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.

Cadw, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service, provides a home educated families scheme, giving you access to its incredible array of castles, houses and monuments. The only problem is deciding which to visit first.

Caernarfon Castle, at the very north edge of Wales in the county of Gwynedd, is one of the most impressive Norman fortresses in Britain. Built on the site of an existing Norman mote and bailey castle on the orders of Edward I, it was to become his largest Welsh castle.

Caernarfon was built with polygonal towers rather than the usual cylindrical ones, made with colour coded stones carefully arranged in bands. The Eagle Tower is the most impressive of these.
Built to stamp Edward I’s power over the region, Caernarfon Castle’s appearance was designed to intimidate the locals into accepting English rule and to warn off any potential attackers. Standing at the mouth of the Seiont River, the fortress still dominates the walled town.

An educational visit to Caernarfon Castle can teach you about the architecture of medieval fortresses, battle tactics, building techniques, and what it would have been like to live and work in both the castle and the stone walled town that surrounded it. Not only can you learn about the medieval way of life at Caernarfon, you can also visit the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum, which is housed in two of the castle’s towers and gives insight into the life of the modern soldier. Classes will be able to compare and contrast fighting techniques, weaponry, and the country at large by visiting both the castle and the museum.

In 1284, the very first Prince of Wales, the future Edward II, was born at Caernarfon. Centuries later, in 1911 and 1969, Caernarfon Castle was used for the investiture of the Prince of Wales; thus continuing its role as a royal castle.

Details about booking an educational experience as a home studying family can be found at http://cadw.gov.wales/learning/educational-visits/home-educating-families-scheme/?lang=en

Grayson Perry’s art exhibition at London’s Serpentine Gallery opened on 8th June. It is the work of a master craftsman. The exhibits of pottery, tapestries, woven carpets and metal sculptures address issues of class and popular culture in post-Brexit Britain. A two headed piggy-bank with faces looking in opposite directions invites the visitor to contribute to a common fund using any of the slots that describe themselves; young, old, left, right, urban or country, rich or poor, etc. The cameo designs on the pig’s body merge Brexit and Remain – an even handed view of the politics surrounding the issue.

At the heart of the exhibition are the glazed pots, their surfaces decorated with miniature images and one-liners like “luxury brands for justice” and “I’ve read all the academic research about empathy”. Perry suggests that we have more in common than divides us. One pot has a cameo of Big Ben, Winston Churchill and Nigel Farage. Marmite adverts, the BBC and the NHS are depicted on both pots. Perry suggests that our common humanity overrides our social and cultural divisions.

In the corner of one exhibit are colleges of English eccentrics: a tweedy woman clutching a cat, a man in a cloth-cap seeking confrontation. All the images are crowded together, drawing attention to the infinite variety of Britain’s subcultures.

The woven carpets and pottery display the teeming social landscapes of Britain, moving from bulldogs, red buses, the flag of Saint George, all the way to street art. A carpet depicts Euro lorries on the motorway, cannabis adverts next to a child’s playground, a camp of homeless people under a flyover, and a boy in a baseball cap on a bike looking at Brexit graffiti scrawled on slum dwellings against a background of fields.

Throughout these visual comments on contemporary Britain, Perry is always even-handed. A beautifully glazed Cheshire cat with hypnotic swivel eyes bears the title, “I really love you, super rich cat”. It reminds the viewer that Perry himself depends on marketing and advertising to broadcast his social comments and to get his art seen. And how fascinated we all are with money and the display of wealth.

The whole exhibition is thought-provoking, one of the best craft shows I’ve seen for years. If you are interested in seeing it yourself, it runs unto 10th September.

Code-named Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of Dunkirk took place during the Second World War, between 26th May and 4th June 1940.

The decision to trigger Operation Dynamo was made when large numbers of Belgian, Canadian, British, and French troops were cut off and surrounded by the German army during the Battle of France.

In England, hundreds of small vessels came forward to assist in the evacuation after an order was issued via BBC Radio to “all owners of self-propelled pleasure craft between 30′ and 100′ in length to send all particulars to the Admiralty”.

Although a handful of fishing boats did travel over to Dunkirk to help in the rescue, the idea that hundreds of civilians travelled across the channel to help is largely a myth. Most of the boats surrendered by fisherman and boat owners were crewed by naval reservists and were used, not to cross the entire channel, but to help ferry men from Dunkirk’s beaches to waiting Royal Navy destroyers. In all, a flotilla of 900 naval and borrowed civilian craft went across the Channel under RAF protection.

The German air force, the Luftwaffe, made the evacuation as difficult as possible. In their attempts to halt the Allies efforts, the town of Dunkirk was reduced to rubble, and 106 Allied aircraft and 235 boats were destroyed, leading to the death of 5000 soldiers. However, despite the attempts of the German troops to sabotage the evacuation, Operation Dynamo saw the rescue of 338,226 people. A further 220,000 Allied troops were rescued by British ships from the French ports of Cherbourg, Saint-Malo, Brest, and Saint-Nazaire.
When the rescued men arrived in England they were welcomed as heroes, but the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, although proud of his troops, admitted that the events that led to the evacuation having to take place had been a “colossal military disaster.” A large amount of equipment had been left behind, and France was considerably weakened, leaving Britain vulnerable to invasion by the Nazi troops. It was this threat of German invasion that led to one of Churchill’s most memorable speeches:
“We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”

Churchill’s determination paid off, and Hitler never managed to invade Britain. The Second World War however, would not be over for another five years.

 

  –  A major film centring around Dunkirk is due in cinemas soon, directed by Christopher Nolan. 

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?

Section B – Comparison of two Anthology poems

The question in Section B will ask you to compare two poems from the fifteen which you have studied. The examination paper will choose one poem; you must choose the other.

Preparation is key! It is absolutely vital that you are comfortable and familiar with all the poems. This is no mean feat, so do take it seriously. This is a tricky examination and students (and teachers!) are understandably a little nervous about this. Read through the poems until you are sure of each one. Can you confidently explain the structure, form, imagery and themes in each one? Have you learnt some key quotations for each and every poem?

  • Quick Quiz

Love and Relationships
(1) Which of the poems are about marriage?
(2) Which of the poems are about love between parents and children?

Power and Conflict
(1) Which of the poems consider the power of nature?
(2) Which of these poems are written after the conflict?

If you can, ask a friend or relative to help you revise. Give them a list of the poems you have studied and ask them to read it to you. Give a brief synopsis of each poem.

  • The Question
    Your question will be something like this:

Love and Relationships
‘Compare how poets present the idea of romantic love in ‘Love’s Philosophy’ and in one other poem from your cluster’.

Or

Power and Conflict
‘Compare how poets present the idea of power in ‘Ozymandias’ and in one other poem from your cluster’.

  • Planning your answer

Look carefully at the question and consider what is being asked. You will have the text of the poem in front of you. So what ideas of romantic love are presented in ‘Love’s Philosophy’? You will need to look at the language, structure and form. Consider also the wider context of the poem, e.g. Shelley as a romantic poet. Annotate your poem quickly. Remember to focus on the question being asked. You are not being asked merely to analyse the poem, but to prepare a considered, conceptualised response.

Once you have annotated the first poem (spend about five minutes on that), turn your attention to choosing a second poem. You will not have the full poems in front of you, but you will have a list of them you can read through. Look for comparisons and similarities. Which of the other Relationships poems focus on romantic love? Which of the Conflict poems discuss power? Give yourself a couple of minutes to decide this (and then stop thinking about it and move on!). From memory, jot down key features (language, structure, form and context) of the second poem. How does the poet present ideas about romantic love/power in the poems?

You now have your two poems and notes about each of them. Spend an additional five minutes drawing together a plan. You should aim for about three or four good paragraphs. It is important to not just list the features of the poem; you must explain why they are there and the impact they have. Skilled answers will move beyond a basic comparison and begin to create a conceptualised narrative considering the question of, for example, romantic love/power.

And Finally… Start Writing! A question like this will probably require 10-15 minutes serious planning. A good plan on your exam paper shows the examiner that you understand the question, have considered your answer and you know where you’re going. If you start to edge towards the 15-minute mark, however, it is time to move on. You have revised for this, you have learnt all your quotations and you have prepared a solid plan. Now you need to start writing!

 

A final blog, on approaching Section C, the Unseen question, will be published on this site next Thursday.

Is your coursework deadline looming? It’s easy to panic about getting all your studies completed, especially when a percentage of your grade is riding on how good your coursework is. However, it can be a great advantage to have part of your GCSE, A Level or other result safely under your belt when you go into your exams. You’re not under the same intense pressure that you would be in an exam situation, so your work is likely to be of a higher standard. Here’s how to make sure you get it right…

  •   Get a clear understanding of what is required

If you have an essay question, for example, write it down before taking it apart. Look at each word of the question and write what it means. If you’re in any doubt about what you’re being asked to do, talk to your tutor or teacher. You should also check how many marks are being allocated for each part of the coursework: the number of marks will dictate how much time and detail should go into each section. If possible, read a few sample answers to get a good idea of what you need to do to get it right.

  •  Plan your research

Whatever the subject of your coursework, you will need to read texts and do research online to arm yourself with everything you need to answer the questions that are being put to you. Make a list of all the sources of information you will be using, and allocate specific amounts of time to spend reading and taking notes for each.

  •  Don’t rush the writing

Your coursework plan should include plenty of time to write your essay and answer the questions posed, or to present your findings. Do not leave this until the night before. Despite the fact that lots of students might say this works for them, you will just feel unbearably stressed and pressurised, and your work will not be to the highest standard it could be. Give yourself a few days to complete the bulk of the writing at a relaxed pace with time for breaks, and your coursework will be much more likely to help you get that grade you’re after.

  •  Factor in editing time

No matter how hard you’ve worked, the first draft of your coursework will not be your best work. Allocate time for drafting well in advance of the deadline so that you can correct mistakes and make improvements. If you find it difficult to read your own work with a critical eye, ask a friend, family member or tutor to offer ideas on how you can make sure that your work is the best it can be.

The key to successfully planning coursework for any subject is allowing plenty of time, and incorporating as much detail as possible into your schedule. This is your chance to make sure you’re going into the exam knowing that you’re part of the way there, so don’t waste it!

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.

 

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