On twitter last week a school leader (@StuartLock) posted the following:
“In another anecdote today, when promoting an academic curriculum I got informed that Music is an academic subject. Can of worms...”
“I'm a big fan of music, and want to expand it, but it's not like History or languages.”
I’m often wound up by this sort of thing (although I’ve met Stuart and know him to be a good and wise man), so this blog asks the question: is music an academic subject?
I wrote another article in The Independent, this time focusing on visas and international students:
We should be encouraging students to enter Britain, not tightening our visa requirements – The Independent, 28 November 2013
I argue that the UK will slip in the innovation stakes if we continue with our slightly OTT visa rules. You’ll have to take a read if you want to know more.
Like many individuals, I had a teacher at school who influenced me and shaped my way of thinking in a big way. She wasn’t my maths teacher, she wasn’t my PE teacher and she wasn’t even my English teacher. She taught me art.
While I dabbled in the sciences during college before returning to my natural habitat of all things wordy, somewhere along the way I lost my initial zeal for art and design. Perhaps it was due to it being the only school subject that has ever made me cry. I once left the class in tears when the pressure of my 10 hour GCSE exam was too much, and the situation wasn’t helped by my eating bacon. I’m allergic to pork.
Yet I remained in love, or rather in awe of art. I’d always been obsessed with sketching along with writing since I could pick up a pencil and this followed me right through to secondary school. Along the road I met new friends – crayons, pastels (chalk and oil), charcoal, clay and paint. The number of paints. Watercolour, gouache, and of course that primary school staple, poster paint. My love for all things artistic and beautiful, as well as my school’s lack of adequate guidance, made art and design the only elective option I was SURE I wanted to take at GCSE level.
However it wasn’t my love alone of art that compelled me to choose it, it was the support and guidance of my lovely art teacher. Not only was she brilliant at her work, she taught me the skill in my approach to art. She drew the initial talent and interest I had in the subject out of me and helped me harness that intrinsic gift and manifest it into great works. Most of all she treated me as her equal, something which I would say is almost invisible in those who teach. I spent many classes having conversations with her that didn’t revolve around school or work, but instead current affairs, life, and the world and the ways of its human inhabitants.
I’ve taken a convoluted road to get to what I’m trying to put across. How many children do you know, who talk with an unbridled passion about art, aesthetics and design? How many times in the past year of Michael Gove versus teachers, have the words ‘art and design’ sprung up? Each time we argue about maths teaching, or about how many authors from the 19th century our children will read, or about phonics, or about whether five-year-olds should be taught to code, or whether there aren’t enough black people in our history curricula, I notice the absence of any meaningful dialogue on art. The subject is conspicuous by the very nature of its omission, and it breaks my heart.
While the importance of literacy, numeracy and enriching subjects found in the humanities is obvious, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to fall asleep on the importance of art. That’s ‘art’, the singular, not ‘the arts’, a title which tries to clump a variety of subjects together into one worthless heap. I am not here for that.
Art, a little like maths I guess, can be seen as a universal language. Practised as one of the earliest human activities, and contributing to entire cultures. The teaching of art helps children understand the world that they live in, but through a much more subtle way than say, history. The process of creating a ‘thing’ gives an innate sense of pride upon completion and as one of the few subjects where there isn’t necessarily a ‘right answer’, it gives more room for experimentation and expression. Backed up by no empirical research at all, my wholly unscientific view is that the gradual disappearance of art from our education discourse has contributed to a gradual decline of appreciation for culture.
I am so grateful that my wonderful teacher helped me during my formative years to work at sharpening my creative crafting skills. She did it with such vigour and passion. We need to make sure we’re shouting about how great art is when we’re talking about education, with the same fervour.
I think I realised all those years ago that studying a subject can quickly make one dislike their passion and that the way forward was to pursue it for pleasure in one’s spare time. Hopefully I’ll find my zeal again. Who knows, I may just end up enrolling in an art class and start my love affair with art all over again. Most of all I just want educators to start talking about art’s contribution to the development of a child’s creativity – with genuine zeal.
Hello and hope those of you who involved in education had a nice half term/reading week. I know I certainly enjoyed my couple of weeks off , tumblr-ing and having some birthday time to myself. I’m back though and I feel like asking some questions. Answers are very welcomed.
This morning while checking my Twitter feed, I spotted the education editor of the Sunday Times, Sian Griffiths, post a tweet about children who are ‘set to miss out on classics’ as English Literature GCSE becomes optional. This was based on an entry in the letters page of the site (please note that the site is paywalled).
Another user responded to her claiming English Literature has always been optional.
Is this true?
Through my own experience, I did a GCSE in English and a separate one in Literature. Both were compulsory and both were fun. English was categorically not called English Language: I remember this as my teacher nearly told me off for calling it that. English Literature though was called English Literature. It was fun but English slightly pipped it in the fun stakes as I didn’t like poetry. I never got poetry.
So, I have a few questions:
- Is GCSE English Literature now optional?
- Has it always been optional?
- Is there such a thing as GCSE English Language?
- Is the above the same as GCSE English?
- If they exist, are GCSE English and GCSE English Language optional at GCSE?
- Why is there such a thing as English Lang and Lit at A-Level?
So many questions so little time.
Broadcast Belle fact: English is a member of the Indo-European family of languages. This means that it is a distant relative of languages such as Hindi. Cool huh?
I seem to have taken a cheeky early half term break from this blog. Due to extra writing for other outlets, my high pressure nine to five, and an unhealthy new obsession with Scandal, this blog hasn’t seen a post in nearly two weeks. Well I’m here again and I’m discussing slang.
An academy near Croydon has apparently ‘banned’ slang words from its school in a bid to improve student speech.
The first thing that occurred to me when I read this was ‘wow, that’s draconian’.
Right now, at this very moment in time, there are people completely illiterate in this country. Similarly, there are children struggling to write and speak in what many consider ‘proper English’, known by some as Received Pronunciation. How many of these people would you say are illiterate because of using words like ‘bare’ or ‘innit’?
While many children have difficulties in using English (demonstrated by Britain’s recent dismal ranking in basic skills) banning words won’t necessarily change how they choose to communicate with each other. In Linguistics, there is something called a sociolect: a social dialect and way of speaking shared by a particular social group. Whether you ban certain words or not, when a child goes back to friends who share the same social background, more often than not they’ll ease back into that shared sociolect.
The key in making sure children have these so-called ‘soft skills’ (a phrase that seems to be en vogue right now), is not to penalise them for speaking a certain way, but to encourage them to learn when it’s appropriate to use certain registers and when it’s not. (Perhaps more effective English teaching in the early years too, but hey, I’m no expert). Somebody can swear like a sailor, but they don’t necessarily go ahead and use rude words in church. Yes it must be frustrating to mark an English book riddled with ‘innits’ and ‘woz’s', but there are also children out there who do not write the way they speak. To think that every user of slang will blindly walk into an interview room and speak crassly is patronising at best and deeply insulting at worst.
I used to say ‘crips’ when I was little. What do you expect – I was a small fresh African girl. Yet it didn’t detract from the content of my mind. Policing language isn’t the way forward, and even if one believed otherwise, it just doesn’t work. Language is constantly evolving (that’s why it’s so beautiful) and words that have become part of mainstream, ‘acceptable’ English, were once slang terms – like the word jazz.
I kind of admire and understand what this school is trying to do, but adults have been mourning the degeneration of language by the youth for centuries, and they’ll continue to do so. That won’t be stopped by banning a few pieces of vocab here and there. Forcing language change is generally as successful as keeping a candle going in the rain, and as explained before, language constantly evolves, so new slang words will only replace them.
One more thing that’s also been overlooked is that many children eventually grow out of cringeworthingly using slang; sometimes it’s just a rite of passage which one cringes over when mature. Besides, it could be argued that English isn’t a proper standardised language anyway, but instead a complex creole. But that’s a whole different conversation.
Broadcast Belle Fact: Many people think Croydon is part of Surrey but it is officially a London borough.
I haven’t listened to Choice FM for years. Not properly anyway.
Like many of my age mates, we spent most of our formative years listening to the station. The big stories for us were always heard on Choice first: I remember learning of Aaliyah’s death from the station and only found out that Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes had died after I heard a girl from the year above me say that she had ‘found out on Choice’.
Before the omnipresence of what is now termed ‘urban’ music, Choice was just that – the choice for young (and old) black people or those who enjoyed music of black origin generally. There was of course the then pirate station Rinse FM, and DejaVu FM where many of us would listen to Frisky DJ in the mornings, but Choice somehow felt more ‘official’ with its legitimate licence, awarded specifically to cater to African and Caribbean audiences. Back in the day, it was London’s only black owned urban station, but all that history was given away for the pursuit of money. The station grew increasingly annoying in recent years, with tracks being played ten times a day, and other music genres creeping in. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear the likes of Jason Derulo on the station, clearly a pop musician than any respectable form of RnB for example.
The departure of Jenny Francis, the lady of soul, was when I believe the Choice FM identity was on its last legs. For those rare nights of insomnia, listening to her show – especially the slowdown zone – was comforting as much as it was engaging. The problems she answered during the agony aunt-esque part of the show were compelling, even the fake ones. Her move to Heart radio told me something was up, and I was proven right.
This week Global, the company that owns Choice, announced the launch of Capital Xtra, a new national radio station superseding Choice FM.
DJs have been axed and others such as dance superstar of the moment Avicii ( I LOVE him) have been brought in. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve loved dance music since I had doo doo plaits, but the amalgamation of various genres of dance with various genres of contemporary music of black origin seems lazy. I appreciate that dance and black music are intertwined. In my opinion, the synthy sensuality of ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer sounds like the first proper electro track, and disco music seems to be a forefather of much modern electronic music. Don’t quote me on that though as I am by no means an expert. However what I’m trying to say is that the lumping together of dance and MOBO (music of black origin) to make urban will mean many genres will suffer as a result. I highly doubt that reggae, soca, gospel, jungle and trance will even get a space in the new ‘urban dance’ focused station. Watered down ‘urban RnB’ and samey ‘dance pop’ will probably be the provisional running order. I hope that it doesn’t become the reality.
Goodbye Choice FM.
I’m going to try to keep this stream of consciousness brief.
This week the Daily Mail has been making its own headlines again. Many people seem to have an opinion on this, including myself. I shared some of these opinions on my Facebook. Any expressive young person worth their salt knows that this is a futile attempt at promoting debate, as a discussion often turns into semantic tic-tac-toe. Opinions aren’t facts, ergo they usually can’t be ‘wrong’ but tell that to the Facebook community. Anyway I digress.
The Daily Mail ran a piece accusing Ralph Miliband, the father of Labour leader Ed, of ‘hating Britain. Well I hate the way that the Daily Mail writes most of their stories. It tends to denigrate the poor, blame the ethnic minorities and make fun of those who aren’t married. It’s not just that: it isn’t aesthetically pleasing. Those fonts look like misfortune. People have been rightly horrified at the attack on a dead man, and the basing of claims around the musings of a teenager’s diary. Maybe I should hide mine. Yes, I kept all my diaries from when I was 14-16.
Let’s be real now. The Daily Mail is one of the most successful newspapers in the country. They know how to deliver what their readers want, when they want, in the most remarkable manner. Some would say it is the newspaper that caters to its audience the most effectively. However, this success does not mean constant fear propagation is right.
We could natter about this all day. What I’m wondering is where was the calling out of the sub editors? The headline was crazy (albeit expected; I went to journo school and to be fair, the headline is meant to grab attention), and whoever subbed the later piece which included Ed Miliband’s right of reply has a lot to answer for. Giving someone the route of redress, then mockingly using it by surrounding the reply with even more insults is childish. Distortion and twisting of facts is something which makes people distrust journalists these days and it isn’t fair.
The actions of the Mail on Sunday, a separate paper, demonstrates why regular people are hating journos as much as politicians now. Sneaking reporters into a memorial service does not constitute vibrancy in the press, and unfortunately, whether you’re in broadcasting or papers, even more regular folk are going to hear the word ‘journalist’ and gurn. Is this the News of the World crisis part 2? I really hope not.
Turns out this wasn’t as brief as I wanted.
Broadcast Belle Fact: The Daily Mail was first published in 1896 and is known by some as a ‘blue top’ – a middle market paper distinct from the ‘red top’ tabloids and the ‘quality’ newspapers
I’m a little bit in love with TEDTalks. Those of you who follow me on Twitter may be aware that I shared my love for a Talk which looked at 30 not being the new 20. This week I was delighted to see a Talk given by Angela Lee Duckworth, which focused on education.
Angela questioned whether doing well in school and life depended ‘on much more than your ability to learn quickly and easily.’ She eventually hypothesised a predictor of success in schoolchildren: grit.
Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals.
This made me reflect on my time at school, and I have to say that Angela may have a point. I’ve harped on about this time and time again, but my girls’ school did not feel like a great institution for teaching; rather a depressing place that left school leavers institutionalised. There were children that struggled, but importantly, some of these students also had much potential. It was a constant conundrum for teachers to try and figure out how best to make the most of this. Life’s knocks eventually got to some of these girls and their lack of self belief, coupled with an unfortunate decision to give up was – in many cases – their downfall. I’ve come across people who like to believe that a child’s home life and situation will determine how they perform at school, but I don’t think this is entirely true.
As someone from a background that could be described as ‘disadvantaged’ (a term I detest), I know that students with similar humble beginnings are sometimes the ones most in need of motivation. Self belief is sometimes non-existent in a child, and not all children are lucky enough to have a trusted adult at home to instill confidence in them. This duty then falls to a teacher, the trusted adult at school. Does that mean I believe grit can eventually be propagated away from the home? Yes.
An intelligent child living on an estate where guns are swapped around like Pokemon cards, and is the youngest in a family of children who’ve not finished school, doesn’t necessarily have her destiny mapped out. However, if this girl, Student A, lacks the belief that she’s capable of finishing school with brilliant grades, then more often than not, she will lack the perseverance to go on. She may be able to grasp difficult topics quickly, and may have the starting point of intelligence on her side, but without the motivation to follow through, all of that potential goes to waste. It eventually did for her, as Student A is a person I knew. She ended up following a different, and not so rewarding path.
Now Student B is me. I was a child that was quite self-assured and came from a background where education is highly valued and seen as a way to escape hardship. Grit was my middle name at primary school, but when I was rejected from my first and second choice secondaries, and ended up with an ultimatum from the local council to find a school or they’d find one for me, I spent the next five years at an East End secondary annoyed, Unlike the student above, I came from quite a stable family, but my relative bitterness and laziness stifled any grit that I could have developed. Until year 10 anyway, where the reality of GCSEs hit me like a bad smell and I knuckled down in anticipation of life-defining exams. A few teachers eventually got through to me, and though my grades were good, they were nowhere near my full potential.
The two examples above display the need for grit. Children may already possess intelligence and the ability to learn quickly, but lack the self belief like Student A. Children may be bright and confident but be overly easygoing like Student B. However intelligence and confidence can’t be compared to good old grit. A child understanding that persevering every day, every month for years, is probably the first step in that child achieving their educational goal.
Teachers, is grit something you’d consider essential for students making the most of their potential in school? Or is there an ingredient more essential in the recipe for school success?
Broadcast Belle Fact: Isi Ewu is a delicacy eaten in the east of Nigeria. It literally means ‘head of goat’.
Many students across the country went back to school this week. Along with the recent drop in temperatures – somebody bring me my thermal socks – torrential rain and return of Strictly Come Dancing, the back to school season represents the arrival of Autumn. In this week of school mayhem, I discovered a wonderful gem called Educating Yorkshire.
I was aware of this show’s predecessor Educating Essex, but didn’t tune in to that particular series. I can’t tell you right now why I didn’t. Maybe I was busy wasting my time somewhere. However this week’s introduction to Mr Mitchell ensures that I won’t be missing a week.
Some of the things my peers – and admittedly myself – used to get up to were horrific. My former head of year once referred to us as ‘pond scum’. I have a few friends right now that are teachers, and the similar stories they come out with wouldn’t be out of place in Thornhill Academy, the Dewsbury school featured on the show.
An argument in the school toilets between student Kamrrem (who I have a soft spot for, despite his naughtiness) and another boy was of particular interest. The allegation that Kamrrem was a victim of racial abuse was one of the interesting conflicts of the show. How was Mr Mitchell going to tackle this one? With pathetic cowardice, putting on his best political correctness hat? Absolutely not. He even felt no way to use the alleged racial slur on camera and I immediately liked that about him. Unafraid, even though all the cameras were on him and his school. He took the time to interview several witnesses to said argument, and after admitting that he was no Poirot, Mr Mitchell couldn’t find enough evidence to back up the claim made by Kamrrem. Eventually both boys were punished equally. Mr Mitchell immediately got my seal of approval.
He also had the thumbs up from bolshie schoolgirl Bailey. A year 10 girl with a ridiculous amount of make-up, she seems to be a cheeky, smoking, slightly naughty student, that the teachers all really like and respect. How has she pulled that one off? By being quite clever deep down it seems. After being caught using ciggies and subsequently sent to isolation (we called that place ‘the unit’ back in my school) she tried to persuade a fellow smoker caught in the act, Kayleigh, to just join her in punishment. Bailey tries to appeal to her, pleading that if Kayleigh wants to be a lawyer, then she ‘doesn’t want to get excluded’. Kayleigh doesn’t listen (more fool her) but it showed an amazing amount of forethought by Bailey. As the show went on, any initial impressions that the young girl with the famous eyebrows made you have, were gradually broken down, like an enzyme working on a complex carbohydrate.
The star of the show for me however was the adorable Ryan, a wise head on young shoulders. Delivering baritone line after line of genius, he has ambitions of being a prime minister, an actor, a policeman or fireman. He doesn’t want to be a soldier though. Ryan says that he would never shoot another man: ‘a bigger man walks away’. The child is obviously fabulous. Consequently, I was not impressed at all by the teacher who asked Ryan if he’d want to be a soldier when predicting a life of greatness. The schoolboy gave a very honourable answer. With corkers such as ‘I’m intrigued’ and ‘well that’s the dream’ coming out of the 12-year-old’s mouth, I can’t wait to see more of him.
Though television shows tend to perpetuate the worst types of school stereotypes (looking at you Waterloo Road), Educating Yorkshire is a breath of fresh air. There are genuine moments of glee in a setting often perceived as glum. Although much of the behaviour in Thornhill Academy is challenging, and ultimately shows the difficult side of educating, it’s good to see the happier moments as well. Mr Mitchell is obviously passionate about his job, and it’s clear that the teachers want the best for their students. However the best thing about this show is seeing the children that actually like and respect their headteacher. Youngsters are not shown in a positive light nearly enough in this country.