Opinion: Does our Education system lack Imagination?

Is the current education system eliminating imagination and artistic potential from our future society?

In recent years the British government has been accused of trying to marginalise the Arts subjects, in favour of Core subjects such as Science, Languages and Maths. The value placed on Art, Music and Drama appears to have decreased, with even the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) having dropped all Arts subjects, bar English, from its list of requirements.

Commenting on his post The Seven Deadly Sins that Prevent Creative Thinking, Psychology Today blogger Michael Michalko said, “Unfortunately, I’ve come to believe that education is a great inhibitor of our natural creativity… To me it seems that in the real world those who know more, create less; and those who know less create more.”

Michalko echoes the opinion that Sir Ken Robinson made in his 2006 TED talk, when he spoke passionately on why we need to create an educational system that nurtures, rather than undermines, creativity ( https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity ).

It could be said that in a modern world, full of technology and instant request filling opportunities, children don’t need to be as imaginative or creative as they have been in the past. In truth, many would argue that the opposite is the case. While the demands of the technology that runs our world means an understanding of science and maths is more vital than ever, the stresses that accompany such ambitions mean that the ability to escape into our imaginations has become just as important.

Creativity, be it through drama, song, playing of a musical instrument, drawing a picture or telling a story, provides a much needed dimension to our personalities, culture, and well-being; In its most extreme case scenario, the sidelining of the Arts would ultimately mean less books to read, less films to see, less songs to sing, and less artwork to enjoy.

In a recent article in the Times Educational Supplement, ‘Too many schools have forgotten that fun is crucially important’, Colin Harris asks if primary schools have become so concerned with meeting the standards of Ofsted and ensuring all government guidelines are met, that there is little time left for children to have fun or learn through creativity.

Mr Harris warns that, “Many of the problems that manifest themselves later at late junior and early secondary phases are due to the insufficient opportunities we have given our children to develop their emotional intelligence through play and creative opportunities when younger… Play and creativity need to permeate all levels of our system. Surely if learning is memorable and inventive then our children will certainly think and behave differently.”

Most teachers would rightly deny that they work hard merely to instil a feeling of dull mediocrity among their pupils. Yet with English teachers having little choice but to teach us what we are supposed to think about the books we read rather than allowing us the freedom to make up our own minds, and decreasing educational budgets meaning that even if a school wanted to stage a play or buy instruments to form an orchestra they can’t afford to, it is easy to see why the lack of creativity argument continues to rage. After all, any school that was seen to put the desire to buy dancing shoes ahead of purchasing new science equipment would lose its reputation fast.

It is fair to say that, on an individual level, the majority of teachers do their best to introduce as much creativity as they can to their daily lessons; but they are up against a system that is, at this current time, discouraging rather than encouraging that angle of education.

August in the UK doesn’t just mean a month of school holidays for many school and college pupils; for those who have sat their GCSE, A level, Standards, Highers, BTEC and equivalent exams, it brings to an end a long wait to see if those exams have been passed, and if so, how well.

After the A level results were released in England and Wales this year it was widely reported that, for the first time in many years, boys had fractionally higher grade marks than girls. A number of reasons have been put forward for what seems to be perceived as a sea-change, including the structure of this year’s exams. However, this may not necessarily be true. For instance, The Guardian also quotes a research group called Education Datalab which comments: “Their [boys] performance has improved relative to girls’ this year, but this might have been as much to do with the academic ability of the boys and girls who chose these subjects this year as it is to the changes to A level structure.”

In other words, the differences between boys and girls grades can depend on so many different factors that stating that boys are cleverer than girls this year, or vice versa, is a bold statement. There are so many variables to take into consideration; geographical differences, the subjects chosen (if more boys than girls do chemistry, then they are bound to have the higher percentage of good grades).

It is understandable that newspapers and the media in general feel duty-bound to report on the annual exam results. After all, those pupils are the very people who will steer our country through the next eighty or ninety years. There is a tendency however, when there is no real news to report about the annual results, to focus in on tiny differences in gender achievements or a tiny rise or fall in the overall grades received overall. More or less A grades than average can make a good newspaper headline- and good headlines sell papers.

In reality, despite what reporters say on the television, radio, in the newspapers or on social media platforms, the students that achieve the best exam results are the ones who have worked the hardest. It is those pupils who will go on to get the university places, apprenticeships, and the careers they hoped for- whether they are boys or girls.

A good teacher is someone you’ll remember forever. But what is it that makes a teacher special? What is it about some teachers that make them people you’ll tell your own children about in thirty years’ time? The best teachers tend to have some of the following very particular qualities in common.

They care
No matter how many pupils they have in their class, they manage to make you feel as if you are important. They want to listen to you. Your opinion and ideas clearly matter to them, whether it is academic or personal. They ask you how you are when they see you.

They get to know you
A teacher who takes the time to get to know about their pupils hobbies, out-of-class interests, and personal strengths and weaknesses within and outside the classroom, will always be a better teacher than one who simply turns up to teach.

They have passion for their work
A teacher that oozes enthusiasm and is excited by their subject is going to pass that enthusiasm onto their classes.

They are intelligent
Being passionate about a subject is only worthwhile if a teacher knows their subject well. The more intelligent and well versed a teacher is, then the better they’ll teach.

They make you laugh
Everyone remembers a teacher who made them smile. They don’t have to tell a joke a minute; just someone that makes their lessons happy places to be.

They are fair
They listen to every side of an argument, be it one designed to be discussed in the class, or an argument that has erupted between pupils. Democracy in the classroom will help pupils cope with future confrontation fairly and democratically. Discussing problems as a group in a calm and fair way will help students be more independent and capable of decision makers later on in life.

They are thoughtful
Favourite teachers are always thoughtful in the way they teach. For example, rather than simply printing out a worksheet for you to do, they take time to make everything visible. They draw pictures, use charts, and explain things carefully. By bringing the subject to life they make it memorable. A history teacher may dress as a Roman soldier to help you learn the parts of the legionary’s uniform; a maths teacher might turn a difficult problem into a quiz.

They challenge you
Teachers who challenge your abilities and limits without making you feel inferior or stupid, are often favourites with pupils. Teachers that want to challenge you kindly want you to succeed.

They are good listeners
Teachers who don’t interrupt their pupils from speaking, and who encourage the shy to take a turn in class discussions without pressuring them, will always be admired and valued by their class.

The memorable moment
A teacher that naturally creates one special moment, one single random thing that makes you remember them forever, is the most special of all. That special something will only ever be personal to you. For example, a teacher who takes the time to read and comment on a story you’ve written in your own time. Or a special moment on a school trip, a conversation about your future that helped you see your way, a kind smile when you needed one the most. That moment can be anything, and when it happens, you’ll never forget it.

During their time at High School, every student in the UK will be given an opportunity to take part in some form of work experience. Such an opportunity is also available via many colleges, and beyond into university life. But why is it so important?

  1. It will help you decide what sort of job you do, and don’t, want in the future.
    Work experience can help you to determine if a particular career is right for you, and conversely, if you are right for it. Even just a week of work experience can help familiarise you with a role enough to know if you need to change career path, or if you have found something you wish to embrace in the future.

      2. Learn from others
By observing those already employed in your work experience venue, you can see how career paths develop, and what the everyday challenges of a job are. Working alongside professionals provides the chance to speak to them, and ask direct questions about their work.

      3. It will help you find a job in the future. Most employers are looking for people who have skills and experience in the world of work, as well as people with good qualifications. A     previous record of work experience shows you are serious about making your way in the world. A survey by UCAS showed that graduates who had no previous work experience were unlikely to be successful during an interview selection process. It also found that one third of employers felt that applicants who did not take unpaid work experience were without the level of knowledge required to cope in the world of work.

      4. It can provide you with contacts for the future
If you are lucky enough to find work experience in a field which you wish to continue into in adult life, then it will give you the opportunity to build relationships with professionals in a potential place of work.

     5. CV building
Even if you don’t find work in a field you wish to continue in later, the more work experience you have on your CV the better. It will show future employers and university selectors that you are the sort of person that is willing to get out there and work.

At whatever stage of your working life, if you are prepared to work for a short time without pay, just to learn new skills, and test out new career paths, then you will not only improve your own confidence, but you will impress future employers, giving you a better footing on your career ladder.

This week the government hailed as a victory the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Term Time Holiday Ban.

The judges ruled that “regular” attendance had to be in keeping with the rules of the school. At present, that means that state-funded schools can only offer time away under exceptional circumstances. Anything else risks slipping an Ofsted ranking.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are pleased the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with our position – that no child should be taken out of school without good reason. As before, headteachers have the ability to decide when exceptional circumstances allow for a child to be absent, but today’s ruling removes the uncertainty for schools and the local authorities that were created by the previous judgement,”

“The evidence shows every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chances of achieving good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.”

So, is the government right? Is the banning of time away from school in term-time the best thing for our children in schools?

There are so many opinions and arguments surrounding this subject, and apparently no clear right or wrong, even after this ruling. I am no different. As a parent, there are certainly any number of questions that I ask myself when considering the issue. But when I do so and I look at my own situation, just to take one example, things only ever become very unclear.

The government have been promoting the benefits of family life for years. They have encouraged parents to eat and play together with their children, for example, actions which will both help increase confidence and interaction with others. But these promotions and edicts, whilst worthwhile, also bring with them similarly valid and concerning questions. What happens if a parent’s employer dictates their annual leave? Is family time no longer important?

For a large number of parents across the country, holiday time is the only time when memories are made. Most parents work in full-time employment, passing each other from childcare to work, work to childcare. Holidays for these families are not a luxury, they are an essential part of family life. I have decided to send my children to school and not be home-schooled, but that does not and should not mean that I am any less able to educate my children. Surely taking a child to Lanzarote to investigate volcanoes would benefit them more than sitting in a classroom looking over a book? Is it no longer my right as a parent to make the right decisions for my child? Do I not know them better than anyone else?

Quite often, children can also become lost in schools, which are often large institutions, and this raises for me again the question of how a parent can agree with this judgement.

The Guardian’s “10 Reasons to Home School your Child” promotes some of the greater flexibility provided through this method of education. Child-led learning, the benefits of one-to-one, the ability to write your own timetable, to form a great social network, all these things are only beneficial. Not to mention avoiding the school run (my favourite feature). And if you decide you want to return your child into the mainstream system at any point later down the line, you can.

So now I am left wondering to myself: Why, actually, have I sent my child to school?

Beginning in 2011, the National Citizenship Scheme is a weeklong challenge for 15 to 17 years-old, which provide a chance to take part to embark on exhilarating adventures, while building on social, work, and life skills. UCAS strongly backs the scheme, and recommends students include NCS in their personal statement.

Split into three main phrases, the 7 day course begins with a four day, three-night residential based activity period. The pursuits available are weather dependent, but involve such activities as canoeing, rock climbing and abseiling. Living in teams of 12 -15 people at an outdoor activity centre, those taking part get to know new people and enjoy their independence away from home.
Phase two of the week sees a further three days in a university-style environment where students get the chance to develop life skills like confidence, leadership and communication.
The final phase of the NCS is to deliver a community project over a period of 30 additional weeks. Working in teams, the participants put the skills they have learnt over the week into practice by delivering a community project of their choice.
Later, they’ll have the chance to attend a graduation party to celebrate completing the course, with family and friends.

So, why should you consider enrolling for a National Citizenship Scheme place?
– NCS gives you exclusive access to work placements, volunteering and events.
– UCAS recommends students include NCS in their personal statement
– You learn the skills employers value
– Learn to budget and live for yourself
– Meet incredible people
– Improves leadership, teamwork and communication skills.

So far, more than 275,000 young people have signed up for the National Citizenship Scheme. If you’d like more information, you can find it here-http://www.ncsyes.co.uk/

These ideas have been written with teenagers in mind (see my earlier blog post ‘Four ways Creative Writing can help your teenager’), but in truth these activities can be used by anyone who can pick up a pencil and write!

I often find it helps to set a timer for these activities (Ten minutes should be about right, although I find students often feel that nine or eleven minutes is more rebellious!). If you still want to write after the timer goes off, that’s fine. The time limit just works to spur you so you don’t see a blank page and panic.

(1) ‘What’s in a name?’ poem
Write your name down the left side of a piece of paper. Then try to think of a word (it can be a noun, verb, adjective, whatever you like!) for every letter of your name. Do not spend too long on this; just write down whatever you think of!

So Emily might write:
Eggs
Marry
Imagine
Lichtenstein
Yesterday

Then write a poem (it doesn’t have to rhyme) using all the words in the correct order.

(2) “Happy Birthday to you!”
It’s your birthday today and you have just opened the worst present ever. What is it?

(3) “But Daisy, blue bananas don’t exist.”
You are walking through a busy supermarket when you hear this sentence. Create a script (For Eastenders? Or The Archers? Or TOWIE?) which features this conversation.

(4) Story prompts
Write a story for eight minutes. You must use all the words in this list (If someone else can read the list out to you over the course of your eight minutes then that is even better, but otherwise just write out your story whilst adding in the words every sentence or so).

For example:

Happy Theatre Bounce
Jacket Lemon Strictly
Sister Jewel Catastrophe

(5) The Argument
Bob hates Jim. Why? Well, write a letter from Bob telling Jim why he can’t forgive him. Then write Jim’s response.

(6) “We were eating cheese sandwiches…” : A story starter

  • “We were sitting on the bench eating cheese sandwiches when she told me…”

Copy that sentence down into your book. Now complete the story!

You can use each or all of these triggers, it’s up to you. But whether you’ve “hit a block” or are putting pen to paper for the first time, any of these tips should prove useful.

 

How are you going to study through this new academic year? Well, If you want to achieve at the highest level possible, it could help to adopt the same strategies of the most successful entrepreneurs on the planet? People like Richard Branson, Peter Thiel, Mark Zuckerberg (above, giving US secretary of state John Kerry a tour of facebook…) and Karren Brady are all very different in terms of personality, but they all share a set of key characteristics that have helped to propel them towards achieving and exceeding all their goals. Here, we discuss how you can use those characteristics in your studies, so that you can achieve your potential.

1. A desire to learn

Regardless of the subject you are studying, a willingness to acquire new knowledge is essential. Entrepreneurs take advantage of every possible opportunity to learn, and rather than seeing it as a chore, they genuinely enjoy the experience.

2. Determination

When Richard Branson was starting out, he didn’t have much in terms of money or support. A big part of his global success has been his dogged determination to continue working despite difficulties and challenges. You can apply this to your studies by using affirmations. Tell yourself that you are going to succeed in your course, and do it regularly – especially at times when you start to doubt yourself.

3. Self-belief

Karren Brady had to employ every possible ounce of self-belief when she took over Birmingham City Football Club. The odds were against her success, but Brady’s belief in her own abilities helped her to completely change the fortunes of the club. If you believe that you are capable of succeeding in your studies, you are much more likely to do so.

4. Believe in what you’re doing

Entrepreneurs are passionate about what they do, and that is a big factor in their success. Don’t complete a course of study just because you think you should – do something you’re interested in and that you care about. If you choose something that matters to you, you won’t find it hard to be motivated.

5. Make flexible plans
Everyone who is successful in business has to make plans, and they are very important in terms of deciding how things are going to work and how progress will be measured. However, a great entrepreneur will be able to adapt their plans at the last minute to suit changing circumstances. In your studies, you should be prepared to change your plans when the situation demands it, and still get your work done.

6. Networking
Entrepreneurs are skilled networkers. What this means is that they make connections with people who have expertise or experience, and call on them when they need help. You can make connections with your tutors, other students, and friends or family members who have a knowledge of your subject. This can help you to feel supported as well as providing you with help to succeed.

Are you feeling a little nervous about your exams? The key to success is remaining calm and in control. The best way to take control is by following a dedicated and varied revision schedule. Simply staring at your text books is not the answer – here’s what to do…

1. Break up your time. It’s especially important to break your revision time into small chunks when exams are just around the corner. You want to make sure that every subject is covered in as much detail as possible.

For example, if you have decided that you are going to revise on a Saturday morning, break it down into study periods of 45 minutes each. Write down what you are going to cover in each study period, thinking carefully about how long each task will take.

2. Use a pen and paper. You’ve probably done most of your coursework and revision on your laptop or tablet. However, using a pen and paper has significant advantages when it comes to committing information to memory.

Read through the material you need to know. Then, use your pen to write down the most important points, facts, dates or quotations. The act of writing will help you to absorb the information, and also aids your evaluative skills – which are important in almost all subjects.

3. Create personal audio notes. Having created your paper notes, it’s now time to really consolidate your knowledge and ensure that you don’t forget any important details.

Using your phone or tablet, choose the voice recording feature and read your notes aloud. For the absolutely vital information, add a sound effect or change your voice – both will help it to stand out and instantly become more memorable.

4. Listen up. Listen to your personal audio notes as much as possible, and vary the recordings you choose so that every subject is covered.

Making a cup of coffee in the morning? That’s 5 minutes that could be spent listening to your notes. On the bus? Put in your earphones and listen to your notes as you watch the world go by.

5. Pop quiz. Adding a little fun to your learning can dramatically increase your chances of exam success. Get a friend or family member to help you create a quiz about the course(s) you have been studying. For wrong answers, you pay a penalty. For example, if you have forgotten a quotation, you have to go out into the street and shout it aloud!

It’s not too late to complete this revision plan: all you need is a little determination and the desire to succeed! If everything is getting too much for you, don’t be afraid to take time out to rest, relax and listen to your favourite music. You could even try doing a 5 minute breathing meditation to help give you focus and a sense of calm. Everyone will wonder what your secret is!

50,000 children are educated at home or out of school. That’s the number of children in England who are not signed up to a school, who don’t go to school regularly, who don’t have to follow the national curriculum, and who don’t have to be tested regularly. This is all perfectly legal. Whilst an education for children aged 5-16 must be provided, that doesn’t have to be in a school. This is accepted, though it is not always checked or monitored.

So what happens to these children? Some are literally educated at home by the parents or carers, doing mainly what the adults think is best or what has been agreed between them and the children. This can include visits to local art galleries, museums and libraries, an outdoor education and general exploration of the world around them, as well as more standard study at home. For the more adventurous, however, education outside of school can involve travel, and if so, often for a year or more. There are families who set sail on boats or head off in camper vans, with the next lesson their next horizon. One such family travelled around the United Kingdom, before setting off to Europe. To provide an example of what they gained,  on one occasion they visited a wind-farm and used the knowledge gained to learn about physics, engineering and conservation. Another family travelled around the continent; as they went the children learned Mandarin and Spanish – the second and fourth most widely spoken languages in the world ( and incidentally, they also became proficient with the keyboard, the violin and the guitar ). In a world full of conflict and misunderstanding, they might argue, it’s important that young people grow up able to understand the languages huge numbers of people speak. And indeed, it is often a matter of debate in this country that the number of children who are growing up with the choice or will to do that is actively falling, lending this all the more credence.

Distance learning, whether it be more domestic or expansive, can see that young minds are liberated, that creativity and spontaneity are encouraged, and unorthodox skills and knowledge are valued. The degree to which the national curriculum is followed is allowed more flexibility. And when the time comes, children can ease their way back into the system for exams and maybe university entrance. What could possibly be wrong with that? Well, others argue plenty. Home education is often seen as an indulgence by the parents / carers; there can be a suspicion that there is some kind of self-interest in their disapproval of their children’s schools, and that maybe they’re the ones who want the gap year. Still others argue that the single most important function of a school is to encourage socialisation with peers, and that the very independence from the family mainstream education develops is something these travellers may well not get.

We live in curious times – individual freedoms are said to be important. But many of our structures, schools among them, seem to stifle them. Whilst the debate over home education is unlikely to go away, statistics would suggest that taking its path can lead to achievements just as good as those attained via the mainstream. Do we not have the right to keep our options open, then?

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