not an educational policy.

    The left needs to wake up to the realities of how pupils – at the different stages of their development – actually learn and assimiltae skills and knowledge, and understand that not putting any difficulties or obstacles in their way doesn’t prepare them for life or make them rounded individuals.

    Now I’ll sit back and watch the usual suspects witter on about teamwork as opposed to rote learning, depth instead of breadth of learning, teachers being ‘learning enablers’ instead of teachers of facts and other such false dichotomies, rather than examine the clear empirical evidence that the crass pseudo-egalitarianism of Cfe isn’t working.

    And this unimaginative and content free retread of Cfe won’t work either I’m afraid.

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