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Power to the teachers

Psycho babble

THIS ELECTION is hotting up significantly, putting the voters and, in particular, key groups such as teachers, in a strong position to demand changes, and have their needs met. Interestingly, too, feedback from the televised

debates between the party leaders indicated that education was high on the priority list of the selected panel of viewers, and that approval ratings soared when David Cameron suggested increased discipline in the classroom, and new powers to teachers. I don’t think we can underestimate the importance

of this proposal – for teachers, students and the overall education system. Too often classrooms become a free-for-all, with teachers rendered powerless to deal with persistent disruptors and offenders, and students smug within what they perceive to be their “rights”. Exclusions are not supported by education authorities, undermining teachers and heads still further. What’s more, parents all too often take the side of their children – right or wrong – giving schools little support when they need it. It’s important to note that the

system, as it has evolved, does students no favours. At a time when they are seeking to create their identities and establish their values in a process known as “individuation”, teenagers constantly push their boundaries. This is a normal process, and the normal,

healthy response is for figures of authority to establish these boundaries, and hold them firm. In this way, teenagers can grow and develop within the confines of healthy, appropriate behaviour. The problem is, of course, when teachers become powerless to discipline effectively, the boundaries become increasingly elastic, and the natural instinct of teenagers is to stretch them further. This is compounded by the fact that discipline at

home is often absent or ineffective, which means that at no point in this essential period of development do teens have the boundaries they need to establish a decent set of morals, values and behavioural codes. Furthermore, teenagers (and children of all ages)

Teach it like Torno!

Come fly with me

“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society. The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute.” Gil Stern.

What a start to the term – 12 teachers absent

including the head! We’ve got staff in such diverse countries as Egypt and Uzbekistan. I know we are a language college, but this is ridiculous! Here’s hoping you have had

a fantastically relaxing Easter and that you found time to rest. I don’t know about you, but I was shattered at the end of last term, which seemed to go at a break- neck pace with little respite. So Easter was a fantastic opportunity to recharge batteries and prepare to face the challenges of the summer term. It is the subject of student

motivation that I want to focus on in this column. This time of year is when the

pressure is on for both teachers and students and when we need positive direction. Right now, students need to get the highest levels of encouragement possible if they are going to achieve. Sometimes colleagues and pupils alike can be pessimistic about what the future holds and, for many communities, low standards and underachievement has become the norm. The reality seems to be that the only way of securing social advancement is through making the most of the opportunities that education offers. Over the next week, politicians will be

informing us of their intentions to create higher standards in the classrooms up and down Britain. However, it will be us, the teachers, who will be at the forefront of ensuring students attain their goals. It will be teachers who will be convincing students that they can achieve and it will be those same teachers who the students will look back on as being their main reasons for success in later life. This is why it is such a privilege to be a teacher.

Every day we complete another part of the jigsaw, however small, until eventually we see our investment

grow. Success in GCSEs or A levels is not just about teaching to the test. It is about inspiring individuals and making them realise that there is no limit to what they can achieve. Moreover, success cannot just be measured by exam results. Seeing students working effectively as a team is a success in itself. The fact is, however, that now more

than ever your students need you. They are going to be anxious, scared and under pressure and the person they are looking to for guidance will be you. Students need to know that you believe in them. In preparing for

exams, I tell my students that having nerves is a good thing as it shows a desire to do well, but being scared may indicate that something has not been revised properly. Therefore when they revise they need to cover everything. Moral blackmail, I know, but it seems to

work. I always find it helpful on the day of the exam to give five-minute pep talk. I tell them that whatever they think they know or don’t know now is the time for belief. They must believe they are going to achieve otherwise there is no point taking the exam. I also tell them that I will be proud of them

whatever result they get. So there is the challenge for you. You need

to inspire more than ever over the next six weeks. Martin O’Neill, the manager of Aston Villa Football Club, says that before each game the players should feel 10-foot tall. The same goes

for our students before an exam. Now is the time for them to fly high. I can already hear you humming the tune: “Come fly with me...”

• David Torn is professional tutor and an advanced skills teacher at St Edward’s Comprehensive School in Essex. He is the London Secondary School Teacher of the Year 2007 and is passionate that the purpose of education is to change lives. He returns in two weeks.

need boundaries in order to feel secure. Insecurity undermines healthy development, but it also creates a feeling of powerlessness that encourages the “loose cannon” mentality. A teenager who is given the power to become a little tyrant does, eventually, suspect that he is an unlovable person – even if he does wield a lot of power. And once that label has been applied, most kids do their best to live up to it. Moreover, kids who are not disciplined at home

eventually start searching for people who will act upon what they say they believe, and who will follow through with both promises and threats. They begin to test every adult authority figure, hoping to find someone who will provide a baseline for the absolute values upon which they can build their lives. This is an unconscious process, but very much a part of every adolescent’s development. Too often, kids find this security

in gangs. This may seem like an anomaly for a child seeking security; however, in many cases the strict guidelines that define these gangs and the united front they present (including ensuring

that certain language, dress and codes of behaviour are upheld) do provide a sort of inflexible discipline and values that a teenager

needs. There can be no doubt that

providing children with a voice, and a route to the appropriate authorities when they are in trouble, is important for the overall safety of every child in the UK. However, the policies that have been extrapolated from this have been canalised to the extent that they have removed the

elements that provide children with the most security and, perversely, trust. They have effectively driven students into gangs, removed key role models, and disallowed the construction of the boundaries that teenagers need within the school environment to grow, develop and, importantly, learn effectively. So when these politicians begin to suggest that changes can and will be made, ask for details. Stand

• Karen Sullivan is a bestselling author, psychologist and childcare expert. Email



The imminent implementation of the

Curriculum for

Excellence in Scotland has caused fierce debates. Sam Phipps updates us on the reforms, and looks at the key issues

impression that Scotland’s whole Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) reform, due to be implemented in August, is behind schedule, unpopular and lacking clarity of purpose. The reality is somewhat different. For a start, a


distinction has to be made between teaching and assessment. While it is true that a new set of exams is not yet ready – the main source of teaching unions’ concerns – that could not really be otherwise until schools have had time to put the content in place and fine-tune it. This will be a gradual process in the classroom over

the next few years. In fact, it is already well under way to varying degrees across Scotland and within local authorities. Brian McAlinden, headteacher of Castlemilk High,

in Glasgow’s biggest housing scheme, said: “We’ve got a programme of implementation that started from 2008/09 and runs all the way to 2013/14, so it’s not big bang, it’s evolution. “As long as we’re organised and ready for the new

first year cohort this August – which we will be – that’s what matters. As that cohort works its way through school, we will be planning for them and their journey through school and national exams.” Like many schools, Castlemilk High was already

embarking on changes when CfE was first mooted six or seven years ago. The key goal was to make young people more engaged in learning in an area notorious for its high level of joblessness among teenagers. For example, the school gives pupils driving lessons

and other practical classes to help keep them motivated for the classroom and to go on to college, university or a job. Four years ago, 34 per cent of pupils at Castlemilk

High and neighbouring St Margaret Mary’s signed on the dole after leaving school. Last summer that had fallen to eight per cent. Attendance levels have also risen from 82 to 90 per cent. “Curriculum for Excellence is not a brand new

teaching strategy but it prompted us to look at what’s in our courses and see if we can dump anything or improve anything,” Mr McAlinden added. The next three or so years will thus be transitional, with

pupils in current S1 upwards still working for existing SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) exams including Standard grades, which will be replaced in 2014. “For the first time we are changing the horse and

cart round – the curriculum is driving the assessment, whereas traditionally teachers have the exam papers and teach towards them,” Mr McAlinden said. It will therefore take a certain amount of trust on

the part of teachers, pupils and parents that the eventual qualifications will fit the bill, he says. But Jim Docherty, depute general secretary of

the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA), says this is asking too much of teachers. “Secondary teachers are entitled to know what they will be teaching and that is simply not clear at the moment,” he said. “We need more time to deal with that issue. “The first three years of the new curriculum are

supposed to be general rather than the first two years as is the case now. That’s a huge difference.” It would make sense to postpone CfE at secondary

level but push on with implementation at primary, he added. Michael Russell, the education minister, has


promised to listen to SSTA members’ views on any further postponement – CfE was originally scheduled to start in August 2009 – but he has ruled out “delay for delay’s sake”. The only area on which there is consensus is the

need for major improvement on the academic front. Though many individual schools excel in various ways, the latest Scottish Survey of Achievement, in 2009, showed an alarming decline in appropriate reading and writing ability between the end of primary and the early years of secondary. Overall, the proportion of pupils demonstrating

“well established or better” reading skills at the expected level for the stage was over 75 per cent for P3 pupils. This decreased gradually to just 40 per cent at S2. As for writing, it fell from 70 per cent at P3 to only a third by S2. In maths, over 85 per cent of P3 pupils were judged

to have “well established or better” skills in the 2008 survey, the most recent for that subject. By S2 it was down to 30 per cent. Moreover, attainment by pupils in deprived areas

was some 20 percentage points lower than for children in more affluent areas. Brian Boyd, emeritus professor of education at

Strathclyde University, agrees that CfE poses more of a challenge to secondary than primary teachers because the higher age group’s curriculum has traditionally been exam-dominated. But rather than

SecEd • April 29 2010

NLY MONTHS to go; teachers saying they’re not ready; the minister for education on the defensive; academics criticising the entire concept. Judging by some recent headlines it is easy to get the Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16
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