Tag Archives: Children

Really Mrs Morgan?

This week, Education Minister Nicky Morgan warned that schoolchildren who focus exclusively on arts and humanities-style subjects risk restricting their future career path and said she believed that disciplines such as the sciences and maths open more doors for pupils than many subjects traditionally favoured by academic all-rounders.

She said too many young people were still making GCSE and A-level choices at school that held them back for the rest of their life.

Delighted as I am that the new Education Secretary is talking about the importance of young people’s exam choices for their future, I strongly disagree with her – and I say that as a scientist myself.

I do not believe that we should be running down the arts to try and encourage more children to take up the sciences, maths and other STEM subjects. In fact, it is totally irresponsible to do so.

Those who excel in arts subjects and the creative arts should be encouraged to follow their dreams and pursue their chosen subjects. Happiness in their choices is all important to ensure they enjoy the future rigorous study ahead and children must study the subjects they show an aptitude for. Dare I say that children’s future happiness is far more important than a potential pay gap between an arts and a science graduate.

Mrs Morgan warns that large numbers of children without a clear idea about careers have been pushed towards the arts and humanities in the past – rather than sciences – because they are seen as more useful “for all kinds of jobs” when they should have been encouraged to take more practical subjects.

It is a cheap shot to frighten students into picking sciences over the arts when it comes to picking their choices in their teenage years by encouraging insecurities about getting a job.

I do not believe that forcing children down any particular avenue, whatever it is, is productive in the long run. Yes, it is often very difficult as a teenager to see what path lies ahead but this is why the ideal case scenario is a breadth of education from the primary years upwards, including the GCSE years.

There are also, of course, children who do not show a particular aptitude for either arts or the sciences and they should be helped to find their own particular talent or skill. This would not happen if their choices were narrowed too early.

I am worried that Arts subjects seem to have become the whipping boy in the drive to improve academic standards. Art, music and drama are a crucial part of the school curriculum and they should remain so.

The subjects suffered during the introduction and then abandonment of the EBacc marker when they were downgraded and not included as key subjects. This led to a 14% fall in students taking arts GCSEs in just 4 years. Also, the A Level facilitator subjects apparently approved by the Russell Group of universities have now become the basis of the A Level league tables for schools. This means that the creative subjects in particular suffer: subjects like Music, Art and Drama.

Combine this problem with that of children dropping the subjects because of costs and you have a recipe for disaster for the future of the creative arts in the UK.

As for studying the sciences, I believe we have a real problem here and I speak as someone who has a Chemistry degree and has worked in industry.

For the last decade or so, the science curriculum has drifted although we are finally seeing some much-needed focus being brought back in. This means that many children who have grown up during this period have not been inspired by the study of practical science to truly understand what it takes to study the subject. The study of sciences SHOULD be really tough. The sort of student who excels at the sciences, especially in the curriculum’s current form, needs to be a resilient learner who is prepared to try and try again and not be discouraged. This is why traditionally, boys, who tend to have more confidence about getting back up again after failure, have drifted towards the study of the sciences and girls have perhaps been discouraged.

What we need to do to encourage more students – and in particular more girls – to study the sciences is to change the way children are taught about science from the primary years. Learning to fail is a part of developing the skills required to understand and succeed in science. We need to teach students that in the sciences, as with any humanity subject, you may need draft after draft before you get it right.

Another problem is that sciences by their nature have become more and more theoretically based as the elements of practical science have dipped. They are in danger of not being a practical subject any more if this does not change!

The Council for Science and Technology recently flagged up its concerns on this subject.

And finally, just as I believe the arts are crucial to education, let us not forget that science can also benefit everyone. All types of learners can benefit from taking part in a practical science experiment and can enjoy taking part just as all types of learners can enjoy taking part in art or music, irrespective of their talent or otherwise.


A ‘Jet-lag’ Examination Era

In 2015, we will see the start of the real changes we have been promised at both GCSE and A Level to bring the much-heralded ‘rigour’ back into the examination system.

Students who start studying for GCSEs in 2015 will be the first students to face the new number grading system when they sit their exams in 2017 while A level students who start their courses in 2015 will be sitting papers devised to improve academic standards and prove far more testing.

Despite being supportive of the drive to drive standards up, as a Head, I despair of what will surely be chaos in the exam system over the next few months and years because of the utter lack of preparation we are facing.

In just a matter of weeks, schools – including our school – should be talking to Year 11 pupils about their A Level choices and yet, unbelievably, we have a real lack of information about almost all of the accredited syllabuses from the exam boards. Confusion also surrounds another crucial A level factor: what the universities will be looking for from potential candidates. Will they be looking for 3 A levels and an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) from their strongest candidates or will they be looking for 4 A levels – we simply don’t know and this is simply not good enough.

Staff should be in a position to help their pupils and potential pupils make informed choices about their future and yet they are being kept in the dark by the exam boards and the universities – a double whammy which is causing schools a huge headache.

Inevitably, any new changes to the UK exam system would certainly result in one year of confusion but because these changes are not being phased in with correct times, we could end up with four years of confusion – a nightmarish scenario for pupils and staff.

This is quite simply because the changes at the top of the exam system impact throughout the age groups. The increasing amount of English and Mathematics skills required at GCSE and A level naturally mean that younger children will need to be taught differently and, yet, for some children, this will almost certainly be too late.

Children who are now in Years 7, 8 and 9 – the first three years of secondary school or 11-14 year olds – will suffer here because they have been prepared thus far through their school careers for the existing exam system and its needs not for the new system. They are almost certain to lack some of the skills required for the new exams.

It worries me that we have heard so little from the exam boards on the new A level syllabus – perhaps because they are having problems themselves assimilating the required changes.

 I suspect we will see a worrying ‘jet lag effect’ on the exam system because of these rushed changes. All of this could and should have been avoided by less rush and more preparation. Thousands of children in this country could needlessly have their examination chances damaged or at least seriously hindered by this lack of foresight.



Harvest Festival shake up!

The school calendar is an interesting one.  September heralds the beginning of the new school year, with all the excitement and preparation that brings.  Newly polished shoes, full pencil cases and full glue sticks! As we trot into October, the mood is changing.  Just as the leaves on the trees begin to fall so the girls’ energy begins to dwindle a little in the run-up to their half term break. Nevertheless, today – our Harvest Festival – was one day the girls gave not only their energy to but also their time because this year we decided to shake things up a little bit!

In the past, many a Harvest Festival has consisted of a few bags of pasta, tins of soup nearing their sell-by date and perhaps a couple of bars of soap. So often, Harvest gifts are given as an afterthought, something that we don’t need any more or will never use.  However, NOT TODAY.  At Heathfield, our Chapel is full to the brim with gifts for the harvest to be so proud of.  There are piles of toothpaste, shampoo, tea, coffee, baby drinking cups, washing up liquid, rice, tinned vegetables, pulses….

Why the change? Simply because we needed to.  How? Through the kindness and generosity of our parents, girls and staff. Where will our Harvest goods go to?  To local food banks near our school to benefit local families in need on our doorstep.

Let me explain.. Through the generosity of our parents and staff, each girl was given a set amount of money to take to a local supermarket to purchase as much as they were able for a family of four.  All the girls, from First Form to the Upper Sixth have been taken over the weekend in small groups by our wonderful staff to a local supermarket, and the girls chose a selection of products to give as their harvest donation.

Let me be really clear here, this whole activity has been a huge success for our  community.  It is generous but easy for those who have it to give financial donations to charity, however, my girls have given something even more, they also given of their free time and put some thought into what they have bought and, hopefully, taken some time to consider the daily struggles many families face to put food on the table.

As a Headmistress, what they have done makes me proud, and is something that at Heathfield we wish to continue to nurture; selflessness with time.  Many young people today are so wrapped up in social media or computer games, that they are unable or unwilling to give of their own free time.

The girls spent time and put real consideration into ensuring that what they were buying was nutritious, especially as they were also told to buy the best bargains available to them ( useful skills when trying to make a student budget stretch as far as possible)! The willingness to make things a little better for a while for those that are less fortunate than the girls shone through in the way all of the girls approached this Harvest task and in their proud faces at today’s Harvest Festival.

This is a simple and effective way that we, as a Christian community, have found to challenge ourselves a little more, for the benefit of others.  I would recommend this to other Head teachers as a possible activity for the future. It has taught our girls so much about giving, and on many levels.

‘Bravo’ to no Beauty Pageants in France!

The newspapers reported this week that a British family was opposed to the French ruling that there would be no more beauty pageants held in France for children.  The French government have threatened organisers who flout the ruling with two years in prison and fines of up to £25,000 in measures brought in to tackle premature sexualisation.

The British family in question have six of their own children ranging from 3 to 13 in age and appeared to have entered all of them – boys and girls -into such beauty competitions. Between them, they had won 36 crowns and tiaras and 60 sashes, which I understand is an impressive achievement for the time that the family have been competing.  The parents don’t seem to understand, or agree, with the French ruling.

How do we as parents and educators feel about this ruling?  For me, I applaud the measures that the French government have taken on every level.  This strong and decisive stand against premature sexualisation and an unhealthy obsession with image is one that I believe we should be aiming for in the UK.

With the increase in children suffering from eating related issues, with the rise in the pressure felt by young people to look a certain way because of the constant bombardment from the media, surely this type of ‘beauty’ competition is a reinforcement of all of the negative connotations pertaining to body image?  I believe that we should instead be encouraging our children to take up a sport and channel their energies into another direction, be that music, drama, dance, sport, reading.

I hear many of you chuntering about this ideological desire, but surely the British media could support our country and its young people in a positive way?  Following our amazing Olympic summer of 2012, we were promised the games would provide a sporting legacy for our young people. Now is an ideal time to encourage that promised greater sporting participation for our young people and promote healthy and positive activity.

Compare the sight of children with spray-tans, false nails, false eyelashes and ringleted hairpieces to children splasing around in a pool or zooming around on bikes and could any sensible adult really believe that the former is preferable?

My own feeling is clear: positive focus on the old-fashioned values of exercise, teamwork and fresh air hold much more value than the sinister pageant world of fake tans and nails for children and its twisted values.

Peppa Pig

As a mother of three young children, I do as much as I can to keep them occupied and stimulated.  However, there comes a point in most days when dinner is on, the children are tired and hungry and need a different type of activity.  This is when the frazzled mother turns to the television for support!

“What would you like to watch, darlings?” “Peppa Pig” is the resounding reply.  And there it is, peace.  Three little faces transfixed by the electronic box in the living room.

But do you really know what they are watching and are you, as a parent, happy about it?  Yesterday evening, I had the pleasure (?) of watching the episode about ‘Princess Peppa’. During this particular episode, the main theme was that Princess Peppa was most keen to spend her time looking at herself in the mirror to make sure that she was beautiful.

What messages are we sending our children?  Do we not think that there is enough pressure on how we look, the colour of our skin, the size of our waist, the style of our shoes?  These subliminal messages about ‘how beauty should look’ are all too much and too soon for children.  I am all too aware of the pressures on teenagers regarding their body image (which is the making of several other blogs), but when are we going to stop and think about what potential damage we are doing? Surely, a better message to be delivered would have been that beauty is not how you look, but the person that you are?

In the same episode, Peppa then goes on to wake up her sleeping brother in the bunk below, because she felt that he should have been listening to Daddy pig’s story.  Why didn’t she get reprimanded for such unkind behaviour?  I know many a parent would go crazy if the elder sibling had woken up the younger child out of sheer selfishness.

I have to say that I am disappointed and somewhat concerned about these messages being delivered to young children through such innocent means.  As far as I am concerned, Peppa is an unkind, rude and thoroughly selfish little pig, who is  more concerned about her own body image than she is about the rest that her little brother George needs and gets.