Occasional Series: One to Watch

Haven’t posted anything along these lines for a while.  But this came as a bit of a surprise!

Cost of Private Education Has Risen by 40% in the Past 5 Years.

As a result, [a report by Halifax Financial Services] argues, it is now out of reach to professionals such as scientists, police officers, tax experts, engineers, journalists, clothes designers, teachers and lecturers, writers, trading standards officers and computer programmers.

I guess a little Xtra help from Independent Schools will go towards establising our public benefit to the Charity Commissioners!

Staying Safe or Wrapped in Cotton Wool?

Time for a little blogging synthesis.  As I was taught a long time ago, blogging is all about grabbing ideas and putting them together in a coherent manner.

Andy Ross (Primary Teacher UK) has pointed out the Staying Safe consultation under the Social Care, Welfare, Protection element of Every Child Matters.  As the website states…

Staying Safe is a major consultation, which provides the opportunity for the government to consult with parents, children, young people, our partners and the children’s workforce on children’s safety.

Ed Balls’, in a recent Guardian Online article, asserts that

Childhood is a time for learning and exploring. Through playing and doing positive activities, children and young people can learn to better understand the opportunities and challenges in the world around them, and how to be safe.

And then I found this on YouTube:

Should we be ashamed, as teachers, if we prevent children from being physically active when not in a structured PE lesson?

With the wrap-around care of extended schools, the question begs: with whom is the responsibilty of encouraging the “playing and positive activities”.  With parents?  Not if extended schools become popular?  With schools?  Not if the ECM consultation puts more health & safety hurdles in the way.

So, if we want our children to be children, to grow through play & exploration, what is to be gained from the organisation of an end of year ball for 7-year-olds?  Where is the time within childhood to explore the world in a more physical way?   We are in danger of allowing our children to withdraw into their heads.  Less competitive sport, greater connectivity through ICT, less parental involvement, higher academic targets, fewer Outdoor Education experiences all lead to the evolution of intelligent but incomplete individuals.  Feed the mind, yes, but not at the expense of the body.

However, as we celebrate 100 years of scouting, perhaps we should take a leaf out of Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys Manual (on lifesaving skills)…

Plunge in boldly and look to the object you are trying to attain and don’t bother about your own safety.

Separating Schools & Politics

Doug Belshaw has pointed out an article in the Guardian this week, written by Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs, outlining a proposal for a non-partisan, independent policy commitee for education (EPC).   As a governor of a small village school, it is clear just how inundated heads are by the requirements foisted upon them by central government.  What schools do need is a form of independence themselves.  As  O’Neill states in one of the 12 points which would establish the EPC’s remit:

Another important role for the EPC would be to give structured insights into the roles played by teachers and how they could be more effective. Many headteachers seem to want to be left to deliver the curriculum with minimal interference from local or national government.

If the EPC is to transcend the vagaries of the political climate, then surely schools need to be released from this burden also.

Mother Knew Best

Via the BBC, this article concerns research undertaken by Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Guides

It included a survey of parents, which suggested many felt they simply lacked the knowledge to answer many of their children’s endless questions – such as how far away is the sun, how deep is the ocean, how do birds know which nest is theirs?

There are plenty of us who don’t know the answer to those questions.  However, I believe the most important response for a parent is not to give an answer or dismiss the the question but to help the child develop skills in finding things out.  As any decent educator knows, there are always questions which are impossible to answer immediately but have to be deferred until you can find out.

The Challenges Facing Independent Schools

The challenges facing Independent Schools are many & varied.  Some are seemingly far removed; others more immediate and the need to address them more pressing.  However, regardless of the challenge, a challenge it remains and Independent Schools, especially small ones, must have a coherent range of strategies in place to face them.  In fact such is the concern in the US that a report was commissioned by the NAIS as to the challenges facing Independent schools over the next 20 years.

In the broadest sense we will face challenges from the shifting regional demographic.  An ageing population means fewer pupils to recruit.  Furthermore, increased migration, a mobile workforce, improved technological literacy and a shift in societal values are all part of the challenge of the trends in society that we face.

Economic trends, too, present challenges.  I’m just an educator so maybe my business colleagues can inform me better.  Being a member of governor committees has lead me to recognise the difficulties posed by variation in City salaries and bonuses, changes in interest rates, insurance premiums and taxes and housing and property prices.  Each of these contributes to the decision that parents have to make when considering independent education for their children.

The political and educational climate, although perhaps less imposing to us in some respects than our colleagues in the maintained sector, nevertheless must be considered.  We now have the Charities Act with the need for the provision of public benefit schemes, creating partnerships and sharing resources.  Alongside that are Government schemes such as Every Child Matters which brings with it the concept of wrap-around care (not uncommon to independent schools) and schools as centres for the provision of a wider range of child care through extended services and child care centres. 

In addition there are challenges from the improvements in maintained sector educational provision, the rise in the number of homeschooled children and even the “corporatization” of independent education by companies such as Cognita or GEMS.  Knowledge and understanding of child development, neuroscience and learning is deepening.  The results of research are then published in easy-to-read books or in broadcast, print and on-line media, available to all parents and prospective parents.  The challenge to independent schools is then to both reflect upon this research to inform current practices and also to communicate as completely as possible their philosophy of learning and teaching.

Technologically literate children must be engaged in order to learn and schools will have to face up to the fact that they must stay ahead of their pupils rather than risk being left behind in their wake and seen as an irrelevance.

A further responsibility is our duty of care to the world that we have borrowed from our children.  The Stern Report last year sets a challenge to consider our approach to sustainability and our impact as a community on the environment.

So far, so good.  Yet there are many more issues that somehow impact upon Independent Schools.  Whether that is the revised Primary Strategy or the rising cost of school uniforms.  NESTAs drive for the teaching of soft skills for future labour markets or whether 4x4s are really that bad.  But it all leads into what I feel is the core challenge facing independent schools and that is Knowing What We Are.

It is rough for some independent schools.  Numbers falter, income drops and the downward spiral begins.  But, in what are potentially turbulent times for independent education, a school that is sure of its ethos and confident of its niche within the market is going to survive and, I believe, thrive.

It is a challenge to identify that niche in the market, for governors and head to work together on the school plan with strategic and sound development targets backed by a financial plan to matches this philosophy.

It is a challenge to take the community with us.  To, in plain terms, ask parents to shell out money to buy into our school.  It is essential to communicate our philosophy concisely and coherently.

It is a challenge to know what our parents want and how to give it to them without compromising the school’s aims and those of other parents while at the same time allowing all members of the school community to feel valued.

Little People, Big Questions

We have long known that Disney held the answers to the greatest questions life has to ask.  Bereavement can be overcome (Bambi), love will triumph over evil (Sleeping Beauty), great rewards await inherently good, but poor, people if  you believe (Cinderella, Aladin) and living with 7 small men will lead to almost certain death at the hands of a wicked step mother!

Well now, with the help of the words of a song from Disney’s Pocahontas, Peter Worley at Eliot Bank Primary School, have been utilising high-order thinking skills in their philosophy sessions.  “Can you step in the same river twice?”  is the question posed and this BBC article outlines how these young children take answering it very seriously.

 One of the biggest challenges facing schools in the coming decade is how to provide a suitable education for the future work force.  NESTA have recently published a policy document outlining how important “soft skills”, such as collaboration, problem solving and leadership, will be to our children.  So iniatives such as the philopsophy sessions at Eliot Bank are a key element in redressing the balance with the burden of a reductionist, results-driven curriculum.

As Kathy Palmer, Head of Eliot Bank says:

Our children are going into such a changing world. We can’t predict what they’re going to need in terms of knowledge, but one thing we can give them is confidence and a sense of how to learn.