VIEWS From the pen of… ROSSIE STONE

This month, in our regular look at authors working in UK education, we hear from ROSSIE STONE, founder of Dekko Comics, who explains how he turns school subjects into comic strips.

Dekko Comics uses short comic stories to turn school subjects (from Maths to Literacy to Mary Queen of Scots) into visual entertainment. The comics utilise the comic-strip format to the benefit of a more effective educational experience. They are based on a technique that the founder used on himself to overcome his own struggles with dyslexia, and helped him get his first academic Grade A in an exam.

First, they break all the

information into digestible chunks by nature of the comic panels and speech bubbles, (where you cannot have too many words per box or bubble). This stops the reader getting overwhelmed by text, which is especially helpful for those who struggle with lots of text.

But being a comic, the technique also uses distinct visuals and points

of narrative to help the reader follow and remember the story with. By remembering the details of the story, they are also remembering the educational info - which is all part of the fabric of the story and fused in with the dialogue.

Some of the comics are like direct lessons, narrated to the reader by

a hosting character, whereas others more subtly are just a normal comic with the educational information being part of the story.

The stories are wacky and humorous. This is to make the story as fun

to read as possible, and Dekko Comics use jokes to further help the reader engage with the material, as well as help them understand it and give them something to remember it by. For example, when teaching about verbs, there might be a story of a spider trying to catch a fly: it DIVES from its web to catch it but BUMPS headfirst into a tree while doing so!

Dekko Comics also include further details to help with the

educational experience: from a dyslexic-friendly font, to coloured speech bubbles in certain comics, to colour-coding and highlighting the keywords of a comic like one might do when revising for an exam. In most Dekko Comic stories, the key facts are listed along the footer of the page to help organise and remind the reader of the info they learned in that story, as well as giving them points of reference to read over the comic with. This is especially helpful if using the comics when revising for a test.

But the strongest asset of Dekko Comics by far is its entertainment

value. By focussing on entertaining the reader before educating them, the educational experience ends up being far more effective because it breaks down all resistance barriers, creates a positive experience, and feels much more like something the reader might choose to do in their spare time. So much so, that a large portion of Dekko's fan base are those who might struggle with conventional school methods such as reluctant readers or those with dyslexia.

If you were to describe the Dekko Technique in a phrase, as well as

why it works, it would be: "More Than Just Words".


A return laced with hopes and trepidations

In our regular update from BESA this month, Senior Policy Analyst ALEXANDER SHEA looks ahead to the new school term and calls for increased funding to address Covid-19’s legacy.

“The worst thing about Communism,” the Polish anti-communist

dissident and newspaper editor Adam Michnik famously quipped in 1989, “is what comes after.” As lockdown ends and a new academic year begins, teachers could be forgiven if their hopes for the coming months are laced with a sense of trepidation. The reopening of school gates might represent a step back towards normality and away from the semi- permanent urgency of lockdown, but in many schools, it risks unleashing Covid-19’s emotional, educational and fiscal aftermath.

In May, the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic

Performance noted that, for every month of school closure in the UK, HM Treasury would need to invest an additional £1,350 per pupil in order to stem long-term scarring effects on children’s educational and emotional development. While this figure was met with disbelief at the time, it now seems oddly conservative.

Between 2003 and 2019, UK governments provided children from

poorer socioeconomic cohorts with an additional £10,500 in lifetime school funding relative to their wealthier peers. The effect was to close the attainment gap at age 16 between children on free school meals and their peers by 12.8%. Yet, according to data published by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) on the 1st of September, the attainment gap has increased by 42% over the last six months alone.

As the Children’s Society has warned, even before Covid, children in

lower income households were more likely to live in unstable households, experience abuse or trauma and have poorer access to social services. If in February 2020, 1 in 10 children in England had an assigned social worker, the Government’s “Vulnerable Children and Young People Survey,” published in August 2020, notes that these figures look set to increase even further with persistently disadvantaged communities disproportionately impacted.

Over the next months, schools look set to assume the role of the UK’s

fourth emergency service, triaging pupils’ mental health, developmental disruption and learning deficits. The question to be asked is whether we have provided schools sufficient resources to do so. In July, BESA published research projecting that, by the end of August, non-reimbursed Covid costs would lead schools to exceed their 2019/20 budgets by an average of 8%. According to our predictions, primary and secondary settings would be entering the 2020/21 academic year with aggregate deficits of £260,000 and £680,000 respectively.

Unfortunately, our predictions seem to have borne out. The teachers’

union NASUWT reported in September that aggregate deficits across primaries and secondaries had reached £280,000 and £700,000 respectively. Even if we took a conservative estimate, and postulated that Covid-19 related costs accounted for only 5% additional spend, schools would still need an additional £2.38 billion on top of the already promised £1 billion “catch up” funding just to make ends meet.

Faced with these grim forecasts, teachers might understandably feel a

weary, resigned sense of inevitably. However legitimate calls to “get schools open for the economy” and “exams back on track” may be, we cannot simply seek to return schools policy to its pre-Covid slot in society. Politics, as Nye Bevin famously said, is the language of priorities. If public spending during the pandemic has totalled £190 billion, the largest schools cash injection to date has totalled just £1 billion. It’s time we rectified this imbalance. 13

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