littlemavis

Little_Mavis' rants and musings


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Things I Don’t Understand #4

There are a couple of huge leaps of logic in the type of education espoused by those who label themselves “Trads”.  If these are actually explained anywhere, I have missed them.

Firstly “In order to be creative, you must first have a thorough knowledge of a subject”

Why? I can see that if you don’t know that someone has already done something you might unknowingly reinvent it. I once accidentally “composed” the opening bars of the Blue Danube, though, in all honesty, I may have done that precisely because I had heard it before. I suppose this is kind of my point. If you have knowledge of a subject, and I don’t mean scientific or mathematical facts here but things like Art or Literature, aren’t you more likely to, maybe subconsciously, reproduce that rather than produce something original?

Please understand. This isn’t an argument against knowledge itself. I’m a big fan. I’ve devoured “knowledge” for as long as I can remember, starting with Arthur Mee’s encyclopediaChildren’s Encyclopaedia when I was very young. I’m just not convinced by the assertion that knowledge must precede creativity.

Secondly, in what way does following rigid instructions to the letter produce self-disciplined young adults?  I was reminded of this after reading this which I found through a tweet from @doxtdatorb. It’s a long read, but worth it.

The part that really struck me was this

Capture

Somehow, the children are expected to transition from complete obedience and habituation to a particular regime to self discipline and questioning at some, unspecified, point. When does this happen? How does this happen. I confess, I’ve always taken exactly the opposite approach when bringing up my own children. They have behaved well because I have explained the need to behave well. I’ve been open to negotiation about rules, though I have always had a few non-negotiables, which means that we understand each other and they understand how to be reasonable and how to check their own behaviour.

There are other things I dislike about this approach, but these two really stand out, mainly because of the logic gap. They assert both of these as facts.

Knowledge must precede creativity

Complete obedience will produce freedom/self-discipline

Without any explanation or logic.

Am I missing something? Am I giving up on reading the articles and blogs too soon? Or are they just committing a sleight of hand and hoping we won’t notice.

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My excuses

I’ve been musing (nothing new there) about why I find the “no excuses” approach in schools so … unpleasant.

If you follow me on Twitter (@little_mavis) you will see that my bio says “Passionate about fairness” and I am. I like everyone to be treated fairly and I will even sometimes, speak up on behalf of people I do not agree with if I think they are being unfairly castigated. (Though having said that I think some people are so far beyond the pale that I cannot bring myself to say anything in support)

I think I may have found a logical and practical reason for my not being happy with overly strict ways of dealing with school children.

For now I am leaving aside the moral consideration of whether it is right to ignore personal circumstances or special needs when imposing and judging misbehaviour or that of the fairness/morality/effectiveness of the form that the punishment seems to take. I’m just going to make a point on the practical consequences on ordinary, average, non-troubled/troublesome kids.

You see, many of us think our kids behave & it’s others who cause all the problems. But, even with uniform lists & sets of rules, you can’t always be certain you won’t fall foul of uniform requirements you interpreted in a different way, or another child maliciously blaming yours for something they didn’t do, or of a teacher having an off day. These excessively strict systems are not renowned for giving the benefit of the doubt. And if there is anything which will make a well behaved child lose confidence in the system, it’s being punished for something when they didn’t do anything wrong.

I was punished in infant school for something I didn’t do. I still resent that now. Remember that Twitter meme where it asked for your longest standing grudge? That’s mine. The girl who lied about me to a teacher more than 50 years ago.

I get that life isn’t fair. I’ve told my own children and students that. But the whole point of the “no excuses” system is meant to be to teach children that good behaviour is right/desirable/rewarded, and I’m not convinced it will do that.

I am by nature a rule follower. I suspect that’s why I rail so much against rules that I see as unreasonable or unfair. And I’m just not convinced that the supposed beneficiaries of the “no excuses” culture, those quiet, well-behaved children that we are trying to protect from hooligans and malicious troublemakers, will be as well served as we imagine. (As an aside, I’m not as convinced as some that there really is an army of malicious troublemakers as some but that’s another discussion)

Maybe it’s not the “bad” who will learn new ways.


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Conformity or Variety?

A very quick two penn’orth on the issue of criticising/praising schools.

For what it’s worth, and feel free to ignore me but, in my personal (& humble) opinion, it’s good to have schools with different ethos(es?). I doubt there is a single way that works for every child (assuming we could define what we mean by “working” for every child). And even if it did there will be teachers and parents who would find it morally uncomfortable to follow some practices whether they be strict discipline or too much freedom. Maybe we could just accept that different provision should exist for different requirements.

Some fortunate children will thrive in any circumstances because they are adaptable and have an enriching and knowledgeable home environment. These are the children that teachers describe as “a joy to teach”. Some will also thrive in any circumstances through sheer grit and force of will. On the whole, these are less well liked by teachers because they can make life uncomfortable but they are valuable because they can teach us something about ourselves and how we relate to those who do not fit our image of what a good student should be like.

Sadly there are others who need something different. Yes, the quiet children who might suffer because the classroom is too rowdy (by the way, if we are being really keen on developing “grit” shouldn’t we apply it to this group? – Not advocating this, just pointing out an odd inconsistency in some current ideas) but also the misfits who struggle to conform or to concentrate. They may need something different.

What I find worrying is the idea that if something works in a specific setting it should be applied everywhere and, if ever this then doesn’t succeed, it’s because people just aren’t doing it right. That may be the case, but it also may be that the idea isn’t universally transferable to elsewhere.

I’ve seen arguments/discussions recently about whether it’s OK to praise or criticise specific settings or people. I’ve seen concerns about obedience and conformity.

Personally, I’m not keen on obedience as a concept, I’d rather instil a knowledge of what is desirable or acceptable in varying circumstances and have children understand why certain behaviour is required and then do that because they want to. I’m also not keen on enforced conformity, which is odd, because I tend to conform. Maybe that’s why I dislike petty rules so much, because I can’t just do the sensible thing and ignore them when they get in the way of common sense. I need to fight them.

BUT

I don’t especially want to stop other people running their schools in a way I dislike. I just don’t want people trying to make all schools work the same way and I would be most unhappy if I had no choice but to send my child to one.

Just stop telling other people they have got it all wrong and you are right regardless.


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Grammar School

My next instalment of school life in olden days.

If you would like to see the earlier posts, they are Infants, Juniors and some background.


Before I start, I want to make it crystal clear that I do not support the reintroduction of grammar schools. This is simply a description of what it was like as a South Yorkshire working class girl attending such a school in the 1960s, It was a good experience. I probably didn’t take quite as much advantage of it as I should have. It may also give some insight as to why some people in power, who would have attended somewhere similar and who gained from it might be nostalgic about them and support them. I also suspect that the intake of this school was more working class than those in leafy suburbs. It was a mining area, solidly Labour then & pretty much so now, apart from UKIP inroads. “Posh” kids were the exception, not the rule so I don’t think I felt the alienation that some in similar positions felt. My brother went to the local secondary modern and did just fine. He got Grade 1 CSEs & a couple of O levels. He did practical subjects that the grammar didn’t offer and got an electrical apprenticeship straight from school.

I came out with 9 O levels and 5 A levels and was the first in my (extended) family to go to university. I can’t say I made the best of a good education, but many of my classmates did. For us, it was a success. I completely understand that it wasn’t the same for everyone, but you can’t ignore the fact that for people like me, it worked.

So. 1965. I passed my 11+, along with a good proportion of my classmates and was sent to the local grammar school. The school I went to was an old fashioned grammar school with a twist. I think I’m going to make this in two parts. First, describing the school itself and then my personal experience of it. I’m not sure how it compares to other schools today. I only attended the one and the school my children went to was a comprehensive that had been built in 1950s as a grammar school but was becoming rather dilapidated.

I haven’t worked in a High School except for short times on supply so have very little idea of what is standard, either for normal high schools or grammar schools.

Our very first visit was on the day we started after the summer holidays. No visits to get to know the place, just “Turn up at 8:30 on Monday”. We were all sent into the hall and were allocated into 6 classes, 30 per class. There were proper cloakrooms to hang your bags and leave your outdoor shoes and we had a classroom with proper desks with lift up lids that we kept our books in. The teachers came to us, except for things like science, art, domestic science & PE.

We did exams twice a year and our report books included our mark & our position in class for each subject.

The school building was very new. It had its first intake in 1964 when we were in year 6 so had, what was then considered to

mgs

Typical 60s built school. Since demolished and replaced.

be state-of-the-art facilities.

For PE we had a boys’ and a girls’ gym with a sports hall between, tennis/netball courts, huge playing fields with multiple pitches for hockey, rugby and football, a rounders pitch, a full size running track and long jump and high jump pits. We also had a swimming pool. Well, to be honest, it was more like an oversized water tank in a greenhouse.

We had dedicated labs for Physics, chemistry and biology, art rooms, domestic science, both cookery and sewing music and woodwork and metalwork rooms.

We also had a kind of tiny farm with rabbits and guinea pigs. I’m honestly not sure what that was for.

After the first year, we were streamed. The top third (no idea how this was done) were put into two classes which comprised the Latin stream and, were taught Latin alongside other subjects. I imagine we were considered those most likely to go to university. Within those two classes we were further set for science only. We did have to choose between (I think) art & domestic science for girls and art & woodwork for boys. There was no thought of girls doing woodwork or boys taking DS.

The teaching was pretty formal, they told us stuff, we wrote stuff down, we learned things and discipline was, well, not especially strict actually. Some teachers expected you to stand when they came into the room but not all. Some wore gowns, most didn’t. Boys were caned for some misdemeanours, girls weren’t.

Every year we had an “Arts Festival” which was an inter-house arts competition which included creating & performing a small play (multi-year) reciting poetry, playing instruments etc.

great hall

The College hall from a more recent photo found on FB

The school had an annual Gilbert & Sullivan production with both (sixth form) students and teachers performing roles and a school play, again sixth formers. The two I was involved in were The Beaux Stratagem and The Petrified Forest, so it covered a decent range.

Girls played hockey, rounders, netball, boys did rugby, football, cricket. Boys also did cross country. We girls lobbied to be allowed to also, but the head was against it, he didn’t want girls “running round the countryside with bare legs”. He was eventually persuaded that we could run a circuit of the school fields, which is what the junior (years 7 &*) boys did. We soon discovered it wasn’t all that much fun, especially in the mud. We had inter-house sports and played against other schools. Often first and second teams.

The head was rather eccentric. He built an aeroplane in the woodwork block as a school project – I believe it is still flying today and help “High table” on the stage in the college hall where about half a class would have lunch with him while we chatted politely. I remember him as always having food stains on his tie.

The sixth form was in a separate block, though it shared science labs and was not a standard school sixth form. It was, as far as I know, the first sixth form college.

I found this extract in a book which explains it quite well. There was no uniform in the sixth form and although we did not call teachers by their first name we did have a more informal relationship with them. We had a sixth form common room and free periods, at least, you did unless you had foolishly decided to take four full A levels.

mgs sixth form from Education 16-19 In Transition by Eric MacFarlane

From Education 16-19: In Transition Eric McFarlane

I’m sure there are things I have forgotten here but since I’m planning a further post on actual experience this is just meant to be a brief outline. I’m not sure it’s substantially different from many comprehensive schools today. I’ll write again about my personal experiences.

 

 


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Girls’ Juniors

So. Junior school?

This is my post about infant school. And here, some background

Since my first school was infants only I moved at 7 to a school which had a mixed infants half and a Girls’ Junior half. (The boys went to a different school about half a mile away)

Garden-Street-School-Uploaded-by-Matthew-Spencer

 

This was uploaded to FB by Matthew Spencer

 

The building was much older, Old enough for my mum and aunt to have gone to the school as children and my aunt is now 89.

(I found this photo on FB) Stone built and the stones blackened by many, many years of

the residue of the coal fires used all over town. In fact, for many years I thought this was the natural colour of stone as it was so ubiquitous.

 

 

The playground was concrete or tarmac and we had no playing field or grass of any kind.

garden-street-playground

Uploaded to FB by Dean Cheetham

There was an outdoor toilet block to use at playtimes. I cannot remember if we had indoor toilets. The classrooms in the junior block were arranged around a large hall which could be divided into 2 or possibly 3 by folding partitions. There was one class per year. Also, no maypole!

I have a vague recollection that the classes were arranged in an odd way. We did a term in the first class then moved up at the same time every year, finally coming back to the teacher we started with.

Desks were arranged in rows and were wooden with lift up lids and inkwells. These were wooden holes in the desk into which small (ceramic?) inkpots made were inserted. I don’t remember when we started to use ink, but we had blue painted wooden pens which we dipped in the ink to write and we inevitably ended up with blue ink-stained fingers. We were taught italic rather than cursive which means I now have an odd style of writing that is neither one thing nor the other.

What did we learn? Well English and maths, obviously. Though Maths may well have been called Arithmetic. In Geography, I learned that tea came from India and Beef from Argentina. I may have learned other things but nothing else has stuck. I assume History, though I remember nothing at all of that. We did knitting. I started with a dishcloth in yr3/4, than a hot water bottle cover and finally a stripy cardigan. I was very slow and took so long over my hot water bottle cover that I was last to choose the wool for my cardigan so it was turquoise and orange stripes. We also did needlework, or basically, embroidery so I could/can do chain stitch, daisy stitch., blanket stitch, stem stitch. Odd that I remember that but not the history. I expect I did more embroidery at home.

We did Singing Together from the radio so I still am able to sing some very odd tunes such as “Twankydillo”  and I imagine we did PE, though I can only remember country dancing and learning to waltz.

The headmistress was Miss Varney who became ill and was replaced by Mrs Swift. I remember it was though vaguely odd that a headmistress could be married.

Mrs O’Donaghue (Yr 3) Was quiet & pleasant and had the joy of dealing with me being sick all over my desk. That’s all I can remember.

Miss Hayes (Yr 3/4) had permed blonde hair and those strange upswept glasses that were popular in the 60s. She seemed stern and got very cross with me once when she told us we would finish off our arithmetic before doing needlework and I pulled a face. She threatened me with extra maths instead of needlework which would have suited me just fine as it was actually the needlework I was pulling a face at. Never assume you know what is going through a child’s mind.

Mrs James (Yr 4/5) was a motherly figure, who read us Just So stories and Puck of Pook’s Hill and was disappointed in me for getting a couple of maths questions wrong.

The year 5/6 teacher was Miss Davidson. Tall, stout, stern and wonderful. She also taught music and I remember her being very, very insistent that we should be singing “O Lord” and not “Oh Lard” in hymns. To this day I cannot stand poor enunciation. Looking back, I can see that the school was her life. We were her last class as she retired the Christmas when we were due to move into the top class and into another school as our buildings were going to be demolished. She cried, we cried. We knew where she lived and carried on visiting for a few years to chat and drink orange squash. We used to do weekly tests in the class and sit according to our results, top at the back, bottom at the front. The very idea makes me shudder now.

At Christmas we used to learn the parts from the gospels used in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College and I can still recite them from memory. (Also poems).

We still had the 11 plus back then and did regular practices, though I can’t remember there being the type of pressure there is now with either the current 11+ or SATs. The school actually did very well.

The Christmas of year 6 the juniors moved to another school.

The town had a Grammar School and two secondary moderns. Comprehensive education was in its infancy and there was a comprehensive in the next town. The Grammar school was moving to a brand new building and as a knock on effect, the secondary moderns were amalgamated and moved into the grammar school buildings. One of them from an old stone building, which was also to be demolished, and the other from a newer building that we were moving into along with the local boys’ junior school. So, after three and a bit years in a girls only junior school at 10 and 11 were moved into a school with BOYS!!! It was all a bit of a shock to the system. We got over it quite quickly though and developed small, unrequited crushes then got on with our work.

adwick road school2The school was newer and different. Our class was housed in a separate classroom with its own cloakroom and toilets. We still had only a tarmac playground, though bigger and not on a slope and still no playing field. This was my first encounter with a stationery cupboard. A few of us were allowed the immense privilege of organising it, sorting all the books, paper, art supplies, pencils, pens, rubbers, rulers. It was bliss.

Our new teacher was Mrs Thompson who had lived in South Africa for a while.

Finally a couple of school reports to show how short they were back then. report-7report-8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were only there for two terms before we moved on to big school. I, most of my friends and a few of the boys passed the 11+ and went to the (new, shiny) Grammar School, some who did well, but not enough to pass went to the comprehensive and the remainder to the secondary modern, the old grammar school)  just around the corner. I have to say, I never gave the kids who failed another thought.

Please feel free to add any memories of your own in the comments.


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Who’s to Blame?

It’s quite interesting really. When I was at school, back in the dark ages, my performance at school was definitely considered to be entirely down to me. And I mean entirely. If i didn’t do as well as the teachers thought I should it was put down to my being lazy, or not listening, or being too chatty. Luckily I mostly did OK so I didn’t get a huge amount of grief until the sixth form. To be fair, at that point, I think they were mostly right. I assumed I’d be able to do A levels easily (as I had O levels) and found I couldn’t. Because we didn’t have fancy stuff like AS levels then I didn’t realise this until I did incredibly poorly in my mocks I’ll try to track down some of my reports and you can see the comments I got. There never seemed to be (to my knowledge) any hint that a teacher hadn’t delivered enough, or that I might be bored because the lessons were boring. They told us stuff, we wrote it down, we learned it, we did exams. No Internet, just notes, textbooks and past papers. My Physics teacher back then didn’t even chase us for homework. He told us, right at the beginning of the course. “I’ll set it, you do it, you hand it in, I mark it. If you don’t, you’re the ones who lose out, not me.” He did warn us, at regular intervals what would happen if we didn’t work “You’ll fail!” (Imagine that said in a Welsh valley’s accent & that’s what Mr Edwards sounded like – I was very fond of Mr Edwards)

Anyway, I went to uni, worked my way through a couple of careers (Information Scientist, Export Sales Admin, General Sales Admin, Programming, software support) and eventually fetched up in teaching, by which time the pendulum had swung and somehow I was responsible for my students’ results. I was a bit resentful of this. Surely the students bore *some* responsibility? Especially when I was teaching post-16. By then we had been mostly expected to just get on with it in preparation for university.

I left teaching a few years ago having most definitely been blamed for some students’ less than stellar results. That’s not a euphemism, they generally passed, the results just weren’t exceptional, just not as high as for some other staff (this was in teacher marked qualifications btw, not exams) but they were honest. I’d have been happy to let any examiner come & moderate the work.

Now, I don’t know when this change happened beyond it being somewhere between when I left school in the early 70s & started teaching in the late 90s but the pendulum does seem to be starting to swing back. The schools with an authoritarian no-excuses ethos, mostly academies? Are definitely trying to put the onus back on the children. They are ranking children again (and yes, I used to know my position in class after every exam or test & when I was in high school in every subject) and they are (from what I’ve read) shaming children for poor performance. Now this is never nice for the kids.If they struggle and are doing the best they can, no amount of shaming will help. Ever.If they are lazy because they don’t care it won’t make any difference and they may well make failure a badge of honour.If they are able, and conscientious or competitive, they may regard anything less than perfection as a failure. Sometimes this is fine. Sometimes it will drive them over the edge. (I’ve seen this happen with very able A level students)

It’s not just about developing resilience. A lot of this is down to your basic personality and some children who would otherwise be healthy, happy and successful will simply not thrive under this type of regime.

So. What’s it like now. I get the feeling that we are moving back towards blaming the kids and/or their parents. (Maybe the teachers who want this aren’t used to being blamed for the lack of success because they weren’t blamed when they were kids) But, I can’t say I’m happy about this. When I was young it was our responsibility but there wasn’t such emphasis then on academic success. It was considered perfectly reasonable to be “practical” or “good with your hands” rather than being academic. This is a big issue just now and one that I know both Sue Cowley and Disappointed Idealist here and here have blogged about.

Surely there is a happy medium somewhere in all this. Isn’t it time we accepted that education is a joint enterprise involving teachers, students, parents and the state. We all have a stake in it and we should all be doing our bit. We need to value all sorts of contributions and maybe trust each other a bit more.

To be honest. I’m not holding out much hope just now. The pendulum may continue on it’s swing. I just hope we don’t damage too many children in the process.


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Do you explain, or just tell?

I got annoyed today. I get annoyed quite often really. There is a pattern to the things that annoy me. It’s acts of selfishness or thoughtlessness for which I cannot imagine any mitigation.

  • Cars that park on double yellow lines and cause long queues of traffic. As far as I can tell, usually so someone can go in a shop without the inconvenience of walking ten metres from somewhere it is safe and legal to park.
  • Finding someone has bunged a bag of rubbish in your bin leaving not enough room for the  two full sacks you need to put in (actually what triggered this blog).
  • Noisy smelly barbecues that mean you cannot leave your windows open or your washing out on warm Summer evenings (fingers crossed eh?).

If there is a good reason for inconveniencing me, I can live with it.

  • An elderly mother recovering from a broken leg needed to call in to buy some wool.
  • You were clearing out your cupboards and thought I was away for the week so you could use the space in my bin.
  • Sorry. No excuse for barbecues but you should at least warn neighbours!

What I’m building up to here is a plea for thoughtfulness and a bit of consideration, obviously, life would be smoother if we were all a bit nicer, but also, if you are going to do something that is potentially annoying, tell the person you may annoy why you are doing it. Don’t assume it wont bother them. Don’t assume it doesn’t matter.

And if you’re a teacher, explain rules, especially those that seem initially pointless to the students. They won’t all be convinced, but there will be some, who were initially resentful who will have second thoughts and cooperate rather than sullenly comply.

I know there are many teachers who feel no desire to “justify” themselves to students. They believe fact that something is a rule and the teacher is in charge is enough. I have some sympathy with that desire. It would make life so much easier. Maybe my problem is that I identify too much with the kids. I can remember getting cross at pointless annoying rules. But I still think cooperation is preferable to sullen resentment. Just try it. You may be pleasantly surprised.