If 30 days hath September, then said month also hath the smartest kids, according to all sorts of research. One of these sources comes from a report by the Institute For Fiscal Studies. Experts from the think tank found that children born in the summer were at a disadvantage compared to their Autumn born classmates, and suggested that children born earlier in the school year should have higher pass marks to settle the inequality.
If I were to express what a ridiculous idea this is in its entirety, then I’d be here forever. Instead, why don’t we give some short, sharp, chunks to illustrate why it’s infuriating:
- It’s patronising: John Maynard Keynes, George Orwell, Barack Obama. These are all summer babies that have not only done pretty well for themselves, but demonstrated that a baby born in the hotter months doesn’t have to be resigned to a life of stupidity. These may be anecdotal examples, but life isn’t perfect. This reminds me of positive discrimination. I’d be mortified if I were offered a job because I am a woman or a black person – surely summer children would feel the same if they were boosted with extra points?
- This isn’t the full story: I’m sure many teachers would argue that support from parents and guardians as well as poverty levels play a larger role in the potential of a child. Somebody born in July or August from a socio economic background and parents keen to encourage would do better at school than a September or October baby, from a poverty stricken family that did not take an interest in their studies. I’d be willing to bet my next paycheck on that.
- Your birthday can’t be helped: You can’t choose your family, and guess what? You can’t choose your birthday either. The West appears to have a sort of love for facts, figures and statistics, each year churning out all this data. Not everything has to be measured. From recipes, to IQ, measurement seems to be an integral part of life over here. Then again, this is coming from an African who naturally wants to chill out and take life as it comes. Why talk about something that can’t be changed?
- Not all fingers are the same: This little saying that I got from my mother is my favourite way of expressing that there is no such thing as equality. Pursuing ways to make the entire human race ‘equal’ has given us a whole heap of problems, but I’ll stray not too far into politics and other such inflammatory subjects. Short of developing a surgical procedure to make every child have the same capacity for learning and understanding, there isn’t a way to make all children, Autumn born or otherwise, have a higher propensity to acing exams. We’ve turned into a nation of mollycoddlers and pursuing equality in the wrong areas.
Have I missed anything out? What are your additions? Do you completely disagree? Let me know.
*Disclaimer* I do not believe the above just because I was born in October.
BroadcastBelle Fact: Some languages do not have separate terms for blue and green.
A few people have recently asked about the books I would recommend to get an overview of education policy making. Below are the ones I have found most helpful. I would love for people to add their own recommendations in the comments as I'm always looking to read more on this topic.
Reinventing Schools, Reforming Teachers - John Bangs: This was the first 'overview' book I read.
Some time ago, I tweeted about the importance of free school meals. I had been following the twitter account of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for a while, as they had released an interesting report around poverty. I expressed a few views about the importance of remembering children that were coping with poverty and how free school meals are a massive lifesaver. One of the replies to my tweet was remarkable, saying something along the lines of ’well if they’re poor they should get a packed lunch then’. It apparently did not occur to said tweeter what a ridiculous reply this was.
Many children live below the poverty line in Britain and these difficulties put enormous strain on families, especially when it comes to providing a filling and nutritious lunch. With many local authorities paying for various school meals (including the recent breakfast scheme for children in Blackpool), it’s important to not only remember that local authorities still have an important role to play in schools, but that some families rely on this help desperately.
I know that at my secondary school a few children fraudulently received free school meals, but the majority of those on free lunches needed them. This is arguably even more important for those of primary school age. It may not appear that way, but believe it or not, many youngsters would resort to stealing. I know that this indeed was the case of a particular girl in my younger brother’s class at school.
Another twitter user (it was obviously quite a twitter filled evening for me) pointed out that free school meals are also an important indicator of deprivation in a particular school and area. If recent rumours of the government cutting funding for dinners are true, this is frightening. Would it make poorer pupils even more disadvantaged? The jury is out, but I’ve seen first hand how free school lunches provide much needed help to families. Let’s hope this is one cut that doesn’t go ahead. This is one story I’ll be keeping an eye on.
Broadcast Belle Fact: Pineapples are classed as berries.
It probably hasn’t escaped you (thanks to the blanket coverage) that Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female Prime Minister, died earlier this week.
*Sidenote: Everyone keeps saying ‘first woman Prime Minister’. Someone tell me if that’s the correct term.*
It seems to have brought back strong feelings of the British population from both her supporters and people who could not stand her. Rather than the nitpicking of certain policies, rows about how the country is still suffering, and arguments of whether she should receive a chunk of state money to partly fund her funeral, the most interesting (for want of a better and more respectful word) piece of discourse I found, was the Twitter feed of One Direction’s Harry Styles. Harry was born in 1994, but impressively seems to keep abreast of current affairs. Having heard the news of the former PM’s death, he expressed his own short epitaph by tweeting ‘RIP Baroness Thatcher x’. What followed was a steady stream of ignorance, some of which is included below.
I’d hoped that the key demographic here was tweens rather than simpletons.
This wasn’t the only instance of ‘young’ people being scrutinised in light of the news: several people took to streets around Britain, sharing ‘Maggie death cake’ at various street parties celebrating Thatcher’s death. Of course, no death should be greeted with a round of applause let alone champagne and congratulatory slaps on the back. The celebrations were distasteful to say the least. Yet much of the blame seemed to be heaped onto young people, with many crying out that ‘most of them weren’t even born when she resigned’. This may be true, but I’m yet to hear anyone argue with a child that says Churchill was great. Funny that.
Anyway, instead of always having a go at younger people for their ignorance, we can curtail the number of halfwits that leave secondary school by possibly teaching children politics. Perhaps introducing politics and political systems at the lower end of primary school is excessive, but it’s remarkable that politics or government isn’t a mandatory subject in secondary schools. This again demonstrates the smooshing together of important subjects such as sexual education, law and civil liberties and politics into the pseudo subject called citizenship, or even worse, PSHE.
Children need to be taught about British government and politics. How else will tweens and young people be able to argue that Mrs Thatcher took away free milk for young schoolchildren, if we don’t show the flip side and inform them that Labour also did it to secondary pupils? We should tell them that the Iron Lady championed liberty and freedom, but encouraged a ban on broadcasting Gerry Adams’ voice on the BBC. (Censorship doesn’t belong in a free society, but maybe that’s just me). Then again, the youf’ of today may just stare blankly before asking, ‘who’s Gerry Adams?’
Whatever anybody thinks of the late PM, Baroness Thatcher was electrifying in the House of Commons; she even remarked during a debate, ‘I’m enjoying this, I’m enjoying this!’ She was all about the detail, and would crucify somebody who hadn’t prepared well enough when battling her in the lower chamber. You know what would be a great start to teaching children politics? Taking them on a trip to the Houses of Parliament, to see the famous Palace. Seeing as I took about three billion trips to Southend as a child, there’s scope for mixing it up a bit, at least at my old school.
You can’t deny that the Iron Lady had her grisly bits. Apparently disgusted by Apartheid, yet calling the ANC terrorists, getting cosy with questionable political figures (you know, your Pinotchets and your Bothas) and setting up the worst tax in history EVER – these should still be taught in schools. Perhaps it’s best to leave it till the double digit ages of years five and six, as I don’t quite know how cherub faced babies will digest such horrors. It can be argued that teaching youngsters about these unsavoury parts of her premiership, can explain why she is equally loved and loathed.
Overall, I don’t know how much of a great leader Mrs Thatcher was. Part of that may be because she completely divided the country (does a good leader do that?) and part of that may be because I am too young to have ever really understood that time. I’ve always tried to rectify this, by reading more about politics and ideology each day. Maybe it’s time to look at teaching kids about this fascinating subject earlier on. Even the grisly bits.
Broadcast Belle Fact: the difference between a ceremonial funeral and a state funeral (which is reserved for sovereigns or commoners held in high esteem) is very small. In a ceremonial funeral, no parliamentary motion is required and the coffin is placed on a gun carriage pulled by horses. A state funeral has the coffin on a gun carriage pulled by sailors.
Kim Kardashian. One Direction. Rihanna. These are all names that seem to crop up time and time again in newspapers, online and on television. When one thinks about ‘media saturation’, these are probably the names that would come under its dictionary definition. You would think the words ‘television centre’ would be incongruous with media saturation. Well maybe up until this week.
I hardly listened to non Budget related news this week (slap my wrist) but I must have heard a thousand times that BBC news had made its last broadcast from television centre after the decision to sell the building. Of course it’s emotional for everyone involved. Heck, I even gave it ten seconds of my brain time, remembering walking out of Wood Lane station and passing the famous BBC building on my way to a hell hole job in River Island. The coverage was just a bit too much. Am I wrong?
This is a quick post that will pose a quick question: was the coverage self centred and over the top, or justified considering the iconic status of the building?
Broadcast Belle Fact: Hurricanes rotate in opposite directions in the two hemispheres
How many poor children did you know at school?
A strange question this may seem, but I came across an article on the BBC news website, where it was claimed that a third of the poorest pupils do not have internet at home. This item was astounding in that this fact even had to be stated in the first place. Even more insulting was that the phrase ‘official figures suggest’ was used. How on earth is it news to some ears that, shock horror… not all students have internet at home. Hold the front page(!)
It wasn’t so long ago at all that I was at school, but it was a time when books were still valued and the internet was seen as a luxury tool used to aid education. Now, I see my sister coming back from school with mathematics homework that is only accessible from the internet. I almost wanted to weep when she asked for my laptop and said she ‘needed’ it otherwise she would not be able to complete her maths homework. I know that cloud computing has arrived now, but surely asking youngsters to go online to access the cloud to work instead of giving them square filled exercise books, is taking the technological advancement too far.
Joking aside, this whole news story made me think deeper about the subject of poverty in education. How can some people be so ignorant to realise that hardship is real, and worse still, need a report from the Office of National Statistics to demonstrate this. Are we so caught up in our own ‘first world problems’ as they are called now, to realise that there are households up and down the country who don’t have enough to pay for heating, let alone a broadband package? Is it really so surprising that schools in an area of the UK have piloted a scheme to provide breakfasts for children who for one reason or another arrive at school hungry? Does the constant consumerism buzz detract from the uncomfortable fact that some families still have to receive vouchers to use as tender for school uniform? Poverty is real dear readers and no amount of data or ‘statistics’ can really explain how difficult it is to grow up in a poor household while trying to study. Only human awareness will combat this.
What can teachers and education professionals do? Look out for signs that a child may need help. If a pupil continually arrives empty-handed, without that weekly bit of internet research, don’t chastise the child. Ask if they can think of another research method. You never know if they only have one computing device to share between four children as is the case in my home right now, or if they even have a computer or laptop at all. Be sensitive. A child doesn’t want to be different from their peers. Don’t point out that they may be lacking in some way because of the absence of some sort of expensive gadget. Find another way to handle tasks if necessary, even if it means grouping children to complete research together. Most importantly, do not be ignorant. The fact is poor people exist, and not just in monetary terms. It may seem ludicrous, but there are children who may not have access to an actual thing such as a computer or even access to a guardian who values schoolwork or encourages them.
My sister has access to the internet, but I wonder of those in her class who may not have internet at home, or the money to pop into the local internet cafe. Of course, the school library is available, but it is not always an option when one wants their 11-year-old to come straight home instead of trying to navigate their way through the dark-by-4pm streets in winter. An understanding of these things can make a difference and help a child to be supported with the right types of help.
A big part of a child trying to learn is his or her background, however this is not always a prerequisite for success/failure. Coming from a certain socio-economic background does not always mean a child will have a certain outcome. I never had a desk until I went away for university and completed 14 years worth of homework (and coursework) on the floor, but I was not condemned to an unsuccessful ending. Yet this is because of the aspirations I held for myself and most importantly, these were underpinned by the aspirations my mother held for me. We must always encourage a child to believe he or she should do their best and can achieve anything as some don’t only lack money, but also belief.
Children come to school with dirty and outgrown clothes. Children can steal from other pupils’ lunchboxes to prevent themselves from going hungry. Children may not participate in the non school uniform day because they can’t afford the pound for charity. I witnessed all of these things happen to people when I was at school. Poverty in education is no news to me. I can only hope that this strange news story has increased awareness of child poverty, to ensure it soon won’t be news to others.
Happy new year.
Broadcast Belle Fact: There are many differing views on the types of poverty and various definitions, but not one has been definitively agreed so far.
I received an email on Friday evening from somebody at the Guardian, a response that I had been waiting so long for, I actually forgot about ever receiving a reply. It did get me very excited and made me think of how wonderful it would be to work at a fashion desk. The dream of many young females when they begin to have the first urge to be a journalist, is to be a fashion journo. Admittedly, this is a huge assumption, but one that has some foundation in truth, but I digress.
Fashion Journalism is a phrase that throws up many stereotypes: high heels, air kisses and the constant ‘oh dahling!’ I then began to think of all the desks you could ever find at a publication and all the amazing correspondents and big editors to be found across a variety of reporting areas. At the BBC you have Stephanie Flanders, the economics editor and Robert Peston the business editor, each heavyweights in their respective sectors. Then at a newspaper – the sports desk, the features desk, the news desk of course. Every subject you could think of has a hot-shot journo covering it – technology editor, media editor, political editor – and subsequently thousands of students dying to cover them. These topics are the big tickets. Yet there is a subject that despite being so important to the future of our nations, does not get the same journalistic profile as economics, sport, business, technology or even entertainment. Why is the profile of the education journalist virtually non-existent in this country?
The fashion journalist. The sports editor. The war correspondent Each of these is synonymous with at least one human face. Anna Wintour, Jake Humphrey, and Martha Gellhorn to name but a few. So why is it so hard to name any education journalsits that have the same profile as these individuals and reporters with equal gravitas who are found in other news areas, such as economics, politics and technology?
Maybe this is symptomatic of a deep-seated problem within this country and its attitude towards education in general. Instead of giving school lessons that arm youngsters with applicable life skills and encourage real scholarly debate, we just have rows about a two tier system (without a resolution ever being reached), striking teachers and give too much airtime to wars, entertainment/celebrity and calling for independent inquiries into anything and everything. The neglect shown towards education issues (not the same old ones churned out on the news) is that shown to education journalists in the UK. Type into Google financial journalism, sports journalism or fashion journalism and you will see relevant results and dedicated pages with advice on breaking into these sectors. Do the same with education journalism, and you will see a list of institutions in which to study journalism or reader questions on how much education one needs to be a journalist. No such help pages for wannabe education journos.
Maybe education journalism will never attain the same status as other types of reportage, but hopefully there others out there interested in flying the flag for this crucial part of journalism and look to continue the work of Reeta Chakrabarti and seek the truth as the late Mike Baker did. If you are out there, do not give up.
This evening I was watching the Teaching Awards. It was brilliant to see teachers who were hardworking and even better to see ecstatic youngsters in the audience, proudly waving banners for teachers that had clearly made a positive impact on their lives. It filled me with such joy, and I ended up watching the whole show, which was hosted by Clare Balding.
I’ve had my fair share of rubbish teachers (mostly at my secondary school) but I also had one fantastic teacher during that time. She was a wonderful art teacher called Ms Chamberlain. She inspired me, believed in me and she also had the important trait of just being a pleasant human being. She had bumped my eventual result up by a whole two grades by the time I sat my GCSE art exam and I still have the beautiful card she sent me. Watching the teaching awards made me think of her and maybe the combination of having watched Matilda earlier on, got me thinking of what the recipe is for a great teacher. What is the difference between a fully competent teacher like my intelligent GCSE English teacher and the equally competent but amazing Ms Chamberlains of this world?
- Actually likes children - unless one wants to lecture adults, there is absolutely no point of going into teaching if you can’t actually stand young people. This is by no means the most important ingredient, but I think people who hate children should stay away from teaching. Trust me, the children pick up on it, so if you think you resent them, save the kids from seeing a future Ms Trunchbull.
- Patience – there is something to be said for this virtue. Not only is it necessary to have this trait for your own sanity, I believe the children’s respect is earned from a teacher that can keep their cool and think before resorting to anger. Sometimes people don’t always understand a particular topic, and if a teacher can be patient and see it through until the child ‘gets it’, then they are a great teacher.
- Passion – passion for the subject they teach, passion for bringing the best out of others and obviously a passion for results. Exams are a big part of schooling and a teacher who can be passionate about getting the right results from their class can pass on this same feeling to their students.
- Good sense of humour – let’s face it, most teachers work with children, and that can mean a whole lot of silliness. If you can’t handle a child taking the mickey out of you once in a while or can’t see the funny side of things, then your daily life is going to be a struggle story. Fart noises are funny; don’t pretend that they aren’t for the sake of ’asserting your authority’.
- Good listener – sometimes a teacher is the only responsible adult in a child’s life. If there is nobody at home to listen to that child, then you have to be ready to be that appropriate adult who they can speak to. Empathise with them and show your belief in their capabilities, as it could be the making of a child.
- Moral compass – having said the above, it is advisable to know your limits. After the parent or guardian, a teacher is probably the most important person in a child’s daily life, but this does not mean you can cross the boundaries. Know that this is a relationship of trust between an adult and in most cases, a vulnerable person. Do not go in all guns blazing if you suspect the child is in trouble, but if there is cause for concern, use your instincts and act wisely
- Knowledgable about their subject – There is no point of a teacher that can’t teach their subject, full stop.
In my opinion these are the most important ingredients in the recipe for a great teacher. I mentioned earlier on about my great teacher being a pleasant person. The points above include those that I think constitute a great human being.
Any qualities I have missed out?
Broadcast Belle Fact: The longest escalator on the London underground network is at Angel tube station