Tag Archive | exams

Forget testing; educate for Love and Independence

We are a nation obsessed with stats. We seem to need tests results for everything. And our kids are at the mercy of this adult obsession, for test results mean nothing to the kids, even though they’re the ones suffering for them.

The crazy thing is that the most important things in life, the things that are vital to our wellbeing, success and survival cannot really be tested. Things like love, happiness, warm relationships, responsibility, family, health. And neither can educational maturity be tested. You can test how much is learned. But you cannot test competence in using it – which is the whole point, surely. So why are we putting our kids through it and damaging their mental health with the pressure in some cases?

It’s a shocking deception. For we’re telling our kids, through the hidden curriculum incessant testing promotes, that results are the only valid thing about them, about education and about life.

Read George Monbiot on the subject here

Worse than that; it makes ‘failures’ of far too many kids who could achieve in so many un-measurable ways, like through practical subjects, creative subjects, game design, environmental skills and experiences. Achievements that could be immensely valuable to society – some more valid than an A* in English, for example.

So I think we should stop all this testing and start educating for the untestable!

Educate for experience. Educate them to experience happiness and contentment. Happy and content people make up a better society than those who are frustrated and dissatisfied as many youngsters end up.

Educate young people through experiences that will help get to know themselves, what their strengths and weaknesses are, to understand what they love and why, who they love and why, thus developing all aspects of their character and allowing them to see how they can contribute and what great contributions they can make with those strengths. Un-measurable strengths.

Educate for love. That is; educate to create strong bonds in a climate of mutual respect (rather than hierarchical one-upmanship), let them learn how relationships can be nurtured by nurturing an understanding of each other, of empathy and inclusion, not failure, comparison and shame.

Educate for independence by offering independence, rather than keeping them so controlled and inhibited by dismissing what they would (and can) bring to their own learning. Instead, abandon learning for tested objectives and leave experiences open ended so that they can take away the idea that independence (and education) is open ended and their own responsibility. There is no chance to practice responsibility in a place where youngsters have no say.

Most adults are not brave enough to allow any of this. They are stuck in their desperate need to have everything qualified. That’s ‘how to get on in life’ they threaten. Funny how so many people have got on in life without (Jamie Oliver springs to mind)!

Home education is creating independent, articulate, intelligent young people who are getting on in life having bypassed the incessant testing routines of school. Some have opted – as independent decision makers – to become qualified to further their chosen route. Others choose other pathways.

But home schooling is an un-measured pathway. Yet despite that, it seems to be producing un-measurable success in these youngsters! And proving that testing is not necessarily a prerequisite of becoming educated.

So what’s this obsession with testing really for, other than satisfying adult comfort and political manipulation?

A question many do not want to face!

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Good luck to the home schooled kids!

It’s not just school kids taking exams at the moment!

 So what I want to say is this: Good luck to all the home educating families involved with exams too! What an achievement to have got this far – without school.

It’s an aspect of home education that many people don’t even think about even at this time of the year – that homeeducated kids will be doing exams too. Pretty ironic really, since ‘what about exams?’ is always one of the major questions parents and journalists ask when they’re researching home education.

Most home educated families study for GCSEs just the same as all the school kids do – yep there is life and learning outside a classroom! They use courses – usually associated with examining bodies, sample papers online, coursebooks, and the Net of course – they just don’t do it in a classroom. And they learn very much from their own study, parental help and encouragement, online facilities, and occasionally tutors (although that’s quite rare actually). They sit the exams in independent exam centres dotted around the country, the snag with that is the have to be independently paid for – extremely unfair – the home educating community is working on getting help for that.

And just as other kids do, most of the home educators go on to achieve good grades.

So I wanted to take a moment’s thought for them. So often home educating families are disregarded, or worse; the victims of bigoted, biased judgements usually by those who are ignorant of the experience, like this one which appeared in the media recently about a young home schooled graduate.

What we rarely see are the grades and the achievements. I reckon if a study were done of the percentage of homeschooled candidates who achieved good grades compared to the percentage of school candidates the former would be the higher!

Most home educating young people are motivated and achieving, they go on into work as easily as anyone else (not that it’s easy for any in today’s climate), often beating off competition.

So I wanted to wish all those families and young people whole hearted good luck with your exams! You deserve a mention too!

What happens after home education?

I know this is a question on many parents’ minds and I’ve recently been talking to some young people now graduated from home educating for an article about it for Education Outside School magazine. (Look out for the next issue) But one young lady; Beth Levicki, wrote so much so well I thought parents would be interested in reading it separately.

She is now 19, having been home educated since September 2001, trying primary and secondary school for short periods. She began taking GCSEs at home when she was 14 and, by the time she was 18, had passed 6 GCSEs. She currently attends College studying A-levels and hopes to go to university in a couple of years.

This is what she wrote:

…I did year one at primary school and became home educated in September that year. I returned to primary to try mainstream education once more, but soon left to become home educated again. I didn’t return to primary school but decided that I wanted to give secondary school a try. I started secondary school at the age of eleven but found it wasn’t for me and left to be home educated again seven weeks later. I remained home educated for about eight more years, until last year when I decided I wanted to do A-levels at college, and have been attending college since September of last year.

While home educated, I did six GCSEs including English Language, English Literature, Maths, History, Biology and Psychology.

My first GCSE was Biology which I did with a distance learning course with mum’s guidance. The tutor would send me tasks, worksheets and practice papers to complete, and I would send them back so she could mark them and give feedback.

The other GCSEs I did with more of a DIY approach that mum helped with. We would buy the textbooks for the subjects and download the syllabuses, go through them, complete practice papers and tasks in the books and learn all of the information needed for the exam.

When it came down to doing the work, I really enjoyed the subjects and learning about them, but I didn’t enjoy the way in which I was supposed to learn them because it just came down to ticking the correct boxes to pass an exam, which I found very frustrating. But I realised that in order to open some doors in the future I had to just push through.

I worked best in the evenings so it was easier and more comfortable for me to sleep late, and work later on in the day, than forcing myself to get up in the morning when I definitely didn’t feel motivated. I also attended a drama group and a scout group so I had to find time to study around these activities.

I found the atmosphere in secondary school very patronising. It seemed none of the students actually wanted to be there and rebellious students made lessons very difficult. Some of the subjects I didn’t like but I was still forced to learn them which impacted my enjoyment negatively at school. There was also a lot of pressure to get questions right and do well which was very stressful at such a young age.

However, in home education, everything was a lot more relaxed. I was able to study subjects I wanted to learn, at my own pace. I believe that home education was the best choice for me during my childhood and teenage years because it was the most enjoyable and comfortable way for me to learn.

College, on the other hand, is more laid back than secondary school ever was. It’s very autonomous and requires self-motivation but, because I was able to choose the subjects that I wanted to do, self-motivation isn’t a big problem. Students are treated like adults and most of them want to be there and do the work to go to university or get good jobs. Instead of calling teachers ‘miss’ or ‘sir’, the tutors are called by their first name, making the environment friendly and comfortable which helps.

Overall, I suppose I’ve always wanted to be treated as an adult. I got that treatment at home and college but never had it in secondary school which is probably why I never enjoyed it.

I’m not a huge fan of working in big groups, especially in primary and secondary school where other students were rebellious, distracting and complaining a lot of the time. That atmosphere really stressed me.

Independently, however, it was much more relaxed. There was no pressure to be right all the time or to be as good as other students.

In college, even though I’m working with other people, the lessons are more like conversations. Ideas are bounced around and questions are asked about the subjects and there’s a lot of learning from each other rather than just the knowledge being spoon-fed by the teacher.

I’ve always been a bit of a not-very-confident introvert, so have had doubts about making friends that I could be myself around in the past and thought it was going to be much the same when I started mainstream education again. But I knew that I had to come out of my shell, so I pushed myself to talk to people and I now have a wonderful group of friends whom I feel comfortable (and share a lot in common) with. I’ve also been very open to the fact that I was home educated which doesn’t bother them in the slightest.

So, I suppose being home educated doesn’t change who you are or what you’re interested in. You just need to find the people who share similar interests and get to know them like anyone would.

…A big thank you to Beth for sharing that with us!

The educational finishing line

We’re never finished!

That might seem to be an odd thing to say but the way some people talk you’d think failing GCSEs or other qualifications, or having none at all, is going to finish you off for life.

Yet here’s me later on in life launching down avenues new, exactly the same as my twenty-somethings are doing. Which is what prompts me to remind folks that we’re never finished. Learning and opportunities go on as long as life goes on and it’s not a race to achieve everything by eighteen.

Most people’s perception of learning and education is rather warped. They’ve been conned and pressured into believing that it can only happen between the ages of four and eighteen and you’re doomed if you don’t achieve what you’re expected to achieve in that time.

Yet, in reality, some of the most fundamentally valuable learning you do in life takes place before you are four when essential learning connections are made. And post eighteen when you get beyond the schooling institution which in many ways inhibits learning because it’s so busy priming youngsters for exam passing it neglects to build the skills needed to lead a real life.

When you get beyond the institution of school – and Uni if it’s even worth going these days – you begin to educate yourself in the ways of the real world and how to function in it. That’s the real valuable stuff.

The trouble with institutionalised education is that it institutionalises minds – both children and parents. And it does a great job of preventing folks understanding that learning is not dependent on an institution. And qualification is not a measure of education – or intelligence either.

The young manager of the cafe was chatting to me about it as he made my coffee. He felt that he’d been let down by college, had been disenchanted by school and was certainly not going to get another stomach full of ‘education’ at Uni. He’d got the measure of it. He also knew that he was not finished by a long way and despite that raw educational deal he wasn’t going to believe that it was the measure of him. He thought quite like a home schooler, even though I hadn’t mentioned it. It was great to hear.

None of us are ever finished – not until we’re finished off that is! You’re no more finished at eighteen or twenty one or thirty odd or over fifty. And school age is not the only chance you have at learning.

Learning and education are about a constantly developing state of mind, not a state of institution.

Although with the state of the politics you wouldn’t know that! So try to look beyond institutionalised propaganda and maybe even have the courage to believe in your kids, allow them to learn when and as they need to and don’t worry about them getting to an educational finishing line:

There isn’t one!

We are not our results

I have a weird take on exams. I’m never satisfied with the results.

I don’t mean what grades we get. I mean what those grades tell me. I’ve never been convinced they tell me anything particular; never believed they necessarily tell me about intelligence.

They tell me that someone has particular skills – skills for passing exams. But I equally applaud the skills of rock climbing, skate boarding or raising kids none of which require grades to do it well. You need far more than grades to convince me of intelligence.

People like to use grades to label themselves as superior. And society likes to compartmentalise those without as inferior. That’s completely warped.

People are not better people for having grades. And that’s what really counts. You can be a good person without grades – grades do not define us.

What defines us is how we think and act. How we care. How we take responsibility. How we engender respect in the activities we do. Respect for each other. Respect for the world that supports us. Respect for purposeful work (paid or unpaid).

Those are the things that define us. But you can’t measure those with grades and society seems obsessed with measuring. With statistics. With box ticking and hoop jumping.

Yet the things that make a person good cannot be fitted into boxes. Did Einstein fit boxes? Did Ghandi? Did Beatrix Potter? Did Jamie Oliver? They all brought different kinds of goodness to this world but they didn’t tick boxes. They brought goodness by consistent ongoing activity, by the things they did, not the grades they were measured by.

In a few years time your grades will mean nothing. I know folks uphold that without them they wouldn’t have got where they are (higher education perhaps, higher salary). But actually, we’ll never know that will we? And people are achieving and becoming successful without them. (Jamie Oliver for one).

Grades mean so little against an interpretation of life through goodness. We shouldn’t let them define us or our future. We all, always, have the opportunity to do something great – however small – for which we will be remembered long after anyone is even bothered about our grades.

Let’s not educate for grades any more. Let’s educate for goodness. We are more to the world as goodness than as results.

Less of a freak – thank you Rosen!

Isn’t it wonderful, when you’ve felt like a freak for years because of your weird and radical thinking that no one seems to get, about an issue fundamental to all our lives that no one seems to want to think about, to suddenly find a like mind!

This is me with education. And it seems like Michael Rosen thinks pretty much the same. Watch and listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=DOrd-VaLy7A

(Thanks Michael for making me feel less like a freak).

He’s been speaking out about the increasing flaws in our education system for ages, identifying, like me, the way in which so much of it is failing to provide what was supposed to be a universal education for all.

As he says, it no longer is a universal education; it is one that is divisive and discriminative.

This happens because its focus is now on league tables and competition between schools. Therefore many schools are reluctant to take learners who will not make them look good result-wise, or who need a less result-orientated approach to achieve and they are segregated off into other institutions and labelled. This system is making ‘failures’ of pupils, parents and teachers and belies the obvious truth that if there was a ‘universal provision’ for all needs maybe there would be no failures at all.

It is NOT children and teachers who are failing, it is the other way round; the system which is failing them.

We’re also getting it completely wrong in terms of curriculum. Instead of curriculum being a democratic provision of whatever our children need to live life beyond school it has become a dictate of subjects which are useful only in that they can be measured – but which are not particularly useful for life. And they are decided upon by a dictator who has no experience of educating children and who disregards the advice of those who have. Does that not seem bizarre to you?

And another valuable aspect of education that is disregarded in this commercial race for league status is the fact that it is NOT the results that make an education, it is the PROCESS and APPROACH. Education for results is an education quickly forgotten. An uplifting, creative, explorative, investigative process of learning brings a learner understanding. And it is understanding which makes a person educated – understanding how to apply education – not just results.

Education is of no value whatever results you have if you don’t understand how it’s applied to living. And it is within the process of learning that this understanding happens. The system is prostituting the approach (and consequently the needs of kids) in a greed for competitive results. And politics.

Michael Rosen can see this. I can see this and have done for years, right from seeing it beginning to go wrong in the system when I was teaching years ago with the first nail in the coffin; the National Curriculum. Many, many teachers and heads can see this. Many parents can see it and believe it so strongly they are abandoning the system and home educating very successfully through an approach to learning that equips children with the skills they need to live their lives later on.

It seems the only person who can’t see this is the minister who is doing the dictating. Which leads me to believe that his narrow and elitist education – which he’s trying to push onto every other child regardless of whether it suits them or not – didn’t educate him at all!

The indecency of grades

Poor kids! I can’t help feeling for them at this time of the year weighted down with exams. Both they and their parents believing the propaganda of no-grades-equals-no-life. Because it is propaganda.

And because of it we’ve lost our educational focus. Instead of education being the valuable development of young people it’s become an invaluable slog of time wasting testing.

We test kids so we can test teachers and schools; not because it’s relevant to children or the quality of education, but because it’s relevant to politics and the propaganda. And the children are caught in the testing crossfire between parents desperately wanting their kids to have grades because they’ve bought the propaganda and the teachers desperate to coach the kids towards high scores because their job is at risk from the results.

With rather dire and abusive consequences; I’ve seen people train dogs with more empathy than some schools have when coercing children towards grades.

The saddest thing of all is that we use grades now to define education.

It’s supposed to be the enhancement of young lives through learning. But now it’s only about results. And politicians think up more strategies to test for those results and more strategies to test the teachers testing the kids and the more testing that goes on the more miserable it makes our children and families. And our teachers actually, although most of them daren’t say.

Not having grades is almost seen as indecent, as a waste of education and a waste of life.

But the real indecency is the way in which our kids and families are manipulated to perform these tests and get grades for the glorification of the politicians (and some parents). And the real waste is that kids never see education for what it is; an enjoyable opportunity to discover the possibilities in life, that shows them creative ways to live and support themselves, to make a contribution and forge loving and respectful bonds and understand that it is this that makes them fulfilled. They too only ever see it as grades.

Most see it also as a gruesome grind. At which they’re likely to ‘fail’.

You cannot ‘fail’ education because you can keep going at it for life. You can only fail tests – which are not an education.

Testing, grade-getting, and league tables destroy children’s faith in education, destroys loving bonds, puts families in conflict, destroys the delightful experience of education and masks its value as a journey – an ongoing journey – rather than a means to grades.

Children are not simply test results or grades as politics and schools see them.

And my hope is that if yours are going through it now you can see beyond the propaganda sold to us by devious politics and support your kids towards leading fulfilling, productive lives whatever grades they get.

For there are decent, happy lives to be had even without grades.