Wednesday, April 15, 2009

British Nursery pupils' education 'damaged' by the 300 tick-box targets they have to reach by age of five

Children's development is being damaged by a 'nappy curriculum' which judges them against 300 tick-box targets by the age of five, teachers' leaders warned yesterday. The curriculum, which was introduced last September for all 25,000 private and state nurseries and 70,000 childminders, sets out hundreds of developmental milestones between birth and primary school. In one example, babies from birth to 11 months are marked if they have shown they have 'communicated' by crying, gurgling, babbling or squealing.

But the National Union of Teachers has warned that the requirement on nursery staff to complete detailed 'assessment grids' is tying up time they should be spending with children.

Members also claim that the curriculum is simply a box-ticking exercise with an over-emphasis on paperwork and assessment, and that it is too rigid and formal for many youngsters. Inbar Tamari, a nursery teacher from Hackney, East London, said: 'I soon discovered in the time I had there was no way I could tick all the boxes in the foundation stage profile with my play-based observations, and each time I had to resort to less than child-friendly, though quicker, methods. 'Not everything can be measured, not everything can be numbered. Measuring plants won't make them any taller.'

Speaking of one three-year-old child in her care, Jane Walton, a nursery teacher from Wakefield, in Yorkshire, said: 'I'm supposed to be observing her and all these little boxes I'm supposed to be ticking off, so I couldn't intervene with her play, I couldn't engage her or move her on because I was too busy ticking her. 'I want somebody to trust my professional judgment. It doesn't tell us any more about those children I am teaching.' And in a plea to Children's Secretary Ed Balls, she added: 'Perhaps we should set you a target when you were born and it would be "leave education alone" Mr Balls.'

Their complaints are the latest in a series of concerns levelled at the curriculum. Ministers have already ordered a review of standards in early writing targets amid fears they could be too stretching. One requires five-year-olds to begin writing sentences using punctuation.

NUT delegates yesterday passed a motion condemning 'the demands made on members to complete paper-based assessments in early years, including assessment grids including up to 300 tick boxes per child'. The motion added: 'High quality early education should not be limited to a narrow focus on academic standards and targets should be concerned with the education, in the broadest sense, of the whole child and, in particular, with active participation, experiential learning and play.'


● Birth to 11 months: Communicate in a variety of ways, including by crying, gurgling, babbling and squealing

● Eight to 20 months: Begin to make marks, for example with a rusk on a feeding tray

● 16 to 26 months: Say some counting words randomly

● 22 to 26 months: Understand the numbers one and two and use number language such as 'more' and 'a lot'

● 30 to 50 months: Sing a few simple, familiar songs, draw lines and circles

● 40 to 60 months: Write their own names and under things such as labels and captions and begin to form simple sentences sometimes using punctuation


Texas Christian University to Offer Separate Housing for homosexuals

This hardly conveys the Biblical message that homosexuality is abhorrent to God

Eight students have signed up for Texas Christian University's designated on-campus housing for gay students and their supporters, in what may be the only such college housing in North Texas. The DiversCity Q community will open in the fall in a section of the Tom Brown-Pete Wright apartments. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender students and allies — heterosexual classmates who support them — will have the chance to live together, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in a story posted Tuesday on its Web site. "It's a chance for students to be part of a unique experience," said David Cooper, TCU associate director for residential life.

TCU sophomore Shelly Newkirk, who is gay, applied to create the program. She said eight students have committed to live in the apartments. "Well I've been trying to create a safe space on campus for the queer community," Newkirk said Tuesday in an interview with Dallas-Fort Worth television station KDFW. "We're not creating just like a bubble for ourselves, but creating a space where we can have open dialogue and students can be comfortable."

TCU will also open two Christian-based living groups, another for fine arts and three other themed housing arrangements. It's all part of the university's living-learning communities, designed for students who want to live with others who are like-minded. Living-learning communities are common at universities in Denton and Tarrant counties, but none has an on-campus living program for gay students. A fraternity for gay and straight students opened in 1998 at the University of North Texas but had closed by 2001, University of North Texas spokeswoman Sarah Bahari said.

Neither Cooper nor Newkirk had received any criticism, they said. "Surprisingly, I found nothing but support," said Newkirk. She said she was prepared for criticism. "Sometimes those things can bring a community together," she said. "It doesn't have to tear us apart."


Sebastien Clerc's common sense crusade to improve French education

Sébastien Clerc left teacher training college with a good knowledge of 18th-century literature and 19th-century history, but he had almost no idea how to cope with the violent, rebellious teenagers he met in his first job. He was posted to a secondary school near Paris teetering on the edge of anarchy amid gangland battles and classroom insurrection. “I was on my knees” within a few weeks, he said.

Now the frail-looking 33-year-old is fighting back with a campaign to restore authority in the suburban lycees that are in the front line of social and economic breakdown in France. His recipe — be firm but fair, keep troublemakers apart, never let misdemeanours go unpunished — draws heavily on common sense. But it represents an historic U-turn for a nation that has traditionally taken a high-flown attitude to education. “In France, we like the theoretical approach because it seems more noble,” Mr Clerc told The Times. “But when it comes to getting a class to obey you, there is no one theory which holds sway — just a series of pragmatic steps you can take. As a result, it has been ignored altogether here.”

He wrote a book, Au Secours! Sauvons Notre Ecole (Help! Save Our School), in which he detailed the insults to which he was subjected and urged tougher discipline in response. The work proved so successful, and met with such an echo among his disgruntled colleagues, that officials have asked him to organise a course on classroom control for young teachers.

In teacher training college, for example, Mr Clerc was lauded for his dissertation on the history of the French education system and for his study of Le Barbier de Séville by Beaumarchais, the 18th-century playwright. But no one told him what to do when a fight broke out between two pupils in one of his first lessons at Jean Moulin lycée in Blanc-Mesnil, north of Paris. Mr Clerc tried to break it up, but found himself confronted with a bigger, heavier teenager. “He rushes at me,” he wrote. “I lift my knee to cushion the shock. He slams into me . . . As I am struggling with him, his classmates get up and help me to bring him under control. I feel worn out, emptied.”

Worse was to follow the next day when he was called in by the head teacher to explain why he had kneed the pupil in the chest. “It was as though I had been responsible for the altercation. The pupil had lied with great skill . . . and my colleague really suspected me.”

Violence is common in the school, where at least 50 per cent of pupils are brought up by single parents, where about 85 per cent are from immigrant families, where drugs are common and where 90 per cent of teachers put in a request for a transfer to another establishment every year. In September last year staff at Jean Moulin went on strike to protest at what they said were daily fights. Hardly had they returned to work than a gang burst into the lycée wielding baseball bats in an attack on a rival group.

Equally draining is the constant chatter — highlighted in The Class, Laurent Cantet’s award-winning film about education in urban France — and the indignation of lycéens asked to keep quiet. “Oh, there’s no need to shout at me,” said one adolescent girl when Mr Clerc requested silence. “It’s perfectly possible to learn while chattering,” answered a second.

For a teacher keen to interest teenagers in such great French authors as Proust and Flaubert, it can be dispiriting. When Mr Clerc asked his pupils to write about a contemporary figure who they found noteworthy, for example, Paris Hilton came out top. Angelina Jolie was second.


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