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?
The argument that the UK education system should not be thrown around on the tides of politics is frequently made and the extant situation bemoaned: every time a new minister for education or political party takes the helm, everything changes, and teachers and children suffer. It even affects educational delivery in other countries, as so many British curriculum schools exist internationally.
Activist efforts to reclaim pedagogy grassroots style are often made by teachers themselves (e.g. through teachmeets and conferences, in schools and even pubs – c.f. ‘#BrewEd’). More formalised efforts to remove education from the tight grip of political interference also come in the form of the Chartered College of Teaching, set up in much the same manner and with similar aspirations to the Royal College of Nursing – to create a professional body to oversee, nurture and lead the profession and to eventually regulate it no doubt.
Another example exists, from within education itself, which may also offer a model to consider for further innovation and development, perhaps aligned with the idea of expert peer review.
I refer to the manner in which research funding is allocated in the UK, based on ‘The Haldane Principle’: “the idea that decisions about what to spend research funds on should be made by researchers rather than politicians” –“named after Richard Burdon Haldane, who in 1904 and from 1909 to 1918 chaired committees and commissions which recommended this policy”[i]
“In 1918 Haldane’s committee produced the “Haldane Report”. The report suggested that research required by government departments could be separated into that required by specific departments and that which was more general. It recommended that departments should oversee the specific research but the general research should be under the control of autonomous Research Councils, which would be free from political and administrative pressures that might discourage research in certain areas. The principle of the autonomy of the research councils is now referred to as the Haldane Principle. The first research council to be created as a result of the Haldane Report was the Medical Research Council. The principle has remained enshrined in British Government policy”[ii].
Certainly, releasing education from political pressures would be welcomed by many.
What if an evolved version of the Haldane Principle were adapted for review of educational policy, practice and school inspection? Government officials influenced by politics would no longer be able to interfere and influence the direction of education. UK education may even become self-regulating. Imagine if your school was not inspected by Ofsted, but instead a local panel of headteachers representing a cross-section of regional schools, who were not ascribing a ranking or rating to the ‘inspected’ school, but instead providing expert peer review to be channeled directly into school improvement and recommendations for authentic and constructive assistance based on contextual need.
Special Issue Update: Middle Eastern post-conflict futures in education: Iraq, Syria and Yemen
Table Of Contents: Volume 20 Issue 3 / 4
Published: 2018, Start page: 130 Special Issue: Middle Eastern post-conflict futures in education: Iraq, Syria and Yemen, Editor(s): Juliet Millican and Carol Webb
Foreword by Yasmine Sherif, (United Nations – Education Cannot Wait – Global Fund for Education in Emergencies UNICEF, New York, New York, USA):
Yasmine Sherif, (2018) “Middle Eastern post-conflict futures in education: Iraq, Syria and Yemen”, International Journal of Comparative Education and Development, Vol. 20 Issue: 3/4, pp.130-131, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCED-08-2018-032
Tom Parkinson, Tarek Zoubir, Shaher Abdullateef, Musallam Abedtalas, Ghana Alyamani, Ziad Al Ibrahim, Majdi Al Husni, Fuad Alhaj Omar, Hamoud Hajhamoud, Fadi Iboor, Husam Allito, Michael Jenkins, Abdulkader Rashwani, Adnan Sennou, Fateh Shaban (pp. 132 – 147)
Type: Research paper
Carol Webb (pp. 148 – 164)
Type: Conceptual Paper
Swapna Nair (pp. 165 – 175)
Type: General review
Type: Research paper
With just a few weeks left until the end of the summer holidays for most school kids and teachers alike, I take a moment to reflect on the privilege of getting out into the great outdoors.
Have your kids and others had the privilege of a bit of adventure this summer? How many have not? How many have sat at home while parents worked? How many have been stuck with their nose glued to the TV, computer, games console or mobile phone indoors during the heatwave?
I’ve been grateful myself to have got myself out of the city and into the countryside this summer. I’ve been to three national parks: Snowdonia, The Brecon Beacons, and The Lake District. I had a serious go at hiking up Snowdon and got 3/4 if the way up. I started out by heading with all good intentions up Scafell Pike but then realised i was probably not ready for that yet – nevertheless I thoroughly enjoyed a six-mile hike around the bottom and various neighbouring tarns. And then, finally, I achieved a summit – I got to the top of Pen Y Fan last week and felt a sense of fulfilment.
Aside from all the personal challenge confronted in my current round at getting fitter again after spending a few years in air conditioned Dubai, by pools and cocktail bars, the gorgeous green, natural beauty and sumptuous fresh air I encountered on my hikes in Wales and the North West of England did of course fill me with awe and wonder: it was inspiring, breathtaking, and humbling, magnificent, tremendous and pleasantly overwhelming. Perhaps it was the contrast between leaving the desert cities of the Middle East and launching myself back into this lushness that made me appreciate it all the more. I do know that many others have felt the same on their return from the human grilling machine of the UAE summer sun and sandpit.
What did make me smile quite warmly was also seeing families and children enjoying themselves out in these places as well. There were groups of teenagers with maps in hand carrying rucksacks bigger than them heading up mountains probably on a Duke of Edinburgh mission. There were five year olds running ahead of puffing and panting parents up mountain paths. There were kids fishing with adults along the canal, paddling canoes together, cycling around reservoirs, and camping in fields. It was a dream to behold: the halcyon days of youthful summers were there in plain view.
It wasn’t quite Swallows and Amazons: I didn’t see any groups of children trundling off unsupervised onto islands in the middle of lakes, but then we aren’t living in 1930s Britain anymore, are we?
But one chance conversation with a headteacher from London outside a welsh tea shop last week out things into perspective. She smiled when she affirmed that at this age her gang of boys thought all caravan and boat trips were pure adventure, but lamented knowing that on her return to school life in September there would indeed be hundreds of kids who had never made it off their street or out of the house. Some parents, she explained, had not even known where Regents Park was when letters were sent home about the location of last term’s sports day, as most of them it seemed just went to work, the shops and school for the kids. The headteacher was sad to report that as a result it was all too easy for children to end up in inner city gangs.
When I returned to London last Friday and crossed the road to catch the bus, I was happy to see a minibus pass me by with a load of kids crammed in it, with a tonne of gear covered by a tarp on the roof, and the words, “Bede’s Adventure Project” emblazoned across the side. ‘Heading home, or just going out?’ I wondered. Either way it was win/win.
That’s what we need now. More weekend adventure opportunities for children who otherwise wouldn’t get the chance. Parents should be encouraged to get involved if possible or even take the lead, but if parents aren’t available then there should still be chances for kids to get out there and do stuff anyway under correct supervision and training: hiking, cycling, mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking, mountaineering, abseiling, and the like.
What can Schools and local authorities do to help? I’m sure they do want to close their doors for a much needed break over the summer months, goodness knows they need it. But as the teachers close the doors on weekends and for summer holidays, could external agencies open them to use the facilities for extra curricular activities such as these? Should school buildings ever be locked up empty when they could be used for hubs for so much more?
It’s true that some organisations do exist to provide all of the above. Eg Guides, Brownies, Scouts, Cadets etc. But are these secular enough and do they reach out to all enough? In today’s diverse England, does everyone wish to pledge allegiance to the Queen and have automatic assumptions made about attachments to faith based organisations? Can we have adventure and the outdoors without all that so that more diverse inner city populations in London, for example, might wish to engage?
Food for thought.
In the meantime, I’d love to see an extra-curricular, age-appropriate, adventure curriculum offered (not mandated) for all school age children, and especially for disadvantaged children. This could include the full range of activities currently covered by those groups such as Scouts to DofE.
Not necessarily Swallows and Amazons, but definitely a chance to get their feet wet somehow. But perhaps we are going in this direction… I was happy to read Nick Gibbs’ announcement the other week that the DfE would be investigating links between extra curricular activities and social mobility over the next few years. Bring it on! But please bring with it the above opportunities too.
Enjoy the rest of your summer.