Sunday, 8 October 2017

On Shaming Children

Imagine being 8 years old and having to stand in a separate dinner queue from your peers to receive your free school meal, acutely aware that everyone else in the canteen knew your parents couldn't afford to feed you. I don't have to imagine as this was the system for free school meals used in primary school back in the 1990s. Thankfully we've come a long way since then...or have we...

I've read a number of stories over the past few weeks about children being humiliated and shamed in schools. Most recently, there was a school who sent a letter to parents wanting them that their children would be fed 'bread and fruit' if the parents didn't settle their lunch debt. And, to avoid 'embarrassing' their child they should pay up promptly. It's the last but that really rubs. The school acknowledges that enforcing this policy will cause potential shame and yet is willing to carry on regardless. I've of also heard schools in the States who have resorted  to stamping children's arms if their parents have failed to pay the lunch bill. Of course, some pupils will respond to these dehumanising policies by simply not eating at all, Which, as we know, isn't a good idea.  

What I find equally concerning about the whole lunch debate is how some people try to defend it by arguing that (a) at least they're giving the kids something to eat, (b) it's wrong to shame a school and/ or (c) if you're not entitled to free school meals then obviously you can afford to feed your children. It's the latter point I take considerable issue with. Given that 60% of working families are now living in poverty it's really not that straight forward. 

I understand that schools are under a lot of financial pressure and I blame the government for that. However, shaming children for their parent's inability or unwillingness to pay for lunch is not the solution. Schools need to work with parents towards a solution that doesn't involve punishing the child. In fact, the only thing that shaming is likely to do is build a deep sense of resentment within the child towards school and home. I know many schools who don't feel the need to shame children even during these difficult economic times. It's possible. 

I've mainly focussed on one aspect of child shaming here but I've noticed other examples recent weeks such as making children wear signs around their necks for uniform misdemeanours. Again, these at the extreme end of shaming but I also think it's done quite subtly in many schools. For example, how many schools use behaviour and/ or performance charts on classroom walls? I worked in a school where every form tutor was supposed to put up a RAG sheet of pupils' performance across all their subjects to show if they were above, on or below target. As this was in a secondary school it meant that not only would the rest of the form see it but so would the other 350 pupils who used the classroom. For me, these practices amount to little more than a modern-day equivalent of Dunce's Hat; a form of humiliation and shame which potentially has long-term psychological damage. 

I'm not a psychology expert and nor do I claim to be. However, a cursory search on EBSCOHost reveals a number of studies which have highlighted the consequences of shaming children and the deep physiological damage in can cause including feelings of self-degradation, anxiety, depression, perfectionism and aggression. At a time when mental ill-health is on the rise amongst young people, it's probably best to avoid anything that will exacerbate these worrying trends. 

Schools have a duty of care towards children. This includes protecting them from physical and emotional harm, treating them with respect and making them feel safe. It's a real shame that some schools are choosing to ignore this. 

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Five Books on Educational Research

I'll start by saying this is not another '10 books every teacher must read about education’ posts. Mainly because I don't like people telling me what I must do and I’ve no desire to inflict my reading list on anyone else. This is more of a 'five useful books on educational research that you may or may not want to read if you have the time and desire to do so'. Admittedly, the title could do with some work. 

I should probably point out that the majority of these books are about qualitative research as (a) I’m trying to indoctrinate you and (b) this is an exercise in self-congratulation. It’s also a post for anyone interested in conducting their own research rather than a summary of findings from meta-analyses such as in Hattie's Visible Learning. So, here we go...

Brooks, R., Te Riele, K. and Maguire, M., 2014. Ethics and education research

I'm going to start with a book on ethics as I worry that it sometimes gets overlooked in discussions around educational research. This book provides a detailed overview of the ethical issues involved in conducting educational research such as positionality, anonymity and informed consent. If you haven’t got the time to read this the definitely check out this handy guide from BERA.

Denzin, N.K. and Lincoln, Y.S. eds., 2011. 
The Sage handbook of qualitative research

This is probably one of the best all-rounders on qualitative research. It covers everything from theoretical paradigms to strategies of inquiry to collecting, interpreting and presenting your data/ findings. Also, as this is the fifth edition you should be able pick up earlier editions online quite cheaply. I would also highly recommend other works by Denzin and Lincoln but this book provides a great starting point. 

Crotty, M., 1998. The foundations of social research: Meaning and perspective in the research process.

This book is not just about educational qualitative research but is great for connecting theory and practice. It covers the four main elements of research design with accessible precision; epistemology, theoretical perspectives, methodology and methods. Also, if you want to get your head around postmodernism then please head straight to chapter 9. It saved me hours. 

Creswell, J.W. and Poth, C.N., 2017. Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches

This book focuses specifically on five qualitative approached; narrative research, phenomenology, case studies, grounded theory and ethnography. I’m a big fan of all of these but there’s also enough within these pages for any qualitative researchers looking for information on philosophical assumptions and interpretative frameworks. Also, as this is the fourth edition, you should be able to pick up a relatively cheap copy. 

Kincheloe, J.L., 2012. Teachers as researchers (classic edition): Qualitative inquiry as a path to empowerment. Routledge.

I've only just started reading this but it's good. Really good. To give you a flavour of its contents, I’ll share a section from the blurb...this book 'argues that only by engaging in complex, critical research will teachers rediscover their professional status, empower their practice in the classroom and improve the quality of education for their pupils'. Quite the claim. 

I'm hoping to blog more about qualitative research in the future when I'm done tweeting about tea and beer...

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Teach Like a Thespian

My love of theatre can probably be traced back to Year 5 when I played Macbeth in front of a whole-school audience, the most dramatic moment coming as I thrusted my plastic devil’s fork into James Forrester’s bollocks. The painful scream which echoed around the dinner/ PE/ assembly hall marked not only the death of King Duncan but also my short-lived aspirations of becoming a thespian.  

Fast-forward 15 years (circa 2005)...

I didn’t take the decision to become a teacher lightly. Before starting Initial Teacher Training I spent a couple of years as a youth worker and school-based learning mentor, dipping my toe in the water before making the pedagogical plunge. It was during these years that I realised teaching was indeed for me. There are, I guess, tenuous similarities between acting and teaching; the classroom a stage, the lesson a performance and the pupils making up the audience. Though, admittedly, I am yet to receive a standing ovation for my endeavours. That aside, teaching is also very different from acting. For example, you have to respond in real-time to your audience, there is a great deal of ad-libbing and there is certainly no curtain call. Teaching is so much more than a script to be delivered; it involves human interaction which, from my experience, rarely goes as plans. Which is one of the many joys of teaching. 

And yet, there are some people in education who argue in favour of fully-scripted lessons. Yes, like one would expect an actor to deliver. For clarification, scripted lessons are not merely detailed lesson plans but rather step-by-step guides for content delivery. Below is an example from Bridge International Academies (BIA) whose schools educational model has been heavily criticised for using unqualified teachers and unsanitary working conditions. What's more worrying is that Lord Nash, the schools minister, recently invited representatives of BIA for talks regarding this low-cost model of teaching. 

Supporters would argue that they are a way of 'teacher-proofing' lessons and ensure that learning becomes more efficient and effective. However, I believe scripted lessons go against what teaching is (an art/ craft) and actually reduces learning to a robotic transmission of knowledge from adult to child. Which, in light of a some reductive educational discourse, should come as little surprise. For me, scripted lessons are but another step towards the automation of teaching. Something I believe is worth fighting against. 

Although scripted lessons are still largely uncommon in the United Kingdom, there has been an increase in scripted curricula in the States following the introduction of the No Child Left Behind agenda, resulting in a huge growth in commercialised lessons and programmes. Worryingly, as we have seen with the introduction of Chartered Schools and No Excuses behaviour policies, what happens in schools in America often finds its way across the pond.  In fact, a recent Secret Teacher article highlighted how scripted lessons had been introduced to a MAT with experienced teachers being told to 'stick to the script'. This concerns me for number of reasons:
  1. Scripted lessons de-professionalises teaching. You don’t need a qualified teacher to deliver a script. You just need someone who can read from a piece of paper or a tablet. Not only that but they are an attack on practitioner creativity and autonomy. It eliminates the possibilities of using dialogic teaching which has been proven to enhance learning.  
  2. Children deserve better. I say that as both a teacher and a parent. I want my children to be taught by someone who has a passion for teaching and learning and not some sort of iTeacher reading mechanically from a pre-paid script.
  3. This is yet another example of inviting market forces into the educational landscape. There is a lot of money to be made out of scripted curricula. I’ve written quite an extensive piece on how neoliberalism permeates every aspect of educational policy and practice in the UK, this is another nail in the coffin for public education. 

Yes, I know these views are shaped by my own biases, however, some of the research around scripted lessons hardly fills one with a great deal of confidence. In a ten year study of effective reading instruction, Allington (2002) concluded that there are no ‘proven’ scripted programmes and actually the most effective schools are those that invested time and money into developing teachers’ expertise.

Dresser (2012, p. 83) found that scripted learning programmes actually had both a negative impact on teachers and students and concluded that a 'better option to scripted instruction is to prepare teachers with the necessary knowledge, dispositions and skills to succeed'. Yes, just as Allington (2002) discovered, schools need to train teachers properly if they are to have a positive impact on children’s learning. Dresser (2012, p. 82) goes on to suggest that 'scripted programs keep education and learning at a superficial level in that they narrow opportunities for teachers and students to be innovative'. It’s fine if you don’t believe innovation to be important in the learning process but I actually think it’s at the heart of meaningful education. Dresser (2012,) concludes by arguing that the drive for standardized curricula has left many children unprepared and teachers disillusioned about their profession.

Similarly, Parks and Bridges-Rhodes (2012) have highlighted  concerns on the impact of a scripted literacy programme on a teacher's instructional practices in maths. Such as, 'the act of following a script may encourage teachers to interact in more automatic and less thoughtful ways with their children' (2012, p. 321). Moreover, 'the curriculum’s highly structured scripts made it less likely that the teacher would engage in innovative practices in mathematics, which reduced opportunities for children in the classroom to reason and problem solve mathematically' (2012, p. 308). Again, scripted lesson limit creativity, innovation and can actually detrimental to pupils’ learning. Thanks, but no thanks.

Finally, if we take a look at BIA's model, which seems to be favoured by the likes of Lord Nash. In a recent study (Riep and Machacek, 2016), the academy chain came under serious criticism of their scripted lessons with pedagogy being rendered automated, computerised and mechanised. Furthermore, it has been argued that scripted curricula in BIA schools is controlling, rigid and 'disables creativity and innovativeness' (Riep and Machacek, 2016p, p. 29). And also doesn't require qualified and experienced teachers. 

'Exemplary teaching is not a regurgitation of a common script but is responsive to children's needs' (Allington, 2002, p. 474).  The art and craft of teaching is something that is developed over time through experimentation, reflection and adaptation. By suggesting  it can be replaced by a script is not only insulting to teachers but potentially detrimental to children's learning. 


Allington, R. (2002). 'What I've Learned about Effective Reading Instruction From a Decade of Studying Exemplary Elementary Classroom Teachers', Phi Delta Kappa, Vol. 83, No. 10, pp. 740 - 747.

Dresser, R. (2012). 'The Impact of Scripted Literacy Instruction on Teachers and Students', Issues in Teacher Education, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 71 - 87.

Parks, A. and Bridges-Rhoads, S. (2012). Overly Scripted: Exploring the Impact of a Scripted Literacy Curriculum on a Preschool Teacher's Instructional Practices in Mathematics, Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Vol. 26, No. 3, pp. 308-324.

Riep, C. and Machacek, M. (2016). Schooling the Poor Profitably; The innovations and deprivations of Bridge International Academies in Uganda. Education International.