Tag Archives: teaching

Inspiring teachers, inspiring change

When I was teaching, one of my favourite parts of the job was writing resources: designing activities, constructing lessons, developing whole schemes of learning. In a profession that regularly came under fire from different angles, it was a way of maintaining some semblance of control. And I enjoyed the creativity it required – the challenge of fitting all of the different external requirements into activities that I felt were genuinely a good use of my – and my students’ – time. Above all it was a way of ensuring that I could be the teacher I wanted to be – both in the content I taught, and how it was delivered.

As well as offering plenty of opportunities for developing different skills, the subjects I taught – English, Media and Drama – lent themselves well to exploring ‘issues’. I felt that a vital part of my role was engaging students in the world around them; opening their eyes to things they might not otherwise know about, and challenging the status quo. There was something very political about it, though not in the sense of trying to impose my views on others. What I strove to do was to get young people asking questions, to present them with a range of resources but equip them also with the tools they needed to find things out for themselves.

Though I’m extremely busy not teaching at the moment, the burgeoning refugee crisis we are currently facing has made me long to be back in the classroom. It really bothers me that the mainstream media presents such a narrow (often heavily biased) range of views, and that depending on the online circles people move in the (mis)information on social media can be even worse. And it bothers me too that with the avalanche of new demands teachers have faced in recent years they might struggle to find time to tackle these issues with young people.

So, as the most recent draft of my novel neared completion, I found my mind wandering to a scheme of learning I’d been involved in writing some years back. We called it ‘Refugees and the Media‘, and the focus was on trying to uncover the truth behind the headlines which were – at the time – often extremely biased against refugees and asylum seekers.

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It needed updating, and reining back in after various evolutions, but I thought it might be one thing I could do to attempt to make just a small difference in the lives of the people who are affected by our misconceptions.

The title of this blog post might be ambitious, but it is this that I am attempting to do: to inspire teachers to use some of their time in the classroom to open up discussion around the way in which meaning is constructed in the media, particularly around refugee issues, so that they might inspire their students to think differently, and that through them we might begin to inspire change in our world.

I’ve decided to share the resources here on my blog. They’re not especially groundbreaking, and they borrow from a range of different sources, but they are comprehensively researched and tried and tested in the classroom. So if you are a teacher and you think you might be able to use them, then please do. And if you know anyone else that might find them useful, then please pass them on.

It’s hard to know how to make a difference these days – sat here at my keyboard rather than stood at the front of a classroom – but I’m hoping that this might just be one small way I can.

 

Writing Bubble

Why teaching is actually pretty awesome

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I’ve spent a lot of time on here pondering on what’s wrong with education. And for good reason – there’s much about the system that frustrates me enormously, especially under the current government. But actually I truly loved the time I spent as a teacher, and I hope to go back to it one day. When I was teaching, I threw myself into it wholeheartedly. Great when I had no ties but not so great with a young family.

There’s a lot of work to be done on ensuring teaching remains a good career choice for people once their own children become part of the equation. But I’m still pretty convinced that for enthusiastic and ambitious graduates there are not many career paths that are as fulfilling.

So when I was asked by The Guardian to write an article encouraging sixth-form students to consider training as a teacher when they leave school, I jumped at the chance.

You can read that article here.

And if you want to read some of my other (slightly more cynical) articles on the world of education you’ll find them here.

Because teaching as a career isn’t perfect – but it’s still pretty awesome.

Mama and More

Why setting children by ability does more harm than good

Yesterday afternoon I was rudely awakened from my post-Gove reverie by the announcement that Nicky Morgan plans to effectively force schools into setting pupils by ability. Twitter was aflame with indignation, tempered only by those who were sure the papers were over-reacting. Morgan herself was quick to refute the claims soon after, but I cannot help but wonder whether that was prompted more by the backlash the news received than the lack of truth at its core. And exaggeration or not, I’m not prepared to leave this one alone – particularly when Cameron is so clear on his own views about the issue: “I want to see setting in every single school. Parents know it works. Teachers know it works… But it still hasn’t happened. We will keep up the pressure till it does.”

When you put it like that it appears there’s not much to argue against. If everyone knows setting works so well, then why indeed are all our children not taught in ability groupings? The thing is of course that, like most things in education, it’s not actually that simple. It may seem obvious – separate the brighter kids from the ones who are struggling so that teachers can pitch their lessons more effectively – but in reality it doesn’t quite work that that. I’ve got plenty of anecdotal evidence to draw on here, but first let’s look at the research.

The Educational Endowment Foundation, in its analysis of setting or streaming as a potential intervention to raise achievement, concludes that overall it has a slightly detrimental effect. On average pupils taught in ability groups will be one month behind similar pupils elsewhere at the end of a year, with the only positive impact (equivalent to one or two additional months progress) being seen in higher attaining pupils. Significantly negative impact on achievement is seen in pupils who are mid-range or lower attainers, summer born or from ethnic minorities.

And it’s not just the detrimental impact on achievement that we should be concerned about. This might fly directly in the face of Cameron’s claims, but even more worrying are the myriad of other impacts setting by ability has on our children.

In her 2002 book ‘Ability Grouping in Schools’, Susan Hallam delves deeper into this, analysing research carried out over almost a century to conclude that:

‘concerns about underachievement, lack of pro-school attitudes and exclusion have tended to be approached by calls for more differentiation by ability or attainment. Such moves are not supported in the research literature. Indeed differentiation by ability/ attainment has been associated with limited access to knowledge by some pupils, domination of pedagogic practices by teachers, preferred teachers for ‘elite’ pupils and enforcement of social divisions among pupils’

Students put in lower ability groups struggle with their self-esteem, which then impacts on their motivation and performance – a situation only made worse by the allocation of less experienced or less effective teachers to their classes. Every teacher I know has tales of bottom sets made up of mostly boys, with a disproportionate number of pupils of lower socio-economic status and a high incidence or special educational needs and challenging behaviour – and these experiences are fully supported by the research that has been carried out.

But what of the higher attainers? The ones who would otherwise be held back by those badly behaving boys, have their thirst for knowledge hampered by the need for teachers to attend to all those individual needs? Well I would argue that they, too, are ill done by to be grouped with others of supposedly similar ability. My experience of teaching top sets has shown me that pupils can become arrogant, ultimately underachieving against their individual potential because they feel that the label they have been given shows they don’t need to work as hard as everyone else. At the other end of the scale it has also shown me bright students lacking in confidence who feel that they don’t belong in the top set, who will happily take their place at the bottom of that particular ladder when if they were taught in a system which valued the individual they may have been more keen to play to their strengths.

The thing with mixed ability teaching is that you can’t do it unless you recognise that all the students in front of you are individuals. Of course that is true in any classroom, but teachers can be lulled into a false sense of security if they are told that the students in their charge fall into a set – that there is parity in how they will perform as learners.

One of my favourite ever classes was a mixed ability group who were studying for GCSEs in English and Media. The target grades in that class ranged from G to B, and the personalities ranged from introverted high achievers to poor attenders with challenging behaviour. I had to design my lessons around each of their needs – to pitch each different task at the level that was going to best help each individual in that class achieve their potential. That process was illuminating in itself, because there was not one child in that room who was universally high or low ability. Some were better at analysing literature, others at creative writing; some excelled in creative thinking, others in their artistic ability; some listened perceptively, others spoke engagingly and eruditely on a range of topics.

I am confident that each pupil in that class left with a strong sense of what they were good at, and also the areas in which they needed to improve. They learnt not to judge others on face value, that they had much to gain from listening to their peers as well as much to offer in supporting them. And the actual grades they achieved ranged from E to A*, with a good proportion going on to study English or Media in sixth form.

In a literature review carried out in 2005, Kutnick et al express their concern about the narrow scope of the educational outcomes that are considered, saying that ‘in general a narrow range of learning outcomes has been researched with little concern for critical thinking, creativity and meta-cognitive and transferable skills’. 

I would add to this concerns about equality, about social mobility, and about mental health. Ultimately I believe in the importance of each pupil being able to genuinely discover their potential through learning, not through a label imposed on them at the start of their educational journey.

But even if we put all this to one side, even if we focus purely on academic achievement, then the fact remains that setting children by ability does more harm than good.

In contrast, research shows that mixed ability teaching can:

  • provide a means of offering equal opportunities
  • address the negative social consequences of structured ability grouping by encouraging co-operative behaviour and social integration
  • provide positive role-models for less able pupils
  • promote good relations between pupils
  • enhance pupil/ teacher interactions
  • reduce some of the competition engendered by structured grouping
  • enable pupils to work at their own pace
  • provide a sense of continuity and security for primary pupils when they transfer to secondary school
  • encourage teachers to acknowledge that the pupils in their class are not a homogenous group
  • encourage teachers to identify pupil needs and match learning tasks to them 

(S.Hallam, 2002)

Or to put it another way:

‘I love group discussions and I admit I get really excited and a surge of energy to participate. In GCSE English we had mixed ability students in class and I enjoyed it. Helping and telling others what I know about the task or stimulus helped me to remember as I was going over it out loud. I learn the best in discussions or debates as I hear what other people are thinking and it gives me a different or an altered view and the ideas just seem to flow one after another in my head.’

(A* GCSE English student, 2009)

For me this sums up the key benefits of mixed ability classrooms – where students become collaborators in each others’ learning and teachers adapt their pedagogy to include, challenge and engage all learners.

Of course not all schools or classrooms or situations are the same, and where mixed ability works for one teacher and one group of pupils another may thrive on setting by ability. But to claim that setting should be happening across the board? I am afraid, Mr Cameron, that I do not see the logic in that.

Just a matter of time

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Time is a weird thing. On one level it should be pretty straightforward: seconds and minutes and hours and days that are clearly defined, easily comparable and impossible to argue with. Except it never quite works like that.

There are days when time seems to stretch out endlessly before me. When it seems to bend to my will, allowing me to squeeze out extra drops of possibility long after the well should have run dry. Those days were especially frequent when I was teaching. I’d look at my to do list in the morning, scrunching up my nose with the conviction that this would be the day that had me beat. And yet I’d find myself in the evening, exhausted with a glass of wine in hand, marvelling at all I’d managed to achieve. And I’d get up the next morning and do it again, continuing on repeat until the end of term finally appeared. Those days still happen now that I’m a work at home mum, though they’re coloured by the knowledge that not for a long time will I have a real holiday to collapse into. I’m wary when I feel myself straining against my limits as I know I cannot afford to break.

There are other days when time seems to eat me up. When everything seems to take forever, and the simplest tasks balloon out of my control. There have been more of those since I’ve been a mum: having a baby in hand makes rushing almost impossible, and the fog of sleep deprivation has much to answer for in its ability to mess with the very fabric of the universe.

My least favourite days are when time scares me. When it looms up out of nowhere and laughs at my dreams. In many ways I think I’m still extremely sheltered and naive: I haven’t yet had to cope with loss on any grand scale, and I’m only just surfacing out of that teenage belief in invincibility to realise that my time on this planet is not in fact infinite. I look at my son, think of all the things I want to show him, to experience with him, and sometimes I am filled with a sense of dread. What if there just isn’t enough time?

I chastise myself for the hours and days and weeks I wasted when I was younger – time spent on trying to make time go faster, to get to a place where I would be happy, where I didn’t have to try so hard any more.

Because now I’m here, and I want to savour every moment. I know that I can’t really change the amount of time I have left, but I also know that if there are days when ten minutes can feel like forever then I want to strive for that rather than let them pass in a flash. Everyone says that time speeds up when you have kids, but I’m not sure I’m willing to accept that.

So I will continue on my mission to bend time to my will, to see it less as a set of shackles I must comply with and more as a challenge to be overcome. The Doctor put it well when he spoke of ‘wibbley wobbley timey wimey’: certainly nothing to be taken too seriously, not when there’s just so much to do.

Thank you to Sara at Mum Turned Mom for inspiring this post with her prompt: ‘I wish I had more time…’

mumturnedmom

 

Comprehensive, creative and democratic: my three wishes for education

With another national teacher’s strike looming next week, I’ve been pondering a lot about just what is wrong with our education system at the moment. As a former teacher, a governor and a parent, I fully support the difficult decision NUT members have made to strike. Of course a strike will cause disruption, but with the rhetoric often levelled against teachers in the press it’s easy to forget that ultimately the people who will suffer in a dysfunctional system are our children. Teachers who are overworked, undervalued and disillusioned will not be able to provide the education our children need and deserve. As the professionals at the frontline of Gove’s misguided reforms, society needs to trust teachers when they say that things are not OK in our nation’s schools – and to support them in the face of the bullies who are powering on regardless.

However as well as thinking about everything that is going wrong with the education system under the Tories’ guard, we mustn’t forget to hold on to our core beliefs about how our education system should be. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the minutae, particularly when any time to think is being eroded at an ever-increasing rate. Every teacher I know entered the profession with a philosophy that guides the choices they make in and beyond the classroom and keeps them focused on what’s really important. It would be a sad day indeed if, when teachers finally feel able to raise their heads above the parapet, they realise that the barrage Gove has unleashed upon the profession has eroded those core beliefs that led them into the classroom in the first place.

With this in mind, I’ve revisited my own philosophy of teaching and condensed it into three wishes for education: three core things which I believe if we could find a way to encompass would create a system fit for our young people and the futures they will carve for themselves and for society.

I wish our education system could be:

1) Comprehensive

I am a staunch supporter of comprehensive education: a system which rises above the divisions and inequalities in our society. As a teacher (and now as a governor), I gravitated towards schools that were called comprehensive, but the problem with our current system is that no school can truly call itself that.

Whilst we have a system that includes private schools and grammar schools – and increasingly a confusing patchwork of options which chip away at the comprehensive ideal in different ways – then the schools that are left are missing vital sectors of society. In order to have a system that everyone – particularly the most powerful and influential – is invested in, we need everyone to be a part of it.

I have made no secret of the fact that I went to private school – and have written about why I wish I hadn’t. Many people I speak to dismiss the idea that we could get rid of private schools in this country as naive. Perhaps it is, but it isn’t without precedent. The much-revered education system in Finland has no private schools – they were abolished in the 1970s – and its achievements come from a focus on equity rather than excellence. Public figures from Warren Buffett to Alan Bennett have called for the abolition of private schools to promote social justice. If Gove was really serious about the gap between rich and poor in this country being “morally indefensible”, then I would have thought private schools should be the first thing to go.

Personally I wouldn’t stop there though – in order for our system to be truly comprehensive I’d get rid of grammar schools too. There are only 164 of them anyway, against over 3000 secondary schools in total, and they are concentrated in particular geographic areas where they undermine the comprehensive system: heaping pressure on parents to try to do the right thing by their children and skewing the intake and results of schools that do not select by ability.

And whilst on the subject of ability, I’d actually go one step further in my quest for a truly comprehensive system and, as Finland has done, outlaw setting by ability even within schools. The damage it causes to the aspirations and self-esteem of children consigned to bottom sets is indefensible, and evidence collected over thirty years indicates that, counter to popular opinion, it actually damages pupils’ achievement.

Our schools should obviously be places of academic learning, but they are about so much more than that too: by making them truly comprehensive we could begin to build a better society from the outset.

2) Creative

The second foundation of my ideal education system would be creativity: not just in the curriculum, but underpinning the system as a whole.

Particularly at the moment, with the sidelining of arts subjects in the secondary curriculum as a result of the now-defunct EBacc, school seems to be a journey away from creativity for young people. As pre-school children their minds are open and alert to a multitude of ways of seeing and interacting with the world, but for many as they move through the exam factory their minds are narrowed. This is of concern not only for the creative industries: as the human race faces increasingly complex challenges, creative thinking is key to find solutions to the new problems we face.

So much of what Gove seems to want to do to the curriculum is backward looking: a return to a 1950s education stuffed with facts at the expense of learning. We need to encourage our young people to think, not just to regurgitate, if they are ever going to be well equipped for their futures: futures which in reality we know close to nothing about.

This space to think is a privilege that should be extended to our teachers and school leaders, too. No-one is saying that our schools were perfect before Gove came along, but education professionals need to be give the time and professional autonomy to creatively develop a system that really works. There is a wealth of research that can be drawn on to encourage this, and teachers should be encouraged to do their own research too to find out what helps their students in their classrooms. I was lucky enough to engage in such research whilst completing my Master of Teaching qualification, and it was incredibly powerful for my motivation and sense of pride in my work – something which all our teachers deserve.

Teachers don’t need to be told how to do their jobs by the government any more than young people need to be told what to think by their teachers. A system built on creativity would allow all stakeholders space to grow.

3) Democratic

The third thing that I believe should be at the heart of education is democracy – again both within and beyond the classroom, for pupils and teachers alike.

I believe in child-centred learning. Not in the unfocused, wishy washy way that has recently been denigrated in the media, but in a way that puts the child at the centre of their learning experience and structures an appropriate learning journey around them. There are a myriad of ways that this approach can manifest itself in schools: from getting students’ input into policies and procedures, from enlisting their help in planning schemes of learning, or simply by providing them with projects where the outcomes are not set in stone but can be crafted by their interests. Even better are approaches where young people’s learning can be rooted in projects whose impact is felt beyond the school gates, helping them see that their efforts really can bring about change in their communities.

For so many young people, there is so little about their lives they can control. In our schools we should teach them that what they do does matter, that they can have a positive impact on themselves and society by the choices they make.

Teachers and school leaders too need to feel that they are part of a democracy. There is not much worse for morale than feeling like your voice doesn’t count, and yet this is the reality for the majority of professionals in education under Gove’s regime.

Of course in all of this someone is going to have the final say: but everyone benefits from listening to the people who are really affected by what happens in our education system, and very few do if they are silenced.

So there you have it: I wish for an education system that is comprehensive, creative and democratic because I believe that is what is best for our young people and for our society. When you think about the teachers striking on Wednesday, remember that they too will have strongly held beliefs that are at the core of what they do, however much the government and the media may try to represent their actions as selfish and narrow minded. And if you are a teacher, or a parent, or in fact anyone with an interest in education, I’d love to hear your ideas too. What are your three wishes for education? How can we create a system that will work – now and for the future?

Thank you to Sara at ‘Mum turned Mom’ who inspired this post with her prompt: ‘If I had three wishes…”

mumturnedmom

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

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Why we should not ignore teachers’ ever-increasing workloads

On Friday, a year after it was carried out, the DfE finally published the results of the teacher workload survey. It does not make pretty reading, and it’s hardly surprising that Gove wanted to sit on it for as long as possible, finally slipping it out on a Friday ahead of its planned publication date and not accompanied by a press release.

What is frustrating is that it was virtually ignored by the mainstream media, the story being picked up by only The Guardian and The Mirror. With the press being quick to pounce on stories which paint our schools and teachers in a negative light, this was one insult that those over-worked professionals really didn’t need.

Because the fact is that over-worked teachers should concern us all. And there is no doubt that they are over-worked: even before the results of this survey were released, and before the impact of Gove’s interference was really felt, surveys indicated that teachers are ‘amongst the hardest workers in the country‘ and are ‘more likely to work overtime than employees in any other sector‘. Even the DfE survey is unlikely to reveal the true picture – after a further year of Tory reforms, and certainly if the experience of my former colleagues is representative, the hours teachers are working are if anything even greater.

It is personal experience – mine and that of my colleagues and friends – that makes these figures especially pertinent. Teachers regularly falling ill as holidays approach and using their time off to physically recover from the stresses of the term-time workload. Teachers attending 7am meetings as there is no time to fit them into the working day. Teachers holding classes on Saturdays and throughout school holidays to help students achieve the grades they deserve in the face of changing qualifications. Add to this the stark evidence of the ‘sharp rise in serious mental health problems among school staff‘ and it’s clear we have a problem.

Teachers who are stressed and tired and over-worked are simply not going to be able to do the best for our children. Teaching is a job which requires intellectual rigour, creativity and empathy. In the classroom, you need to be able to think on your feet, to juggle numerous different tasks and to slip seamlessly between many different roles. You need to be aware of, and act upon, the needs of each and every child in that room – that’s thirty different learning journeys, not to mention the huge variety of personal needs that children arrive at school with each day. Stressed out teachers will snap, will make rash comments or miss the needs that are really important. A knock-on effect on behaviour is inevitable, and in the interests of survival learning will fall further down the list of priorities.

Most of the teachers I know will put the students’ needs before their own: will work themselves to the bone in term time, sacrificing social lives and personal relationships because they feel that their job puts them in a privileged position, one which they should not take for granted. It is an amazing feeling to be able to enable young people to learn, to help them break free of the shackles of their lives and to become who they want to be. It is this I think that leads to the somewhat ironic situation we are in where despite drowning under their workload and frustrated by constant challenges to their professionalism teachers are still found to be the happiest workers in Britain.

There are also of course the minority of teachers who refuse to sacrifice their own mental health for the sake of a job, and will put in place their own safeguards during term time to reduce their workload and make their careers more sustainable. And then these are the ones who are branded lazy, letting down our young people. But I wonder sometimes whether they’re not in fact the sensible ones.

Because what is the alternative? Seemingly to abandon the profession altogether. I am guilty of this – at least for the time being, I can see no way of combining the demands of a teaching career with being a mum. And I am not alone: despite loving their job, almost half the nation’s teachers have considered quitting the profession in the past year. Ofsted chief Wilshaw has commented on the ‘national scandal‘ of two-fifths of teachers quitting within five years. He cites inability to cope with pupils’ poor behaviour as the cause, though studies indicate that unsustainable workload alongside bureaucracy and lack of professional autonomy is more likely to be to blame.

It is partly for this reason that Tristram Hunt’s declaration that he will not seek to reverse any of Gove’s initiatives if Labour are elected is so galling. I understand his point that teachers do not need more change for the sake of it, but Gove has done so much to undermine the profession and to fracture our education system that someone needs to be prepared to put it right.

There are a raft of education professionals clamouring to be heard so that we can begin to do just that, but we seem to be at a particularly low ebb in terms of the nation’s respect for teachers. Our politicians (as well as the media) need to acknowledge that our teachers are working too hard, and then, alongside those education professionals, they need to work out what they’re going to do about it. Because whilst it might be our teachers who suffer in the short term it is our children’s futures that we’re really risking here.

Why all this talk of character and resilience education is totally topsy turvey

In 2007, a new National Curriculum was born. It wasn’t perfect, but as a teacher and leader in Secondary English I liked it.

It was largely skills based, with the scope for teachers to use their professional judgement to build programmes of study which suited their students and their schools. There was lots of potential for cross-curricular work, with signs that we might be able to move away from the subject-shaped boxes that learning was often inefficiently forced into. The arts were promoted both as subjects in their own right and as vehicles for learning elsewhere. And at its heart were the Personal Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS) which aimed to look beyond the needs of school to set students up for a lifetime of learning, complementing the older initiative of Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL). Fresh creativity was injected into our pedagogical approaches as teachers focused on ways to engage students as active learners in the curriculum. Couple all this with a government who had raised the status of teachers beginning with the ‘Those who can, teach’ campaign back in 2000, and you had an environment that was full of potential and ripe for further development of teaching and learning.

Fast-forward three years to 2010 and the Tories, albeit in coalition, were in power. I remember distinctly the sombre mood amongst the senior leadership team and the rest of the staff at my school as we mourned for the impact this would have on education. We were not wrong: under Gove’s watch, PLTS and SEAL have been scrapped, the arts have seen their funding slashed and have been reduced in status to the extent that they are being sidelined in many schools, speaking and listening has been removed from the sphere of assessment, active learning methods have been denigrated and teachers have been continually undermined and demotivated. All this in favour of an easily quantifiable facts-based curriculum and exam-based assessment that will begin as young as four and continue throughout children’s school career.

And now we have a cross-party group saying ‘there is a growing body of research linking social mobility to social and emotional skills’, that schools must be ‘more than just exam factories’. They call for the ‘requirement to participate in extra-curricular activities [to be] a formal aspect of teacher’s contract of employment’ – something which fits very conveniently with Gove’s plans for an extended school day. Tristram Hunt agrees that ‘instilling [character and resilience] in young people “should not be left to chance”‘, calling for ‘a holistic approach that goes beyond extra-curricular activities and into the classroom’.

But aren’t they all forgetting something?

The only reason we don’t have these so-called ‘soft’ skills at the heart of our curriculum is because Gove ripped them out. All of the aspects of character and resilience that the APPG assert are so important in their manifesto were already embedded in the curriculum through SEAL and PLTS, given life in different forms by schools using the structure of Building Learning Power, the International Baccalaureate Learner Profile or numerous other well-researched and intelligently put together schemes.

Teachers do not need to be told that we need to build character and resilience in our most vulnerable children in order to level the playing field, and, as with so much else, they certainly don’t need the private sector to tell them how to do it. Despite the attacks on their own resilience by an increasingly unsupportive government, it is something they do on a daily basis, both within and beyond the curriculum. In lessons it is something they do through facilitating group work, through encouraging independent learning, through supporting students to set their own goals and structuring the ways in which they can achieve them. It is something that evidences itself particularly strongly in arts subjects – drama or media studies for example – where students work on a creative project for an extended period of time, often far surpassing their own or others’ expectations. Though with the threat to the place of the arts in the curriculum, and without the clarity of purpose offered by PLTS and associated schemes, it’s going to get harder and harder to do all this.

I realise I’m treading dangerously close to the territory of advocating ‘trendy left-wing ideology‘ in the name of a more holistic and human education system. And for that I make no apology. It’s not easy to empower children to take charge of their own learning journeys, even harder to demonstrate to those who do not understand what it is they’re learning in a snapshot of sometimes-rowdy group discussion, but all of my experience as a teacher has taught me that a child-centred approach is one we should aspire to. There is a wealth of research that backs this up, indicating that collaborative learning and actively engaging students in the learning process can be an extremely efficient and effective way to improve achievement. Rarely do I believe there will be a period of twenty minutes in a classroom where students will be ‘rightly passive‘, and I think Wilshaw has started down a very dangerous road by saying passivity is ok.

Whether or not Gove will entertain a further revision of approaches to teaching and learning in schools to embed character and resilience education in the classroom or, more likely, use the APPG’s manifesto as fuel for his drive towards longer school days, I’m finding the lack of joined-up thinking in the world of education policy making frustrating to the extreme.

Being used as a political pawn is destroying our education system. Why throw out a raft of extensively researched and sound initiatives before they’ve had a chance to embed themselves, only to then have to work out how to put back in what you’ve lost? Babies and bathwater come to mind…

In the longer term I definitely believe we need to look towards a way of running our education system that is beyond party political point scoring. But in the meantime, and especially whilst character and resilience education is on the table, I just wish Gove et al would look back in that bathwater to see if there any babies they can nurture back to life without needing to start the whole process from scratch.