Raising awareness of Neurodiversity: my lived experience of dyspraxia

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Dr Sarah Chicken Senior Lecturer in Childhood and Education at UWE marks Neurodiversity Celebration Week (15-21 March 2021) by taking the opportunity to raise awareness about dyspraxia by telling some of her personal story. 

I am a senior lecturer within the Department of Childhood and Education where I have worked for seventeen years.  I am also a member of the neurodivergent community with a diagnosis of dyspraxia.

Dyspraxia or Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a complex neurological condition which affects the messages between the brain and the body impacting on movement and cognition.    Instead of a message going from A to B, for someone with dyspraxia, it can take a detour from A to X, Y and Z ( in no particular order) before making the journey back to B.  This can be exhausting! 

An important issue is that others may not understand how substantial some challenges can be; for example, I have been an educator for decades, I have a PhD and a range of Master’s level qualifications so when I find difficulties filling in forms, driving a car, finding my way around university systems and the world in general, this can seem perplexing to others.

However, a ‘spikey’ learning profile, (where there are significant discrepancies between the things that someone is good at and those that they struggle with) is a key feature of a neurodivergent profile.   In my own case, psychometric tests indicate a large gap between my verbal reasoning at the one end of the scale and my processing speed and working memory at the other end of the scale.

This often feels like I have a fantastic computer which has been ill-matched with some rather outdated software and I spend a lot of time feeling out of synch.   This can impact on my physical co-ordination (my dancing is legendary for all of the wrong reasons 😊) and my speech and cognition which sometimes is not quite connected.   When I am tired or anxious, I can stumble over words or words can tumble out of my mouth in ‘my incoherent soup’. This anxiety-inducing prospect can lead to remaining quiet in large group situations despite having lots of ideas.  On other occasions, I end up talking over the top of people as I can’t quite find the right place to come into a conversation and this can appear impolite. 

Many neurodivergent people have issues with the processing of sensory information; whilst I can hear words in busy environments, I am not always sure if I have fully processed the meaning. Harsh lighting is challenging for me   and can cause eye disturbances which feel as if I am looking through a kaleidoscope with pieces of the picture all jumbled up.     Unfortunately, this is often the case in many parts of my working environment including shared social spaces. 

At the same time, I am determined and driven (pardon the pun), whilst it took me 17 years to pass my driving test, I got there in the end!   This is because, I have limited spatial awareness or depth perception, whilst I can physically see space, I can’t quite ‘feel’ or judge if my car ( or body) can fit.    On the odd occasions that I have been brave enough to drive to work, students have found great amusement as I have tried to park my car, I don’t blame them, I need a runway!

To return to my computer analogy, the cognitive pressure of too much multi-tasking can feel like having too many tabs open at the same time and I start to slow down – now throw into the mix the mismatch between my computer and out- of-date software and there is a danger that I could shut down altogether.  Since my diagnosis I realise that this has implications for my work and life and I am far more successful when I can really concentrate on a small range of activities ( I am a details person)  rather than being spread thinly across many. 

At the same time, my dyspraxia can be viewed as a gift and a superpower.   It offers a unique perspective of the world leading to creative and ‘outside of the box’ thinking when I am in environments where I feel ‘safe’ and valued.  I have a good sense of humour; I have to see the funny side of often tripping over and bumping into things and jumbling up my words. Like others with dyspraxia, I have a ‘stick with it ‘attitude, I am solution focussed, analytical and very empathetic.  I am fortunate to be in a job where I can draw on these strengths to design and deliver teaching, learning and research opportunities which engage and inspire and most of all where I am able to celebrate the wonderful range of diversity seen within the human race.

Dr Sarah Chicken Senior Fellow HEA

Senior Lecturer  Childhood and Education  

I am a champion of neurodiversity. 

Watch this short film produced by the British Dyslexia Association to find out more about neurodiversity. 

How do you teach science through engineering amidst lockdowns and school closures?

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Dr Fay Lewis, Programme Leader MA – Education in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE Bristol, describes how students from UWE Bristol provided an innovative introduction to science and engineering for local primary school children.

British Science Week is a ten-day celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) taking place this year between 5-14th March.

Despite the many challenges of taking part in Science Week during a global pandemic, UWE Primary Education students have been engaging with celebrations whole-heartedly, ensuring that local children have the best opportunity possible to celebrate science and its role in society.  The students have been exploring novel ways of cross curricular working, finding new ways of connecting with local schools despite lockdowns, school closures and a whole lot of uncertainty!

This cross-faculty work brought together groups of student teachers and student engineers to design a range of engineering challenges and activities to introduce local primary school children to engineering and to help them to explore science through engineering. 

But how to teach a class of pupils during a time of school closures and remote learning?

Our students solved that problem, collaborating together to create their own blend of face to face and digital educational resources providing children across the primary age phase with opportunities to meet engineers, gain an insight into their work and experience some engineering themselves.

Over 50 student engineers recorded a set of videos; the first to introduce themselves to the pupils, the area of engineering they study, their interests, what inspired them to become engineers, and advice about different engineering career pathways. The second video was more subject-specific, helping teach the pupils some of their curriculum-linked learning using a combination of presentations, demonstrations and follow-along activities.  The student teachers then took these materials into schools and explored these videos with children alongside working through the engineering challenges devised by the collaborative groups.

From the feedback coming in so far from all students involved, it looks like the project has been a huge success! We’d like to thank all of the students and schools involved!

____________________________________________________________________________

Meet Noble, student engineer at UWE Bristol, introducing himself to KS1 students and having some fun with forces.

Link to further videos from students in the UWE Bristol Department of Engineering Design and Mathematics

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWUBEPQDGTOhLVpNGY8R8nw/playlists

Dr Fay Lewis

Programme Leader – MA Education, Department of Education and Childhood

Fay.Lewis@uwe.ac.uk

Covid- Proof Engineering in Schools

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Despite the pandemic, approximately sixty primary schools, took part in an engineering challenge as part of British Science week supporting the ‘Big Beam In’ run by DETI (Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation Initiative). The challenges were planned by teacher education and engineering students from UWE Bristol.

For the live teaching by our students in schools, the children were given an engaging engineering challenge supported by videos from the engineers on what it is like being an engineering student and also explaining the science in their task. Other schools were sent teaching packs with activities and videos from the teacher and engineers. Some of engineers’ videos can be seen on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL9z52T1dzQlb-Q4UiNnfloq4R7BPLply_

The aim of the project is to develop communication and outreach skills in engineers and to give the education students an experience of planning and teaching an engineering task in schools. The children will get an understanding of the broad range of engineering careers as well as exposure to everyday role models studying engineering and talking about why it interests them. Elizabeth Hadlington (Yr 2 Primary Education) said this was ‘an exciting opportunity to gather an insight into engineering allowing us to inspire young minds and create opportunities for the future’.

For further details please contact juliet.edmonds@uwe.ac.uk or Fay.lewis@uwe.ac.uk

The image is a slide from UWE students Charlie Simmonds (Yr 2 Primary Education) and Noble Varghese ( Yr 3 Engineering) for KS1

Don’t just listen to young people ….

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Over the last few years we have watched the sound of young people’s voices get louder in response to global climate change. Before lockdown we saw thousands gather to protest in public places around the world demanding change. Demanding action. Young people leading young people to insist that the global community act now, and act quickly to ensure a fairer, more sustainable future for all.

Here in Bristol the voices of young people are not overlooked. This year I have been privileged to work with the Global Goals Centre; an exciting new visitor centre that will offer immersive ways of learning about the climate and ecological emergency framed around the Sustainable Development Goals. Learning about these important issues through fun and engaging ways – with an emphasis on what we can do to make a difference – is a key theme running through all stages of development.

As young people will be an important audience for the Centre, I ran workshops across the city to enlist their help in the designing the first of the immersive experiences. Through the Youth Design Challenge young people were invited to design a space around the theme of fast fashion. Entries were judged on creativity, engagement with the theme and consideration of different learning experiences. Whilst knowledge of ocean plastics and the need to reduce carbon emissions was acknowledged, few young people had previously considered their connection with the fast fashion supply chain, but they did not disappoint with their thinking and creative response to the situation.

On 23rd November a host of dignitaries gathered on a zoom call to celebrate the work of those who had entered the competition. Marvin Rees (Bristol’s Mayor) was delighted to make the presentations after the young audience listened to Bristol’s leading young climate activist, Mya Rose Craig (also known as BirdGirl). Finisterre, a Cornwall based company specialising in sustainable clothing donated the prizes.

The competition was not a token nod to the voices of the young. It was not a cheap marketing technique to get buy in from sponsors and lead the headlines. Instead, this competition is just another step in engaging and enabling young people’s voices to be heard in the development of the Centre. These designs will now be used by the creative team to inform pilot designs which are hoped to be tested later in 2021.

Young people aren’t just making noise about wanting a sustainable future, they are full of amazing ideas and ready to think through difficult problems in new ways. We mustn’t just listen, Instead, we need to provide ways in which young people’s voices can inform change.   It is not up to our youth to make the change – such pressure is both unfair and untenable with many experiencing eco-anxiety and grief as a result. Instead, we need to work together – old and young – for a better future.

Check out the Mayor’s blog for more information https://thebristolmayor.com/2020/11/24/teaching-us-a-thing-or-two/

[This research is made possible by UWE’s Vice Chancellor’s Early Career Research award]

Dr Verity Jones is a Senior Lecturer on the Initial Teacher Training Programme (ITT) in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE.

Follow Dr Jones on twitter @VerityJones_edu

We deserve to be taught about it: climate crisis classes for all students – a word of caution

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Recently The Guardian reported on how some universities are ‘bowing’ to student pressure and including classes on climate throughout all courses – whether they be geography and environmental studies (where such issues have traditionally been included) or music and fashion (where issues of connected with climate may not seem so obvious).

A report published this month by Winchester University  showed that 54% of 16-18 year olds saw climate breakdown as the second biggest threat to the UK (after the quality of the NHS). The same percentage considered universities failing in their job of addressing it.

Without doubt, the demand and need for engagement with issues relating to the climate and ecological emergency have never been so clear. We are all aware that there is a need for action if we are to secure a more sustainable future. However, there is growing evidence that with the emergency increasing numbers of young people are reporting the effects of eco-anxiety. Higher Education institutions need to consider how they approach embedding these issues and what the impact may be.

At UWE, Bristol we have been mapping how every programme across the university engages with the Sustainable Development Goals. This has provided an opportunity for us to engage and enable learning for students around real issues associated with the climate and ecological emergency; making explicit links, providing up to date information and opportunities to problem solve. What it has also allowed for is time; time to discuss these issues in supportive groups, share both fears and hopes; share the problems which affect us all.   Delivering the knowledge isn’t enough. Making the time to talk and problem solve together is essential in order to combat feelings of isolation, hopelessness, and despondency that our current situation is having on many people. The emotional landscape attached to these issues must be carefully negotiated.

As someone who delivers the Initial Teacher Education programme here at UWE, and undertakes research with young people regarding eco anxiety and sustainable futures, it is clear that emotions are running high in classrooms in both the university and primary classroom. Anger and helplessness are common emotions displayed by the learners. This is often mirrored by the fear or hope embedded in many educational resources used to engage with climate discussion. It is all too easy to say ‘teach climate’. We need to be thinking carefully of how we teach it, and what the impact of the teaching is having both in the short and long term.  

At present I am working with The Global Goals Centre in developing immersive experiences which support young people in learning about the climate and ecological emergency. At the heart of this project is young people’s voice: what they want to learn, how they want to learn and how they feel about the issues. Workshops and focus groups are informing every step, in order to develop a unique learning experience, meeting the needs of the audience rather than socially engineering emotional appeals. Finding out who they think can help and be part of the solution is critical – the image shows one example of how an 8-year-old sees this jigsaw; they are very much part of the solution. However, not all young people have such a sophisticated and hopeful vision.

Teaching about the climate isn’t something that can be done quickly or easily. This is something we need, we need to do well, and we need to think through carefully and with support.

Dr Verity Jones is a  Senior Lecturer on the Initial Teacher Training Programme in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE and is a member of UWE Bristol’s Knowledge Exchange for Sustainable Development group. Her research with the Global Goals Centre is funded by UWEs Vice Chancellors Early Career Researcher Award.

Follow Dr Verity Jones on twitter

‘It’s our job to take the limits away’: A case study approach to exploring culture of teacher expectations in an English secondary school

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Education Research from UWE reaches around the globe…

In this article, Dr Smith draws on her doctoral research, carried out in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE, investigating the beliefs and practices of high expectation teachers.

Although Dr Smith’s EdD thesis was only submitted recently, it has already had global reach. One of her supervisors, Dr Richard Waller received an unexpected email from a researcher at the New Zealand Council for Educational Research who wrote to say how impressed he was with the quality of Dr Smith’s research.

Having only had my thesis revisions accepted in June, I am still somewhat in a haze and only just beginning to reflect on my doctoral journey. I began my professional doctorate in education with a keen interest in extending my understanding and in improving practice: I wanted to generate professional knowledge that would have real impact. Achieving that goal was without doubt a challenging, but incredibly rewarding and enriching experience.

My professional interest in my research project was born from a sense of social injustice. Having taught in the state sector for over twenty years, I have been increasingly troubled by the concept of labelling and notions of fixed abilities that are prevalent in our education system. From the earliest stages of formal education, teachers are required to make predictions about future development of the children based on present attainment, as well as determining students’ academic ability. Children from lower socio-economic groups and from particular minority ethnic groups are over-represented in lower sets and streams, and allocation to these groups does not always match the level of ‘ability’ as designated by test scores. As children progress through school, attainment gaps widen between children from lower socio-economic groups and their peers, suggesting that schooling exacerbates inequalities in educational attainment.

This sense of injustice led me to explore the beliefs of ‘high expectation teachers’, and the practices through which teachers aim to build an inclusive learning environment, in addition to the ways they develop strategies that do not rely on pre-determined ability labelling. This exploration led me to understand that what constitutes a ‘high expectation’ teacher needed to be investigated from particular locations: through government policy; through theoretical models; through professional regulation and performance management, and through notions of professional identity. I learnt that these positions sometimes overlap, but at times, also conflict with one another.

The case study design of my research is focussed on one phenomenon, that of the beliefs and practices of high expectation teachers, and one bounded case illustrates the phenomenon. The case is specific, and bounded by time and location. It is intended to emphasize uniqueness through the in-depth exploration of the participants’ experiences. Within this bounded system are the relationships between people and events, and within those are differing perspectives, as the positions on what makes a ‘high expectation’ teacher are contradictory, and not universally agreed.

I used thematic analysis to analyse data collected through questionnaires, interviews and focus groups, but reflected that despite the in-depth nature of this analysis, the phenomena of high teacher expectation remained only partially scrutinised in terms of social justice. Therefore, the social concerns raised throughout my study are also explored through the theories of Bourdieu with the aim of making sense of the wider issues of inequality inherent in this study, particularly in the sense that habitus is helped by, and helps shape, pedagogical action.

My findings are that there needs to be a recognition that in education, socially advantaged interests and voices dominate in terms of social mobility agendas. Social cohesion is therefore a challenge as inequality rises from an education system tailored to white, middle-class values, and until we value the diversity of heritage in all its forms, we cannot hope for greater equity for our students. Furthermore, teachers tend to be granted space in the public domain only through technical competency. Findings also suggest that teachers must be able to be emotionally committed to different aspects of their jobs, as their sense of moral responsibility is at the core of their professional identity.

The research also challenges the assumption that academic achievement is paramount and suggests that there are many other measures of success, in which students discover and are celebrated for a particular talent, or a passion for something new. The ability to make choices should be a fundamental right and should be accessible to all as a result of social justice.

This presents a challenge in today’s economic and political climate. At the time of writing the thesis, 4.1 million children in the UK are living in poverty, a rise of 500,000 in the last five years, and in-work poverty has been rising even faster than unemployment, driven almost entirely by increasing poverty among working parents. In addition to the economic context our young people are living in, educational policy increases social inequities rather than reducing the poverty attainment gap. For example, additional funding has been allocated for new grammar school places, despite evidence that dividing children into the most ‘able’ and the rest from an early age does not appear to lead to better results for either group, including for the most disadvantaged students.

The financial landscape for most schools paints a bleaker picture than that for grammar schools. A further significant challenge for the education sector is the recruitment of the required number of teachers of sufficient quality and motivation, at a time of continued public pay restraint and rising student numbers. Similarly, spending on early education, Sure Start and the childcare element of Working Tax Credit fell by 21% from 2009–10 and 2012–13, with falls of 11% for early education, 29% for targeted support for childcare and 32% for Sure Start. Child Tax Credit and Child Benefit payments were frozen in financial terms. In addition to cuts to income support, community-based support services and to the funding of voluntary groups and services, this financial context may have an impact on children as they enter the school system.

Furthermore, Britain’s high-status professions remain dominated by the privileged; those from traditionally working-class backgrounds earn on average £6,800 less than colleagues from professional and managerial backgrounds. Although students in my study feel that they can ‘get ahead’ on merit, it could be suggested that British society is profoundly unfair. Education is crucial to change, but it cannot be considered in isolation if we are going to tackle the challenge of disadvantage. Education must be freed from its current constraints so that educators have the opportunity to develop every child’s personality, talents and abilities to the full.

Within the constraints of this wider context, one recommendation that arose from the study with the aim of creating a culture of high expectations is that a form of ‘high-integrity’ setting could be implemented in schools. In practice, strategies such as: making setting as subject-specific as possible; grouping students by attainment rather than perceived effort; regularly testing and moving students between sets, and using a lottery system when assigning borderline students to sets may help mitigate the consequences of attainment grouping. Schools, however, may be deterred from implementing more equitable grouping practices by perceptions of middle-class parental and student preferences for attainment grouping. A further complication raised in this study is that most teachers who currently teach in attainment groupings believe that mixed attainment groupings would create further barriers to progress.

A final reflection for me is on the complex and problematic nature of the barriers to creating a culture of high expectation. I entered into this research project with a rather idealistic notion that exploring one definition of high-expectation beliefs and teaching practices could lead to the creation of a culture of high expectation. The reality is far messier. In addition to my exploration of the contradictory definitions of what makes a ‘high expectation’ teacher, research discourse related to teachers tends to be prescriptive, rather than serious study of, or collaboration with, those prescribed to or portrayed. This resonates with my own professional experience, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to explore this complex phenomenon through several lenses, even though at times these lenses seemed somewhat elusive!

Dr. Julie Smith has recently completed her doctoral research into the beliefs and practices of high expectation teachers, in the Department of Education and Childhood under the supervision of Dr. Richard Waller, Dr. Nicola Bowden-Clissold and Dr. Sarah Chicken. She is also Vice-Principal at a secondary school in Gloucestershire.

Follow Dr Julie Smith on twitter

References:

Archer, L., Francis, B., Miller, S., Taylor, B., Tereshchenko, A., Mazenod, A., Pepper, D. and Travers, M. C. (2018) The symbolic violence of setting: A Bourdieusian analysis of mixed methods data on secondary school students’ views about setting. British Educational Research Journal. 44 (1), pp. 119–40.

Barnard, H., Collingwood, A., Leese, D., Wenham, A., Drake, D, Smith, E. and Kumar, A (2018) UK Poverty 2018 [online].York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Available from: https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/uk-poverty-2018 [Accessed 25 April 2019].

Blandford, S. (2018) Born To Fail? Social Mobility: A Working Class View. Suffolk: John Catt.

Bourdieu, P. (1973). Cultural Reproduction and Social Reproduction. In:R. Brown, ed., (1973) Knowledge, Education, and Cultural Change: Papers in the Sociology of Education. London: Tavistock, pp. 71–112.

Bourdieu, P. (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction.London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Bourdieu, P. (1990) The Logic of Practice. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1991) Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1992) The purpose of reflexive sociology. In Bourdieu, P. and Wacquant, L., eds., (1992) An Introduction to Reflexive Sociology.Cambridge: Polity Press, pp.61–217.

Bourdieu, P. (2002) Habitus. In: Hiller, J. and Rooksby, E., eds., (2002) Habitus: A Sense of Place. Farnham: Ashgate, pp.27–34.Bourdieu, P. and Passeron, J. C. (1977) Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. London: Sage.

Braun, V. and Clarke, V. (2006) Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology. 3 (2), pp. 77–101.

Clifton, J., and Cook, W. (2012). A long division: Closing the attainment gap in England’s secondary schools. London: IPPR.

De Boer, H., Timmermans, A. C. and P. C. van der Werf, M (2018) The effects of teacher expectation interventions on teachers’ expectations and student achievement: narrative review and meta-analysis. Educational Research and Evaluation. 24 (3-5), pp. 180-200.

Francis, B., Taylor, B., Hodgen, J., Tereshchenko, A. and Archer, L. (2018). Dos and don’ts of attainment grouping. London: UCL Institute of Education.

Friedman, S. and Savage, M. (2017) The Shifting Politics of Inequality and the Class Ceiling. Renewal.25 (2), pp. 31–40.

Gorard, S. and Siddiqui, N. (2016) Grammar Schools in England: a new approach to analysing their intake and outcomes. Project report. Durham: Durham University.

Harrison, N. and Waller, R. (2017) Success and Impact in Widening Participation Policy: What Works and How Do We Know? Higher Education Policy.30 (2), pp. 141–160.

Hart, S., Annabelle, D., Drummond, M. J. and McIntyre, D. (2004) Learning Without Limits. Berkshire: OUP.

Jussim, L. and Harber, K. (2005) Teacher Expectations and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies: Knowns and Unknowns, Resolved and Unresolved Controversies. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 9 (2), pp.131–55.

Lupton, R., Burchardt, T., Fitzgerald, A., Hills, A., McKnight, A., Obolenskaya, P. Stewart, K., Thomson, S., Tunstall, R. and Vizard, P. (2015) The Coalition’s Social Policy Record: Policy, Spending and Outcomes 2010-2015. Social Policy in a Cold Climate Report 4 [online]. Manchester: University of Manchester; London School of Economics and the University of York. Available from http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/case/spcc/rr04.pdf [Accessed 27 May 2019].

Nias, J. (1989). Primary teachers talking: A study of teaching as work. London: Routledge.

Rosenthal, R. and Jacobson, L. (1968) Pygmalion in the Classroom: teacher expectation and pupil’s intellectual development.New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Rubie-Davies, C. (2015) Becoming A High Expectation Teacher: Raising The Bar.Abingdon: Routledge.

Stake, R. E. (2005). Qualitative case studies. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), The Sage handbook of qualitative research (3rd ed., pp. 443-466). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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School reopening? top scientists say not yet*

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“It is clear from the evidence we have collected that 1 June is simply too early to go back. By going ahead with this dangerous decision, the government is further risking the health of our communities and the likelihood of a second spike.” (Sir David King, Independent SAGE Group)

This blog post could end there, but given the high stakes, it’s worth pondering more…

Teachers and their unions have been robustly rallying against the Government’s decision to re-open schools as early as June 1st. Some sections of the press and government ministers have revisited Michael Gove’s characterisation of these opponents as the “Blob”, who according to the Daily Mail is

“made up of political opponents, union barons and local government administrations – is colluding to sabotage the reopening of schools.”

In 2013, I was one of the 100 academics who signed a letter against Gove’s damaging curriculum reforms, and this time it’s even more serious, so much so that the neutral British Medical Association (BMA) have supported the call from the Independent SAGE Group to keep schools closed for the time-being.

Because of misleading advice and data issued by Downing Street, renowned medical scientists decided to set-up an Independent SAGE group (ISG).

The ISG’s opposition to 1st June re-opening of schools came after a meeting, which included Mumsnet, and supplemented by rigorous advice from expert educationists. Professor Sir David King concluded that there is almost zero chance of conditions being reached for a safe reopening of schools on 1 June.

The report makes clear that decisions on school re-opening should depend on low levels of infections in the community and the capacity to respond quickly to new infections through a local test, track and isolate strategy. We are not there yet.

Although children are less likely than adults to get ill, they are still transmission agents. Even the DfE advice seems to reflect this concern:

Some studies suggest younger children may transmit less, but this evidence is mixed and provides a low degree of confidence at best.”

So, a child carrying the infection but not showing symptoms could spread it unnoticed to other children and staff, and it could then reach family members with existing medical problems as well as older relatives. The collateral damage could be fatally serious.

The Government have been keen to stress that their decision was about ethics stating that working class children are being disproportionately disadvantaged because they do not have the learning resources that children from wealthier families have for home schooling.

But the ISG report stresses that rather than rushing to re-open schools, it would be safer to provision computer equipment and offer distance learning. When the conditions are appropriate, outdoor (where transmission is minimised) summer activity schemes, including educational “catch up” sessions would be a viable option.

The current situation opens-up existential questions about how we conceive of education.  We in the Reclaiming Schools network have (long) argued that it is necessary to take a rounded view of children’s needs, not just getting children (back) behind desks.

Education should be geared for developing children’s social, emotional, and wider characteristics. In this context, one could imagine a school strictly adhering to social distancing being harmful for children. Stories of nurseries and reception classes having to remove all toys for a June 1st re-opening are clearly being forced to create an environment devoid of richness.

Furthermore, the Government instruction to get the youngest children back first is questionable. In most nations in the world, the school starting age is 6 or 7, so very few children of nursery and reception age are actually in school.

Mental health problems in children are always much lower in countries with admission at age 6 or 7. Children have had the chance to be children, and without baseline testing (followed by high stakes tests at 7, 11, 16 – England tests more than any comparable country).

There is a strong case to postpone national standardised high stakes testing, it would provide an opportunity to evaluate the impact of tests on children and teachers.

In any given year, around 15% of teacher leave the profession just after 12 months, and over 30% leave within 5 years. In most cases, that’s 4 years of education/training to find out that teaching is not only hard work, the external pressures of tests and league tables make it mentally and physically damaging, ultimately impossible.

Beyond and C-19, we need to reclaim education to make it progressive and socially responsible, and a National Education Service provides a vehicle to do this. 

Dr Alpesh Maisuria is Associate Professor of Education Policy in Critical Education at the University of the West of England. He writes widely about issues of social class, educational policy, neoliberalism and Marxism, as well the proposal of the Nationalised Education Service; academy and free schools; private schools; Swedish social democracy and class. This blog post is written in a personal capacity. 

*Sections of this writing have been reworked from a Reclaiming Schools blog post. Alpesh Maisuria is a Steering Group member of Reclaiming Schools.

Keep calm and carry on learning – Part 7

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Equality of learning in lockdown …

In the seventh in a series of blog posts, Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE, and Online Project Lead considers some of the challenges families from disadvantaged groups are facing in lockdown and what is needed to combat these inequalities.

Nine weeks in…

 … here in England things are changing. We’re now allowed to sit in a park and have a picnic. We can have as much exercise as we like and even go to garden centres. The first steps of returning to ‘normality’ are tentatively taking shape. However, the outlook for young people to return to schools and colleges is not on the horizon and our youth continue to be home schooled.

For some youngsters home schooling is working. Lessons are emailed in, downloaded and supported by parents and carers. However, there has been and continues to be a disproportionate impact of Covid19.

Home schooling has been dominated by online access. Week after week we welcome more organisations supporting online learning with free access to their resources, daily online activities and a social media frenzy of ideas to keep young people engaged while stuck at home. This blog has done its fair share of sharing such websites. But what about those who haven’t got access to the internet?

This week, the Good Law Project has argued that the reliance on online learning during lockdown is illegally disadvantaging some young learners who don’t have access to tablets and laptops and inadequate broadband. If hardware is available it may be shared by the family and pupils won’t have access to it for school work when they need it.

Add to this how greater numbers of lower income families, in what tend to be  more densely populated homes, are having to turn to food banks. Those pupils who would normally receive free school meals are having to negotiate new systems and pressures to ensure they have food.   In such circumstances it is not surprising that these groups have been the most harshly hit by the virus.

Covid19 has shown the reality of inequality in the UK.

Over the coming weeks it is essential that educational inequalities are addressed else the most vulnerable will become yet more vulnerable. But what intervention would work? Many schools are reporting distributing laptops and tablets to their most disadvantaged pupils, but this doesn’t ensure there is access to broadband or even electricity to support them.  This cannot be the answer.

Our most disadvantaged learners need a clear and supported educational strategy to ensure that the gap in achievement is not increased; every individual needs to be supported in order to meet their potential.

Reopening schools as soon as possible is not the answer.

It needs to be safe for both pupils and staff. Once back, the gaps need to be assessed and the curriculum adjusted. Reform is essential in order to rebalance teacher workload and improve the retention of our teachers so consistency can be maintained for our learners. Reform is essential to rethink the exams and assessments undertaken at all school stages and take account of the inequalities the pandemic has accentuated. We cannot just expect the gaps to grow and mind them.

Our education system needs to be right for all, not just for some. It is failing and will continue to fail if systematic change does not occur. 

Dr Verity Jones is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Online Learning Project Lead and Acting Associate Head of Department for Learning, Teaching and Student Experience.

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Lock down for teenagers

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Dr Fay Lewis Programme Leader for the MA Education at UWE explores ways in which older teenagers can maintain a sense of purpose during lock down.

With work being set by schools and an impressive (if overwhelming) array of online facilities, families may be finding that there is more than enough to keep young children busy.  However, it may be a different story for older teens.  Those, in particular, in Year 11 or 13 have had to deal with a rather sudden and dramatic change in life with a shift in focus from the big exam push to, well, nothing! 

The following is by no means a list of how to parent your teen (who would be daft enough to think that they have got that sussed out!) or a list of resources.  Rather, it is some collective thoughts from parents of those who find themselves in this rather strange hinterland, attempting to help our young people maintain a feeling of purpose during lockdown. 

Do future you a favour

Focus on what you plan to move onto next.  What is it that you can be working towards that may give you a head start or make life easier when you move onto the next stage?  As well as the Oak National Academy and BBC resources for teaching or learning, for those moving onto academic studies learning to touch type or how to use programming skills such as Python, or statistical packages may be skills that you are thankful for in the future.  Unifrog and Futurelearn are just two examples of where a wide range of courses can be found, with companies such as JSTOR making their materials free online too. Vocational skills are also important.  Whilst it may not be possible to undertake practical activities think about complimentary skills such as basic maths that you may need or using packages such as photoshop or excel.  Read blogs or watch you tube videos in related areas as much as possible to give yourself a head start.

General life skills

Again, this is about doing future you a favour.  What skills are you going to be thankful that you have developed in a few years’ time?  Now may be a good time to start to brush up on the theory element of the driving test, learn how to change the oil, a wheel or even just top up the water in a car. If you have a bike, learn how to service and maintain this.  Perhaps you could practice making some basic meals?  Jamie Oliver on Channel 4 has some great ideas for getting inventive with what is left in the cupboard!  More confident cooks could ask for the family food budget for the week, write a meal list and shop for this.  If there are some tins of paint available learn how to paint and decorate your room, learn how to put up a shelf or a picture etc.  For those with the travel bug consider brushing up on language skills, plan a future trip abroad or explore types of temporary or volunteer work available overseas for when life starts to return to normal.  Think about how you want to live and what will help you to get there.

Be useful

Helping others is a great way to feel good!  Keep an eye out for local volunteer groups.  If it safe to do so you may want to spend some time helping out by doing food shopping or collecting medicines etc for those in isolation.  If your circumstances won’t allow this try setting up a regular email or facetime exchange with someone who is in isolation on their own.  Connections with younger children are great.  Perhaps you could video call younger relatives, children of friends or children that you babysit for and offer to read them a story, play a game or even listen to younger children reading to you.  You could help them to brush up on their football skills or offer help with school work.  More widely, you could research charities that need support, this doesn’t just have to be financial support, raising awareness can be vital to these groups too.

Stay active

Even the least sporty teen is used to a certain level of activity whilst at school or college and it is easy when out of normal routine to slip into a sedentary lifestyle.  Find what works for you whether it be Bollywood dancing, martial arts or couch to 5K.  The Joe Wicks PE sessions are designed for younger children but can be great fun for people of all ages.  Other celebrities such as Oti Mabuse and Davina McCall are both making materials available online.  Professional and amateur sports clubs have all been working hard publishing training suggestions and resources.  It may be that you find something in particular that you enjoy or that you try out a variety of new activities and develop a new hobby.

Stay connected

The things that us parents have moaned about for years really to come into their own at them moment.  Teens are great at connecting with friends via a number of platforms but remember that virtual face to face catch ups are just as important as sending messages.  You may have family members who are living in lonely conditions at the moment who would very much appreciate short, regular catch ups.

Do something you love

What is it you really enjoy?  Whether your passion lies in drawing, football, robotics it is important to maintain your interests and spend time doing something that you find really interesting, becoming absorbed in something that fascinates you on your own or through an online course can be very relaxing.  If music is your thing Whatsonlive.co.uk have a list of some free and some chargeable concerts or you could try dipping your toes into a new genre each week.  Many zoos such as Edinburgh and Dublin have set up online zoo tours if you love animals.  For readers, Amazon have increased their range of free books, e.g. through Audible.  Anyone who loves the theatre should take a look at Patrick Stewart reading #ASonnetADay on his Facebook Page.  The National Theatre showing various West End productions, the Royal Opera House, Royal Shakespeare Company have also made many performances available for free online.  Think about what it is that you love and how you can explore it in new ways. A simple google search of the name of your hobby pus the words ‘at home’ can unearth a treasure trove of ideas and activities

But be safe…

Online safety will be of particular importance currently.  Vodafone digital parenting, Thinkuknow, The Safer Internet Centre and Digizen are all great examples of websites providing information for educators, parents, carers, and young people about online safety.  More widely, whilst structure is good, imposing a schedule may only breed resentment, instead let your young person take charge of this for themselves.  If they can do a few aspects from some of the above themes it may help them to avoid drifting the days away in a haze of Snapchat/Instagram/XBOX  etc.  We can only hope!

Keep Calm and Carry on Learning – Part 6

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Need a new book?

In the sixth in a series of blog posts, Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education and Childhood at UWE, and Online Project Lead looks at a new storybook for key stage 2 pupils and how we can use it to excite and engage home learners.

Six weeks in …

… and there’s growing concern for children’s progress in reading becoming more apparent as home schoolers struggle not only to get time to sit and do reading, but also access new material children want to read. With school and local authority libraries closed, many families are having to put up with what’s on their own shelves. Some communities are organising street book swaps, or joining the local librarian for an online storytime, or a socially distanced friend or family member may be doing  a Zoom bedtime reading session.  All of these are great ways to inspire and enable reading moments. But are there any other books and how can we use them to engage children at home?

In April I was delighted to be part of the team from UWE, Bristol who received the Geographical Association’s silver publishing award for our book: DRY, the story of a water superhero. If you are in need of a new book for your collection, then this might be something you can enjoy at home –  we have got a free electronic version (in English and Welsh) you can access here: English Welsh.

This book is based on the conversations and findings of research in five river catchments across the UK drawing on experiences and memories of drought and water scarcity. We took some of these findings and wove them into a story about a girl in year 6 who needs to do a school project that sees the ups and downs of engaging in community action. This may have resonance with many young people who have been active in the climate strike protests.

The judges from the Geographical Association commented that the book found the perfect balance between powerful personal story line, excellent art work and delivering a range of geographical facts. They felt it would engage and empower our key stage 2 audience. If your young folk only want to look at the pictures then there is plenty to look at in Lucy-Gorrel Barnes beautiful and thought provoking illustrations.

In addition to the book, there are free teaching notes available here.

These notes are filled with challenging and engaging activities that include developing the concepts of ‘water footprints’ and ‘UK droughts’. They are designed to deepen children’s thinking and facilitate questioning, discussion and debate.

Join a free ‘Dry’ webinar on Thursday 21 May

While we would be delighted if you were to dip into these free resources, we would also like to invite you to a free webinar.

On 21st  May we are holding two, 45 minute sessions; one for parents / home educators (10:00-10.45 GMT) and one for teachers (11:00 – 11:45 GMT). During these sessions we will take you through how you might use the book at home and in school and offer some ideas about the kind of activities which we know engage and enable children to become creative, critical thinkers.

If you would like to take part in this free webinar please email : dry@uwe.ac.uk

We hope you enjoy this book and it offers a new reading moment for your children during lockdown.

Dr Verity Jones is Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Online Learning Project Lead and Acting Associate Head of Department for Learning, Teaching and Student Experience.