Thursday, 25 October 2007

Carrot - stick, stick - carrot

This week my forehead hurts where I have been slapping it with a Homeresque (and I mean Simpson and not the author of the Iliad) d'oh. For the past two weeks I have been interviewing and editing the Oneword Radio series All the World's A Classroom (transcripts and podcasts coming soon). Much of our debate had been around the widening gap between the students who can operate within the world of the school, and work towards their 5 GCSE passes... and those that are left behind. Our discussion was all based upon how they (those who flounder in the system) can become invested in their learning and how we could broker a deal ,or agreement, with them that kept them interested and was relevant to their lives. You see I naively believed that after 10 years where education, education and yet more education had been at the top of the agenda, that the gaping wound between students who could make school work for them, and those that couldn't ,would have been healed, or at least addressed with some imagination. D'oh - what was I thinking, in fact the government said this very week:

"It is a considerable achievement... that the gap between children from lower income and disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers has not widened." D'oh! (No I don't suppose Ruth Kelly slapped her head but why not - can anyone really think this is an achievement?) And how is this gap being tackled - detention, truancy sweeps and ASBOs.

Within days of this statement, applauding their considerable achievement, the government published their new progress targets for 2008. And is their target for students to be happier? Is their target for all students to receive an education designed for their individual needs? No, it's mostly the same-old-same-old... for schools to achieve a percentage of passes and for that to be better than last year. Smack -d'oh! BUT... there is now a need to close this gap. But how? Well no news on that yet but at least it is being addressed.

Let's just hope nobody looks to South Yorkshire for the answer... as my already pink and sore head was given multiple slaps when I heard about Praise Pods which are taking Rotherham by storm. These are spookily like the diary room of Big Brother, where students are sent to be lavished with praise for doing something good. So far there are 2 schools in the scheme (and 2,000 students have been praised) with 6 more schools set to join up. But when did praise need to be artificial, when did students become so needy of affirmation, and when did all of Rotherham's teachers get replaced by pod people - cold and heartless replicants from space? The inventor of the Praise Pod is working on version 2 which films the student glowing in the praise (like on some giant sun bed) and the film can be sent to the parent's mobile phones to show them how wonderful their child is. Smack -d'oh!

How is this inclusive? How does this heal this ever widening rift of the achievement gap and how does this model emotional intelligence to children. I don't like the praise pods and I don't like the institution that sets ever higher goals for 80% of students but will allow 20% to sink to the bottom (Lord Adonis' figures not mine) for 10 years before addressing the problem. Throw me a soapbox (thanks) so I can say that a society works when it is judged on those at the bottom and not those at the top (oh I feel righteous) Students want to learn - they all do, but many cannot respond to the classroom and the school. That is the challenge facing us today, not to homogenise education but to individualise it, to make it relevant and alive... so how do we do that? Well we need a better carrot than a praise pod and a better stick than calling someone a failure. In fact, lets eat the carrot (great for Vitamin c) and throw the stick away (playing pooh sticks is an excellent pastime) and talk to our learners about what they want and how they see themselves fitting into an educational environment.

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