I didn’t promise coherence. I think all schools should be child centred. My musings on this topic were prompted by some feedback I had from an interview I recently attended. While I didn’t get the job, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive in one particular area: my responses were all incredibly child centred and this was something that had impressed the panel and had really made them think. I was obviously flattered by the positive feedback (I am only human), but it made me think. What responses to questions about education are not child centred?
However you choose to teach in the classroom it will, I think, inevitably be child centred. For a start the maths are against you. There will always be more children in the room than there are you, or other adults (at least in mainstream education). Therefore what happens in the room is always going to be about the students and if they feel it isn’t, then they will make it so. However you choose to teach, it will be about the students in the room. But, the classroom wasn’t what was being talked about in this interview, it was a much wider ranging pastoral role. That made me think about the school as an entity. The raison d’etre of schools must surely be students, what else would it be? If we start with this premise, it should inform all of our following actions.
However, schools are long lived beings (in most cases) and just like your grandma only has her cup of tea made a certain way, and only with PG tips (or Typhoo) and silver top milk and one sugar, schools very often operate in a particular way because that is what they have always done. Children who arrive in Year 7 (or afterwards) are very quickly socialised into the school expectations (and if they are not, then they are frequently removed). Socialising students into expected behaviours isn’t in itself a problem, unless you are the problem child (this is probably an issue for another blog), but increasingly the school’s policies can become problematic for those students who are perfectly compliant and who want to achieve. Schools move away from a child centred approach to a school centred approach, and in doing so perhaps they harm both individuals and the school as an entity. For example, time tables. Students select their GCSE subjects after much consultation, information, advice and guidance. They might do this in year 9, they might do this in year 8. This will be dictated by the school. Some students will be told they cannot do particular subjects because they haven’t high enough SAT’s grades, some will be told demand is too great for a particular subject and they must choose another, still more (usually the entire year group) will be told they must pick between subjects: history or geography, Spanish or French. All the time their choices are being denied, some subjects will be forced upon them: everybody must do, D&T for example. The argument for these choices being forced upon students is that their choices must be timetabled according to what is available (staff, rooms). But what if we started with student choices, rather than the timetable blocks? Why should a 13 year old be forced to choose between their love of history and their enjoyment of geography? If they choose history they cannot study geography in an academic context ever again until they are quite grown up. I went to a school where for GCSE’s I had to study English, Maths and Science. I chose to do History, Geography, Religious Studies, Spanish and French. Students who choose what they enjoy and what they feel they are good at then they might be more successful, which is good for them as individuals, good for their teachers, and good for the school as an entity. Time tabling to student needs must be a possibility. After all, the time table is a construct, not an objective way of organising time, and so offering a student peppermint tea instead of PG Tips, might mean they are more likely to drink it.
When a school does decide to change a policy, introduce a new initiative, go to a two week time table then the first question must be, who does this serve best? If not the child, then who? If not the child, then why? (to bastardise Primo Levi)
These kinds of issues clearly go far beyond the individual school, expectations about subject choice and achievement are dictated by government and schools frequently reflect the newest targets and ideologies that have been issued by the DofE. The measurements of school based on Ebac subjects chosen, insisting all children learn to read in a certain way, or use language in a particular way might be examples of some of these ideas. Again the question is, why does the Department of Education exist if it is not child centred? What edicts pass the child centred test? Who else is education for if not the child? It might be argued that education has benefits that go beyond the individual, we need our children to be educated for the successful functioning of society, to enable them to contribute, to support themselves, ultimately to make money. While all these things may currently be true, we are often told that we need to find something we enjoy in order to be successful- “Find out what you like doing best and get someone to pay you for it.”(Katharine Whitehorn). That is the individual child centred approach. Find out what you like doing and choose between all of those options because the system dictates you must is very different.
The school has decided that all the students have to have their tea (PG Tips)with milk and sugar regardless of how the students prefer their tea.