Category Archives: schools

Parental strike against school testing – hint, intimation, or flash in the pan?

Straw in the wind?  Harbinger? Hint or intimation? Dunno.

Snowball in hell? Impossible odds? Flash in the pan? Dunno.

Still, worth noting that at the time of writing 24,412 parents (or people claiming to be parents) have signed an online petition supporting a strike – yes, worth reading that again: a STRIKE – that will keep some kids out of school for a day in protest against SATs testing at an early age.

Worth noting, too, is the parental plea – or do I mean ‘demand’?

‘ We want our kids to be kids again and enjoy learning for learning’s sake not for Ofsted results or league table figures. Bring back the creativity and the fun – say goodbye to repetition and boredom!’

‘Learning for its own sake’ .  There, in the second paragraph. Unadorned and unashamed.

A Headteacher writing in support of the strike, eloquently sets out the damaging consequences of high stakes testing.   The letter ends apologising for not signing the letter, or giving the name of the school ‘because I’m afraid of repercussions’.

Not to be pursued in this short blog, but there is a wider issue here, and that is the contraction of the public space available for independent thought and action.  Areas other than education should perhaps reflect on this.

Parents refusing to send their child to school without good reason – a strike is not likely to be seen as a good reason – lay themselves open to a daily fine of £60.00 rising to £120.00 a day if not paid within 21 days.  The price of independent action?

As to the evidence that might support the value of independence, there is none. It is not susceptible to the sort of evidence that is purportedly considered persuasive.  The Good Ship Independence must proceed under its own power, aided of course by a fair wind. But then, one can also make one’s own weather.

You may wish to sign the petition.

‘Slummy mummies’ – the overreach of schools

For the past couple of days the newspapers have been buzzing with a story summed up in this Daily Telegraph headline:

‘Head teacher tells parents to stop wearing pyjamas on school run’

The Daily Mail, rather more pointedly, talked about an ‘unrepentant slummy mummy’, referring to a mother who responded to the Headteacher’s letter by taking her child to school in red pyjamas decorated with snowflakes.

The story concerns the Skerne Park Academy’s Headteacher, Kate Chisholm, letter to parents that notices:

‘the increasing tendency of parents to escort their children to and from school while still wearing their pyjamas and, on occasion, even their slippers’.

She goes on to ask parents to:

‘take the time to dress appropriately in day wear suitable for the weather conditions’.

She continues:

‘While this may seem to some like a minor point, I am sure you will agree that it’s important for all of us to set our children a good example about what is appropriate and acceptable in all aspects of life…’.

She then thanks parents for their cooperation in helping ‘our’ children’s aspirations.

I’ll come back to the letter shortly. Continue reading

Come on, it’s not so bad – the APPG report on play

It’s true, the recent report on play by the All-Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood would have benefited from some judicious editing and organising in terms of structure and length. True, too, that there are points where it veers off in directions that some might feel are not entirely consistent with other points it seeks to make.

But if you’re of a mind that repetition of one’s cardinal beliefs is evidence of their veracity, this may be the report for you. For not a page goes by where one is not reminded that, truly, play is a wondrous thing – as activity; as state of mind; as scourge of obesity epidemics; as generator of formal educational achievement – capable of generating every kind of benefit. No slouch, either, this report, for it takes care to reference the basis of its analysis and conclusions.

Nevertheless, disappointment has been expressed about what is considered a missed opportunity. Adrian Voce, in his considered response to the report, offers a succinct and clear account from this perspective, acknowledging at the same time that there is some good stuff in it. Continue reading

A word in your ear: Sharing dismay

It’s been ringing in my ear recently.  Like a tune stuck in one’s head, endlessly repeating itself. ‘Disciplinary society’, those are the words, that’s the discordant, repeating, tune.

And the flipside of discipline, is punishment; or, in the more mealy-mouth words of official-speak, the flipside of discipline is ‘sanction’. In practical terms this is a distinction without a difference as anyone who has been sanctioned is likely to tell you. If it looks like a punishment, if it feels like a punishment, then it’s punishment.

And as a society we seem to be getting better and better at creating occasions to threaten and impose punishment or sanction.

Why do I mention this now? It’s simply that over the past couple of weeks or so a few seemingly disparate experiences crossed my path, and, not for the first time, I realised I was seeing a pattern, a system in fact, and not a series of random coincidences. I’d noticed it before and I’m pretty sure that you have to. No claim to novelty here, this is about sharing dismay. Continue reading

‘Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today’

To cut to the chase:  I hold that a society or culture entrapped by a perpetual need to achieve, to endlessly generate quantifiable outputs, to obsessively ‘progress’ – slippery term that – is a society most likely to exhaust and dispirit its members.  For rather too long, that’s pretty much the position that has been reached.

The emblem and motif of such a society is the treadmill, and the force that drives it, fear.  These afflictions affect adult and child alike, trapping both in a perpetual circle of unremitting striving. It continues without cease – no sooner has one goal or objective been achieved, than another looms into view demanding satisfaction.  Performance is all. Repose is nowhere allowed.  We are required to be strivers. Welcome to the club that should have no members.

The symptoms  of this malady are everywhere about us:  the child who from the earliest age must be made learning or school ‘ready’;  the sales assistant – most likely on a low or minimum wage – as well as the  classroom teacher, now both equally performance assessed; the parent frantic to get their child into a ‘good’ school, the better to ‘achieve’; the school shackled to anxiety about their place in the performance league tables; the voluntary organisation, now formally contracted to provide quantifiable outcomes that do not easily mesh with the substance and purpose  of their undertaking; the business executive tethered to work 24/7 via mobile phone or tablet and driven by targets.  And so on.  The list is long. Continue reading

School playtime: fears, anxieties, and a more optimistic take

Over the years I’ve done a fair amount of work with schools, the focus being on ‘playtime’, a designation that could be found guilty of offending the Trades Description Act, were it applicable to some, perhaps many, schools.

Too often ‘play’ or ‘breaktime’ represents an unwanted lacunae within the school day, a day otherwise devoted to more worthy and directly educational purposes.

Conceptually, too, play or break time presents a difficulty for schools.  Schools are highly ordered, hierarchical institutions, their governing motif the timetable that slices up and controls time and purpose, breaking the day into predictable and repetitive chunks.  Order is all. Continue reading