Or, you get one life; make the most of each day.
Thanks to the ever young Frank Spencer of 1970’s comedy fame, for a number of memorable catchphrases and cod psychology. However, I, like Frank, perhaps on occasion can be accused of being naïve. Like him, I am not perturbed by that, in that sometimes, I now know that, in order to look incredibly superior, some people seek to belittle others. If you can see through that, then that can place you in a sound position, as the intended hurt may be lessened.
There is a lot in the world to rail about and, as a parent and grandparent, I am regularly exercised by the futures for my children and their children. Despite having been born in the (early) 1950s and able to have a memory of the last post-war rationing, I have to say that I think I had a better childhood than my grandchildren’s generation will have. It was something of a surprise to come across an article in the Guardian that discussed the changes in the words within the Oxford Junior Dictionary, where a large number of words describing the natural world have been removed, to be replaced by words that can only be describe as curricular and digital media related. Now, I know that it is difficult to get children out of the house at times, but, if the words aren’t in the dictionary, they cannot even be stumbled upon to awaken some curiosity.
I’ve written about my own childhood in other blogs; much of it spent outside, in true 1950s style, exploring, making dens, collecting things, making friends, falling over/out of trees, getting up and keeping going, so as not to lose face. Outside was space to run, jump and climb, to stop and look at something unusual, to surmise and be generally curious. I-spy books, tea card series and the Observer series supported looking around and identifying what we saw. Someone knew, and if not, we knew someone who would, so we asked. This was free exercise, fresh air and easy distraction, which may not be available today to all children.
My generation went into university or training colleges for free, and being from a low income household, I got a grant; not enough to make me rich and I didn’t get an extra penny from parents. All my holidays were spent working in holiday camps or bars. When I emerged as a teacher and married, the first house was bought on four times one income (Twice joint was the phrase). Today, the same house would require a significant deposit and at least ten times a teacher starting salary. Is it any wonder that the aspirations and energies of today’s similar generation may be dampened, especially as they now come from uni with a whopping debt? I remember distinctly the impact of rising interest rates on our lifestyle. Significant choices had to be made, and, when they reached 15%, the choices were to do with eating habits. It was the point where vegetarianism was an economic survival strategy, as pulses cost significantly less than meat, and if we wanted to give the children meat, lentils and beans would give us our protein. Today’s interest rates are historically miniscule; what will happen when they rise? We know that money stress has a significant demoralising effect, with an impact on children in the worst cases.
Education has become the great whipping post for all shades of politicians. With six grandchildren, already in, or who will enter education in the next four years, I have a continuing interest. Now, I don’t want to accuse the politicians of playing with these children’s lives, but that in reality is what they do. Politicians, who may never have taught children, advised, perhaps by people who may be exceptionally bright outcomes of their education, but never taught, or by a range of hand-picked “experts”, who decide what is the best for all schools, in terms of the offered curriculum, but also in terms of the external systems within which they will operate. The semi-abstract nature of the decision-making can seem to create a divide between intention and outcomes, as successive layers in the system interpret the edicts from on high, adding their own twist for good measure. It can sometimes feel like an episode of “Wolf Hall”, with a slight wondering who is a likely candidate for the chop. That is more likely to be the bottom of the pile, the schools, who can feel very vulnerable as their interpretations of expectation are interrogated by the external force of Ofsted. Or, in the frenzied world of education coteries, anyone who doesn’t believe ( eg in systematic synthetic phonics)
It can feel that everyone knows better than teachers; the cliché that everyone’s been to school so is an expert, can sometimes ring true. However, a new phenomenon, of the celebrity teacher expert, is on the rise, as a result of blogging and Twitter sometimes challenging centrally held views. There have been a number of examples over the past couple of years where the centre has talked to the ordinary teacher.
There is a potential danger in that arrangement, in that celebrity teachers are then created, whose words themselves become gospel. Given the age range of education, expertise and success in one realm doesn’t make you an expert in all. Success is often context dependent.
It can all combine to create insecurity where it is most needed, in the teachers in the classrooms with the children for whom they have responsibility. Trying to second guess the intentions of others is a weakness in the system. SLT have been guilty of that and some still are, trying to work out what Ofsted want. In that scenario, teachers try to guess what SLT want, so can skew their working habits to become less productive.
The teacher who knows their children well, knows their stuff well and can make learning interesting, to me is the bedrock of good and better teaching. While everyone wants each and every child to succeed as they pass through school, to squeeze the system so that it approaches breaking point is not productive either. Personally, I’d rather children left Primary school with a good basic, but broad interest in their world and the necessary English and Maths skills to interpret it effectively and with articulacy to share their insights, so that transfer to Secondary was a continuation of that interest.
Children who enjoy learning have more chance to make progress; simples. Let’s make education a case of supported growing up.
Every day and in every way
I’m getting better and better.
What better mantra could you have for education?