Schools are enhanced by SEND pupils

My Twitter feed has recently included several posts from educators shocked by examples of schools which seem to exhibit a lack of inclusiveness. Vic Goddard (@vicgoddard), Brian Lightman (@brianlightman) and Stephen Drew (@StephenDrew72), among others, have expressed concern about schools which seek to dissuade prospective parents of students with special educational needs or disabilities from applying. This is done by suggesting, or even explicitly stating, that the School cannot meet the child’s needs, through what Stephen Drew has described as a ‘blatant anti-inclusion narratives’.

These posts have quite rightly highlighted the unfairness and indeed discriminatory nature of denying education to such children, but I would like to make an additional point. It is not just those children who miss out: the whole school community is made poorer by such moves that reduce the diversity of that community. As the Canadian Philosopher, and founder of the L’Arche communities, Jean Vanier put it:

As soon as we start selecting & judging people instead of welcoming them as they are – with their sometimes hidden beauty, as well as their more frequently visible weaknesses – we are reducing life, not fostering it.

Students with special needs enhance a school. They help students understand the diversity of our society, together with the challenges faced by those who do not represent the typical norm, not just in a hypothetical ‘this week we’re supporting a charity for people with X’ kind of way, but as a daily reality. Not least they will learn that nobody should be labelled by a condition, or seen merely as a problem because of it, but rather that we are each a unique combination of attributes, experiences, competencies and aspirations. As such, an inclusive school should see SEND provision as a welcome, positive expression of a healthy learning community.

Much of the comment I have read, and understandable frustration, concerns the actions of individual schools. While it is tempting to view the issue at this level (and only right that wrongdoing should be highlighted for action), I wonder if these actions by single schools aren’t a symptom of a systemic problem? Our current system of Progress 8 scores, Ofsted gratings, and league tables encourages competition between schools. I have written previously in praise of partnership and the good that can be achieved through cooperation. Perhaps the solution to providing truly inclusive educational provision, especially in times of financial hardship, lies in schools working together to pool expertise and resources. Imagine the power of a partnership that commits to securing the best possible outcomes for every child in the community it serves.

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Explaining Easter: Why we celebrate the heart of Christianity with a rabbit that lays chocolate eggs.

The following is the background information for an Easter assembly I put together a couple of years ago. Feel free to use it if you are preparing an assembly or activity for Easter.

I wanted to do something a bit different, while marking the most important feast of the Christian calendar in an appropriate way. It proved popular with staff and students alike, the latter part prompting many students whose families originated from abroad to share some of their own cultural experiences. I have incorporated some of these, adding to those in the original assembly.

Why do we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead with a bunny and chocolate eggs?

EasterThe festival called ‘Easter’ in English celebrates Jesus rising from the dead on Easter Sunday, following the crucifixion, which is marked on Good Friday. It’s the most important feast of the Christian calendar. As hard as you look, though, you won’t find any references to bunnies, eggs, or chocolate in the Gospels. So why does the Easter Bunny bring us delicious chocolate eggs for Easter?

Eggs, new life, and barbaric Brits

Giving eggs in springtime predates Christianity. In many cultures, eggs represent new life, fertility and creation. In mythology, the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre found a wounded bird one winter. Realising that the bird could not survive the cold weather, she not only healed it but turned it into a hare. The hare did survive, and went on to lay coloured eggs the following Spring!

The early Christian church had problems bringing its message to the peoples of Northern Europe, who had a reputation as barbarians. The church decided to fix the dates of key Christian feasts near the times of the year when people were used to partying because of local celebrations. In Britain, Eostre’s festival became the Christian season of Easter. We retained the original name, whereas elsewhere Christians call it ‘Pascha’.

We forgot about the hare, but gave each other painted eggs as presents. Christians took on the egg as a symbol of resurrection. The egg can also represent the stone that was rolled away from Jesus’ tomb, or the empty shell (or half-eaten chocolate egg) can symbolise the empty tomb itself.

Chocolate eggs were introduced by confectionary manufacturers in the 19th Century and soon became very popular. The Easter bunny was reintroduced to Britain from the United States. The traditional hare, or Osterhase, who rewards good children with eggs, had been taken to America by German settlers, but the bunny has gradually lost the mythology of Eostre’s hare, and we now gloss over the idea of it actually laying all those eggs.

Celebrating Easter

There are many different traditions for celebrating Easter around the world:

  • Christians May keep a vigil on the evening of Maundy Thursday, remembering the night before Jesus died. They may then attend a service on Good Friday, remembering the crucifixion, and will go to church on Easter Sunday to celebrate Jesus rising from the dead. In the UK traditional Easter foods include hot cross buns, traditionally eaten on Good Friday, and Simnel Cake, which is topped with eleven marzipan eggs, representing Jesus’ disciples, minus Judas who betrayed him.
  • In Jerusalem, pilgrims may walk the route that Jesus is said to have walked to his crucifixion, the Via Dolorosa (‘Way of Sorrow’). Some carry wooden crosses, remembering that Jesus was made to carry the cross on which he was to be crucified.
  • Sometimes communities will put on Passion Plays which reenact the biblical events of the Easter period. In parts of the Philippines this is taken to an extreme where some participants allow themselves to be actually nailed to a cross.
  • Many children will have fun at Easter egg hunts on Easter Sunday and may have egg-rolling competitions. In the USA the president hosts an Easter egg roll on the White House lawn each year.

Egg painting is an Easter tradition in many European countries, as is bringing spring branches of shrubs and trees into the house and decorating them with painted eggs. In Russia and Eastern Europe eggs are often dyed red and patterns are carved into them. A modern trend is to paint pictures of politicians or celebrities onto eggs.

  • In the Czech Republic and Slovakia boys whip girls legs with decorated willow twigs on Good Friday.
  • In Poland boys pour water on people. Tradition says that a girl who gets drenched will be married within the year. In Hungary this ‘sprinkling’ has been replaced by a spray of perfume.
  • On the Greek island of Corfu, Holy Saturday is ‘Pot Throwing Day’. Earthen ware pots and plates are thrown from balconies to smash on the ground below to greet the spring.
  • In many Caribbean countries, kites are flown on Good Friday, symbolising Jesus’ ascension to heaven.

If you have any other Easter traditions, please let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

However you are spending the holiday, have a very Happy Easter!

Images

Easter Bunny: Pixabay

Calvary: Public Domain Pictures

Painted Easter eggs: Pixabay

Decorated branches: Wikimedia

“I don’t know”: being certain about uncertainty.

‘Confusion is not an ignoble condition.’

Brian Friel, Translations.

I recently read an paper on about the persistence of ‘brain myths’, even among those trained in neurology, by Adrian Furnham. This included several myths about child development and learning. It’s well worth being aware of current research on this field, including those widely-held assumptions which are not supported by evidence. The myths and misconceptions explored in the study were derived from the books Great Myths of the Brain by Christian Jarrett and Great Myths of Brain Development by Stephen Hupp & Jeremy Jewell. Some of the more prevalent included:

  • Adults can usually tell if a child is lying
  • Girls are more likely to have clinical depression than boys
  • Dyslexia’s defining feature is letter reversal
  • Right-brained people are more creative than left-brained people
  • The brain is essentially a computer
  • We only use 10% of our brains

The proportion of participants believing these misconceptions to be true was independent of age, gender and education, including education in psychology. This tendency is therefore something that educators clearly need to be aware of, irrespective of experience or training. I know that I have a tendency to think that I can tell when someone is telling porkies, even when I’ve read the research contradicts this belief.

Are we happier to be wrong than to be uncertain?

One other thing that struck me about the study was the comment by the authors that participants were clearly reluctant to respond ‘don’t know’ in answer to questions, preferring instead to chose a response from the other available options (Definitely True, Probably True, Probably False, Definitely False). The participants in the study may have not wanted to appear ignorant of the topic in question, even if the alternative is to risk being wrong, or they may have been trying to ‘help’ the researchers to collect positive results by opting for a definite answer.

I wonder if we have a tendency to do that outside of the confines of psychology experiments? How often on Edutwitter do we see someone tweet “Interesting question. You know, I’m really not sure”? Most contributions, it seems to me, are firm statements of position in a debate and declarations of certainty.

Confidence in Uncertainty

I’d like to suggest that we we should be more confident about being uncertain. There Are three main reasons for this:

1. I think being comfortable with uncertainty is entirely consistent with reflective pedagogy. If we were certain of everything, then we wouldn’t ever need to ask questions, but we grow as teachers by asking ourselves, ‘How can I improve that?’, ‘Next time I teach that, how can I make it better?’, or ‘Several pupils dropped marks on that question, how can I address that?’. In striving to improve in this way, we acknowledge that accepting that we don’t know it all helps us to become better teachers.

2. We will become better models for our students. This is also something we encourage in our students: to question, try things out and experiment. If we expect these learning behaviours from them, it makes sense for us to model them in our own professional learning. When I first trained as a teacher, I used to worry that a student would ask a question I couldn’t answer. I later came to realise that I didn’t always have to be the ‘expert’, and later still that when they did, this was a fantastic opportunity to model learning. I should say that to foster this type of ‘don’t know’, as a spur to further investigation, we have to create an safe atmosphere of trust where students won’t feel they have to give the ‘don’t knows’ that really means ‘I’m afraid of looking silly / getting it wrong’.

3. We will become better informed and so make better decisions. A danger of being reluctant to say we don’t know is that we are more likely to make mistakes, as as the participants frequently did in the study mentioned above. Being able to say we don’t know when we are unsure, makes us less susceptible to social influence and prompts us to gather more information. In terms of debate, a willingness to be open to ideas, including minority views, enables us to make better decisions, whether or not we come to accept those views.

So, if you see me expressing uncertainty, on Twitter or elsewhere, please bear with me: I just think the path to knowing is sometimes through admitting that I am unsure.

Image: Max Pixel http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/Matter-Note-Duplicate-Request-Question-Mark-2110767

Other posts on psychology and teaching: https://casebyscasebook.wordpress.com/category/psychology/

Investing in Secondary PE: good for both health and academic success

In January, I wrote a post about the clear evidence for the link between regular physical exercise and improved academic performance by children in school.

Last month, the Youth Sport Trust (YST) published the report of its survey of UK secondary schools: PE Provision in Secondary Schools 2018. The report, based on a survey of teachers in secondary schools, highlights a worrying decline in Physical Education:

  • Curriculum time for PE has declined over time, most markedly at KS4.
  • Curriculum time for PE reduces as students move from KS3 to KS4, and beyond.
  • The main reason given for the decline was that additional time was given to core subjects or EBacc subjects.

The YST report concludes that these findings confirm a continuing ‘spiralling downward trend’ in the curriculum time allocated to PE in secondary schools, and that the good work seen in primary schools was rapidly undone. Primary schools will welcome the continuation of the Primary PE and Sport Premium, but there is currently no equivalent financial incentive for secondary schools.

The report focuses on the negative impact this will have on students’ health, particularly in the light of the Government’s Childhood Obesity Plan which aims for an hour of physical activity a day; 30 minutes of which are in school. The average for KS4 quoted in the report equates to barely 20 minutes per day, most likely achieved in one or two sessions a week. While this is hugely important for the health of young people and the future impact of obesity on the NHS and other services, I believe that it will also be detrimental to academic performance in school. Research has shown that devoting curriculum time to physical exercise rather than having a detrimental effect on GCSE subjects, is in fact linked to improved performance by students in English, Maths and Science (Booth et al, 2014).

The YST report calls on the government and school leaders to do more to promote PE and the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle. I think it’s also worth adding that we should take time to understand the research showing that what may appear to be an easy “quick fix” to meet academic performance targets is likely to be counter-productive.