Finding the balance between atheism and a C of E school

Books about alternatives to Christian teachings

Toby has now been going to our local school for five weeks. It’s a Church of England school but my husband and I are both atheists. In just five short weeks there have already been a few tricky situations to negotiate and to be honest we are still working out how to deal with things in the best way we can. Read more

Term time holidays // Where do you stand?

I still can’t quite decide where I stand on the issue of term time holidays. The subject has been in the media again this week when the high court ruled that father, Jon Platt had no case to answer when he refused to pay a £120 fine after taking his daughter out of school to go to Disneyland in Florida. I read this post on the matter from Hannah at Budding Smiles who stands firmly on the side of parents being allowed to take their children out of school for holidays during term time so long as their attendance the rest of the time is high.

Term time holidays

Reading Hannah’s post made me really consider my own position. On the one hand I think it is perfectly reasonable for a child who attends school 90% of the time to be taken out of school for a week to travel somewhere with their family where they will experience a different culture, language and so on. But, are there really any educational benefits to a week all inclusive in Tenerife where you never leave the hotel? Or ten days at Disneyland? Perhaps the benefit comes from simply leaving the country and spending time with family and that’s fine but it does annoy me a bit when people seem to think that all kids being taken out of school for term time holidays are getting some massive educational benefit from the experience.

Speaking as a teacher I also know how incredibly disruptive it can be, not only to the learning of the child taken out of school, but also to the rest of the class. Because in my experience, whatever the parents say, the kids rarely make any effort to catch up on the work they’ve missed and I end up having to go over things again. And you might not think that having one child out of class makes much difference but in a class of 30 that is potentially someone out nearly every week. Or perhaps parents would think that taking their kids out close to the school holidays would be less disruptive and then you end up with half the class missing which makes doing anything useful with the half of the class that are there something of an exercise in futility. And I’ve heard the argument that ‘you never do anything in the last week of term anyway’ but apart from perhaps the week before the summer holidays, for me at least that simply isn’t the case.

I totally understand the argument that price hikes during school holidays mean that some families simply can’t afford to go on holiday unless they go during term time. I don’t necessarily think that fining parents is the answer but neither is allowing them to take their kids out of school whenever they feel like it. I live in Scotland where there are no fines parents who take their children out of school for family holidays. Here it would seem though that parents are taking advantage of the system – the number of children taking unauthorised absences almost doubled in the decade from 2003 to 2013.

In Scotland schools have the ability to authorise term time holidays in exceptional circumstances so perhaps the solution would be to leave it up to the schools to make individual decisions based on the circumstances of each family and, heaven forbid, use a bit of common sense! The school could look at the educational and/ or emotional benefit of the holiday, and also the amount of disruption to that child and to other children in the class that an absence would cause.

Of course I doubt that will happen. What is more likely to happen is that the government will try and close the loop hole in the law which refers to ‘regular attendance’ at school, and parents will continue to take their kids out of school during term time and pay the fines, because it’s still cheaper than paying to take your family away during the school holidays.

And as for me, will I ever take my kids out of school for a family holiday? Well, apart from the fact that if I am working as a teacher myself I can’t take term time holidays, I won’t be taking my kids out of school unless it’s absolutely necessary. There are ways of having holidays outside of term time without it completely breaking the bank and that’s what we’ll be doing. Unless of course some fantastic educational opportunity presents itself somewhere down the line…never say never after all!

I’d love to hear what you think about term time holidays – are they ever justifiable?

[The Prompt: Week 4] Longer school hours?

mumturnedmom

I’m linking up with the lovely Sara at mumturnedmom again this week for her linky ‘The Prompt’. This week’s prompt is a headline:

Lengthen school days and cut holidays, says former Tory adviser’ The Guardian (online) 29 Jan 2014

This story about longer school hours has been big news this week and lots of people have already blogged about it. I wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to add my voice into the mix but this week’s prompt has somewhat forced my hand!

Lots of people have been getting their knickers in a twist about this news story and perhaps rightly so. As a teacher and a mum I think the idea of lengthening school days and shortening holidays is absolutely ludicrous. I could go on to make the same arguments as many others; kids need time to be kids, to be at home, to play; they need time out of school for extra curricular activities like dance classes, sports clubs, Cubs, Scouts, Brownies and Guides; parents need to spend time with their kids, not pick them up from school, feed them and put them to bed. As a teacher I would ask anyone to come into a school at 3:30 pm and look at the kids; if anyone thinks those tired, worn out, fidgety kids, who have already been learning for six hours could manage until 6 pm then I would like to see them attempt to teach one of those classes. I teach at secondary school – even my 15 or 16 year olds would struggle to stay focused until 6 pm. How could anyone expect primary school age children to do it? And what about homework? Sometimes kids need time outside the classroom to consolidate what they have been learning, in their own time. If we were expecting them to be in school for 45 hours a week when would they have time for homework? And that’s not to mention finding teachers willing to teach for 45 hours a week, 45 weeks a year. According to the former Tory adviser, Paul Kirby, “This increase by two-thirds in the time that kids spend at school is designed to allow all parents to work full-time without the need for additional childcare.”  Does this mean an increase in teachers’ salaries by two-thirds as well? And if we’re teaching until 6 pm then when do we plan lessons, mark books, set assessments and all the other things that most teachers spend at least a few hours doing every day after the kids have gone home?

Anyway, those are all the arguments against a longer school day that I could make. But actually I’m not that worried about these proposals. Because that’s all they are, proposals on the personal blog of a man who doesn’t even work for the government anymore. And although it would appear Michael Gove seems intent on ruining the English education system with one unworkable, nonsensical policy after another, I don’t think even he could bring these proposals into practice. Teachers are already leaving the profession in their droves, if they were expected to teach for 45 hours a week, for 45 weeks in a year I don’t think there would be any teachers left!

Reasons to teach

[The Prompt: Week 2] The state of education

mumturnedmom

I’m linking up with the lovely Sara at mumturnedmom again this week for her new linky ‘The Prompt’. I really enjoyed reading all the other posts that linked up last week. It’s interesting to see everyone’s different takes on the same prompt.

And so, to this weeks prompt…

I was saddened by………….

I was saddened by a tweet I read this week in which someone said the TV documentary Educating Yorkshire, which this week won a National Television Award for Best Documentary Series,  made them “despair for our education in this country”. As a secondary school teacher myself it made me think about the impression those with no experience of secondary education, other than their own, have of our schools today.

I live in Fife, in the east of Scotland and in my four years of teaching I have taught in four different schools. Three of those schools have a high proportion of pupils from low income families. The school I taught in most recently over 40% of pupils are eligible for free school meals. The pupils I deal with every day (when I’m not on maternity leave that is) are not dissimilar to those kids you see on programmes like Educating Yorkshire, or Educating Essex which came before it.

A lot of the kids I teach are often labelled as ‘challenging’. It’s been in the news recently that two-fifths of newly qualified teachers leave the profession within five years. To me this is a shocking, but not surprising statistic. According to the Ofsted Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw – “Many new recruits are quitting the classroom because they are inadequately prepared for dealing with unruly pupils”. And I can believe it; behaviour of some pupils in some schools is appalling. If you’ve seen Educating Yorkshire you might have an idea of the kind of things pupils get up to – if you haven’t let me give you a few examples of the kind of behaviour that I have had to deal with in my four short years as a teacher:

  • I have been sworn at more times than I care to remember
  • I have kids flatly refusing to follow any instructions they are given
  • I rarely get through a lesson without having to send someone out of the room for causing a disruption
  • I have, on two separate occasions, had pupils overturn their desks in anger
  • I have waited more than 15 minutes for a class to stop talking so I could start the lesson. (I tried every tactic I could think of to get them to be quiet – in the end, waiting it out seemed the best option)
  • I have kids pushing or hitting each other almost daily
  • I have had two 14 year old boys have a fight in my classroom, with chairs, when I was about 5 months pregnant!
  • And that’s not to mention the general chatter, answering back and disrespect that happens in every lesson.

I can understand why some new teachers can’t cope with the behaviour they have to deal with. I’ve been lucky that in every school I have worked in there has been a decent behaviour policy in place which is backed up by support from senior members of staff. And there are always some kids who are well behaved, who do want to work and to learn. I’m sure there are schools where the general standard of behaviour is better, but to some degree or another wherever you find kids, you will find badly behaved kids. There have been many times over the last four years where I’ve thought I couldn’t cope, that I had made the wrong decision by going into teaching and if you look at the way teaching is portrayed in the media then you would wonder why anyone would do it.

But this is what makes me sad; we shouldn’t despair over the state of education in this country, although I’ll be the first to admit I’m glad I teach in Scotland, out of the reach of Michael Gove and all the terrible decisions he keeps making about education in England. Because, these kids don’t need despairing over, they need help to overcome whatever it is that makes them behave the way they do. They need some hope, that if they work hard at school then they can achieve, that they can make something of themselves. My main role, as a teacher, is not to teach these kids French or Spanish. It’s to teach them how to respect one another, how to work with other people, how to communicate, how to trust that there are adults who will do their best for them, how to ask for help, how to become responsible members of society.

There are no excuses for bad behaviour, but there are often reasons behind it. Some of the kids I teach just don’t know any better. Maybe, the kid who is falling asleep at his desk, or staring out of the window in a daze didn’t go to bed until 1am last night because he had to stay up and look after his little sister while his mum was working the night shift at the 24 hour supermarket because that’s the only job she can get. Maybe the kid who shouts and swears is just following the example of his dad, because that’s what he does when he wants something. Maybe the boy who is having a fight is so angry with everyone because he lives in a children’s home and when he sees his mum every third month she makes him promises she can’t keep and it takes the next month for his teachers and support workers to get him back on track. Maybe the boy who can’t sit still in his seat and keeps shouting out the answers is really trying his best to keep his ADHD under control but sometimes his impulses are stronger than he can manage.

So I try to understand why these kids are acting the way they are (and believe me, their stories make me feel sad every day), and I do what I can to show them the right way to act, the right way to behave, and therefore, hopefully, the right way to learn. I set consistent boundaries and I stick to them. I don’t let them get away with poor behaviour but nor do I just shout at them, because sometimes they spend their time at home being shouted at, adding my voice to the mix isn’t going to get them to do what I need them to do. So I talk to them, I reason with them and I get them to do what I need them to do but I make them think that it was their idea. And I know that there are thousands of teachers out there who are working their asses off to do the very best they can for all the kids that they teach. So don’t despair for the state of education in our country. There’s really no need.

State of Education