So over Christmas the DfE launched the new activity passport initiative, which essentially boiled down to a set of middle class assumptions made by someone in a DfE office somewhere about what children of certain age groups could do to have more fun outside school to no doubt help them escape the dangers of mobile phone and other tech induced mental health problems. The implicit message seemed to be: do something creative and fun, away from mobile phones; parents and children should do these together; it should involve others living close by, their pets, and the outdoors. Or similar.
I tweeted to suggest the approach was a nanny state mode of delivery, and that it might be better to perhaps create a tool to stimulate students and parents to come up with their own ideas for extra curricular fun and challenge. This must have been part of similar feedback from elsewhere as well as now the activity passport has evolved into something a bit like that.
But it’s still been designed as a tick box performance measured approach. Which immediately raises the shackles. I know many people do enjoy recording their achievements, and brownie and guiding badges have existed for years. This can also be motivational for children. But in education you need to start from a different point. Especially to introduce such approaches from a leadership perspective.
As an exercise in leadership this is very ill thought through.
First of all, if the department for education are proposing this, and not social services, child welfare or health, for example, then there are many assumptions being made attached to pedagogy, learning, curriculum, theory and development.
The tools clumsily proposed so far are laughable because of this.
If an individual school had decided to consider delivering something similar, they would have already had a unique strategic vision it would have been aligned with, based on their student community and local needs and unique contexts. There would be a set of values the school leadership team would be working with. There would be certain philosophical choices underpinning all of this that would provide a starting point for generating a set of guiding principles for an activity passport, before it was then tailored to their students in terms of reality, affordability, stretch and challenge and diversity.
At best, something the DfE should have done was to take a step back to say that each school could use a set of guiding principles to create its own agenda for extra curricula activity development and improvement.
This might well be linked to pedagogic choices such as those influenced by Montessori approaches, or forest schools, outdoor learning, child centred learning, and more. It would depend on each school in turn. It might also depend on knowledge of local environmental contexts, linked to actual places, parks and nature, such as local beaches, hills, woodland, or inner city venues.
To create the tick sheet activity passport that was pushed forward was naive and shows up the lack of knowledge and expertise in teaching and learning and educational practice and contexts, as well as demonstrating poor leadership.
Where was the consultation? Where was the coaching and mentoring for parents? Where was the nuanced finesse based on knowledge of the diversity of the audience ? Where was the motivational package supporting it?
And, what about some infrastructure locally for schools, parents and the community to help facilitate life long age and diversity appropriate life enriching activity? Can this be developed to reflect the diversity of society at large and to enable and support bottom up self organised initiatives? Is funding available to support this?
How can this be meaningfully led to achieve impact rather than dismissively thrown at parents, schools and children in a semi-accusative manner from a middle class backdrop of homogeneity?
Also, with more thought, might such action be linked to the sustainability development goals and global learning?