The following comment from JunkkMale originally appeared on the What the hell are we doing to out children? thread. Given the dramatic news it contains, it seems to deserve a thread of its own. Also, with the suggestion from an influential government advisor that global warming should now be removed from the national curriculum and schools should be allowed to decide for themselves how they want to deal with the subject, it would seem that JunkkMale’s concerns are still very much on the agenda. In fact that they were very much in advance of their time.

I want to make it quite clear that the discussion here is not to be about private education versus state education. The issues that made the old thread so successful, and that I hope will be given more attention here, do not concern where children are taught, but what and how they are taught, with particular attention to the extent to which political expediency and fashion should influence education, if at all.

Seems longer.

It was only back in October of last year that a simple question inspired a thread post of mine that was kindly picked up and elevated by the site owner to a thread of its own.

Beyond the exchanges here, much has happened in the area of kids’ education; sadly little I can honestly say that is too encouraging.

But there does seem to be a sense of good folk no longer being too busy, or easily dismissed into doing nothing. Certainly complemented by many with a lot to say!

However the struggle is real, frustrating and exhausting. Despite the awesome power and opportunities presented by the internet, more traditional mechanisms of policy and information seem still to thrive and dominate.

One thing in particular I have noticed (not least from personal experience) is the removal of accountability. And with that, from Minister to public media, the means of check and balance have been seriously eroded.

I still await answers to questions on education claims made by Philip Hammond and Alistair Darling, and have seen challenges to claims made in print and broadcast either ignored or, in two cases, share the same ‘considered’ reply that the input was noted but not felt enough to act upon. Plus, of course, still no word at all from the AQA or the publishers, despite repeated requests. And senior state educationalists on how, precisely, a child who knows their science can rationalise facts with dogma.

Words are cheap. Actions count more.

I have that small question to thank for one my family has now taken.

It alerted me to take a greater interest in my sons’ education, from the teaching methods to the impositions of curricula from ‘on high’, to woefully poor exam questions that not only are unanswerable but also point to a very skewed attitude on the whole topic of state education.

The secondary school my boys are at was and is a good one. I believe the staff do their best with what they have got. And I have been happy to try and work with them to help improve matters.

But some things are too important to risk. And time, to allow the grinding mechanisms of public sector self-assessment to become more constructively critical, much less change, is a window too small to let pass because of any social idealism.

In September my two sons start at an independent school; one where, from the head down, the dedication is to getting the kids a great education in the basics so that, when the time is right, they have the necessary building blocks to make their own decisions, as well and as objectively informed as we can make them.

It took a lot of soul-searching, and a major amount of family budget re-juggling, but I hope it will be worth it.

This thread need not expire at all, as the education of all our kids is too vital to let any compromise become the norm by simply getting tolerated, but I’d like to thank all here who have shared my journey thus far, and helped in getting me to come to the only course I think I could rationally make.

I’ve moved some comments here from the old thread to this one.

65 Responses to “Children, schools, and climate change: the next stage”

  1. JunkkMale, it sounds like you’re making the right decisions, and it will be good to know what differences your sons find at the independent school.

    By the way, have you seen this article in the Guardian re government advisor Tim Oates and his statement that climate change should not be included in the national curriculum?

    In an interview with the Guardian, Oates called for the national curriculum “to get back to the science in science”. “We have believed that we need to keep the national curriculum up to date with topical issues, but oxidation and gravity don’t date,” he said. “We are not taking it back 100 years; we are taking it back to the core stuff. The curriculum has become narrowly instrumentalist.”

    Bob Ward, of course, thinks otherwise…

    “An emphasis on climate change in the curriculum connects the core scientific concepts to topical issues,” he said. “Certain politicians feel that they don’t like the concept of climate change. I hope this isn’t a sign of a political agenda being exercised.”

    He said leaving climate change out of the national curriculum might encourage a teacher who was a climate change sceptic to abandon teaching the subject to their pupils. “This would not be in the best interests of pupils. It would be like a creationist teacher not teaching about evolution. Climate change is about science. If you remove the context of scientific concepts, you make it less interesting to children.”

    Worth a read!

  2. Must say, after a long quiet period, and my recent share, the timing of this seems remarkable by way of coincidence:

    It will be more than interesting how this, which is a but a ‘float’ that looks set to stir up various interest groups, will play out.

    At least The Guardian has reported it, but sadly no opening to comments. Though one has to acknowledge that the debate tends to be heatedly partisan and extreme at the expensive of any illumination.

    I so far have been disappointed at the level of objective, informed input from education insiders on this topic, and have to wonder at the management structure where so few seem prepared to stick their heads over any parapets, especially on the record.

  3. JunkkMale, great minds, evidently, think alike!

  4. Alec C, 460:

    And as for Ward’s accusation that a political agenda is at work, how the hell does he think climate change got onto the curriculum in the first place? The warmist’s reliance on people like Ward to spread their message shows just how intellectually bankrupt their campaign has become.

  5. I am gratified that this does at least seem to have risen back up the agenda.

    Another posting in an MSM ‘quality’:

    Once the firebrands have exhausted their fuel (Mr. Ward being a rather shot bolt after one too many poor outing on Newsnight as a compromised ‘expert’, not to mention communication and empathy black hole’) I sincerely hope the debate will focus back on what is best for our kids, their education and, ultimately, the country as a consequence.

  6. The Guardian article seems to have stirred things up a bit – student activist organisation “People & Planet” already have a form e-mail/petition in place to complain against a move they think is “shameful and tragic”.

    Looking at the Dept for Education website re the review, it states that:

    It is important to distinguish between the National Curriculum and the wider school curriculum… Individual schools should have greater freedom to construct their own programmes of study in subjects outside the National Curriculum and develop approaches to learning and study that complement it.

    Which would mean that, for instance, when teaching science at KS1-KS3, teachers would not be obliged to focus on climate change – but they still could focus on it, if they wanted to. A couple of quick questions:

    1) Are the activists worried that teachers will not want to focus on climate change, once it becomes optional? Could this mean that they are not very confident that teachers are “on-message”?

    2) The review is set to run over several years – it will not be until September 2013 that changes will take effect. “Recommendations from phase 1, including draft programmes of study, will be provided to ministers for consideration by autumn 2011, and there will be a public consultation on the draft programmes of study in early 2012.” I’m intrigued as to why Tim Oates is signalling this change now, given the lengthy timeframe.

  7. As a parent of 4 all I can say is that it not before time that we get back to basics. I have 2 that have finished education, one a doctor and the the other with a degree in political science now working in insurance (some how seems apt) The other 2 are doing A levels and GCSE as I write this.

    Schooling and what teacher actually teach has got steadily worse as I have watched my kids go through school. I have had to employ a tutor for my son doing A levels this year as the school gave up teaching the kids in his classes about 2 months ago. And this is a Grammar school!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I would fire every last one of the teachers and remove their pensions unless they agreed to get off their fat behinds and teach. He came home yesterday after Biology A level exam depressed saying, they didn’t teach us anything that was in the exam.

    I feel for the boys especially as the teaching methods and way purple are engaged is at odds with how boys behave and think, leaving them thinking they are stupid. My youngest is luckily a girl at an all girls school and she seems to be able to manipulate her teachers!! However she complains incessantly that in chemistry and physics all the teachers do is read from the text book. And she is talented at Maths, but finds the teachers won’t can’t be bothered to challenge her so that she has a better idea of how good she really is. This is an import factor as Maths at A level is an altogether different proposition from GCSE and there is nothing worse than choosing to do it and finding out you hate it.

    Those that can recall will know I have mentioned the state of our schools in the past. I detected that our children had switched off Climate change long ago. A few of the the real teachers switched off the subject long ago, but far too many of our teachers are just useless and failing our children big time. As much as I can vent against the teaching of Climate change, there are some more fundamental issues that need to be addressed in education. I would start by making the teachers teach, first and foremost. I would root out useless teachers and would listen to the school kids. Every-time I do a training course I’m asked to rate the tutor. If they are crap I say so. Our kids should be able to anonymously rate their teachers.

    My Sons have commented the best teachers were always the ones they feared, not because they would be harmed, but the fear of failure spurred them on. The clever teachers build this feeling through out a year so that by the end of the year the pupils anticipate and relish the challenge.

  8. JunkkMale:

    Did you get an email from me at the weekend? It was sent to an address which could have associations with Stravinski. If not, please contact me on the address that you have.

  9. Mr. Ward does seem to have much to say, and indeed gets given much to say it on:

    Again, the comments are quite eye-opening, especially those garnering most favour.

    In particular I am pleased to note that some actual teachers are chipping in.

  10. 467
    TonyN Says:
    June 14th, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Indeed I did; and replied. The ether I fear must have claimed it. I will try again.

    As an aside, possibly not related, I now note that where I used to get emails of postings on this thread, they sadly seem to have been disabled. I shall check back more often and not just with new stuff to post.

  11. the discussion here is not to be about private education versus state education. The issues … that I hope will be given more attention here, do not concern where children are taught, but what and how they are taught, with particular attention to the extent to which political expediency and fashion should influence education, if at all.

    Thank you for that, especially, Tony.

    I might add that my interest in all this remains firmly in the realms of reasoned argument around the core issues too.

    However, one has to expect a certain straying into further flung areas, and I accept this as inevitable.

    For every Miliband there is a Lawson, for every Ward there is a (actually I am trying to think of another from that area of the academic ‘industry’, at least as wheeled out on TV progammes to ‘debate’. Maybe Mr. Watt? Though he is a meteorologist where Mr. Ward is a PR man), and in media for every Black or Monbiot there is a Delingpole.

    Speaking of whom…

    Now while all these gents (so few women, though there are equally vocal ones I am aware of) would I am sure happily place themselves at their respective vanguards of tribal advocacy, I don’t think they are always placed fairly by others at extreme positions.

    Hence their opinions can have value, if phrased in temperate language. Even if not, they can still be worth the effort to sift out the nuggets.

    Equally… more so… the comments, pro and con, ‘ist and ‘er, that ensue, flying to and fro. And take caution (bearing in mind Tony’s imprecation, which I endorse, above, about not letting pointless diversions on dogmatic positions distract) in how quickly that bogs things down.

    So look… over 500 already.

    That’s a lot to wade though; and I have tried , seeking an educational input pertinent to the topic of that piece this thread.

    Sadly, so far, giving up at 300 or so… none. At least of substance.


    With luck, ‘we’ can do better?


    Stressing the ‘apparently’ (not in the English proof-reading sense), I might be reassured that my sons will be retaking, with luck via another board, next year.

    Like I say, I am glad that they way this all ‘works’ has been inspired by this thread.

  13. It does get tricky knowing where to turn next, mind…

  14. There’s an interesting letter protesting the proposed dropping of climate change from the national curriculum at
    I find it very poorly argued (but then I would, wouldn’t I?) e.g.:

    Climate change is based on science and cannot be completely covered in other subjects. Such an action would mean many more young people leave school without an understanding of the facts.
    This also threatens to undermine the government’s “green deal” and the “green industrial revolution”, which promises to create a quarter of a million jobs over the next 20 years, according to Chris Huhne, the energy secretary

    So what’s the problem, being deprived of “the facts”, or missing out on one of Huhne’ promised green jobs? And since when did lefty activists start believing government promises about jobs?
    IN my new investigative mode, I suggest the 23 names appended to the letter may be the most intereting thing about it. These are people who have influence when it comes to determining what kids are learning about the world and their future in it.

  15. 16
    geoffchambers Says:
    June 21st, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    At least they have defined who the ‘we’ referred to is restricted to, a context that often in media is absent.

    ‘As teachers, college leaders, educationists, students, employers and representatives of trade unions and third sector organisations’

    Beyond the limited numbers of individuals, just a smidge intrigued as to the scope of profession who seem to feel they need to have influence in my kids’ ability to assess the ‘facts’ put out.

    While this letter is in the small circulation Guardian, it may however be spun up as significant by others in a spin cycle that is all too familiar.

    Especially as this seems broadcast only even in the Graun. Maybe a recognition of how recent outings in imposing minority social engineering views and actions has gone down like a lead ballon with even their more forgiving readership.

  16. Junkkmale #17
    You talk of the “limited numbers of individuals” and the “small circulation Guardian”.
    23 signatories is a lot of people to find themselves in agreement, and they include representatives of the National Unon of Students, NUT, TUC, WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth etc. These are important organisations who are used to being listened to in the corridors of power. The Guardian is the paper which best represents the views of the Labour and Liberal parties, and even the Cameron wing of the Conservatives on matters of the environment. They will expect to get their way on this question.

  17. They will expect to get their way on this question.

    No argument. And it is their right to make their pitch in any way they can.

    However, I have been giving thought to the mechanisms of representation that exist within the ‘flawed but best there is’ system of governance by public will.

    It all boils down to time, proxies and checks and balances.

    Sadly, we are all so time poor we place too much trust in proxies and if they do stray, the checks and balances that exist or can these days get tangibly deployed or applied to any effective degree to prevent abuse.

    I have become concerned that, though I can choose my Parliamentary representative based on performance very few years (and he knows it), there are many in positions of power and influence who do shape my family’s future who exist, and will continue to do so, no matter what.

    Plus ca change.

    Though not ideal, and indeed open to massive corruption as with any other entity that is not accountable, the ‘next best thing’ in keeping such folk on the straight and narrow is market forces. Looking at that list, the voting in or out is slight or self-evidently riggable (if mainly through exploitation of inertia). The charities are the only ones who credibly exist and thrive by virtue of their success in securing funding.

    However, given the ‘voice’ presented, I merely wonder how representative all these entities are, as represented by these 23 people I certainly didn’t vote for or (willingly) pay to fund. Especially when this letter is the only outlet of their views I have noticed thus far, and indeed only because you kindly called it to my attention directly.

    While concern across all aspects of society is legitimate on behalf of those they do represent, I find such a ‘coming together’ of such groups in seeking to influence how my kids get educated ‘better’ a little disturbing.

    Though actually scrolling through all 23, it doesn’t take too long to suspect objective concern for my kids’ education on the basics of science may not be their main motivation.

    I just don’t want this boosted to a main slot on the broadcast news as ‘Educational leaders are up in arms…’ based on some activists having a hissy fit in a niche newspaper letter page.

  18. On a slightly-related front, I have been noticing increased ‘activity’, and not in a good way, across certain avenues of commentary I frequent.

    The BBC blogs are in apparent meltdown since the imposition of a ‘faster, easier, cheaper, better’ system that is clearly none of the four.

    They are of course still pre-moderated but, along with ‘referrals’, continue to have some slight tilt to free speech in the form of an appeals system. It is however unfit for purpose and often abused either through ineptitude or agenda. I’ve had posts sail through but get pulled days later by a command from on high.

    And while this does offer a huge measure of control already, there are other techniques, ranging from broadcast only through OT, House Rules to ‘watertight oversight’. Their political editor’s blog currently has a policy of discriminating against the vast majority of licence fee payers by seemingly opening and closing within the working day.

    The niche views of the few who do get to ‘discuss’ anything there do go on to inform editorial, if selectively.

    The Graun is a shot bolt for credibility. Hence its traditional, historical gateway position as a one degree of separation avenue on how ‘intelligent’ folk ‘should’ be thinking (and/or think others should think) is wearing thin.

    It usually goes broadcast only when the approbation levels look dubious, and if it does risk a CiF is draconian in excising ‘impure thoughts’.

    A very loyal audience is even noticing. Their first outing on this subject did not go any better than Operation Clark County, No Pressure or AV.

    There’s some discussion about ‘online bubbles’ circulating at present, if often a bit irony lite.

    Those who only inhabit their own should take a reality check, especially if, in addition, they are being ‘protected’ from other views by those who claim to speak for them, but usually might struggle to show when and how placed in the position of doing so.

    STOP PRESS: I also can share the gist of today’s mail, from my boys’ current headmaster. He, and others, seem to be trying their best in mitigation, but do concede the forthcoming strikes will impact the kids’ exam progress. I feel more vindicated still at trying to reduce the exposure of my children’s future to yet further examples of politics over education at the hands of some of signatory acronyms above.

  19. Harking back to what kicked this all off, a new report…

    I cannot imagine just how badly it messes up a bright kid to be in a situation where it’s not a matter of right or wrong answers, but that the questions posed do not make sense… and you are in a stressed, time-limited situation trying to work out why before you can proceed.

  20. Sir Paul Nurse and a colleague had interesting things to say on the BBC’s Radio4 Today programme this morning about the importance of channelling children’s natural curiosity into science studies. They complained that their interest tends to die in their pre-teen years when they discover pop groups and football. There was no suggestion that asking them questions that require politically correct answers, or for which there can be no correct answer at all, might do little to foster enthusiasm for science.

    A pity that neither the scientists, nor Justin Webb who interviewed them, had read this thread. I’ll post the link when it becomes available.

  21. 22 TonyN Says:
    July 5th, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Don’t know if their curiosity is less (unsure whether to be thrilled or worried that my two, having located a carton of grape juice that was fermenting, asked at the weekend if they could distill their own booze from various fruit/veg waste), but certainly there are distractions. Pop groups and football no way here, but XBox/PC games yes. At least they can name all the generals and strategies used to prevail from the Punic Wars to the Belts of Orion.

    However, as to what motivates them, all I can look at is their induction day at the forthcoming school.

    Deeming the science master a ‘total nutter’ (that is good, apparently), he was blowing things up. OK, it was done to impress and inspire, but they seem more ‘motivated’ than before.

    Unsure the generation of nursemaids many are inflicted with have had quite the same effect.

    So it is a pity that some media only access such resources and then merely offer them a broadcast platform for mutually held views.

  22. @edyong209 Ed Yong
    RT @alicebell You want to reach young audiences? Stop thinking about them as ‘audiences’, and involve them

    Certainly merit in less ‘me… here; you…. down there’ mindset will always get my vote.

  23. Excellent stuff here. We have a long road to go to get rid of politically-motivated scaremongering in our schools. Trying to clean up the science curriculum is one small step, but other curricula are also in need of thorough review. The brutal and callous attitudes of those who would recruit children as ‘little political activists’ need more exposure and discussion. More strength to this blog for facilitating that.

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