Feedback – CPE Learning Exchange Educational Difference – Flexing and Personalising Education.

Centre for Personalised Education Learning Exchange 4 November 2017 Colwyn Bay. Educational Difference – Flexing and Personalising Education. (Full details of the event and programme can be found here )

CPE continues to reach into areas where we have previously not been in our 30-year history. One of our magnificent trustees, Fiona Beavan pulled out all the stops in arranging a superb programme and venue in Colwyn Bay, North Wales.

We were absolutely thrilled to have Sue Palmer with us leading the morning session and responding to questions. Sue Palmer is a writer, broadcaster and consultant on the education of young children.  Sue’s input looked at 21st Century Children: the state of play. It was a wonderfully comprehensive but devastating and salutatory tour of the impact of modern life and rigid, misguided neoliberal schooling on early childhood. The physical, mental, social and learning impacts were illustrated. Sue powerfully argued the case for early years to be based on play, social interaction and the outdoors. The dangers of too early screen time, the disengagement and lack of interaction and communication within families, poor physical and social development are an impoverished basis for early growth, language development and confidence. This is compounded by the UK’s insistence on early formal schooling, contrary the evidence of those countries with established kindergarten’s and later schooling from seven. Formal instruction, passive, dependent and physically restricted environments are counter to the needs of young underdeveloped bodies and minds.  Sue was incredulous at the political failure to grasp evidence and to take the whole picture and long view.  Amongst the outcome of this early year’s calamity are many of the challenges and ‘deficits’ that plague children as they progress through formal schooling. They are deepened and magnified, medicalised and problematised unnecessarily. The damage projects into adulthood in terms of poor physical, mental and intellectual growth and resilience. It diminishes lives, and saps the energy and budgets of our public services that have to pick up the pieces. The implications are clear – the political classes have failed to nurture our young and protect our population.

The rigidity of the way childhood and early education is approached, the too early start to formal schooling and the lifelong influence of early policies surfaced again with Michelle Melson’s input – Why Parents Desire a Change in the Summer Born Law? The impact of being a summer born on the progression through schooling and beyond has been long known. A significant number of summer borns can struggle, experience poorer achievements and be labelled incorrectly as being special needs. Michelle passionately put the case for addressing this issue and the wider bureaucratic hurdles, barriers and problems to when a child can enter the schooling system. The matter is complex but once again politicians fail to address the centrality of the child and their physical, mental, social and emotional needs. Rather, systems bear down on families and children to align with bureaucratic procedures and timelines. Like Sue, Michelle persuasively argued that the ensuing ‘fall out’ creates crises for the children as they develop can ultimately have lifelong impact. The human and financial costs of this failure stand as an indictment to the inflexible frameworks currently in place.

Dr Harriet Pattison’s qualitative research and publication ‘Redefining Learning to Read’ provided insight into the complex and variety of ways children learn to read. Contrary to the received wisdoms of the schooling system that are currently very fixed and rigid home educated children still appear to learn to read successfully. Harriet’s input was able to shine light on the diversity of approaches to be found within home education. This resulted in a range of ages when children learned to read many either side of the schooled norms but all appearing to do this in their own way. Some in the audience were keen to ask about the ‘right’ and ‘best ways’ to approach reading but it’s clear Harriet’s research evidenced the importance of flexibility and that there is no one way.

Flexibility is something Janette Mountford-Lees (Headteacher ) and Lynda O’Sullivan (Teacher) at Hollinsclough Primary School know all about. They have led a flexischooling revolution, turning a struggling school (smallest in England with 5 pupils) into a thriving and successful setting. In the process a small rural school and community has become sustainable and a range of children and families with particular needs have been accommodated. Flexischooling requires flexible thinking and in so many ways Hollinsclough have courageously stood strong within the wider rigid schooling system. They provide a successful and replicable model which has proven win: win for schools, children, families and community. The majority of Hollinsclough pupils attend for three days a week, the national curriculum is covered, project based learning has been established and national assessments outcomes have actually risen.  The children thrive in a family atmosphere of mixed-age classes and very close links and support between school and home.

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