‘Gender-neutral’

The trend toward making everything gender neutral (unisex in old money) is gaining momentum.

Canada is introducing gender-neutral passports. Citizens will have the option of M, F or X on their passports.

John Lewis has announced that all its children’s clothing range will be ‘gender neutral’ from now on. This means that instead of the label reading boy or girl, it will now read ‘boy and girl.’

When I heard this, my first thought was, is there a third category that I am not aware of? Are we heading towards every child being called it, rather than he or she in order to not offend anyone? Does it mean that boys will have the option of wearing skirts to school, or that girls will no longer have the option to wear skirts? Now that would be true equality, I thought!

It seems some schools are also following suit. The TES reported that Priory School in Lewes, East Sussex has banned girls from wearing skirts to make their uniform gender neutral. It reports the reason is ‘to make the uniform gender neutral for transgender pupils and to deal with complaints about the decency of short skirts.’

Bishop of Llandaff Church-in-Wales High School in Cardiff has introduced unisex toilets. It is reported these toilets have cost the school up to £20,000.00. (Many would argue that money would be better spent on classroom resources). The school has said these toilets have been installed as a practical solution and it is not about gender.

For me, this raises more questions than it answers. For example:

  1. How will this neutrality transfer into job equality?
  2. What difference will it make to your job prospects if you wore a skirt or trousers to school?
  3. Does that mean that girls will be objectified less and be treated as serious prospects for top jobs?
  4. Most of all (being a cynic), what is the reason behind this new trend.

The answer lies in economics. We are now, more than ever competing on a global scale, so our workforce is compared to the global workforce and in the 2015 United Nations Sustainable Goals (17 of them to ‘transform our world’) with a target of achieving them by 2030. Gender equality is goal number 5.

In the UK, equal pay was only made statutory 37 years ago, yet currently, according to Prowess only 17% of UK company owners are women, whilst in 2015 a survey found that 5.5% of company CEO’s were female. In 2011 there were more than 20 boards of FTSE 100 companies, that were all male. Today there are none.

On average, men still earn 16 to 18% more per hour than women.

Academically, girls consistently outperform boys, but when it comes to the workplace, women consistently fail to keep up. However, on closer inspection, it is much more complex.

65% of boys compared with only 43% of girls take up Maths at A Level out of those that have achieved grade A’s in their GCSE Maths. Only 29% of all students are female Further Maths students; a crucial subject if you wish to study a STEM subject at degree level.

More than likely is the role of family responsibilities, which are not shared equally. Women are much more likely to take career breaks and often will not go back to a full-time job. But as women begin to gain financial parity, will this become less relevant?

Surely, rather than worrying about skirts and trousers, the focus should be more on hidden gender biases in the curriculum. For example, look at the historical stereotypes of men and women, or the tokenisation and objectification of women in our class resources.

If the underlying structures are reorganised to create and promote gender equality, this will surely have a much greater impact than what style of uniform is being worn to school.
It is clearly a mammoth task, but one that I feel cannot be avoided if true gender equality is to be achieved.
Rupa Radia

 

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Can pushing children through the curriculum too soon be detrimental to their development?

Can pushing children through the curriculum too soon be detrimental to their development?

The challenge in front of teachers and their students is vast; education has so many stages and levels, so much to learn and such a finite time to do it all in. The temptation is that, once they can do something or have shown an understanding to move them onto the next stage. But, is this the right thing to do? It may seem logical to move them forward when they appear ready but when are they ready? Some teachers may say once they can do something half a dozen times, independently, then they are all set to progress but is this true understanding, do they really understand the concept which will, in turn, enable them to grasp more complex ideas?

Currently, education systems around the world are redirecting their efforts to a different teaching style. The buzzword ‘mastery’ is prevalent throughout schools in the UK and beyond and especially with regards to the teaching of mathematics. With a very quick browse of school websites, you will see statements such as ‘The Mastery-learning model forms the basis of our teaching approach as we aim to ensure there are no gaps in children’s subject knowledge.’ This kind of statement suggests that in previous years the approach was different and in turn led to gaps in children’s development.

Mastery is definitely an ideal that should be part of a school’s ethos when learning. Ensuring that children have plenty of time to observe, comment, understand, apply, evaluate and thus learn is imperative. One of the main concepts in this mastery approach is to allow students to practice a skill within a variety of contexts without increasing the difficulty or changing the focus of the learning. For example; 6 times tables, First you might group items by 6; then start counting in sixes; then create arrays of the 6 times table; then maybe make links with the ‘law of commutativity’ e.g. 5 x 6 and 6 x 5 both equal 30.

There are some who think that this approach is one that could hold back more able children, as they are introduced to more advanced topics too late for the ability they have to advance. This is a very good point and with some children, it should be considered. If you as an educator or parent feel their understanding is sound and concrete then, of course, yes they should be moved on to more advanced work. However, for most children, an increase in variety and deeper thinking questions can provide much more scope in their progression.

I personally believe it is a good approach and that all educators should at least consider some of the benefits of a mastery-style approach. As a teacher myself, I would hate to think that my students had been rushed through aspects of the curriculum (mainly to ensure they are ready for testing) and then they find later in their education they struggle with a concept because of their lack of true understanding or mastery.

GCSEs: The importance of awareness and organisation

…After speaking to the student and after I had flicked through his disorganised folder, it became all the more evident that the student hadn’t the faintest idea what material he needed to know in order to pass the exam. He looked down at the table and rotated his pencil slowly between his fingers. Exams were barely two months away…

This is an issue I have actually encountered a few times working with children working towards their GCSEs late into the exam cycle. Although exam success is by no means guaranteed, quite a few children do not give themselves the best chance to succeed.

At school, I know that I was especially bad at organisation and was frequently chastised by teachers for my poor level of organisation (especially in A level Philosophy). The reasons I managed to succeed in exams was that I always remembered things well at school and I was always aware of what I needed to know. However, perhaps with better organisation at school, I could have made exam success easier to attain.  

GCSEs are particularly a difficult challenge for children to go through. Teenagers are themselves going through biological developments and mentally changing too. Although some of the major bodily changes have already taken place between the ages of 11 and 15, from 15-16, teenagers have more concerns about the future and are even more likely to be depressed.

Children of the GCSE age-group start to develop their working habits. They start learning about how they learn best, what they want to learn about, how they want to organise their work, how they can use their knowledge in the future and so on. The Government have tried to tackle these issues by introducing students to study skills as an extracurricular add-on. Study skills should not be regarded in this way, but should be pushed early in a child’s development and enforced by those around the child (parents, teachers, tutors etc). Of course, different people have different ways of organising and this uniqueness should be celebrated too, but there are always general ideas that should be consistently enforced and reinforced.  
Although I did not enjoy being lectured weekly about the state of my folders, I have to admit that teachers certainly left an impression on me and I did start to pay more attention. Looking back, I wish those around me had started teaching me earlier about the value of organisation and thinking about what they need to learn. How aware is your child? Does he/she know how to approach studying? How organised are your child’s notes? Under which exam board is your child taking an exam? Does your child know what skills and knowledge is needed? These are just a few of the questions that parents can consider leading up to exams.

Jonathan Strange

The challenge of working with high-achievers

As a tutor, I have come across many children who find school work easy. Despite having natural ability and being ahead of their peers, children who are perceived as highly intelligent often seem to have character traits that bind them together. I talk about “perception of intelligence” because it is the perception of being intelligent which can truly damage a child, not the fact that the child may have extraordinary mental abilities.

 

These are the four points that have stood out to me with the children I have worked with (there are actually much more):

 

  • Seeking perfection

Children are often told that they are intelligent by those around them. This adds to the internal pressure that they feel (as clever children often feel) that they need to be perfect. They thus identify themselves as “the clever one” in their peer-groups.

 

  • Inexperience in failure

Naturally, many of these children past most of their early years being able to accomplish most of the academic tasks set by their teachers. This means that they may lack the experience of real failure, which is important for well-rounded developmental.

 

  • Lack of mental resistance to failure

As a consequence of not failing in their young days and the need to seek perfection, some children take failure in their later years particularly hard.

 

  • Difficulty relating to others in their peer group

If others perceive a child to be intelligent, and the child, in turn, believes this idea, this can lead to isolation in social situations.

 

As an educator, my role is not merely to facilitate learning, but to understand the issues affecting a child.  At every point, I have to always be aware of the words I am using when working with children. If anyone has comments about the points I have mentioned or has experience dealing with these issues, please feel free to comment.  

 

Jonathan Strange

School Funding

Initially, thinking about the way schools were funded, I had thought that perhaps the public sector could be thought of as inefficient. On consideration of the data, perhaps it is instead the case that some schools are being starved of the funding that is desperately needed to improve standards.

A figure of around £6000 is the average amount needed to educate a child at school per year. On considering this figure, it may seem like a lot of money, however, this figure is only an average. Consider this, different councils provide schools with differing amounts of funding. That means that some schools receive far more than £6000 and some schools receive far less. Consider this fact carefully. Some councils are providing their schools with just around £4500 per year per pupil (sometimes less).

I am a believer in quality over quantity. Of course, efficiency is something that should be lauded; sometimes placing constraints on spending can generate creative thought. However, £4500 is nothing in this economy. Consider how for much time these children are in school and how much the education they receive will have to be watered-down. I have to say that I am worried for the future of our state education system. Furthermore, it appears that spending will continue on a downward trajectory. Take a look at the data and be afraid.

The only positive that I can take from all of this is that online education may save the system. Online education has the potential to revolutionise the way children learn and improve standards. It could also save money in the long term, however, councils and schools need to be forward thinking enough and intelligent in their investments.

Jonathan Strange

 

 

Lifelong learning and the web

“Lifelong learning” at the moment is particularly in vogue. The concept is based around the idea that learning continues into adulthood, past our compulsory and formal education to further life skills and aid our professional development. The term originated in higher education circles; in the academic life, lifelong learning is necessary in order to stay relevant. Governments have also started to see lifelong learning as one of the answers to skill shortages in our economy.

The web has huge potential to bring education to both the educated and the less educated. For instance, Khan Academy started as YouTube hosted videos created by Sal Khan for his cousin and has flourished into a fully-fledged education platform. Children and adults alike can use internet content to gain a better understanding of subjects and topics. In the classroom, teachers are also utilising the huge store of available online content. Of course, these vast stores of knowledge are a powerful resource, however, the fact that they exist does not necessarily lead to a true education revolution: 7.2 billion people live on this earth yet 4 million still lack internet access.
It often seems to be the story that the rich are getting richer and the poor are staying poor.  The story is the same in education; the educationally rich seek greater enrichment, and the educationally poor tend to stagnate. These social trends are called the Matthew effects.

An example of this in education are MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) which are free for anyone who wants to take part, but they have mainly attracted those who already hold degrees; there are still many barriers to access for the poorer educated. My advice is to start young when it comes to educating yourself. If you want to learn a skill for tomorrow, start today. Whether you utilise online content or read a book or learn by doing, just begin now.

By Jonathan Strange

The Power of Practice.

 

We have all heard the saying ’practice makes perfect’.

Well, that saying is not exactly true- it needs some further insight and explanation.

Take for example, writing your name.

How do you know that what you have written is correct?

When you first learned to write, you had to be told that in English, we write from left to right. You had to be told what the letters were and you were taught to make the connections between those letters to make sounds and eventually create words.

Now imagine that you had only ever written your name once in your entire life. Would you remember how to do it so many years later? You would be able to write your name but would have to think about it. It would not be instinctive, automatic and natural.

The same is true of most things, whether it is mental agility or physical exercise. The brain is a muscle and needs to be exercised in the same way that you would exercise your body.

Practice Makes Perfect

by PookyH

Nothing is easy

Unless you know how,
What was not easy then,
Might seem quite easy now.
What is hard when you’re three
Isn’t hard when you’re four,
By the time that you’re five,
You will know even more.

It’s not practice, but deep practice that makes perfect. So what is deep practice?

Deep practice is effectively breaking down the components of practising anything, whether it is learning to play tennis or your times tables.

The first step is to break it down into small, manageable pieces.

The next step is to focus ONLY on those small pieces and repeat the practice of them.

The final step is to review what your mistakes were when practising and correcting those until the process ‘feels’ natural.

Rupa Harji

RTG Tuition

Left Brain or Right Brain?

Do you struggle with exams? Find your mind wandering? Doodling over your notes?

While going through school I found myself choosing more creative subjects such as Design Technology and Music. I loved creating things from scratch, whether it was a new product such as a speaker system in D.T. or a new composition in Music. This is still true to this day.

As I finished my GCSEs and moved on to A levels I found it more and more difficult to memorise and recall facts when it came to revision and taking exams. I now know that this is due to the fact that the right side of my brain is more dominant.

The brain is divided into two equal sides or ‘hemispheres’. We use both sides of our brain on a daily basis. The left side of the brain controls the right side of your body and the right side of the brain controls the left side of your body, however, each side is used for very different tasks when it comes to thinking and carrying out tasks.

2000px-brain_lateralization-svg

The left side of your brain is more logical, verbal and analytical. It handles things like speech, language, facts and mathematical calculations. It also deals with things such as rationality, strategy, details and rules.

The right side of your brain is more creative, non-verbal, intuitive and curious. It also helps us to deal with images, understand context and tone of voice as well as comprehend music.

Neither being more left brain or right brain orientated is better than the other, they are purely two different ways of thinking and although everyone uses their whole brain for different tasks or a combination of both sides for some tasks, the classroom environment seems to favour left sided thinkers more. A large part of exams and learning involve recalling facts, analysing data, logical computations, details and rules. This can leave the right sided thinker feeling quite neglected when it comes to learning and exam taking.

The good news is that once you know whether you are more right brained or left brained, you can use this to your advantage. For example, instead of trying to remember a mathematical equation as it stands, make it more visual. Use things like flashcards, find a way to relate it to an image or story. (‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain’ to memorise the colours of the rainbow is a good example of this). This will make it much easier for you to remember and recall at a later date.

Once you find out which side is dominant, try doing tasks which use the less dominant side. For example, if you are dominantly left-brained, have a go at some more creative activities. Practically every person has the ability to use both sides of their brain more equally and by doing exercises to boost your less dominant side, you can work your way towards ‘whole brain thinking’

This 30-second test will tell which side of your brain is more dominant as well as the balance between the left side and right. Comment with your results!

My result was L 31 / R 69

http://braintest.sommer-sommer.com/en/index.html

Prajay Harji

Image by Allan Ajifo

GCSE English Essay writing success: 7 tips for a better essay

These are the seven key technical tips that will help you write a better English essay for your GCSEs.

  1. Planning

Many students seem to have little idea about how to plan. Plans need to be logical, structured and indicate the purpose of each paragraph. There are different methods of planning. However, a good plan will keep you disciplined. An essay is supposed to be an ordered piece of writing. Working out timing (how long will you take to write paragraphs) is also a key aspect of planning (you can usually do this before the exam).

  1. Acknowledging Reader/audience/viewer response

Often students fail to mention how a poem/play/film will affect somebody. When I was taking exams as a student, I remember being egocentric; I would talk about how the language was affecting me, but I would sometimes fail to mention how it could affect a “third person”. Many students forget this. Students have spent many years thinking in terms of themselves. They thus will often use “I” in essays and focus on how something is affecting them. Remaining objective is the key.

  1. Addressing and explaining the evidence

Students, by the time they take GCSEs, usually know that they need to include evidence. However, they often want to include many examples rather than talk in depth about a single example. They are thus failing to receive marks for deep analysis.

  1. Context

Background knowledge is often the key to understanding why a poem, novel etc has been written in a certain way. For instance, Storm on the Island by Seamus Heaney cannot be understood fully unless a student understands the political background behind the poem. A student cannot achieve a top mark without proper consideration of the background.

  1. Linking

This is probably one of the more difficult of the skills. Linking involves taking evidence from one part of a poem/novel/play etc and explaining the relationship between it and another part of a poem/novel/play. In a comparison essay, a part of one poem can often be linked to a part of another poem.

  1. Discourse markers

Discourse markers are words and phrases that maintain the flow of a text. Most children use “because, so, however”, as they have built up the habit over the course of their school life. Key Stage 3 and GCSE children should be using them more frequently and with greater variation.

  1. Consistency

To achieve the top marks, do all of the above consistently. The top achievers not only do all of the above, they constantly do it.

By Jonathan Strange

Essay technique in GCSE English Language and Literature

Teachers talk a great deal about the importance of exam “technique”. However, this wording is meaningless to students and parents without further explanation. I wish to offer up my understanding of what it means to have sound technique in an English essay. Most mark schemes are also fairly difficult for students and parents to navigate so I will explain some of these ideas in plainer English.

Although I cannot offer any specific data, it seems that most students who are looking for help with English language and literature GCSE have substantial technical flaws. These flaws often, unfortunately, have almost nothing to do with their understanding of English and their competency with the language. There are thus many students who could increase their grade by one or two boundaries merely by focusing on improving their technique.

Essay writing is not a natural ability (though certain people may have more flair); it is something that can be taught and learned. Schools with students who achieve top marks in exams are usually better coached in the technical aspects of essay writing. This is the reality of the current education system. Next week, I will talk about the seven aspects of essay writing which are usually problematic, so please revisit our blog.
Jonathan Strange