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Posts Tagged ‘Education’

On Internet Safety day this week we read that children as young as 5 are to be targeted in a new government backed campaign designed to raise children’s awareness of the risks of the internet.   

The emphasis in this new initiative is firmly on empowering children to be aware of the risks and use caution, while accepting that children will be using this technology and it’s not realistic to try and stop them.

An Ofsted report supports this way of working with children.  They found that pupils in schools with ‘managed’ rather than ‘locked’ systems had a better understanding of how to stay safe online.  On a managed system less sites are completely inaccessible, so pupils have to take more responsibility for their own safety.

My children’s school have been having their own Internet Safety Week this week and the message definitely seems to be getting through to them that they need to be careful about what information they choose to share with people. 

I’m really glad to see that the advice on internet safety has moved away from blanket banning and blocking of sites  and has shifted to encouraging children to think more carefully about how to keep safe.  I’ve never been one for too much net nannying, I would rather my children learned to think for themselves and had the knowledge and skills needed to make safe decisions.

With the government’s plans to have broadband installed in all homes by 2012, it is vital that all children in the UK have the understanding and skills needed to be able to use the internet safely.

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Are teachers too thick?

All very laudable upping the bar on qualifications to become a teacher, and I follow the logic for secondary level as how can you enthuse/ have authority on your subject if you haven’t studied it to the highest and most effective level? Kids would suss that and unpick you sharpish.

But at primary level (and below) and as a general point, teaching is a skill set in itself, not necessarily following from excellent academic achievement. Both my parents were teachers and the norm for teaching training then was exactly that: you trained to be a teacher – yes in a subject area of interest – and that skill set is where you focussed your learning. You became a professional teacher. They both had 40 year careers out of that approach.

I’ve had a lot of further education, work in a professional arena and am reasonably well thought of in the speciality in which I work. But that doesn’t mean I am able to teach other people (especially not children) to do what I do. I wouldn’t presume to be so arrogant to assume that. The nuances of inspiring and enthusing and coaching should not be determined by a few certificates. Perhaps some better selection methods based on those headings would be a more effective approach? Could a probation period be arranged before you applied, when your general demeanour around children was assessed?

And let’s just touch on that tricky area of discipline. No certificates are going to equip you for somehow transmitting authority over a class without any real sanction. Gone are my dad’s days when you could set a boy’s bottom on fire to put the fear of God into a class (he didn’t know there were matches in the pocket!). I’m not entirely sure you can train people to exude credibility either as there seems to be plenty of teachers out there regularly eaten alive by their classes. So, again I would suggest that there is a need for better basic assessment of teaching applicants. Perhaps, as laudable as Cameron et al’s interjection is, we really need to take a deeper look at this issue? Knee-jerk reactions and black and white solutions: no thank you.

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According to Government guidelines, children as young as 5 years old should be doing an hour of homework a week. Years 3 and 4 should have 90 minutes and years 5 and 6 are supposed to clock up 30 minutes a day!

That sounds alarming, although when you read the small print it’s slightly less scary because this homework includes reading, practising spellings and mental maths. The guidelines go on to suggest all sorts of exciting homework that schools could ask children to do: researching to find information, making models, cooking, playing a maths game with a parent. OK, that sounds lovely if it happens, but how many overworked teachers really have the time to be that creative when it comes to homework?

Sadly the reality is that most children come home with photocopied worksheets, filled with uninspiring maths or literacy questions that are no fun to do, and even less fun for parents to try and force them to do. I recently posted an irate status on Facebook, saying that homework had reduced one my children to tears yet again (3 weeks in a row if I recall correctly) and posed the rhetorical question about what purpose homework is supposed to serve? I was amazed at the response I got and realised that I was not alone, homework is obviously a source of stress and tension in many families.

I think what bugs me the most about the homework issue, is the unspoken assumption that unless children are sitting doing worksheets at the weekend then they aren’t learning anything of value. This is clearly rubbish! If my children are left to their own devices they are learning constantly, you can’t stop them. My 9 year old son will read anything he can get his hands on, will happily spend hours researching things that interest him on the computer (mostly Pokemon at the moment if I’m honest, but at least he’s learning about statistics). My 6 year old daughter will spend hours cutting, sticking, drawing and writing while making me ‘love cards’ as she calls them. She’s not a confident writer but will do it much more happily if it’s on her terms so it’s great to see her writing independently. She does spend a fair bit of time on her DS too, but that is motivating her to read for herself – not just because we tell her she has to.

Furthermore, is the homework even benefitting our children at all? There doesn’t appear to be any conclusive evidence that written homework is effective in improving the learning of primary children, so I can’t help but wonder why we are bothering.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t read with our children (far from it), or help them learn some spellings but can we ditch the worksheets please? Think of the money schools will save on their photocopying and paper budgets. For my part, I just can’t bear the thought of yet another weekend of tantrums and slamming doors (and that’s just me). Honestly I’m seriously considering getting a dog, just so we can lose the worksheets and say the dog ate the bloody things.

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