Tagged: Guardian

News Article: GCSEs not fit for purpose, says CBI

“GCSEs encourage “teaching to the test” and may be past their sell-by date, according to Britain’s leading business organisation.”

Follow link for the original article in The Guardian here

News Article: Maths Anxiety is a growing phenomen

I think it is true of any subject that children enjoy it more if they feel successful at it. Conversely, if they feel less capable, their enjoyment will decrease. As adults, we are the same, but we forget just how much new information children are expected to assimilate each day, and how many opportunities they have to ‘fail’.

Maths is a unique subject in that it is seen as fundamentally important as English, yet children do not have the same constant access to good examples of maths practice in their lives. Primary teachers are often confident with English but much less so with maths, and their uncertainty comes across. Secondary maths teachers are then expected to counter the consequences of this imbalance but by the time the children arrive at secondary school, there is a lot of work to be done, and a lot of damage to be undone.

Over the years, in an attempt to improve education, we have focussed on reporting and recording results, and comparing schools, rather than investing in better classroom teaching. There have been some very positive steps – having a National Curriculum guarantees at least that everyone has access to the same basic set of knowledge. However, this national curriculum also means that teachers have higher expectations on them, to get every child to a certain standard of performance.

This national pressure on schools puts undue pressure on teachers and creates an anxious classroom from the top down. This approach to education is not reflective – there is no room to respond if children do not feel confident in a topic. Teachers are instead encouraged to go full steam ahead onto the next topic in a race to start working through past exam papers, and any children who have not grasped what was being taught are left to silently accept their confusion.

There is not enough time in a lesson to teach 30 children, manage their behaviour, keep the whole class on task AND give individual attention to each child.

I feel very lucky, as a tutor, to see the other side of this problem.

Often my students arrive at a lesson with concerns about their schoolwork, for example: “we were working on trigonometry in class today, but I didn’t understand how to rearrange the formula”, or “I can’t understand how to factorise quadratic formulae”, or a whole range of similar problems. When they sit down, I can see symptoms of anxiety in their expression, how tense their body is, even to the extent sometimes that their hands are trembling. It is lovely to be able to pick up the topic together, work through a simple problem and build up the complexity level at that child’s pace. We joke, use bright coloured pens, ask each other questions and work together until confidence returns. My favourite part of that lesson is when the student has an “Oh!” moment, when they have grasped what it was they didn’t understand, and it now seems so straightforward to them.

Sometimes it takes two or three lessons to achieve this level of success on a particular topic, but that is okay. The key is for the child to realise that not understanding something does NOT mean that they are stupid, but that they need to spend more time looking at it in different ways, until it DOES make sense. Once they grasp this key fact about learning, I know that they will be able to handle anything that school, and indeed life, throws at them.

“Maths anxiety” is yet another label and we need to be wary of a culture that needs to label everything. It is simply the feeling of fear of failure. It is, nonetheless, a real and extremely detrimental emotion. The key is to provide supportive, collaborative learning, where children feel that the teacher is on their side, working with them, and not judging them.

See the original article from The Guardian here

News Article: GCSE and A-levels are easier, Ofqual finds

If you speak to even a handful of teachers who have been working in classrooms over the past twenty years, it is very quickly apparent that yes, exams have become easier, and so yes, the grades are “worth less” than they were in the past.

I would argue that one reason for this is that the UK has just come out of a period of being governed by a Labour government who held a noble intention, to make further education available to all.

Their thinking was flawed, however. I do not believe that everyone is suited to an academic, university-based, education. Nor do I believe that society needs us to move in that direction. We need a diverse population with a diverse set of skills.

In fact, I would argue that what Labour have instead achieved, is a watered-down education system that hands out GCSE and A-level qualifications all too easily. At the Sam time, teachers have become more focussed on the narrow goals of high GCSE pass rates than on the teaching children skills for life.  Children are spoon-fed information to make the school look good, rather than taught how to learn, and take responsibility for their own achievement. As a consequence, our children are ill-prepared for a rigorous university education, or for life in the working world.

On the other side of this, we have the X-factor culture, where every week children are taught that it is far better to aspire to fifteen minutes of fame rather than have an honest job. Will we ever forget “Andy Abraham,  the singing binman” who could not bear to go back to his normal life? Each week, year on year, our children are taught that working for a living is a mug’s game. Twelve weeks on a talent contest, becoming a national spectacle, is pitched as a great alternative path.

I look forward to a shift back to more challenging exams, with stricter guidelines for examiners so that children are not given an inflated sense of their accomplishments and the value of those grades. Perhaps then, they will be able to prepare for their futures more realistically.

Read the original article from The Guardian

News Article : Numeracy linked to economic success

A recent study connects numeracy skills to economic success. This won’t surprise many people, but it is important to spread this message, if only to counter the “cool” vibe that sometimes exists around being weak at maths.

The Guardian

News Article: Pupil Behaviour Problems in Schools

“A poll of 814 teachers, conducted by ATL and published last week, found a third had been hit or kicked by a student in the last academic year.”

When I chat to my students about their behaviour at school, I am always surprised by how often I discover that these little angels can be quite aggressive in the classroom environment.

I get the impression in many cases that teachers are struggling to cope with the need for extra care and attention.

Every situation is different, and despite how it may appear to students sometimes, many, if not most, teachers are able to identify the children who have genuine reasons for their aggressive behaviour, their lack of attention, their inability to do homework. But this understanding does not always translate into enough support for those children.

Teachers are educators first and foremost.

While there appears to be a growing expectation that teachers can make up for the damage that students may suffer from disfunctional family environments, this isn’t always realistic. Schools have recognised this and do try to provide pastoral support, in addition to teachers, where necessary. Schools also work closely with social services to support these children, but again this can never be quite as good for a child as a positive family environment in the first place.

Many children, the majority, fall somewhere in the middle. Some have two working parents, or split their time between two homes, and two families. There is no escape from peer pressure and bullies, now that texting and social networking tools invade their lives through mobile phones and laptops. There is no question that children, and schools, are struggling to handle the consequences of these advances.

Tutoring provides one-to-one attention, both academically and pastorally, that schools are not resourced to provide. A good tutor should hope to be a positive role model, developing a trust with each student that enables the student to feel secure. Only this way can a tutor hope to help the student to grow in confidence and ability.


News Article: Two hours’ homework a night linked to better school results

A recent study links success at school with the amount of effort children put into homework, as well as how much they enjoy school.

This doesn’t surprise me. Sometimes I think there are unrealistic expectations of what a child can achieve solely in the classroom environment.  As adults, we know that (within reason) the more effort we put into something, the better we get at it – this is easy to see in sports such as football, when learning a musical instrument, or learning any new skill.

At school, students are learning several different subjects each day, and in each of these subjects, there is a significant amount of information being added onto what has been learned in previous weeks, months and years.

This much information is hard to digest, and it is too easy for understanding to fade before it has had a chance to really sink in.

Stepping away from the classroom environment and putting in some time each evening to have another look at what was learned at school gives each child another chance to absorb the new information.

Trying to apply the new knowledge through homework assignments is the best way to gain reassurance that there were no misunderstandings, or gaps in understanding, before attempting to build on it in the lessons that follow.

See the original article in The Guardian.  http://gu.com/p/36g7a