Archive for May, 2012

The Joy of Making

May 29, 2012

I write a lot about joy and finding ways of being happy in this world. One of the best ways is through making things, of using your hands to create. Ringo Starr was mocked this week due to his un rock star like utterance about the joy of growing vegetables, but it is germane to my point this blog.

Doing things with your hands is wonderful, making things with your hands makes you feel good: it brings you joy.

I came upon the idea of food being made with love when I read Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel (well before it was made into a movie). I was taken by that idea that love goes into food preparation. Feeding others should be an act of love, of caring for others – whether it’s dinner for the family or entertaining friends. Something cooked by you is infinitely better than bought made from the shops. In fact why have people over if you’re not going to cook it yourself?

Making things for others is an act of joy, wether it is cooking or sewing or making a card or birthday cake. Growing vegetables or fruit in your garden and sharing them with family and friends is an act of making that brings joy to others.

Making for the sake of making or making for yourself is simply a wonderful thing to do. Making is using your hands to create. Using your hands is a primal thing to do – like reaching into the earth to prepare the way for seedlings for flowers or food. Using your hands to knead bread, chop garlic, beat eggs, shape hamburger patties, shape and carve wood connects you to a more essential way of being. Using your hands connects you to truthful things in life.

We can’t all be artists but many of us can be fine craftsmen – we can make a dress, knit a jumper, make a candle, paint a picture, create a garden bench. Many of us indulge in these pastimes as hobbies, enjoying being creative, enjoying making something for ourselves.

Being admired for our skills is a bonus. The making – creating of things is where the joy is. Go on, do something with your hands. Build a boat, grow roses, paint your own walls, knit a scarf, cook a cake from scratch following an ancient recipe.

I promise, you’ll feel so good, so full of joy you’ll wonder why you left it so long to discover such a simple pleasure. So, this coming break make something from nothing, from raw materials: make something with your own hands. (Images from Private collection – from Top – raw silk lined coat, lemon jelly cheesecake, quiche lorraine, over-sized man’s jumper, Pal’s craft – wax candle, paper penguin, clay Garfield, star waistcoat, scarf in progress)

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Keep Calm and Jubilee on

May 26, 2012

Summer has finally hit London and the circuses are all on their way to town. It’s just what the masses need in these straightened times – the Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee.

Well, it helps distract from the drought, Greece, the EU meltdown, the Leveson enquiry, the Tories increasing destabilisation and the ever diminishing disposable income of the squeezed middle as the wrong things rise and the right things fall away.

Let’s to Lizzie 2. I have to admit two things. One of my heroes is Elizabeth 1 – too much historical BBC drama as an impressionable girl. Liz 1 is forever Glenda Jackson: proud, imperious and tough as hell. The second is that being from the land of convicts I really don’t care a great deal about the royals and do see them as essentially a tourist attraction. But I did enjoy The King’s Speech and one of my enduring memories is a picture of Elizabeth in her yellow dress on our primary school hall wall . So a bit conflicted…

You can’t really argue with Liz2 as an impressive piece of work. She’s now been sitting on that throne for 60 years – as long as Victoria, another one to be admired. I liked the story about her sulking at Bath for years – a great one for holding grudges, our Vicki. And it’s been a bit of a turbulent time – true Elizabeth came to ‘power’ (what power does she really have, poor thing?) after WW2 but the world has hardly been a peaceful place in that time. She’s presided over perhaps the most energetic and dynamic 60 years in many a millennium. I bet she barely recognises the world today as the one she claimed as queen in 1952.

Her family are hardly a joy – those boys of hers haven’t covered the crown in glory. Charles is seen as a bit of an eccentric fool, Andrew – once heart-throb to many – has degenerated into a man who keeps dubious company, Edward mercifully fades away. Anne, God bless her, does the right thing – serene, seemly and regal. In fact, just like her mum. Lizzie did endure quite a lot with those silly ex-daughters in law, Diana and Fergie, who simply didn’t know how to behave did they? She must love Kate – who knows how to smile and stay shtum.

You’ve got to admire 60 years of never saying the wrong thing, and Elizabeth never has. Not once (even though we can accept a misjudgement of the public sentiment over Diana). Her manners, her speeches, her public performances have all been impeccable. Is that because Phil manages to put his foot in it so often? Is that where the boys get it from?

So, I doffs my colonial hat to Lizzie 2. 60 years in one of the world’s most exposed and probably unrewarding jobs. She’s still working, still smiling, still a colourful presence in our firmament. I love her hats and her style. I’m happy to support her celebrations and all she brings to the country – especially Phil, who has proven to be quite an amusing chap, his gauche foot-in-mouth efforts now smiled upon by nearly all of us, feeling quite benevolent towards our pair of geriatric royals.

A woman who loves dogs and horses and a man like Phil can’t be all that bad. Happy Jubilee to all.

(pictures courtesy Google Images)

Summer – mid week poem

May 24, 2012

Summer

Is a beach

 

The sand

The silk between your toes

The sun hot on your skin, browning

The early waves breaking gently on the shore

The waves crashing in from the ocean

The Northerly too soft for a feather

The sea breeze just right for my burning skin

 

The water divine

Deep blue, endless, fathoms below

Warm bubbles, cool thrills

Floating, ducking, shrieking

Wet wet wet

 

Summer

Is young love

 

First love at the beach

Lost trinkets

Casually thrown to the jaws of the sand

Hands held walking home

A kiss

As the golden sun falls beneath a silver moon

 

Summer

Was when I loved you most

When I thought I would love you forever

(Images courtesy Google Images)

Avoid the Exam Hysteria – 6 ways to support your child and stay sane

May 22, 2012

Perhaps a bit late seeing as exams have started, but it’s never to late to ensure your child makes it through the exam season in one piece.

GCSE’s are upon us, and KS2 SATs have just gone. Re-takes occur in January, early entry in November – there’s always a school exam running somewhere in this country – indeed I’ve never been anywhere so keen on exams and therefore susceptible to the on-going joys of exam stress. Find herein some useful and practical advice to steer your child through the abyss and avoid insanity along the way.

Success in key exams comes from a year (and the rest) of steady work and support from home along with good stuff from school. Hopefully your child has kept up to date, completed all assessments, has all the books and access to the requisite web-sites, is getting a meaningful revision program from school and actually knows something.

What can a caring parent do?

Ensure everyone knows when the exams are and that your child has a study timetable/plan of what to study in what order and when. Some subjects are more important than others. We know English and Maths take precedence for GCSE, but your child should ensure that the subjects they intend to take for A levels are prioritised so they ensure the grade they need to keep their place in 6th form. Pin the exam schedule in a prominent place!

Keep your eye on what they are doing. Ensure that study is occurring – check them in their room – are they just sleeping or playing? Check their computer time, is it subject related or Face-book and other assorted time wasting activities? Don’t be misguided by music – it helps a lot of kiddies concentrate. Apparently heavy metal is favoured by many G&T and high achievers.

Make sure your child has some free time. Your child can’t spend all day at school and study all the rest of the hours God (or Richard Dawkins) sent them. They need time off – to relax, veg out, watch TV, be with their mates, sleep. All things in balance so they don’t burn out too soon in the exam season.

Make sure they are eating and sleeping properly. No-one can concentrate on the back of a carrot and three hours sleep. Make sure your child is in bed at a reasonable time – the same time every night is best in terms of ensuring a good night’s sleep. Make sure they have three good meals a day and that fruit and protein are included. Protein is very good for the brain. Fish especially. Our baby girl thrives on salmon – indeed for her previous Maths exams we had a week of salmon for dinner. It worked – she was 2 marks off an A!!

Offer rewards and incentives – money, food, trips, whatever it is that floats your child’s boat. Our study board has a list of grades and their monetary equivalent. It works for us! Plus chocolate and a few hours of unfettered computer time between exams.

Be there for them. This simply means being aware of what exams are on and asking them if they need any help from you (you know more than you think) and always asking how they went afterwards, offering sympathy if they think they went badly. They need to know you care and are interested – it boosts them no end.

Your support and care is what matters most now – all the teaching that matters is done. Now you and your child must ensure that the year’s work is not in vain and your child gets the results they deserve so they can go onto bigger and better things. (Images courtesy Google Images)

Life – some thoughts

May 20, 2012

Sleep, sigh, have wonderful sex

Love, laugh, be happy in your life

Weep, regret, be sad for the things you’ve lost

Live life strong and bold: big and brave

Don’t waste a moment of it

(Image courtesy Google Images)

Recipe Time – Thai Chicken Curry

May 19, 2012

This recipe comes from my sister-in-law, as prepared and cooked by delightful daughters – eldest one when she was at home, now the baton resides with beloved baby girl. This is our Saturday night treat. A light style aromatic curry – good for those who thrive on flavour not heat.

All up it takes about an hour from start to finish.

Check out the power point for pictures of the process (PP done for GCSE Speaking & Listening presentation – you might find the facts slide interesting!)

Girl meets Curry

Ingredients

4 pieces of chicken breast (skinless)

100g Fine green beans

3-4 Boiled potatoes

2 Garlic cloves

Knob of ginger (small)

1 Onion

200ml Coconut milk / cream

½ Chicken stock cube

1 tsp of the following: Cayenne Pepper; Ground Coriander; Cumin; Paprika; Turmeric – mixed in 100 mls of warm water

 

Process

1. Peel and chop potatoes – cook until tender but not falling apart

2. Top and tail beans – cook until tender

3. Mix spices and stock cube together in water, leave til later

4. Chop ginger, garlic and onion – fry till golden brown

5. Chop chicken – add to cooked ginger-garlic-onion mix. Saute until chicken is lightly browned all over – not too long as you want the chicken to be tender

6. Add mixed spices to pan, stir in, leave simmering slightly for 2 minutes

7. Add cooked and drained potatoes and beans to mix – stir through

8. Add coconut milk – possibly a smidgen bit more water to help the consistency of the mixture. Stir through thoroughly, leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally

9. Cook rice in your normal way, while curry is doing its simmering thing

Serve curry over rice. Serves 4 adults.

Enjoy

Mid week poem – Monsoon – part1

May 16, 2012

Beginnings

Come with me.

Join me now

As I wander home through the streets towards my house.

A collection of streets and curcuits, crescents and cul de sacs

on the edge of a small city

on the rim of a large wide deep blue sea

at the tip of a large empty island

far away from Southern ills and fears and bigotry and narrowness.

Walk with me

Past houses, units, flats and townhouses

Parks, shops, the school

Breath in the warmth, the blackness

The sweet, almost sickly smell of the air

The perfume of frangipani, gardenia, bougainvillea, jasmine

Mangoes flowering in the branches, rotting on the ground

Bat attacked.

Stroll with me.

And listen

Let’s listen

Shh now….

 

 

The night is down

The dark is gathering, rolling in thicker and thicker

settling down over the streets, the people at the end of their day.

The sun slips quickly from sight

leaving streaks of violent pink and blue

as bats fly in.

 

 

Quick bat

Black bat

Squawking bat

Scavenging bat

Black poo shitting bat

all over my path, my car, my pool, my left-out-overnight-washing.

Clouds slowly quietly roll in under the moon

Already huge and copper suspended in the inky sky.

Streetlights fizz into life

Hidden under palms, over grown branches that throw

lurid figures across the road

Frightening the young boy racing home on his bike

Late from karate training.

Late for dinner.

Too old to believe in ghosts and creeping figures in the night

Too young to be sure.

The howl of his neighbour’s dog makes him start,

quiver in his thonged feet

The squeal of his front gate makes him look back

Look behind

Look into the night for the stranger, the mugger, the murderer

who may lurk there

waiting

hoping for one such as him

young, innocent

Mummy’s love, Mummy’s boy

To rip life, love; all that he is

from his family

from this world.

 

 

But stop.

This is not a dark story of crimes against children,

of deeds against the innocent.

This is not about the Beast without

But the Beast within.

 

 

Come in search of dreams and fears

Pry inside houses, homes

Inside bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, lounge rooms

Inside heads, hearts, minds

Without need to pry hard, no need to be spies

Voyeurs

Predators on the sins and desires, crimes and evils of

ordinary people

As they prowl their homes,

lie barely asleep in their beds

Their cries, moans, whispers will ease out of them

Escape

Find life and voice in the air on the streets outside

take wing under a turbulent sky, heavy with expectancy

sopping up the electricity, the tensions below

Waiting for release

in the early hours of the morrow

when all but a few of our players

lie asleep

– if not soundly or peacefully.

In bed they will murmur, moan, stretch a little, roll over, and wake

for a moment as the rains tumble down

crashing on the roofs, hissing slightly on the night-cooled-asphalt-roads, slipping in through open windows and louvres

Startling dogs and cats from their sleeping spots in gardens

Rousing fruit-filled bats from the trees, sending them back across the night skies, scaring possums, waking children

Cooling the world

Calming the street

Allowing a few hours of peace and still before the day begins.

 

 

But I am ahead of myself.

The morning lies hours away, will not occur for some time

Let’s to the night.

The night.

Black night

Velvet night

Smooth night

Magic night. (Darwin images courtesy Google Images)

So, what do we mean by Gifted & Talented – as posted in the Guardian this week

May 11, 2012

My daughters are both exceptional at Art; my son has always been a Mathematical genius. My girls have won prizes for Art; my boy has won an academic prize every year of his life, including university scholarships, the latest being a PhD scholarship to Oxford. Are my kids G&T?

What do we mean when by Gifted? Gagne (2003) says: Gifted students are those whose potential is distinctly above average in one or more of the following domains of human ability: intellectual, creative, social and physical.

Talented students are those whose skills are distinctly above average in one or more areas of human performance.

Gagne’s key word is potential. He believes in the power of environmental factors, that being natively smart isn’t enough; a child needs support and guidance to achieve his/her gifted potential. Supporting and encouraging gifted kiddies is exactly where home and school collide.

 

How do you know if a child is Gifted?

Teachers, but mostly parents, can identify gifted children through their own observation and instincts. Often we know if there’s something ‘extra’ about a child: their questions, their insights. For my son it was his instant grasp of patterns and numbers, such that his Kindergarten teacher had to stop him answering so other kiddies had a chance. For guidance Betts & Neihart(1988) list 6 types of gifted students (link below), with particular needs. This identification grid can be a useful starting place for conversations between parents and school.

If we fail to identify G&T students we risk damage to individuals who are so turned off by rigid education that they opt out, sitting well below the attainment radar, on their way to dropping out. We risk damage to society by not encouraging these students to fly and value add to society through their exceptional abilities.

Be clear – giftedness is not necessarily found in attainment or a steady march through the top of the grade/level bands, or in exam results. Attainment levels can mislead on many fronts, a clear example is EAL students. Top performance in your school may not match with top performance in another school and IQ scores do not automatically equate with achievement. As a parent you need to know what being on the G&T register actually means…

Sadly schools often ignore the needs of students with exceptional potential, or miss the under-achieving gifted child due to inadequate identification and pressure on resources (money, time & staff can only go so far). We can’t afford to assume G&T students will be all right, are easy to spot, just need more work, and don’t need the nourishment that other SEN students need.

I bet there are inner city kids who are G&T but, while they are identified primarily on attainment, won’t be accurately identified or supported and therefore will miss the much vaunted social mobility boat. To that end, the growth of Academies could spawn a growth in rigorous identification of students to better facilitate student’s achieving their true potential, which is what Academies claim to be about.

 

What can you do as a parent?

Encourage their interests; focus on reading. Play games such as Scrabble, Articulate, Boggle; lateral thinking games are excellent. Extra classes, personal tutors, clubs, travelling. Valuing, understanding and supporting your child is essential.

Fighting on their behalf may be necessary too.

A story is appropriate here.

Jo was a high achieving student with a particular flair for English. In year 11 she had a teacher who found her challenging questions to be under-mining and as a consequence humiliated her in class. Jo began failing English and started bunking school. Noticing this, her parents got in touch with the school, agreed to an independent English program tailored to her interests and needs. Jo returned to excellence in her work and was happy to return to school.

 

What can schools do?

Schools must show the G&T child they are valued, giving them appropriate academic challenge; and chances to be together, to feel less isolated. The following strategies do work!

Acceleration. Students can be accelerated across the year or within subjects.

Differentiation – an over-used term, it means creating something to extend the child in your class; richer or more challenging tasks

Teacher – student matching. Matching personalities as well as learning styles

Mentoring/cross age tutoring – Matching younger or older students with similar interests/abilities to enhance learning of both

Independent Negotiated Programs – Student interest and skills determine the scale and scope of the project, negotiated with staff regarding resources, etc

Competitions – individual, team internal external – there are heaps of them!

Gardner says: “I don’t care what intelligence people have. I care whether they can do things we value in our culture. What good is it to know if you have an IQ of 90 or 130… if, in the end you can’t do anything?” We must make sure G&T kiddies get the chance to do something fabulous.

 

Further reading:

Betts & Neihart (1988)

http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10114.aspx

Practical Tools – Understanding Giftedness (the link to Gagne doesn’t work but the PDF files do and provide useful information and strategies

http://www.learningplace.com.au/deliver/content.asp?pid=31758

Gardner and Multiple Intelligences

http://www.tecweb.org/styles/gardner.html

http://www.infed.org/thinkers/gardner.htm

http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/mi/index.html

Gagne and Differentiated Models of G&T

http://www.curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/policies/gats/assets/pdf/poldmgt2000rtcl.pdf

http://www.curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/policies/gats/assets/images/dmgtcolor.PDF

Plus

Levels of Giftedness

Mildly Gifted –                          IQ 115 – 129

Moderately Gifted –                         IQ 130 – 144

Highly Gifted –                         IQ 145 – 159

Exceptionally Gifted –            IQ 160 – 179

Profoundly Gifted –                         IQ 180+

 Some Gods in the G&T Pantheon

1905 Binet – Introduced the idea of ‘mental age’ & created the first structured intelligence test

1978 Renzulli – Developed the Three-ring Conception of Giftedness: the interaction between above average general intelligence; high levels of task commitment; and high levels of creativity.

1981 Gardner – Developed the theory of Multiple Intelligences; linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, body-kinesthetic, the ability to notice and make distinctions; and access one’s own feelings about life

1983 Tannenbaum – Developed the Psychosocial Definition of Giftedness: giftedness = potential; talent = developed abilities. Five factors interact: general ability, special ability, non-intellectual factors, environmental and chance factors

1985 Gagne – Developed the Differentiated Model of Giftedness & Talent: the child progresses from giftedness (high potential) to talent (high performance) through the learning process, assisted by intra-personal and environmental factors

+ Bloom and that invidious taxonomy – ignore it at your peril!

This appeared in The Guardian on Monday 9 May 2012 – http://www.guardian.co.uk/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2012/may/09/teaching-gifted-and-talented-pupils

Social Mobility: Australia v England – a bit of a rant

May 9, 2012

Social Mobility in the UK lags behind the rest of the world – who is surprised at that? Denmark and Australia are two countries where if you are born poor you have a better than decent chance of making it up the food chain to a successful life. Now, I know virtually nothing about Denmark – other than Prince Fred married Mary Donaldson, an ordinary Australian girl, which must have seriously helped her social mobility, or his – but I do know a fair bit about Australia and feel experienced enough to offer some comparisons on the gap between social mobility in Oz and the UK.

First of all, the gap between rich and poor in Australia is nowhere near as vast as it is in Britain. We have no royalty or massive indolent indulged group at the top. Most uber-rich and successful Australians have got there themselves – usually the product of social mobility (well most of us began life as criminals so how much more socially mobile can you get?). Most of our super-rich are media barons or mining magnates – have been for some time. Yes, we now have dynasties therein – Murdochs, Packers, Hancocks, etc but build on the back of work and sweat and not a lot of university educations in the founding generations. Fortunately for the burgeoning ego amongst this lot, every once in a while on of them comes utterly unstuck and ends up in jail. Most Australians are enjoying the current discomfort felt by the Murdoch gang.

Witness Alan Bond, the epitome of a self-made Australian. He was a painter with ambition, got into land deals, made a fortune and it was his syndicate that first won the America’s Cup from the Yanks back in 1983. He was a national hero, a testimony to hard work, self belief and ambition. He didn’t go to university and was feted by his countrymen. He blew it though: too many dodgy deals and ended up in jail for a while. He landed on his feet again but this story is a reminder to those who over-stretch their reach and forget about the law. Alan Bond is a good lesson to Australians on many levels. Dream, believe, work hard but stay within the law, or you’ll get yours. We love justice in Oz and no-one’s too big for that here.

Celebrity culture in Australia is nowhere near as invidious or all pervasive. We have our footy heroes and movie and rock stars, but they don’t earn the money that a Beckham or a Rooney does. They’re more likely to be Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett, far more the actor than the star – still one of us, still accessible, even if living OS more than at home. Even Kylie, one of uber-stars is one of us – she got cancer and has troubles with her men, so very much mortal. Yes, we indulge in reality TV and kiddies dream of easy riches quickly gained but most know it’s not likely and the only way they’ll have a life is through a job.

Our politicians are as useless as the English but don’t come from an exclusive club that went to private schools and elite universities. We have some clever pollies, but most of ours do not come from the privileged elite– they tend to know the price of milk and they avoid the entrails fiddling in education that is favoured by the likes of Gove. A Michael Wilshaw simply doesn’t exist in Australia. We also avoid the plethora of Sirs and Dames and have limited respect for those with such titles – it keeps the playing fields and work places more even, more democratic. More based on merit, not so much connections.

Let’s to education, then as a main lever for social mobility. In truth I never heard the expression ‘social mobility’ until I moved here in 2008. In my naivety I thought schools were about preparing children for the world of work and to be decent individuals who would contribute positively to the world and lead a happy life. It didn’t mean everyone had to go to uni (or be a failure if they didn’t) and it didn’t mean schools were responsible for all the ills in society. (Although to be fair to Australian education systems – federal and state – they have, like their British cousins, believed this too. If only teachers were better then we’d all be rich and happy and nothing terrible would happen to anyone ever again – nor anything exciting or interesting come to that.)

Australia doesn’t have league tables, or anything approximating Ofsted, nor do they constantly inspect, observe or rate teachers. There is performance management and teachers pursuing promotion willingly undergo scrutiny, as do all new teachers into the various systems. Other than that we just get on with teaching the curriculum (constantly under review and change), marking, assessing, preparing for the next stage, developing relationships, keeping control, meeting deadlines, writing reports – doing our best. We don’t have much truck with data – that belongs to a boffin in an office somewhere. We simply teach children our subject area to the best of our ability. We expect students to take responsibility for their own learning.

This scenario describes both government and private schools (both of which I have spent years in). Unlike England there isn’t always a clear division between the quality of either camp. In the NT for years the government schools were clearly superior to any private educational establishments. In Tasmania the private sector was favoured over the government, despite A level equivalent honours results being evenly distributed between both sectors. It wasn’t just about results or getting into university – parents were concerned about the whole child approach that is the raison d être of private schools – music, sport, debating, drama, trips – that caters better to the individual child.

I’m going to say that again – Australian schools expect students to take responsibility for their own learning.

I never knew that was a radical idea until 2008, when a Year 9 child gleefully told me that if I don’t make them learn I’ll be sacked. I still have my job and that child is not at university. But that comment, flung across the room one cold January afternoon symptomises the state of play in English education. The teacher is responsible not only for their teaching but to make the child learn, to take responsibility for that child – and the other 28 in that class (plus your other 3-4 classes if you’re a high school teacher).

Ofsted fails teachers if students are not learning, if a child is sitting in your room doing nothing, off task, unengaged, for whatever reason. In Australia, the teacher does all they can – examines their own teaching, consults a senior colleague, contacts the parent (who either doesn’t care, or is struggling more with the child), negotiates with the child, does what he/she can and that’s it. The teacher is not held accountable for the child’s unwillingness or refusal to get involved in their own learning. The child has the democratic right to failure. Some do fail, leave school sooner rather than later, but some get their act together. It may not be in your class, in your year but something will go ‘ping’ and they’ll understand they have to make the moves.

This idea of personal responsibility is quite significant to me because if the covert curriculum is to inculcate certain values – which society tends to agree are worthwhile – such as co-operation, trying hard, persevering, coping with set-backs – the much vaunted resilience – then by making the teacher responsible for all that happens in a classroom you are failing the child and consequentially failing society.

You end up with what England has now – a passive underbelly which believes it is owed a living. That a job should be exciting and well paid and the employer should be grateful the employed have simply turned up to work. If schools in the UK have been running the no-responsibility approach to education for students (and their parents) for many years now this is the natural consequence. People expect to be given to, not to work for things, not to earn things, but to be given – as they were (and are) in school. The current approach simply tells students they aren’t responsible, it’s someone else’s role to make them… whatever.

Let me tell you a story from Australia, from a private school. Tim was completely off the wall in Year 9 – he hated school, didn’t co-operate in any lessons, let alone mine. He ruined my lessons, when he was there and the worst report I have ever written in my life was about Tim. His parents were educated and caring – they’d lost him too. All they wanted was that he was at school and safe until he was old enough to leave and in the meantime we hoped for some sort of miracle. Well a miracle did not eventuate but Tim made it through to university entrance subjects – we met up again along the way and while he had immense difficulties putting his now quite amazing and insightful ideas to paper he was growing up and becoming quite an actor. Between myself and his drama teacher we kept him going; she found him a course post year-12 and he was free of school, now a socialized and decent kid – a young man with prospects. He didn’t make it to uni but he makes a living and looks after himself – his friends love him and he remains close to his family. Is Tim a success story? He’s not a failure, he took responsibility for himself and lives a life independent of state support, still being an actor, if not a terribly successful one just yet.

These days I meet too many 12-16 year olds who think school is about being entertained, that if they are asked to complete a task that they deem boring they have the right to complain and refuse to do it. I meet too many children who have no idea how to deal with their emotions, who think it’s their right to be angry and sulk because they’ve been reprimanded for something inappropriate they have done or said. I meet students who have no idea about manners, taking turns, listening, respect for others and who think they don’t have to worry about such things. I meet too many children who have to be literally stood over to work, to put their pen (if they bring it to school) in their hand and put it to the paper.

I meet students who will not read. Despite visits to the library, to support from an excellent librarian, in a library with a plethora of books for teenagers, these children – and it is girls as much as boys – will not read. They’ll sit and look at the cover, pretend to read while staring out the window and someone, somewhere says this child must get a C+ in English to be able to go to University so they can move up the social mobility ladder.

The more governments fiddle with economics and education (health too) the worse they become. Australia is strong on personal responsibility – on being independent and able to look after yourself. You can be who you want and do what you want. Part of ‘The Lucky Country’ belief in self still exists. We have a healthy disrespect for authority, we hate being told what to do, we don’t care about titles. We believe in hard work, in not being a ‘bludger’, we don’t expect others to take responsibility for us.

Perhaps the difference in social mobility between Australia and the UK is more about national character than anything else. The resistance by teachers to be told what to do by successive governments, such that we can teach individually and creatively – across the states, across the government/private divide and students are not constrained by the insane examination culture that measures – well, what exactly? In Australia you learn, you don’t learn, in the end it’s up to the child with the help of their parents and the school. It’s not about the teacher, not on their own, not at all.

 

The current UK government seems to concentrate on three of the seven truths about social mobility –

1.Breaking the cycle through education…

2.Through the quality of teaching

3.The belief that University is the top determinant of later opportunities – so pre-18 attainment is key

 

Which is all well and good. But it ignores at its peril –

1.What happens at home before age 3

2.The importance of out of school time (like trips and clubs, the home environment)

3.Personal resilience and emotional wellbeing

 

These matters are not within the remit of the current educational climate of England. The relentless drive for progress, for C+ at GCSE, to pass exams means children know very little of any worth and their skills set is short term. In too many schools their grades are not their own (have a read of the TES chat rooms from time to time). League tables make this happen – make teachers scaffold work to such an extent that all students do is regurgitate their teachers words and interpretations. It is not really the teachers or even head-teachers fault, this is the system they know and even though they know it’s flawed have no idea how to work without Ofsted looming over their shoulders, tracking progress through numbers and passing exams.

Why do the English think schools need to be inspected? Is there some belief, some inherit distrust of teachers and schools, that says they won’t do their job unless someone is coming to check on them? How many professions suffer this indignity???

Take a long look England, David Cameron, Michael Gove, Michael Wilshaw – your education system is failing the most needy children. It’s not doing much for the bright ones either, but that’s another blog. Your systems do not enhance social mobility, they do not equip students for the world of work, further education, life long learning or how to be a good citizen. Have a long hard look at Denmark if you wish, but look at Australia too. Our education system is flawed for sure, but children are making it through their education to go onto better things. Perhaps that tells you something??

Social Mobility is not about schools, it’s not about teachers who can’t make students learn (learning is what you do for yourself– where you, the individual acquires knowledge). It’s much much bigger than that. So give teachers a break – look at your society, your massively unequal society, your massive inequity between the rich and poor and do something about that.

According to the Sunday Times Rich List 2012 those with a fortune between 330 – 750 million pounds have enjoyed increases of 7.8% while the poorest households have seen their income drop by 1.5%. Do you think this might impact on social mobility in this country? Do you really think any government is going to tackle this?

Don’t, for God’s sake, introduce more tests and benchmarks and hoops to jump through, especially not for the poor. Consider what to do about the fact that in the last twelve months the rich have got richer, the poor poorer – that would be the bold thing to do, the brave thing. The right thing to do. Go on, I dare you…

Lemon Jelly Cheese-cake

May 6, 2012

As opposed to the last extravagant, indulgent cheesecake recipe this one is almost diet-worthy! No, not really, it’s lovely and rich but with a zingy lemon flavour to ease over the smoothy rich cream-cheese effect. You’ll love this one too – it’s much easier and simpler to make. Recommended for dinner parties and extravagant lunches – families and friends.

My mum used to make this back in the day and my kids love this too. A general all round pleaser – perhaps not suited to kiddies’ parties but excellent for adult parties.

 

The Ingredients

2 packets of plain biscuits – a mix of shortbread and tea biscuits adds a bit of flavour to the crumb case

150 grams of melted butter for the case

2x 250g packets of cream cheese

1 tin of condensed milk

2-3 juicy lemons

lemon jelly + 150 mils of boiling water

The base

Blend or process biscuits until like fine breadcrumbs. Add butter and process until just combined – more butter is better than less, as is more mixture. Press mixture evenly over base and side of 20cm spring-form tin. Refrigerate for at least 30 mins

 

Prepare  

1. Make up Jelly with hot water. Grate rind of 2-3 lemons and add to jelly. Squeeze juice of the lemons and combine with jelly & rind – remove any escaped pips. Rind is cool, pips are not. Allow to cool a bit

2. Beat cream cheese until soft (leave cheese out of fridge for a while so its soft and easier to beat).

3. Whip chilled condensed milk until thicker – leave tin in fridge overnight for best chill effect

4. Pour condensed milk into cream cheese, mixing slowly as you combine. Add in the jelly mix – now cooler – and continue to beat gently until mixtures are all combined and a soft lemon colour – should taste sweet and tangy.

Chill for several hours – over night is best.

Serve – absolutely brill anytime of the day or night. Lovely with coffee or champagne – great mid-night snack. Enjoy.

(Pictures from personal collection)