Clearly something that is to be avoided, but something that is very tempting to those in education. Barely a week goes by without some great new educational idea being introduced on an unsuspecting world. Some initiatives are adopted wholesale, others fall by the wayside pretty quickly. A trip down memory lane will bring up such marvellous ideas as learning outcomes, verbal feedback stamps and sitting in form order. This week, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools turned her withering gaze upon the formerly popular primary education scheme, Brain Gym. The programme has been around for
a while now and gained a loyal band of adherents convinced of its benefits. The scheme started in California in the late 1980s and was used widely in Europe; indeed in 2008 it received the official stamp of approval with the then Department for Children, School and Families.

It gained an enthusiastic following and I am sure it was enjoyed by many who took part in it. There is little to suggest that it actually helps with learning (if you want to read an entertaining demolition try Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science analysis). All reservations put aside I’m sure that for some it was a way of finding success at school and maybe in turn
it drew pupils to further academic progress. Who knows? Scientifically unsound, it could still have some value. I firmly believe that a tiny amount of success in school can lead to the sort of momentum that grows greater and even greater success.

Over the course of the week I read a piece of what seems to be a well-researched, thoughtful academic paper which called into question certain educational beliefs that I have held dear for many years. Gabriel Heller Sahlgren’s report ‘The achievement well-being trade-off in education’ suggests that many recent attempts to put children at the
centre of leaning and teaching methods are ill-founded.

He questions the view that pupil-led learning, enjoyment and performance form a virtuous circle (he clearly must have loved his school days). He hypothesises that we have all read our Rousseau incorrectly and suggests that “effective learning is often not enjoyable”. Having read all this I was starting to worry that I’d got it all wrong and had been heading off into a happy land of educational mediocrity. I was relieved to note towards the end of the paper that he wasn’t suggesting a return to Gradgrindian education but rather explaining that there may well be times that pupils will be less than happy about doing their homework and other elements of their learning. He advocates making pedagogical trade-offs depending on whether we are looking for education to provide the state with income or to produce fulfilled adults. All in all, I think we may be on the right track here at the BSP. I’ll probably read it again just to check though…

ShowI finished my week seeing the Reception and Key Stage 1 Christmas Show. An extravaganza of talent and indeed joy. Most of the joy was in the audience. Well done to all the performers and thank you to their teachers who have worked so hard to bring the show to fruition. Experiences like this are both joyful and valuable. The good thing is there are plenty more to come in the coming weeks.

Nicholas Hammond

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