Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Layer 203 . . . Education, Getting Real . . . and Catching Them Young

Getting Real

Heard recently on the radio - Jonathan Aitken confessing that prior to being thrown into prison he was "puffed up with too much self-centredness, self-importance and pride". It was always clear to all Aitken-haters that this was the case, but it seems that prior to his prison-induced epiphany and his apparent redemption Mr Aitken was completely oblivious to his condition.

The condition he talks about - self-centredness, self-importance and pride - we commonly think of as egocentricity, which is the condition Zen tries to address. Watching last week's programme on Boris and Dave made you very aware that the whole point of places like Eton and Oxbridge is to inculcate egocentricity, self-importance, pride, etc, and thinking about the change in Aitken's character and his new self-awareness it makes you wonder whether the people who run those places and the parents who send their kids there to be indoctrinated and bigged-up should be considered as child abusers.

Even the act of allowing Eton to be run by cabals of senior students, who emotionally and sometimes physically abuse 'fags' - whether or not this still happens officially - is tantamount to complicity in abuse. And yet Eton continues to stand at the pinnacle of our school system, with student places there impossible to obtain unless you're a very wealthy individual who puts your child's name down for admission the moment he's born.

Aitken actually had one hell of a childhood - especially regarding his physical health - The last thing he needed was to be sent to a school that specialises in abusing pupils by filling their heads and their hearts with notions of superiority and elitism.


Catch Them Young - Drop-outs at five?

At the other end of the educational, social and political spectrum we have on the front page of Guardian Education this week a story about a unit for badly behaved Foundation stage kids that's been set up in a centre for vocational training. 
“Many projects seek to identify potential school drop-outs early, and the latest targets five-year-olds. But should we be labelling children so young?”
“In a big, open warehouse space inside a smart, black glass and blue-framed building on a new industrial estate . . . This is Vox 4 Tots, and its creators believe it's the country's first vocational education scheme for pupils as young as five. With about 1,000 primary-age pupils now permanently excluded from schools each year, the programme aims to use early intervention to nip behavioural problems in the bud."
How can we take this stuff seriously? Vocational training for 5 year olds? Please! The dictionary says 'vocational' training is to do with a specific occupation, trade or profession! And aren't we supposed to be in an era where generic, non-specific skills, aptitudes and attitudes are meant to equip young people for a life in which they'll move between many different occupations and trades, if not professions?

As for the idea of “nipping behavioural problems in the bud” – YOU DON'T NIP BEHAVIOURAL PROBLEMS IN THE BUD, YOU MUPPETS! What you do is create serious places of learning where the social, emotional and spiritual intelligences can be properly developed year on year.
Each week, 12 pupils will spend a day here, learning a range of vocational skills including construction, hairdressing and catering.
As if!
The thinking is that if children are unable to settle at school and are badly behaved or can't communicate with classmates, there are probably deeper issues that need resolving. One of the jobs of the staff here is to give the children space to express themselves. "From our side, it's giving these little ones self-esteem, self-confidence, to start engaging them so they can begin to read and write," Ladapo says.
Hello Guardian! Planet Earth to Guardian! Of course there are fucking deeper issues here that need “resolving”, you dimwits! So how come mainstream schools can't “give the children space to express themselves”, can't build their self-esteem and self-confidence, etc? Surely that's what decent schools are supposed to do?

Away from the melee, she produces some of the notes she's received about her new charges: "Challenging – needs constant reminders about tasks and accepted behaviour; poor social skills; little respect for females both in class and at break; fights and chews his T-shirt; doesn't feel the need to be in school."
Er – doesn't most of that that sound like most young children, in most deprived areas? Maybe we should close down most Foundation stage classes and send most of the kids to industrial estates for vocational training.
Vox 4 Tots was conceived after local headteachers called a meeting to discuss how they could cater for this small but significant number of pupils who simply did not cope with school. Some failed to connect with teachers or other pupils, some threw tantrums when asked to sit still and work. Ladapo, who was already running this vocational centre, teaching construction skills and catering to secondary pupils who came in three days a week, suggested the younger ones should come to her.
The headteachers discussed how they could cater for them? You cater for them by making sure the bloody schools are fit for purpose, and making sure teachers and support staff are doing the right things to develop social, emotional and spiritual intelligence!!! It's not rocket science, and its not brick-laying and cake-making either, as useful as those basic skills may be, one day.

She says she has always harboured this dream – by the time those big, awkward-looking teenage boys outside the door arrive, it's too late to really help them, she argues. This way, they can catch them young. Each child will spend time each week with a counsellor, and in time, parents may get involved, too. Ladapo would like eventually to work with whole families, rather than just with these tiny children.
Well it's too much to expect the bloody schools to do that stuff, isn't it!!
"What we try to do is to give them ambition," Ladapo explains. "You know that thing – I want to be a fireman, I want to do cooking. It's instilling goals for life. It's the same as we do with the older ones. We make it clear what they have to do to get to where they want to be, to get an apprenticeship."
And mainstream schools can't do this either?

The older children who attend the centre learn a range of construction and catering skills. Ladapo confesses she has had to exercise a little more creativity when setting up activities for the younger ones. The hairdryers in the little salon are toy ones that work but don't heat up too much; the catering room is equipped with brightly coloured plastic ovens and cooking implements. Everything has had to be inspected to ensure it is safe to be used by a five-year-old. "We've been carrying out risk assessments on plastic bricks," Ladapo laughs.
Ho ho. Sounds like a typical “home corner”? I guess schools no longer have them.
Despite these restrictions, the children will do real practical tasks. The construction students will make toys for them to paint and take home; cakes will be prepared to be baked in the centre's main kitchen, and the tutors who supervise the older boys will teach them to make little brick walls.
Ahhh! Little brick walls! That'll do the trick.

But there are questions about the wisdom of such programmes. Professor Alan Smithers of the University of Buckingham, a leading expert on vocational education, thinks it may give the wrong impression of what vocational courses are for. "One of the problems with vocational education in this country is that it tends to be used to occupy the less brainy, or the children who are otherwise difficult. And that seems to me to be the wrong emphasis," he says.
Brainy? This professor still talks about brainy, less-brainy and non-brainy?
"The real engine behind it should be employers, designing something they want. It should be for young people who have practical skills and want the chance to use them. My feeling is that we should address these social and behavioural problems by concentrating on teaching these children to sit and to listen and take their turns in conversations, and to respect other people, rather than sending them off to something vocational."
Well said, professor. Innovative stuff. And we definitely want employers to take charge of the school curriculum.

There's a wider question, too, about whether removing children from the classroom when they have only just started school might reinforce their negative images of themselves.
Well, yes!

Does Claire like school? " I like school," she says, breaking off to look at five-year-old Brad, who is in her class at school. "But he don't. He thinks school's boring." Brad, who looks as if he didn't sleep much last night and has dark shadows under his eyes, slumps forward with a wordless sigh so that his forehead rests on the desk. Then Sam, six, pipes up: "I like school, but I'm coming here because I've been a little bit naughty. I don't know what I do wrong – maybe I'm bored."
Seems pretty likely to me. Anyone in favour of non-boring schools?

Ladapo is distressed by this: "It makes me sad that they told Brad he was coming here because he was naughty," she says. "I do think if you label a kid for long enough he'll become the label."
Quite right. They should have told him he was going there to learn to be a bricklayer or a pâtissier. Proper, positive labels.

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