You probably don’t know what is currently becoming extinct, because you’ve never see it. Reports of the demise of animal and plant populations may not affect people who don’t spend time outdoors, nor know what they are looking at when they are out and about.
And it can be a case of if you can’t see it, or name it, it probably can’t be very important.
But, every minute living entity has developed to adapt to it’s surroundings, sometimes becoming part of a broader food chain.
And, when it’s gone, it’s really difficult to get back again, especially if the special habitats required are altered or damaged.
Extinction can be caused by one-off catastrophic events, or, perhaps given the current climate debate, slow changes that gradually alter life patterns.
Schools are habitats where young organisms spend a part of each day hopefully soaking up the knowledge and life skills that enable them to fully participate in the world. Inevitably, like all organisms, plant or animal, they grow and develop at different rates. While that is something that nature caters to, school organisation and external “quality assurance” can sometimes give the impression that the fledgling is somehow of a less than adequate standard. Given the complex nature of the human organism, being deemed in need can, in itself, become a further depressant on future achievements.
Unlike nature, school habitats are created and controlled completely by adults. What the adults choose to put into the school environment demonstrates the values that they hold; broad, balanced, rounded experience, or narrow and very focused on a specific end point.
There was a time where organisation was completely controlled by local needs and available expertise. There was a focus on maths, English in it’s different elements, talking, reading and writing, but also topics for interest, covering history and geography. Science, in the 1950s was often limited to nature and phenomena, like shiny things; playing with knives and spoons. Music was from the radio, PE was outdoors on the tarmac on rush mats. There was an art and making table, which is the source of many of my earliest school memories.
The 70s were developmental years, introducing some additional structures into experiences, led by thinkers such as Zoltan Dienes in maths and Seymour Papert in early ICT (Logo). Science education grew stronger, with schemes like Nuffield Science 5-13, offering structure, background reading, knowledge and pedagogy. Other subjects also took on greater structure, as various advisory teachers brought their expertise to bear on generalist colleagues, through twilight sessions at local Teachers’ Centres, or you just chatted with one of your colleagues who explained what you wanted to try.
Working in Hampshire, a broad, balanced, structured, relevant curriculum was developed and in place across large parts of the County in 1986.
“HMI were also supportive of developmental thinking. Curriculum Matters was a series of 17 booklets published by HMI between 1984 and 1989. They were intended as a contribution to the 'Great Debate' about the nature and purpose of education which Prime Minister Jim Callaghan had called for in his Ruskin College speech on 18 October 1976.”
You can see more of the “Raspberry Ripple” series at http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/hmi-curricmatters/
Subsequent revisions put pressure on schools yet again, but, this time, as a result of change, some experienced colleagues decided to leave, rather than spend another period revising plans and working approaches. It took a lot of effort, from 1990-2005, to hold the breadth, balance and quality of what we were offering. As people left, new colleagues had to be inducted and mentored into the breadth on offer. This was, for some, particularly after the introduction of the National Strategies, an extreme challenge, particularly as their training had been based on that approach, through Government requirements.
In 2005, the last full year of my headship, we achieved SATs scores in the 90s, (L4+ with 50% L5 in some subjects) across all tested subjects. Talking with that class’s year 6 teacher recently, we reminisced about the full year that they had had, with a nod to SATs from around Easter. The breadth and depth of their varied studies had prepared them for reading and answering questions, across each subject.
Then came my catastrophe, the death of my first wife from cancer, a teenager at home requiring support and so I became extinct in that role. It required a bit of nurturing to re-establish myself in school habitats, in a series of support and advice roles. A bit of a use for ageing experience?
Of course, a significant systemic catastrophe (my thoughts) occurred in 2014, with an almost seismic alteration to seemingly every aspect of education. It was not an evolution, as whole swathes of prior working were cut down dramatically, leaving schools with the tattered remains of what went before, seeking to understand the new requirements and every school independently having to rapidly create structures that ensured curricular stability.
An analogy would be the wiping out of vast areas of the rainforest, with commensurate wildlife damage. See the potential demise of the Sumatran Orangutan, as a result of a dam project.
The 2014 vision for the curriculum was so heavily maths and English focused in Primary schools, that more “minor” subjects were marginalised, from their earlier place as “foundation” subjects; to me the word foundation implies that on which the main structure is built.
In 1970, James Britton said that “Reading floats on a sea of talk”. You could extrapolate this to talk floating on a sea of experience, with someone to help, guide and tell...
This has impacted my whole career, in that the broader curriculum has offered the areas for exploration, for conceptualisation, for thought; playing with ideas. In so doing, building vocabularies that can then inform what is being read, if the words are to evoke imagery in the reader’s head. A rich curriculum offers the potential for a rich vocabulary, which, in turn enables engagement with further spoken and written challenge.
Giving children something to think, talk, read and write about, to me are central to learning. Passing children from Primary to Secondary with a love of learning is key to future success.
By putting the wider curriculum back to the foreground, it has highlighted the demise over a relatively short period, of the Cinderella subjects. The next period will be one of sharing knowledge and expertise across the board, and, in some ways, social media can be a great help, rather than seeing each school making everything up from scratch.
Like all things that are bordering extinction, it will take the identification of need, the recreation of supportive habitats, appropriate resourcing and regular oversight and nurturing, if subjects are to re-establish themselves in the Primary experience.
And it may need a period of play by teachers seeking to reacquaint themselves with areas that they may have allowed to become rusty through less use.
How about we set the first challenge to make every teacher as good in each subject as the best in a school, cluster or area? Share ideas; collaboration not competition.
Let’s rebuild the foundation.
Ps. I could have used the story of Winchester Cathedral, whose Norman foundation was on tree trunks, which needed to be excavated and replaced to avoid the cathedral falling; foundations are essential to strength, rich habitats are the foundation of successful ecosystems.