Mums prepare your kids for school

babies_with_blocks_spelling_learn_1600_wht_13401Ofsted has suggested mums should be given a checklist of things their children should be able to do before they start school.

Skills considered essential are:

  • Being able to sit still & listen
  • Being aware of other children
  • Understanding the word NO and the boundaries it sets for behaviour
  • Understanding the word STOP and that it might mean there is danger
  • To be potty trained and go to the lavatory
  • Recognising their own name
  • Being able to speak to an adult and ask for help
  • Being able to take off their coat and put on shoes
  • To talk in sentences
  • To open and enjoy a book

The head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw has said they family was a great educator and many parents were already teaching their children these skills without realising it.  But some children weren’t and they were at a disadvantage when they went to school and never caught up.

He thought those who thought the early years should be about emotional development and being left to play only were failing the disadvantaged. He believed that it was middle-class prejudice, for which the most disadvantaged pay the price, to say that children were having their childhood stolen. Better off families could more easily find ways to educate their children.

He criticised the Sure Start programme for not delivering and closing the gap between rich and poor.

The Don’t Forget the Children charity said that it wasn’t healthy to be engaged in structured learning too soon and “too formal education too early is damaging in the long term” Good parents have always engaged and responded in sensitive ways to their children and that’s what makes the brain develop”.

I can see both sides. Children in Scandinavia start school later and yet are always top of the league in education. And there is good evidence that deprived kids do worse at school and in life generally.

But looking at the skill set that children should have I don’t see that as something necessarily delivered by formal education. There has to be a middle way with perhaps more emphasis on parenting skills.

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Teachers must do better

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is proposing that trainee teachers will only be allowed to take their numeracy and literacy test three times.

At present there is no limit on the number of times the tests can be taken.

In my view the misguided philosophy of endless retakes undermines the whole point of exams and goes some way to explain why exam grades appear to improve year on year, plus team course assessments which are open to all kinds of fiddling.

Looking at the examples of test questions reported in the press, many of them multiple choice, anyone with a modicum of intelligence should pass with flying colours the first time. Rather than wait until the trainees start their courses wouldn’t it be better if they took the tests as a selection filter so if they failed they didn’t waste their time and our money on resits which they might fail? That would save everyone’s time and protect our children from bad teachers.

Gove also proposes that teachers should all have at least a 2:2 degree. Whilst this is more contentious most averagely intelligent graduates obtain this class of degree and if they can’t they don’t deserve to become a teacher. This is a vast improvement on former Ofsted chief  Zenna Atkins who (in)famously said “every school should have a useless teacher….”

Something needs to be done when 20-25% of children leave primary school unable to read or write properly and the last Chief Inspector of Schools admitted that only 4% of schools offered “outstanding teaching”.

And he wants to make it easier to sack bad teachers. There are an estimated 15,000 of these of which less than a dozen have been dismissed since 2008. He probably needs to toughen up some head teachers before that happens as in the past they have had a habit of giving references to poor teachers to move them on or otherwise rewarding poor performance (see “Don’t reward failure”).

One of Gove’s earlier ideas was to follow the US example and recruit and pay ex-soldiers to train as teachers to help improve discipline in schools. Ex-army graduates would receive 6 weeks training and non-graduates would be paid a £9,000 a year bursary to complete a two-year degree. Of course the unions don’t like it but it worked in American where research shows that ex-soldiers were better at dealing with classroom disruptions than regular teachers and also got better exam results.

And there was a great article in The Times magazine this week on Charlie Taylor who runs Willows School; which deals with London’s naughtiest children and which has been rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted. He is also the newly appointed “behaviour czar”. The article describes how he uses a range of positive psychology and behavioural techniques. He believes that if discipline is carried out consistently the core group of trouble makers can be reduced to a manageable size. He wrote a book called “Divas and door slammers” in which he describes how he won one group over by being civil with them.

He also believes that the ratio of positive to negative feedback needs to be 6:1 (something I have long advocated in performance appraisal schemes). He also believes that teachers get better results from constructive praise. Things might be looking up for the future of our children’s education.

Originally posted in July 2011 by Mike the Psych

What every child needs

The nature v nurture argument is probably best thought of as an agricultural model: your genes are the seed with the potential to flourish providing you have good soil, nutrition, and a supportive environment.

Much of the nature – nurture research has centred on twins separated at birth or comparing identical and non-identical twins. J McFadden’s article in the Guardian (10 July 2010) reports on new twins research from  Florida State University on reading ability which has added a new angle. They have assessed the teachers as well by comparing changes in grade averages for everyone in that teacher’s class.

They discovered that the differences in reading ability between identical and non-identical twins was greatest in classes with good teachers.

So if you have a good teacher your genes  will make a difference. With poorer teachers the differences were less pronounced because it was the environment rather than the genes which had the most influence.

In other words good teachers get the best from pupils whereas poor ones allow the child’s backgrounds to affect their performance. Jeanette Taylor, the author of the study, said; “Better teachers provide an environment that allows children to reach their potential“.

I wrote in an earlier posting about how we now know from geneticists that excellence is not just down to genes but the effects of the environment which can modify their impact; “Practice makes perfect...”. So whether it’s teachers or coaches, good ones make a real difference.

So just how wrong-headed were Zenna Atkins’ remarks last week about every school needing incompetent teachers? Her widely reported remarks in the Sunday papers, for example, received well-deserved criticism from just about everyone.

Ofsted, the supposed champions of educational standards is prepared to put up with 17,ooo sub-standard teachers, it’s soon-to-be departing chairman makes ill-informed remarks, and the General Teaching Council has only removed 18 bad teachers in 10 years.

Due in part to lack of leadership in head-teachers who prefer to give them references and let them move on (and for which they should be sued by the receiving schools) rather than manage their performance.

So where is the leadership needed to ensure children get the education they deserve and we need as a country?

Originally posted on EI 4u July 2010

Only emotionally intelligent teachers need apply!

Would-be teachers need “emotional intelligence” (EI) as well as academic ability according to the education secretary Michael Gove.

Gove also said that  there are academically bright people who “can’t teach for toffee”.

Then there are some who “aren’t the brightest but have the EI and spark to engage a classroom”.

The government previously said that teachers should only be drawn from the top-tier  with no funding for 3rd class graduates. And isn’t it only right that teachers who are responsible for developing EI in schools should be emotionally literate themselves?

The government is planning a shakeup of teacher training with more emphasis on learning in the classroom (the end of “death by Powerpoint” training). The teachers and lecturers’ union ATL is against it as they don’t believe teaching is a craft but a profession which requires a strong theoretical base before classroom teaching starts.

Gove also intends to reform Ofsted (the source of the idea that all schools should have a rubbish teacher. See: “Every school should have one”). Ofsted will no longer assess schools on equality, community cohesion, and children’s spiritual development. The inspections will be limited to 4 key areas: teaching standards, leadership, pupil behaviour, and achievement.

The changes will be brought in next year and mean  that Ofsted will no longer spend time on the peripheral, some might argue politically correct,  issues introduced by the Labour government and schools will no longer be rated on them.

As Gove says; “we need to refocus inspection on the principal purpose of schools improving teaching“.

Original post on EI 4u November 2010