The sausage factory of education

The sausage factory of education

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I’m continually surprised at how narrow our educational system is. It seems, especially in Secondary education, that we have little room to change our approaches with children and young people. Why on earth do we think we can treat everyone the same and get the same results? We do not start out with the same ingredients! If we did, then yes, maybe the sausages would come out with a similar shape and taste. But we don’t all start from the same position, with the same advantages, strengths and/or challenges.

Personality plays a huge part too. For those of you who read my blogs regularly you will know this subject is one I feel strongly about. I hate to think of my children, who are all different personalities, with different strengths, styles of learning, needs and abilities, being forced into a mould of what the perfect student looks like.

I met a young person and his Mum on Saturday at an entrepreneurs’ event. Henry Patterson is an amazing individual, who at the age of 10 wrote his first children’s book – The Adventures of Sherb and Pip. Since then he has gone on to develop his own business around the characters in his stories. What an amazing example of a child breaking the mould and stepping out? You may not be surprised to know he has struggled to fit into our educational system over the years. Some schools just did not know what to do with him and how to support him. Regardless of why that is, my thoughts turn to the question of – Is our educational system releasing our young people to grow, or stifling their individuality?

I’m afraid to say I hear more of the latter than the former. Maybe if you’re reading this and disagree you could contact me and let me know of places where individuality is celebrated and not just on paper but actually in the way children or young people are treated and allowed to learn.

But what about the government? The fact that they demand we focus on targets and academic achievement? Yes I understand that is the drive but as I’ve mentioned before in a previous blog – The Aim in Education – I do think we have the focus the wrong way round. There are schools out there that have managed to see children as individuals and focus on relationship to help students feel safe enough to learn at their own pace. I know there are thousands of educational staff who believe this and strive to meet the very complex needs of children everyday. The system is where my disappointment lies.

So we all have to work within our current system but what are the things we can do that may help and support those vulnerable children in our schools? Actually the tips below can be used for ALL children and young people and will help staff to be able to be more proactive than reactive to behaviours.

  1. Consider your rewards and sanctions. For many children, not just those with attachment difficulties, our complicated and shame-riddled programmes don’t help children to feel better about themselves. It certainly doesn’t change behaviour long term. So consider your current programmes and if possible scrap them or tweak them so that they are more private and encourage internal motivation not external.
  2. Consider your key staff. Building relationship is essential for all children and young people to feel safe. Spend time reviewing your staff, are they the best person to be the key adult for that child? Are they approachable? Can a child trust them to be reliable and consistent? Does that staff member have the time to devote to that child? Could a slight move around of focus make a difference?
  3. Consider the environment. For some children over stimulation such as bright colours, lots of hanging displays, clutter and a feeling of being enclosed can cause problems. Having a minimalistic approach to classrooms can alleviate some stress.
  4. Consider the child’s strengths not their weaknesses. This is a big one for me. We concentrate so much effort on weaknesses and making sure all children are at the same level at the detriment of those skills and abilities they have that would make them outstanding. If a child is gifted in music or sport how can we encourage that more, so that the child feels good about themselves and can achieve?
  5. Consider your own limitations. Sometimes we are blind to our own shortcomings. We can’t see that may be we need to change our approach so that the child can flourish. This is not easy I know, as it is intrinsic in us, the belief that we are the adults and they are the children and should do what we say. Please don’t misunderstand me – there needs to be boundaries and respect for all but I hear often (in my own head too) that the child needs to change, not me. Maybe if we stepped back a bit and tried to see the potential in the child in front of us instead of trying to make them conform we would use a different approach and get a different outcome!

Maybe the answer is to look to the people on the ground actually working to meet children and young peoples needs. When I can get my eyes off the system and onto the people I meet everyday I am rest assured that we are working towards the same end. If only there was more support and understanding out there to help you in your quest.

I know that for the students it is life changing – to have people who believe in them and will help them to thrive in their lives in school and beyond – thank you to those of you that I know do this on a daily basis.

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