Earlier today I wrote a post about ‘Educating Essex‘, a Channel 4 fly on the wall documentary about a secondary school. Whilst I was quick to point out the editing bias towards showing bad behaviour rather than learning, I was very critical of head teacher Vic Goddard‘s approach towards a boy who approached him for some time to do some creative writing. A conversation with him on twitter has shown that my interpretation of this was influenced by editing, and unfair to his supportive approach to his students.
In this clip on the C4 website, year 7 (12 year old) pupil Ciaran visits Mr Goddard with a well prepared request. He had been working on a novel, but having written two chapters already was finding it hard to fit in the time to reach his ambitious goal. With a written speech prepared in his bag, he asked the head if he could have ‘one period every one or two weeks’ to progress on his novel.
Mr Goddard’s answer?
“You need to focus on being in school. Your novel can take a little longer, but right now we need to make sure you are settled and doing well… because we are expecting As and A*s from 7P1 in their GCSEs.”
This came across in the programme as a quick dismissal, whereas what actually happened afterwards was Mr Goddard bought Ciaran a computer to work on the novel at home, and has been helping him out of school time.
It appears I took account of editorial bias on one side whilst making no allowance for it on the other, and the reality is another example of this headteacher going above and beyond for his students. I must therefore apologise to Mr Goddard for unfairly criticising him.
However, to look at this more widely I think there are some issues to discuss. My opinion that Ciaran should have been allowed to have some time to follow his passion in school time was met with some surprised comments on twitter. The implication was that this was being totally unrealistic. Whilst the specific comments may have been unfair, the idea that following a passion for learning like this is unthinkable in the school systems we have seems very sad to me.
Vic brought out the practical implications, citing examples of how he could be inundated with requests for young people to study all manner of things. Undoubtedly some of these would be young people ‘trying it on’ to get out of doing any work. I wonder if this is just what young people are like or if the curriculum in this country allowed more real choice, and therefore more relevance, that they might be more likely to feel invested in their education and have less desire to get out of it.
It seems to me our school systems in this country are very much about making people the same. With targets for GCSE pass rates, inspection pressure, and the turmoil caused by difficult backgrounds it is no surprise that there is little room for bringing choice to learners. However, just because the systems are set against such things doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question them and try to make the changes young people need, big or small.
Vic Goddard’s dedication is far from selling his pupils short, but I can’t helping thinking that for many the system is; by making opportunities for following passions for learning in school time so unthinkable and so impractical.