This is why the SPaG test (now remodelled as the GPS test) is serious, nasty and dangerous
This is why the SPaG test (now remodelled as the GPS test) is serious, nasty and dangerous
Matt Haig spoke to The Sunday Times about home-schooling his children
It is surprisingly easy to get permission to educate your children at home — although we do keep records, and will one day be inspected — but it wasn’t an easy decision. We had both once mocked the idea, yet began considering it because, in an atmosphere of non-stop testing and rising pupil unhappiness, we didn’t feel confident that school was the best place for our sensitive kids to spend so much of their young lives. And the moment we started, we realised that the cliché of outcast kids in hemp dungarees is wrong. There is no “type” of home-schooled child, as people do it for all kinds of reasons. But doing something unconventional takes courage.
A new interactive educational initiative called “Every Child Can Code” is announced today for teaching children to code computers. The scheme will cater for children from age 7 or even younger. Sir Clive Sinclair’s team at Retro Computers Ltd, which recently launched the ZX Vega games console, plans to encourage and enable children to code their own games programs. The children can then exchange their games with each other via email, and the company will put the best games submitted to it on the web site www.EveryChildCanCode.org for everyone to enjoy.
Dr David Levy, Chairman of Retro Computers Ltd, said:
“Sir Clive’s Spectrum computer spawned an entire generation of young computer coders during the 1980, making the UK the world leader in this field. We aim to create the same level of enthusiasm for coding amongst today’s youngsters. Nowadays computer code lies at the heart of so many products and services that coding is a vital skill which should be learnt by everyone at school.”
A key component in the Every Child Can Code scheme is a unique child-friendly software “coding teacher”, which monitors a child as they code their programs, it warns the child when they have made a coding error, and it assists the child in understanding what they have done wrong in their coding and how to put things right.
The new coding learning scheme will be free of charge and is being launched today for the start of the new school year. The scheme is for all children, not just those who own or have access to a ZX Vega.
In parallel with the Every Child Can Code scheme Retro Computers Ltd have also announced today the inauguration of the National Schools Coding Championships. There will be one division for primary and prep schools, and another division for secondary and independent schools and sixth-form colleges. Every school in the UK can take part. The prizewinning entries will be added to future versions of the ZX Vega’s collection of 1,000 games.
Both initiatives aim to encourage schoolchildren to learn and enjoy coding, which is a vital skill for today’s and tomorrow’s world. Sir Clive Sinclair said:
“Many children already find coding to be fun and rewarding. With the National Schools Coding Championships we are adding the excitement of competition to the reasons why more children will take up coding with enthusiasm. Our aim with these championships, as with the entire Every Child Can Code scheme, is to encourage the growth of a new generation of coders in the UK, so our country can once again become a world leader in this field.”
from The Bookseller’s report about this:
Annette Karmiloff-Smith, who is professorial research fellow at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development at Birkbeck University, told the Sunday Times that parents should give their children tablets as soon as they are born. “They learn so fast on tablets… It is shocking how fast they learn, even faster than adults to do things like scroll up and down text,” she said.
“Books are static,” Karmiloff-Smith continued. “When you observe babies with books, all they are interested in is the sound of the pages turning. Their visual system at that age is attracted by movement. That is why tablets, which have moving pictures and sounds, are very good.”
The Birkbeck team carried out an initial study of 36 babies – half aged six months and the rest 10 months – and found they recognised the number three more quickly when it was presented with sounds and lights on an iPad.
They are now undertaking a larger project with hundreds of babies and toddlers and Karmiloff-Smith believes babies who use iPads will go on to have better motor control and visual attention. “Everything we know about child development tells us this will be the case. You see an adult trying to learn on a tablet and it’s hopeless. You see a 12-month-old learning on a tablet and it is so quick.”
She criticised Baroness Greenfield, who has said that over-exposure to screens damages children’s brain development.
“You cannot ignore the digital world we are living in,” she said. “Scientists tend to be very emotional about this issue but we should follow the science, not the emotion.”
Children’s author Philip Pullman has joined leading educationalists, early years specialists and psychologists in calling for plans to introduce tests for four- and five-year-olds in their first weeks at primary schools to be scrapped.
The tests, known as baseline assessment, are due to be trialled in a number of schools from September and will be used to measure basic skills including children’s ability to count and recognise letters and numbers immediately when they start in reception class. They will be introduced nationally in 2016.
Pullman is one of 80 signatories to a letter to the Guardian which argues that the tests should be stopped because they are “statistically invalid, will formalise a testing culture from the age of four, will be used to judge teachers and schools and, most importantly, will be dangerous for children”.
I attended the public launch of this title a week ago, and since then have been able to have a leisurely look through the book. What an impressive collaboration between writers and the publisher’s design team this is! “A unique must-have resource for families, schools, youth groups and anyone working with children,” the back cover proclaims – and yes, it is! I commend it without reservation.
I hope particularly as many schools as possible will obtain copies for their staff libraries. Although many of the recommended activities included in the book, together with the accompanying photos, suggest the need for a forest or woodland context, there are also numerous suggestions that would work just as well within the boundaries of schools that enjoy at least a little bit of green space. It is also undeniably the case that many of the children who are fortunate enough to be taken to the kinds of workshop organised by the book’s authors are from backgrounds that are already sympathetic towards outdoor learning. The book can have most impact if its ideas are taken up in classrooms up and down the country.
One of the speakers at the launch event remembered attending a local primary school in the 1960s. Every Wednesday afternoon the class would be taken up onto the Downs for nature study. The teacher would sit down with a packet of Weights cigarettes, while the class was given freedom to identify wild flowers and plants using Ladybird field guides. A bygone era indeed. The loss of such experiences from the school curriculum (how many infant classrooms even have a Nature table any more?) would not matter so much if children were still doing more of the same in their own time. But they’re not.
The book carries an impassioned foreword by Chris Packham, who notes, alongside a sharp decline in the numbers of kestrels, skylarks and lapwings, another “tragic extinction”:
… that of the young naturalist. I walk my dogs twice daily through the woods near where I grew up, and in years I have not seen a single child making camps, climbing trees, damming streams, let alone looking for birds’ nests, catching grass snakes or tracking foxes. Not one; they have gone.
Well, not gone exactly. They have been iomprisoned, protected from the dirty and dangerous outdoors by being locked up inside in front of televisions and computers.
Each of the three authors has been actively and successfully involved in running outdoor workshops for children over several years. They don’t pretend to have thought up all the activities themselves. This is a compilation of tried and tested activities guaranteed to engage and enthuse.
The book has four main sections – with easy to navigate coloured page tabs:
The book is generously illustrated with photographs that have all been scrupulopusly credited to no fewer than thirty separate photographers.
The book has an excellent index, an Afterword from Jon Cree, Chair of the Forest School Association, and author biographies.
Marina Robb is founder and managing director of the outdoor learning association Circle of Life Rediscovery; Anna Richardson is a forest school facilitator and trainer; and Victoria Mew, also a qualified forest school practitioner, has a particular interest in animal tracking.
I very much hope it comes to the attention of the judges of the SLA Information Book Award.
Livingstone is widely hailed as the founding father of the British games industry. He launched Dungeons and Dragons, a role-playing game that thrilled adolescents of the late 1970s and 1980s; co-founded Games Workshop, which became one of the biggest games companies in the world; and wrote or co-wrote 15 gamebooks in the Fighting Fantasy series, which has sold over 17m copies in 31 languages. He still has six friends round to his house regularly to play games, keep a record of the scores and compete for their own annual trophy. “I’m the current champion,” he tells me. “I love board games with like-minded friends, having a laugh, doing deals, reneging on them.”
But on the eve of his 65th birthday, he is talking to me about his plans for a network of free schools which, he thinks, can transform our approach to secondary education. He speaks quietly and rather flatly; there’s nothing flamboyant about him, and he sometimes sounds slightly bored, as if he’s reading out an inventory and would rather be playing games. But there’s no mistaking his conviction. “Children today are totally different from 50 years ago. They run their lives through social media and smart phones. They share their ideas and their creativity. They collaborate naturally.” Yet when they go to secondary school, he argues, they meet a regime of standardisation and conformity, requiring them “to memorise a lot of stuff they won’t ever need because they can google it or whatever”.
Cambridge academic Dr Clementine Beauvais questions the very notion of ‘gifted’ children:
Everybody loves stories about gifted children. Whether it’s Mozart composing beautiful tunes at the tender age of 5, or maths superstar Ruth Lawrence getting into Oxford at just 11, there’s something irresistible about the idea that freakishly talented kids can walk among us.
But Dr Clementine Beauvais isn’t so sure that ‘giftedness’ can be measured at all. Because it seems that behind every supremely able child, there’s usually a rather pushy parent.
Seeing so many of my contacts on Facebook posting photos of their children trussed up in new school uniform has reinforced my distaste for it. After so many weeks of running free wearing loose casual gear that they feel supremely comfortable in children suddenly have to put on uncomfortable, unflattering clothing and abide by a dress code. The primary school where my wife works part-time has become an academy and introduced a strict new uniform regime. There was a uniform of sorts before, but really just the coloured sweatshirt variety that has, up until now, applied in most state primary schools.
If you’re going to make young children wear a uniform, keep it simple and practical. Where is the sense in dressing very young children up in blazers, ties and checked skirts and then compounding the rigmarole with rules such as allowing children to take off their blazers in class but insisting they put them back on whenever they leave the classroom even to go to the loo. How have we come to the point where even children as young as six years old are having to live according to such rules?
I remember all my school uniforms with varying degrees of distaste. I attended a small fee-paying preparatory school. The uniform was brown. A rather disgusting shade of brown. I was very jealous of the uniform-free neighbouring state primary school where my best mate Pete went. [Although Pete was jealous of me in the summer because we got two full afternoons of cricket and he got just one short lesson a week.]
My first secondary school blazer had very conspicuous maroon and black stripes. What I disliked most about it was the pink badge I had to wear on the front pocket denoting the ‘house’ I was in. But the blazer was very well tailored and made from a sleek light-weight material. A few years later when we moved south and I had to exchange the maroon and black stripes for a plain maroon blazer, the new jacket was anything but well-tailored and made from a horrible thick felty woollen fabric that leaked dye into sweaty adolescent boys’ armpits.
For all these reasons blazers tended to be worn only on the way to and from school. I may have forgotten but I honestly can’t remember at any of the schools I attended there being rules about when blazers MUST be worn during the school day.
Once a school uniform is in place those in authority seem to take delight in adding unnecessarily stringent requirements to it. As a staff governor I used to be surprised by the vehemence with which other governors would try and insist on boys wearing grey trousers. Black wouldn’t do. They had to be grey. Parents objected that grey trousers could not be easily bought in the local town whereas black trousers could. Obviously it was sometimes difficult to determine where charcoal-grey finished and black began. Oh, such mighty matters!
Then there is the question of shoes. I know there are family panics about what style of footwear is going to be acceptable. Again, I don’t remember any such strictures about what style of shoe should be worn during my own schooldays. Admittedly in the period I am talking about (1950s and 1960s) there was a clear demarcation between shoes and trainers – well, actually between shoes and plimsolls – so it was always pretty clear that what you had on your feet were shoes and there couldn’t be any debate about it.
At that rather smart marooon-and-black striped school (attended by Prime Minister’s sons no less) I wore newly-fashionable elastic-sided, shoelace-less shoes (the first pair I ever bought for myself using my own money back in 1963) in both black and brown without anyone quibbling.
One of my first teaching jobs was in a church-aided school that liked to hold itself apart form ‘local authority’ schools and had something of the air of the independent sector. I was there during the 1980s and, a basically blue school uniform notwithstanding, I remember the older girls being free to dress quite stylishly and idiosyncratically. When I moved to become deputy head of a more orthodox local authority primary school in the 1990s one of the first things I noticed was the uniformity of the uniform.
Of course some of the dafter insistences described earlier on in this post usually start to unravel as the school year proceeds, but that makes insisting on them in the first place all the more tiresome.
It’s not very fashionable these days to be anti school uniform and I know all the familiar arguments in favour of it (level playing-field and all that) but I still feel schools would be happier places without it.
ogle today launched a new free tool called Classroom as part of its Google Apps for Education suite. In short, Classroom helps teachers create and organize assignments, provide feedback to their students, and communicate with their classes.