Saturday, 12 January 2013

Collecting badges

We've had a bit of bother getting the badges we want to issue to students and the story is rapidly approaching a Homer-esk tragi-comedy! Well over a month ago, last term (& last year!) I ordered a set of badges from an online badge supplier (who I will refrain from naming, because we still need to talk to the about missing orders...!). Looking to increase the Student Voice element and to help our students gain experience of being responsible for aspects of school life, we invited applications for student responsibility posts. A Head Girl & Boy, Deputies, Form & House Captains and Prefects. Glittery, enamelled badges were duly ordered to be presented to the successful candidates as soon as possible. A parcel arrived, but damaged & badges were missing. The company were duly informed and promised to send replacements. Time passed and the end of term loomed, with no sign of the replacements. Over the break, a parcel did arrive but it only included badges that had been missed from the original order, not the replacements and still our students don't have their badges. We are hopeful, however, that this will be resolved soon & badges will be handed out, with appropriate hand shakes and clapping of hands in an assembly.

But on a more serious note, thinking about the whole process got me thinking about 'badge collection' in more general terms. You see it everywhere - websites, email footers and letters all with a string of logos along the bottom, saying that we've got this award, or that. We're good at investing in people (whatever that means), or do a certain amount of arty activities, so have an artsmark, and the collecting continues! One email I received the other day had seven different badges along the bottom of the email, shouting that the organisation was good at inclusion, healthy eating, investing in people, etc. . . . . Am I impressed?

Where does this desire to collect badges come from, then? We would probably all agree that from our childhood. Collect stickers from our primary school teacher - 'Can I have a gold star, please, Miss!?'. But where does it end? Should I give out gold stars to my staff when they do things well? Or do I expect that they want to do their best, because doing a good job and the satisfaction gained from doing so is reward in itself? (Although I do believe in saying think you and rewarding excellence. I write personal letters to people thanking them for going the extra mile. The quiet, unpublic thank you.)

The trouble is, there's an element where badge collecting can be harmful and it's the current examination system. We put our young people under enormous stresses, jumping through hoop after hoop in the chase for more and yet more GCSEs. Whilst the press bemoan the dumbing down and whinge about how easy they are to get. But I do think that GCSEs have become little more than badge collecting. What on earth does it show when a young person collects 10, 11 or 12 of them? Seriously, what does it really show? That they have the perseverance to learn an inordinate number of facts and regurgitate these in the appropriate manner in the marathon that is the summer exams. Hour after hour sitting in a intimidating room, either too cold or too hot & if you suffer from hay fever it's even worse.

In 1972, the school leaving age was raised to 16 and O-levels (& CSEs) were the national record of school achievement. A national school leaving certificate, if you want. And less than 7% went on to university. Now, however, the age at which a young person has to stay on in education or training is being raised to 18. And over 45% of young people go on to university.

Maybe GCSEs have outlived their purpose, therefore. They are no longer a leaving certificate, marking the point in a person's life where they leave school. And in a school they are so wasteful of time. Think about this: the current 'standard' model is for a GCSE to be a two year, 6 term course. But the whole of the last term is written off with first revision / cramming / exam practice then the actual exam itself. And there's coursework (or Controlled Assessments), which will easily eat up 4 - 6 weeks of time out of effective learning. That's another 1/2 a term. That amounts to 25% of the total course length spent on demonstrating what you've learnt. A full quarter of the time wasted.

I'm not sure I have the answer, but something has to be done about this. Can we justify wasting so much of our students' precious time? Let alone put them under so much pressure? I am putting the details to our plans for what our post-14 curriculum will look like and, in keeping with everything else we're doing, it will be a fresh approach to education! If we start with the assumption that our students will stay with us to 18, we can look at a 4 or 5 year pathway to higher education, with the compulsory exams diluted in their impact. And that is where we are looking here at Sandymoor.

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