Tag Archives: Curriculum for Excellence

All hours, all weathers.

UK roadworks sign. In other European countries...

M4 motorway. 8.30 p.m. Somewhere between Bristol and the Severn Crossing. We have been driving on motorways for three-and-a-half hours. There is another warning sign to reduce speed to 50 mph. Another long stretch of road works. There are average speed cameras looming at intervals. I am moving at exactly 50 mph and have another vehicle ‘tail-gating’ me, despite the fact that the passing lane is empty. 

Lynne commented, ‘They always seem to be working on this motorway. You never seem to be able to just drive it without road-works somewhere or other.’ That got me thinking…

The motorway is built to allow people to reach destinations as swiftly and safely as possible. However, it is subject to constant wear and tear from vehicles and the environment. 

It is alarming how quickly roads can become damaged. One short period of snow and ice can cause a rash of potholes to appear, which, left unchecked, become larger, causing accidents and/or vehicle damage. Underground watercourses can cause subsidence and the seasonal variation in temperature attacks the integrity of the road surface. Even roads built to the highest standards are subject to environmental attack. And the safety of the most well-constructed road is ultimately compromised by the individual or collective behaviour of its users.

The motorway regulations of the Highway Code are there for a purpose – safety. There are those motorists who flagrantly disregard them. You see them travelling at high speed, weaving in and out, ignoring lane priority, tail-gating, intimidating with total disregard for the safety of other road users or their own personal safety. Then there are those of us who, perhaps, just push the boundaries if we think there is a need…and we can get away with it…and then there are middle-lane drivers…don’t get me started!

Yes, road-works can be frustrating, especially when it is unexpected and a delay could have undesirable consequences. Yet without this vigilance and maintenance, the consequences could be fatal. So I had a paradigm shift as I was motoring at a constant 50 mph. ‘Hard hats’ off to the road workers, who are out at all hours in all weather.

A community ethos is a bit like that motorway. It is a ‘living’ thing, constantly changing as it interacts with its environment. You build it for a purpose, to carry your learners safely, swiftly, and as directly as possible, to their destinations. 

Learning communities will never be perfect. The ethos and infrastructure will always be and under attack from all sorts of environmental factors. That is nature’s way. And, no matter how comprehensive our class rules, charters and contracts may be, they are only as effective as the the ‘users’ decide they will be. There are those who will flout, those that will push, those that will comply and those who will be inflexible, unaware or unable to use appropriate judgement (middle-lane drivers…aaargh!).

To maintain a viable ethos in the learning community, we need to be attentive and proactive. Planning for ‘routine maintenance’ ‘seasonal repairs’ and dealing with the potholes as they occur, not waiting until the ‘accident rate’ triggers a response, by which time significant and possibly irreparable damage has been done.  Community building is not something that you do as a ‘one off’ at the beginning of an academic year. It requires constant vigilance and maintenance – reflection and discussion…and…it is the responsibility of all members. Sometimes, you need to be responsive and maintain or repair community when it is not convenient to do so. ‘All hours’ and ‘all weathers’. 

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Standardized Testing — The Brutal Search for Factual Data

George Bernard Shaw once said: “Live in contact with dreams and you will get something of their charm: live in contact with facts and you get something of their brutality”. When it comes to the current preoccupation with standardized testing in the United States (and, more particularly, in New York State), my fear is that we are replacing dreams and compassion and thoughtful analysis with a quick but brutal search for data and statistics. And it is wrong to do this. We ought not to acquiesce to that which diminishes the quality of life for our children, our teachers, our schools and our communities.

via Standardized Testing — The Brutal Search for Factual Data.

We recently published a blog about a child’s response to the standardised testing regime that they had been subjected to over the past few weeks. Testing that teachers may not necessarily agree with, but are forced to administer and then (in some places) publicly named and shamed in the media – and we are not talking about the ‘banding’ or listing of schools based on their performance (which happens in the UK), we are talking about the names of individual teachers. This is happening in parts of the US. How long before this trend spreads?  

The above blog by gilboafox caught our interest. It is well worth a read. 

This sentence in particular resonated with us.

“We ought not to acquiesce to that which diminishes the quality of life for our children, our teachers, our schools and our communities.”

We have just completed a 3 day event in Stirling, Scotland. Assessment within ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ was a major theme – something that everyone is working towards. Assessment that encourages learners (of all ages), helps them to progress and involves them from start to finish. Assessment that does not just reduce the learners (of all ages) to a number, a piece of data that can be used by politicians to justify their existence and policies. Every practitioner this week talked about learning and learners with passion, respect, understanding and accountability. If only ‘those in charge’ talked about the teaching profession (who are also learners in their own right)  in the same way and applied an ‘indivisibility of principles’ approach.  All too often teachers are used as scapegoats…and forced into situations that are incongruent with their principles and values.  

If ‘health and well-being’ is high on the agenda, how do we as a profession help to create an assessment system that is not soul-destroying…a system that involves the learner (of all ages) at the centre of the process…a system that is accountable to the learner and not just the politician? Do we, as members of the education profession, have the confidence to stand up, stand tall and be heard? Do we have the confidence to question?

“To question is to grow” (Great line in ‘Proud’, M People)

Now is the time to question more loudly than before. Now is the time to grow. 


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Engaging safely, fairly and fully in St Modan’s…

We had the privilege of being invited to spend a morning in St. Modan’s High School, Stirling. Our visit began with introductions to staff and students in the Autism Provision…complete with coffee and a selection of chocolates!

Our immediate impression was one of ‘community’ and the feeling of being welcomed whole-heartedly into their daily routines. Several special moments occurred as individual students came to meet and greet us in their own ways. Some with handshakes, some by name, some by standing nearby. Each one will stay in our memories. 

A tour of the school building took place, accompanied by Mary Yates (Teacher) and one of her students. We were met with smiles and politeness from all…and loved the modern space dedicated to dance! 

We accepted an invitation from students to join their Personal Development class. And what a treat this turned out to be…

The overwhelming feeling of inclusion and acceptance was evident. Students who were aware of each other’s individual needs and teachers who went the extra mile to ensure that all were valued, accepted and given the opportunity to engage safely, fully and fairly in their own way. 

The session began with a ‘check in’ and a general introduction from us – visitors who had arrived from South Wales! A bonding moment occurred when they realised we had also met Neil Oliver and showed a photo of the moment from our iPhones. Neil Oliver had recently performed the opening of their ‘shop’ in Stirling Arcade – a highly successful enterprise project where each student took on team and shop roles. (Our own meeting with Neil Oliver was less planned and more accidental – we literally bumped into him on Glastonbury Tor during his filming for ‘Coast’, whilst we all sheltered from torrential rain together!)

After the excitement of comparing photographs, the students took a ‘fist-to-five’ vote on which charity they would support. An interesting debate took place, including mature discussion as to why certain charities were preferable to certain students. Yet a compromise was reached and a charity chosen. 

Intrigue followed as students were shown a graphic on the whiteboard and asked to write a question that came to mind on the front of a sealed envelope. These questions would be used later to plan future learning experiences. The students were then told to open the envelopes and investigate the content – which turned out to be a replica of the graphic. They had 30 seconds to cut it into 6 pieces in any way they wanted. The pieces were put back into the envelopes, swapped with a partner and then an instruction to recreate the graphic in the shortest amount of time. Discussions were occurring about how best to do this along with specifics about the graphic. 

Bananas were then put on the table, along with ‘banana products’ – cake and smoothies. Students were invited to taste. Mixed responses! ‘Yuk’ through to ‘that tasted better than I expected’! Realisation that the graphic was in fact the Fair Trade logo.

At this point the session moved on and the idea for the next enterprise project was introduced. A ‘Brilliant Banana Event’. The students were grouped together and flip chart paper handed out. They were reminded of their community contract for working together and then asked to brainstorm and record ideas for this event. We joined the groups and couldn’t help but contribute as we got caught up in the excitement of sharing ideas! 

Each group came up with individual ideas ranging from whole-school competitions, sale of banana flavoured items, fancy dress, songs and much, much more. The groups took turns to feedback.

Just before the bell went, we had time to perform an impromptu song in Welsh to the students – all about bananas. 

A special note about the ‘Community Contract’. We were given permission by Scott to publish a photograph of the contract. He had designed and produced it himself on behalf of the class. It is proudly displayed on the wall. Scott was able to talk to us about the meaning behind the contract. We certainly witnessed students who aspired to fulfilling this contract within the session. The blurring on the photograph is purposeful in order to disguise names of the students – we would not wish Scott to think that we had distorted his poster for no reason!

On reflection…

What did we witness?

  • The purposeful building and maintaining of community
  • Independence and interdependence
  • Engagement and active learning
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Reasoning and justification of opinions, thoughts and ideas
  • Inclusion and valuing of the individual
  • Real, purposeful and meaningful context for learning
  • Development of employability skills and attitudes
  • Mutual respect between students, teachers and peers
  • The occasional challenge – what ‘real classroom’ would not present this!
  • Personalisation and Choice
  • Enjoyment and Challenge
  • Responsible Citizens
  • Successful Learners
  • Confident Individuals
  • Effective Contributors
  • and much more…all within a 40 minute session.
We were sorry that the bell went and that we had to leave!
(Although we were immediately ushered into the staffroom to share in a home-made lunch! Huge thanks to the staff in the Autism Provision for providing this! What a talented bunch!)
For us…it is important that what we do makes a positive difference for others. The opportunity to spend a morning with the students and staff of St. Modan’s was invaluable. 
Thank you all. 
Lynne and Andrew
🙂

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Off to Scotland…

Andrew has ‘flu’! I get to drive! An interesting moment when Galashields (and its multiple roundabouts) completely confused me – so ASDA car park became a ‘non-planned’ addition on our route to Dunblane via Edinburgh!

Actually – Edinburgh was planned! Good to catch up with Kathy and John again and engage in a discussion about learning, passion, beliefs and Curriculum for Excellence!

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