The trouble with schools is, we just haven’t cracked the personalisation issue.
Forgive me if I’m being presumptuous, but I’m assuming the statement above has raised a few questions along the lines of:
- Is there an issue?
- What issue?
- Personalisation is straight forward, isn’t it?
As a Headteacher, I have always strived to personalise the curriculum offer and provision for my students. I think it’s right to maximise their chances and I don’t think anyone working in education would disagree. It’s a worthy thing to do; I’m trying to ensure all my students can access our provision effectively.
We can do it with a fair degree of success in the classroom, but my god, it’s not easy to differentiate for all the different needs in a class: do it sensitively; make sure the work you set is challenging; and ensure your students don’t become reliant on your support as a crutch, to get them through their lessons. Sounds simple but it requires a lot more preparation time and sensitivity when allocating different work to pupils in the same class. Then there is the range of interventions we can put in place such as reading recovery, or extension/enrichment sessions for the more able.
Across the school, we try to personalise the curriculum offer by reducing the curriculum at Key Stage 4 (14 – 16 years for those reading this not in the UK) allowing students to choose three subjects to study in addition to the core subjects. This begins to separate some students from others and where the notion of personalisation might begin to come into conflict with the concept of ‘liberal education’, which would advocate a broad education and education for its own sake, ‘freeing’ the individual.
When we begin to set classes, we personalise to an even greater extent. Does it narrow the experiences the lower attaining students have, by separating high attaining students from lower attaining students in some of their classes? Will they have the same opportunities to partake in high- quality discussion for example. Conversely, are higher attaining students disadvantaged because they miss out on opportunities to learn to work with, communicate with and understand those, with needs differing from their own?
Streaming whole year groups so that every class a student has will be with students of similar ability, is an even more extreme form of personalisation and one which seldom happens in schools in the UK today. The Tripartite system which existed from the post-war years until the mid-seventies and still exists in a few authorities goes even further by separating students of different abilities into different schools. Today with Theresa May’s blessing, we’ve seen a growth in Grammar schools once again.
I don’t believe in segregating young people and believe in a comprehensive system. I’ve always thought as myself as a liberal educationalist, however, the more we are hit by cuts and the loss of all the government sponsored and/or charitable support services we once had available to schools, the more I’m coming to terms with a more pragmatic side to my educational aspirations. And there lies a huge dilemma.
What we are doing in terms of personalisation in schools, especially schools in deprived areas, is just not enough. Far too many are failing the system with over 1 in 10 young people aged between 16 and 24, not in education or employment.
I walk into classes on a daily basis and watch some students struggle with certain subjects, they simply should not be studying. They can’t see the relevance or else the conceptual level is too difficult and as a result they are destined to at best, gain a low mark or fail altogether. There are many reasons for this: numeracy & literacy levels; additional support from home; levels of trauma experienced in life so far; attachment to others; beliefs & values; the degree of motivation caused by any of the above and more; the list goes on.
It really is a dilemma. On the one hand, I believe it’s a good thing to have young people from a range of backgrounds and cultures, learning together in schools. It prepares them better for the real world, but at the same time, they can’t all be studying the same subjects all of the time, it just isn’t supportive of the needs of the individual. But at the same time, by segregating and providing different subjects or methodology (e.g. more vocational education, rather than all academic) for some students, are we preventing them from accessing the richness of our full curriculum and all that life and culture has to offer? ARGGGGHHH!
We need to reinvent ourselves as schools. Have a think about it, before my next blog. I have a few ideas, but I’ll allow myself a few days before I’m hung drawn and quartered!