A new term for children, a new leaf for some
This week children and teenagers all over the UK will be packing their new pencil cases and grabbing their school bags ready for the new school term in the UK’s 30,000 or so schools. In some places, most notably Scotland, slightly different arrangements mean that term doesn’t start this week but for most this is the season of shiny shoes, pristine folders and different teachers.
Many of these youngsters will not have opened a book or thought about schoolwork for at least six weeks. Is that really a sensible way of organising children’s learning? If you sat down now and devised a school year from scratch would it include a very long gap or would it spread the holidays more evenly through the year– as some schools and local authorities have already tried to introduce? The present school year dates back to the need for working class children to bring the harvest in and the obligations of the Henley, Ascot and shooting season for the privileged ones. Why do we persist with it? Several studies have shown that pupils, especially the ones whose learning achievements are already fragile, tend to slip backwards when they’re not exposed to formal education. If we want to raise standards I believe this is something we should look at seriously. Yet teachers and parents are resistant to it.
And yes – before teachers start screaming at me in vociferous horror that they need this break – I do understand that you get tired. I was a teacher too. But we, as a profession, already get more holiday than any other and, hard as we work, we don’t, believe me, actually work harder than many other sectors. And we do ourselves no favours with the rest of the working world by whingeing. Anyway I’m not suggesting that teachers (perish the thought) should have less holiday – only that it should be more evenly spread. The weather, parents please note, is often better in June and September than in August too.
I’ve also been thinking about the thousands of pupils who are moving up to start in new schools this week. Some will be moving on with a large group of people they know from their previous school. Others will, as I did aged 11 (never mind how long ago), find themselves having to be very independent because, to begin with, there are no familiar faces at all at the new school. I was the only one from my primary school to start when I did at my all girls’ secondary school.
So how should teachers deal with that? I can honestly say from my own experience that it wasn’t really a big deal. For the first few days, before I made new friends, I enjoyed popping in to see old friends from primary school to compare notes. And I still have friends from both schools.
On the other hand many children take great strength from the companionship of people they know when they’re in a new and potentially threatening situation, so teachers in the new school should be very careful about grouping and deciding who to put in which class or tutor group.
And don’t let’s forget this is a fresh start. A pupil who has been in trouble and/or experienced what are now euphemistically called ‘behaviour management problems’ might genuinely want to put it all behind him or her. That is why, as a teacher, I never wanted to know too much about what had gone before. Of course schools pass on reports and notes about every pupil but I do hope teachers don’t spend too much time studying them.
Of course it’s essential to know about academic levels, that Emma needs an asthma inhaler, or that James has epilepsy, but new teachers don’t really need to know that Olivia was very insolent to teachers she didn’t respect in her previous school. Olivia could well be determined to do things differently in this school. And she should be given the space to do that.
Personally I’d even be prepared to risk not knowing even about theft in the previous school. If Jack continues to steal in his new school, teachers will know about it soon enough. Meanwhile give him the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to turn over a new leaf if he wants to. If the new teachers know about his past, Jack will sense it and feel defeated before he starts – so he might as well carry on stealing because he has nothing to lose.
Happy new term to everyone it affects.Tagged in: children, holiday, homework, school, summer, teachers, teenagers
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