Good grief – here we go again

ImageWith the news from the states being so rotten at present, I fear clicking on the BBC news button in case of jinxing something worse to happen.  Sadly, beyond the news button on the BBC webpage is the Education button, and I have feared that now for months.  Today’s breaking news from UK education’s nemesis, Michael Gove, is that he fears that the current school day is too short, and in justifying his reasoning, he points at the far east and observes their school day is way longer.  Here’s the Guardian’s expose on MG’s claim. As ever, he is being really selective about his data; he’s very keen on PISA scores (which is why we might have an inkling as to which countries lead the way academically), and has often pointed out how well Finland does, for children of all abilities. Sadly he conveniently forgets that our arctic friends choose to have a school working week in the main is made up of 25 x 45 minutes lessons, with the school day finishing nice and early (circa 2 pm) to allow children time for other stuff.  Both Hong Kong and Singapore are rowing back massively from their formulaic rote learning approach,  looking to implement a more creative and collaborative western (nay, UK style) curriculum.  Culturally school days vary wildly across the world; Germany does pretty well on a shorter school day. France has lengthened its school day, but is banning homework. I bet you that if you took all the variations that happen in the world and then did some maths on them, you’d find that overall the average stays pretty constant over the past 30 years.

What Mr Gove ought to seek is the implementation  of a broad creative and craft-skills curriculum, in which the academic sit alongside those other skills and talents a child should develop and explore in their youth. Extension time after school almost always covers these diverse needs best, but in not enforcing it for everyone, those with other places to explore and interests to develop should be allowed to.

A large number of the children at Claires Court do have a long day, arriving circa 8 am and leaving well after 5 pm. Some have even longer hours, but it is interesting to note that diversity of time in school is what works best for us. My own children lived around the corner from school, so opted to come home to develop other interests if they did not need to stay at school for sports or clubs or events. That’s not to say they did not have to settle down to homework after supper, but hey – that’s what worked for us.

There is so much about MG’s pronouncements that have a sound-bite that seems plausible, but actually are simply both impractical and unnecessary. We do not need to develop a different way of educating people in a different type of school year. Whilst we don’t have a farming calendar any more, we do need to allow children to develop in a system that is not modelled on a 9-to-5 factory gate type processing plant. Sir Ken Robinson has written and spoken about this barren set of ideas more than sufficiently; in seeking to create children who can excel, we must shape their learning so they can find their element.  For some that will be dancing, for others academe, for yet more, tinkering with programming and engineering ideas. 

One of the great modern scientific thinkers of our generation is Ben Goldacre, and you can read his paper here on how such educational developments should be run. As well as gathering a full set of data from the current population of UK schools on both educational performance and day length, we should actually make use of some serious trials to explore actually whether changes proposed actually work in practice before insisting on wholesale change across the country. Having run my school since 1981, and fine tuned the school day based on the evidence of results obtained, our developments are very much focused on keeping children sufficiently challenged and yet fresh enough for new challenges.

When Charlie Brown’s friend Lucy, the psychologist has her booth open for a quick consultation, Charlie pops in for a chat.  By and large the medical profession tend to give evidence based solutions for the cure of patients, and equally make use of data outcomes to decide whether hospitals are safe for patients. Why on earth we don’t see some proper long term work done in this area, only heaven knows.  Politicians and government apparatchiks in education still have the power to use personal anecdote and bad science far too often!  Hence the ‘good grief’



About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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