Monday, March 12, 2007

A message for DfES

"Education Secretary Alan Johnson backs the recommendation of a review by Lord Dearing, that all children should learn a language from the age of seven. This should happen by 2010, as part of the next curriculum overhaul. But there is no move to reverse the decision to make languages optional beyond 14 - despite a sharp fall in the number of pupils taking GCSEs. In 2004, pupils were allowed to drop languages in Key Stage 4, the two GCSE years. Ministers said they were bowing to the subject's unpopularity." [BBC news]

Children are not empty vessels. You can't just take the lid off and pour information in. They don't work that way.

Children are unique individuals, which means that each one is different. Some will want to learn a second language; others won't. Some will find it quite easy; others will find it very difficult. Being forced to try to learn a second language will be heaven for some children and hell for others.

There are several millions of children in UK schools; hundreds of thousands of seven year olds. Why do you persist in treating them all exactly the same?

This makes it very difficult for
"The parent of every child of compulsory school age [to] cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable -
(a) to his age, ability and aptitude"
[UK Education Act 1996, Section 7]
by sending their child to school. Indeed, the only parents of seven year-old schoolchildren fulfilling their legal responsibilities will be those who - by pure luck - have children who are apt and able to learn a second language at age seven.

And then it's going to be optional again for fourteen year olds? Why compulsory at seven and optional at fourteen? Does a child suddenly become capable of making a choice at the age of fourteen, when it wasn't seven years before? I can't see any place in the 1996 Education Act where the definition of aptitude and ability varies according to a child's age.

Or... do we, perhaps, have people in charge of making these decisions who don't actually know much about children at all?

20 Comments:

Blogger Ruth said...

In the school system where vast numbers of 7 year olds are struggling with enforced reading and literacy skills you would think the idea of teaching them a second language, to add to the pressure, ridiculous. Apart from any other argument. B is bi-lingual. He picks up languages like a sponge and knows a fair bit from a few languages. Not all kids do tho. Only 3 out of 7 of mine enjoyed learning a second language.

Looking at AJ's own life I think much of his ideas are a projection of his own dissatisfaction with HIS schooling and life and have no basis in reality for the majority at all.

Also I wonder if this is to do with the EU as much as anything else. I bet kids are not allowed to chooose a language if it comes into force. I had that free trial to Ed City and was told if we signed up the Spanish was off limits to Key Stage 2 children. Seems the ptb think children under the age of 11 are only capable of learning French.

4:49 pm, March 12, 2007  
Blogger Ruth said...

Oh sorry to blog on your comments box:(

4:50 pm, March 12, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

I do think that a key problem with the state education system is that it doesn't have clear aims and objectives. Is it a childcare service? Is it to equip people for work? To make them better citizens? To stop them getting pregnant in their teens? To socialise them?

Pretty much we are clear what the police service is there for, we are clear what the army is there for, and the health service and we are clear what the guys who empty our bins are there for (most useful of the lot).

But no-one has set out precisely and unequivocally what the output from a state school is supposed to be, probably because if they did, it would be too painfully obvious that they are failing to deliver whatever 'it' is. Bearing in mind that we are spending near to £40,000 per child and a quarter come out manifestly illiterate or innumerate, I think it is maybe about time we gave this a little more thought.

7:46 pm, March 12, 2007  
Blogger Carlotta said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:54 pm, March 12, 2007  
Blogger Carlotta said...

Feeling a strong temptation to use my blog just to link to yours, Gill. Thank for that post too!

7:55 pm, March 12, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tim said "Pretty much we are clear what the police service is there for,"

Can you please tell the rest of us what they are here for?

8:59 pm, March 12, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

Try a search - wherer pinning law-abiding Londoners to the floor on tube trains, while a colleague shoots them through the head fits in is, of course, a different matter.

Nevertheless, I think that if you asked people why they thought we had police, and what they expected (or ought to expect) from them, I think you would pretty good agreement. I don't think the same can be said of schools/the state school system.

10:16 pm, March 12, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Ruth, that's exactly it. Hmm, interesting about AJs own life. He was speaking out in favour of single mothers last week, because his daughter is one. Gah - wish she HEd as well! ^^
Also, good thinking about EU - but why only French? Germany & Spain are in there? Not disagreeing, sure you're onto something, just wondering the reason behind it.

Tim, yes I like this thinking and I'd LOVE to see that particular consultation exercise! (Not that we ever will though I don't think.) It's definitely time we gave it more thought and noticed that the answer lies in the *compulsory* aspect of education. If it was a purely benevolent concern, there'd be no need to make it compulsory.

I'm thinking more and more that compulsory education is an abusive outrage, and is the thing we should be fighting against.

My family, for e.g., would happily use schools on an informal drop-in basis if they were run that way but the law currently prevents it, so we have a ridiculous all or nothing situation that benefits no-one, (except..?)

10:37 pm, March 12, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Carlotta, the feeling is often mutual! :-)

10:37 pm, March 12, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

Gill, I think if the argument were for compulsory education, let's say, a legal requirement that all children be equipped, one way or another, with a defined standard of literacy and numeracy before they reached the age of eighteen, then I could, perhaps, be persuaded (how you would implement such a policy is another matter, of course) but that is not what we are talking about is it?

When people say compulsory education, they mean compulsory schooling, which is not at all the same thing.

Is it compulsory education you regard as an "abusive outrage" or is it compulsory schooling?

11:41 pm, March 12, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Education, Tim.
It's presently compulsory up to 16 and yet we still have many adults lacking basic literacy skills.

Gatto produced some convincing statistics to show higher literacy rates from the era before education was compulsory in America. He thinks this is because of the strong innate parental instinct to educate children and that parents naturally do a better job than schools do.

I think the compulsory full-time nature of education puts children off learning and that they'd learn more if they weren't legally obliged to.

This is not to say we should abolish the education system. Just that it shouldn't be compulsory that every child is educated full-time between the ages of 5 and 16.

I'd prefer to give children the choice of where and how to be educated and if we're going to continue spending billions on education, let's provide 24/7 open learning centres instead.

We could issue learning vouchers, which children would be free to spend at the learning centre however they liked. Teachers would have to give a proportion of any vouchers they earned to their department to cover costs, and could exchange the remainder for cash.

Anyone - teachers or learners - could earn vouchers by doing community work.

That way, the really good teachers would (rightly) get rich. Anyone could set up as a teacher and offer lessons in any subject, to anyone.

It needs a lot of refining obviously, but I think it would create a far superior system to the present one.

8:24 am, March 13, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

I still think it is schooling which is compulsory.

I suppose it depends on how you define education (and there are many definitions).

For example, compare "knowledge acquired by learning and instruction" with "the activities of educating or instructing". The former is a measure of outputs the latter is a measure of effort applied by third parties.

Under the former measure there are quite a number of children who are complying with the law by attending school, but who are not receiving significant education in the process.

Under the latter measure, teachers may be applying more effort to "educating" these individuals than any others, but in spite of that these will be the ones of whom it will be said "lack of education prevented him/her from getting a good job".

So of these two, I would choose "knowledge acquired" as being the measure which has most value. Results are more important than activity in my view.

Now, let's choose benchmarks.

At present almost all children attend school regularly from the age of 5 to 16 (I haven't checked but 98%+ seems likely?). While there are legal options to school attendance, in most cases where parents fail to ensure that their child attends school this brings threats and/or legal action to enforce attendance. The right to home educate, for example, is not publicised and parents who choose this option are discouraged, criticised, denigrated and sometimes persecuted. Overall, this means that to all intents and purposes - Schooling is compulsory.

At present, we have 25% of any age cohort who are leaving school without attaining adequate standards in one or both of literacy and numeracy. This means that by their own measures, DfES are NOT educating 25% of children who pass through their hands.
QED Education is not compulsory.

As you say, there are ways we could achieve education - through vouchers and the like which would not require a single school, not in the current sense, anyway.

9:21 am, March 13, 2007  
Blogger annieguy said...

It's that talk about "window of opportunity" when it comes to learning languages that always puzzles/intrigues me, for several reasons. Firstly, why do people only ever use it with regards to foreign languages and secondly, why does it get shut?

I mean, I know they always wheel out rafts of research to back this up, but it's inevitably been done about to children who are at school. How much of the window-shutting is down to children's innate ability to learn being shut down by schooling? (in general, rather than language teaching in particular). Most relevant perhaps is the way that older children have been schooled to see making mistakes as "wrong", when making mistakes is a big part of learning, especially when it comes to speaking any language, including your own!

A baby will quite contentedly babble away attempting to make language sounds, and eventually gets them right... that's a bit different to a French vocab test in school. But I've seen plenty of HE kids, at an age when that language learning window should have shut, feel free to experiment with a foreign language in much the same way as a baby does, without fear, and with faster and more dramatic results than they'd ever get from trying to learn a language in school.

10:06 am, March 13, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Of course as the law stands, Tim, it's the provision of education on the part of parents and LAs which is compulsory. The child, as I understand it, has no active part to play in the legal compulsion except by default. So, an LA can be prosecuted (but so rarely is!) for failing to provide, a parent can be prosecuted for failing to provide or for failing to ensure child attends LA provision (though not both as the one precludes the other), but a child cannot be prosecuted for any part of the process - i.e.failing to attend, failing to learn to a satisfactory level, etc.

This is what leads to such crazy situations we're seeing where a 15 year-old is taken to the school gates by its parent and leaves immediately to truant. The parent has no control over the 'child' once they've left them in the charge of the school, and yet the parent - not the school - is prosecuted for the child's truancy.

There are several other reasons why our current education law is a nonsense:

- We claim, as a country, to be about freedom and democracy and yet we force our children to receive educational provision over which the child has no control, vote or option whatsoever. Truancy ( = criminalising its own parent and risking swingeing punishment for its whole family by the inprisonment of the parent) is a dissenting schoolchild's only realistic means of protest or expression. This is why I call the present situation abusive.

- We have laws to preserve children's rights (Children Act, Human Rights, etc) and yet in education a child's only right is to be compelled to receive provision. IOW, we allow that a child is capable of making key choices in some respects but not education until age 14 when the child has some very limited choices only.

- The law doesn't clearly explain, as you said earlier, what's required of education. Many people think it should be the free pursuit of knowledge and skills, but this would require a lot more liberty for the child than the law allows. A person might be forgiven for suspecting that education laws exist only for the compulsory training of a workforce and/or military contingient, both of which requires unquestioning obedience. This means education law does not exist for children's benefit at all.

- If education is about the pursuit of knowledge or skills then it can't be compulsory, because a person would never pursue knowledge or skills just because another person compels them to. People pursue knowledge and skills naturally, voluntarily, because it's our instinct to survive and knowlege and skills are necessary for this. It's also our instinct to ensure our children survive, which is why most parents automatically educate their own children, unless thwarted in this, as they currently are.

I agree with your argument about education and schooling and I suspect we're both saying the same thing, just approached from slightly different angles.

Your '25% uneducated' argument is a very powerful one IMO, of which good use could be made.

10:39 am, March 13, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Annie, I quite agree. I'm thinking we could and possibly should be gathering these arguments somewhere.

There's also that stuff about personalised learning, which I'm looking at with interest.

Govt sees personalised learning as the way forward, which is an admittance that the present system is ineffective. If autonomous HE is ever threatened, I'll be looking at their definition of personalised learning for comparisons between the two.

10:44 am, March 13, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Some familiar names on the personalised learning link! NOT a DfES-sponsored org then ^^

11:10 am, March 13, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

I worked on contract for two years with a large state "education provider", and the buzz words they bandied about like "learner centred" caught my imagination.

In the end though, I think the reality of personalised learning would be a disappointment to you.

I think it will be like choosing a "personalised meal" from the menu, but you won't get to choose the restaurant (Unless you are wealthy enough to go private).

It is all Polspeak, they are saying similar things about healthcare.

And yes, I think we are mainly talking semantics in differentiating between 'education' and 'schooling'.

(I am right though :) )

11:17 am, March 13, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Hmm I'd go with a personalised learning method put forward by the people on this list!

And yes, of course you are :-)
*Pat pat* ^^

11:31 am, March 13, 2007  
Blogger Tim said...

Yes, I agree. I like what they seem to be saying, haven't had time to read through too much so far.

2:57 pm, March 13, 2007  
Blogger mamadillo said...

nothing interesting to say, just waving like a mad thing at Annie!!!

9:31 pm, March 17, 2007  

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