Wednesday, 5 April 2017

An Education

I believe our philosophy of education is very much shaped by our own experience of school(ing). Just look at Gove and how he romanticises about the Good Old Days of rigour, rote learning and children getting the cane because they damn-well deserved it. I guess I'm equally as guilty of letting my personal experience influence how I think and feel about education, just in a completely different way. This post is a personal reflection on my education from primary to A's An Education...My Education...

Primary School (1985 - 1992)

I don't know who this guy is. I vaguely remember him being a sportsman though I don't think he was a 100 metre sprinter. Anyhow, this image perfectly sums up my memories of primary school. Pure joy. I loved everything about it - group work, black plimsoles, signing, art, maths, science, geography. All of it. It was FUN.  We weren't taught fronted adverbials or Jolly Phonics but we did read and write lots and lots of stories. We had spelling and numeracy tests but there was no pressure. I've no recollection of doing SATs or the furore that surrounded them back in the early 90s but I do have fond memories of: 
  • Playing Lots of rugby and football
  • Starring as Macbeth in a year 5 production (peaked  too soon as a thesp)
  • School trips to the theatre, farm, zoo and museum
  • Chalky the school ghost.
  • Winning a poetry competition for this masterpiece (peaked too soon as a poet):

Secondary School (1992 - 1997)

I hated secondary school. Mainly due to the factory-style conveyor belt of learning - lesson to lesson, sitting in rows, listening to a teacher and then answering questions from a textbook or a worksheet; passive, unquestioning and uninspiring. Now, this might work for some children but it's not how I liked/ like to learn. It's still beyond me how you can make maths and science duller than an episode of Downton Abbey but my teachers did a bloody good job of it. 

Also, the creative endeavours from my primary school days suddenly ceased to exist. We had one music lesson a week and drama wasn't even taught. That love of learning from primary school didn't make it past the first term. As such, I started to get into trouble, kicked out of lessons or just didn't bother turning up. The punitive punishments had no effect nor did the regular bollockings from teachers. So, by Year 8 I was more or less written off as being 'difficult' though I think 'disengaged' would be more accurate. 

KS4 wasn't any better. Yes, we had 'choices' but they were so limited - one language, one tech subject etc etc. So, essentially you could be really interested in the humanities but forced to choose between history, geography and RE. Bafflingly, this restrictive and dated model is still being used with the narrow choices offered by the Ebacc. The only two lessons I enjoyed were English and History and that was mainly because I had two fantastic teachers who who had never taught me at KS3 and were supportive and encouraging. I  only have two positive memories from my GCSE days:

  • Writing a piece of history coursework on the Cold War which was completely self-researched and written. I got an A. My first and only in secondary school. 
  • Being given a copy of Adrian Mole's diary by my English teacher. I still thank Mrs Rowlands for my love reading. 

Then, in 1997, something quite significant happened. At the age of 15 I got into a bit of trouble with the police. It was more The Bill than Goodfellas but in hindsight it was a huge turning point. I think life sometimes has a way of grabbing you by the collar and giving you a bloody good shake when you need it most. By 'life' I mean my mum. This all coincided with the start of my GCSE exams. Being shut off from my peers I decided to start learning the stuff I hadn't bothered with in school -  this was before Google waded onto the scene with all it's encyclopaedic bravado. Of course, I had left it far too late but managed to scrape some GCSEs; 2 Bs, 2 Cs, 2 Ds, E and a F. This was much better than any of my teachers expected (apart from history and English). My formal education could've easily ended here, and I'm sure some of you would rather wish it had.

Unsure of what to do I applied for apprenticeships and had several unsuccessful interviews. I had been led to believe that's what working-class kids did - got a trade and knuckled down until you retirement. Problem is, I've always been useless at building, repairing or replacing things . Just ask my poor dad. So, eventually I decided to stay on in education although my GCSEs meant I had to do a GNVQ before moving onto A Levels. The less said about this the better. 

A Levels (1998 - 2000)

This is when I rediscovered my love of learning. It is also when education really changed who I was, what I believed and my whole life destination. It was the first time I was able to choose the subjects I really wanted to study. Of course there were still limitations but it felt less prescriptive then the previous 6 years. Against the advice of my teachers, who said I'd be lucky to get three Es, I chose politics, history and law. Politics was cool back in the late 90s...

Like primary school, I have very fond memories of A Levels as the majority of lessons were based around dialogue with the teacher and peers. We discussed The Reign or Terror during the French Revolution in history, ideologies such as fascism and socialism in politics and murder Vs manslaughter in law. This approach worked because we were given 'study periods' to do pre-lesson reading and post-lesson essay writing. I guess this was flipped learning before it got all YouTubey. Take Law as an example, I only had one hour contact per week with our visiting tutor, the rest was completely self-taught. I'd be lying if I said I didn't work harder during my A Levels  but this only happened because (a) I had found a way of learning that I enjoyed (b) subjects I loved and (c) teachers who treated me as a young adult and not as an ignorant little child. I did alright too...

Politics (A)
History (A) 
Law      (A)

For you youngsters, this was back in the day when there were no AS Levels and no A* grades (just sayin'). 

The skills I developed during my A Levels allowed me to go on and successfully study a BA Politics, MA Education and now a PhD. I have somewhat of an obsessive attitude towards learning; If I'm interested in something then I'm fully fully immersed, however, the opposite can easily manifest itself if I'm not inspired. This might, of course, have something to do with the limitations of my cognitive capacity or maybe it's just the complexity of being human. Either way, I don't think there is a best way to teach or learn as there are far too many variables at play. But hey, I'm not the one devising policy based on romanticised memories of my school days...

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