How Cambridge University almost killed me – The tale of Morwenna Jones

OK so you have done your A levels, got exceptional grades and will be heading off to a top university. Seems like a dream come true to be in with the best the country, and even the world, has to offer. However this is not always the case, in fact you’d be alarmed at what could actually happen. So today we’re going to look at the story of Morwenna Jones, a Cambridge University student. She told this recount in the Guardian:

“I had always been what they call a good student. In 2011, aged 18, I had two A*s and two As at A-level, various sporting successes and plenty of friends. I was president of more clubs and societies than the school needed. I was going to Cambridge University to study English. By most measures, things were going OK.

There was a problem, however – I had also developed an eating disorder. Over the two years before I started university, my body fluctuated and metamorphosed constantly. One week I would be a size zero, and my skeletal form would be found hunched scribbling notes instead of eating lunch. The next, I would look “normal” and hide the seemingly endless piles of food I would consume and then bring up again afterwards. Eventually I told my parents, and after six months I was referred for counselling with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. Once a week I sat in a bleak room and explained to a woman called Lucy that my condition was connected to an obsessive desire to be the best. She listened politely, told me to keep a food diary and then discharged me eight weeks before I started university.

Eighteen months later I was in the passenger seat of my parents’ car, the colleges of Cambridge disappearing into the rain behind me. For a year and a half I had felt completely out of my depth, and finally cracked. No longer was I thought “talented” or “gifted” because I could work for eight hours or read an 800-page novel in a day. At Cambridge everyone I knew could do that. I was no longer special.

I know this might not sound like the world’s worst problem. What did I have to complain about? I was at a top university, with support – in theory – everywhere I looked. But misery has a way of finding you in the most unusual places, and for reasons that can seem incomprehensible, not least to oneself. Inside that bubble, where perfection was the norm, falling short of my own expectations tormented me. I wasn’t a size eight. I wasn’t on track for a first. I wasn’t a sporting Blue.

I dropped out in January 2013. When my parents collected me, I hadn’t left my room in two weeks. For two years I had been killing myself in the name of perfection, unable to enjoy being anything less than the best. As a result I had developed depression alongside severe bulimia.

The fact is that I am by no means unique. Suffering from an eating disorder and depression made me hardly more special among the Oxbridge student population than the A-levels that got me there. Last year a survey by student newspaper The Tab revealed that 21% of Cambridge students have been diagnosed with depression, while a further 25% think they may be depressed. At my all-girls’ college, Murray Edwards, 28% of students have experienced eating disorders. The numbers are reflected more widely – the National Union of Students surveyed 1,200 students and found that 20% believe they have a mental health problem, while 1 in 10 experience suicidal thoughts. Welfare teams at Cambridge alone anticipate 50 to 60 suicide attempts per year.

What I have seen in my time at university is an epidemic of students struggling with mental health difficulties. Every term more students “intermit” – the Cambridge term for taking some time out.

Katt Parkins, a fellow English student in her second year at Churchill College, understands the burden of expectation well. “It has been affecting me my whole life,” she says, recounting how she developed an eating disorder when she was just 11 years old. “I’d always either want to do something perfectly or not do it at all.” She intermitted in February this year, no longer able to cope with the prospect of a low grade. “I was obsessed with perfection. I think one of the reasons I intermitted was because I still really wanted to do well and get a high 2:1 or a first,” she says. “If I’d achieved less, my health would probably have become even worse.”

At Britain’s universities many students crumble as they realise they are only average-sized fish in a much larger pond. Part of the problem is that while we are used to praising or criticising students, it is unusual to sympathise with them. Even to themselves, the whining sounds like “poor me”. But the reality is that the pressure is putting thousands of bright young people at risk of serious mental illness.

Oxbridge is a close-knit collegiate system. Within this system, small communities of extremely motivated individuals live together in the intimate confines of an environment characterised by centuries of academic achievement. Katt Parkins likens it to an Etch-a-Sketch. “You know when you just have to slide off what’s already there and focus on a new drawing?” she says. “It’s like that. You have to focus on your work, so you suppress personal things that you should actually work through. Eventually it builds and builds.”

Students like her are the reason why Oxford academic Nicola Byrom founded the charity Student Minds five years ago, when she was a graduate student. Having suffered from a mental illness herself as a teenager, she wanted to provide students with support.

“There’s certainly historical data that suggests that there is greater prevalence of mental health difficulties in Oxford and Cambridge,” says Byrom. “Living with a small group of competitive people isn’t easy, and you also then have a competitive environment. I think Oxford and Cambridge are probably happy to admit that they pre-select people at high risk of developing mental health difficulties, because they’re taking high-achieving perfectionist young people, who come to be the best.”

But things could be changing. Judith Carlisle, headteacher of the independent Oxford High School, has started a scheme to combat the rise of “unhelpful perfectionism” among her students. It’s called The Death of Little Miss Perfect. Teaching students that “it’s fine not to get everything right”, the scheme includes tests that get progressively harder within a time limit, preventing pupils from answering all of the questions. Its goal, as Carlisle recently stated, is to teach students that “perfectionism is only captured in a moment” and is “not achievable long term”. As well as encouraging students to embrace phrases such as “Have a go” and “Nobody’s perfect”, she’s urging them to avoid “going for something that, if they don’t get it, will destroy them”, and that includes universities. Her advice? “Don’t aim for Oxford if not getting in will destroy you – or if going will destroy you.”.

The last statement might sound confusing, but it sums up some of the ambivalence I feel about Cambridge. If my school had offered a similar scheme, perhaps I wouldn’t have wound up taking a painful, expensive and disruptive year out from university. The pressures of Cambridge broke me but also gave me a whole new perspective on my academic life. If Carlisle aims to teach pupils that “real failing is failing to have a go”, then she also needs to teach them to “have a go” at Oxbridge, and, if necessary, learn from their mistakes.

Byrom is also unconvinced that schools should be warning pupils off Oxbridge altogether. “Schools ought to be thinking about what environment is going to best support a student to thrive through their degree,” she explains, drawing on her own experience of completing an undergraduate course at Nottingham before starting a postgraduate degree at Oxford. “Even for the ‘bad’ perfectionist, Oxbridge could still be a great environment. It’s very difficult to tell someone that a certain atmosphere isn’t going to be right for him or her.”

Meredith Leston and Elise Morton, at Oxford and Cambridge respectively, also identify with the challenges and opportunities provided by Oxbridge. “I knew things were bad when I tried to read my neuroscience textbook and I may as well have been starring at the phonebook,” says Leston, who is about to enter her second year of experimental psychology. “My passion to learn about the brain is what got me into Oxford and it’s what I am dedicating my life to. The things that mattered most to me and defined who I was as a person suddenly barely registered. I felt completely lost.”

Morton agrees. “I remember in the second year just suddenly realising that I was feeling really, really down but without a cause,” she says. “It was when I actually realised just how good my life was that I suddenly went: ‘Hang on, why the hell are you feeling like this?’ I took stock of everything that was good in my life and yet noticed that I was still crying every day. I had to ask myself why I was doing that. I don’t want to say: ‘Oh it was Cambridge’, but I feel like the intense stress of a Cambridge degree has to have an impact upon your mental health.”

Despite all this, however, neither of them has any regrets about their choice of university. Morton graduated this year with a degree in modern and medieval languages. Now studying in Los Angeles, she is also a part-time mental health activist, campaigning for awareness charity Time to Change. She says struggling at university helped her gain perspective. “At first it was difficult to accept that I wasn’t going to be the best. But once I did, I felt able to be more creative and take more risks.”

These issues are problems across all universities, of course. It’s just that they can seem most concentrated where the pressure is greatest. “University is a tough time for a lot of people, whatever university you’re at,” adds Georgina Aisbitt, who works for Student Minds in Oxford. “Your informal support systems, like friends and family, and your formal support systems, like therapists and GPs, are left at home. You add pressure from the university to achieve and you’re putting students in a situation where they are going to be comparing themselves to others. That’s a pretty hefty combination, and it creates quite a tough environment. It’s important that schools try to help their students and promote discussions about mental health.”

When I returned to Cambridge in January I was nervous. I felt that I had tamed some of the anxious, depressed teenager who had struggled before, but would I be able to cope with the isolation? I took a book out of the library and sat in a café on King’s Parade working on my essay for that week. I sat in that café for four hours until long after the sun had set and the bikes had stopped speeding along under King’s College. For the first time since I started Cambridge, I read a book and enjoyed every page.

Eight months later, the perfectionist in me is dead and I don’t miss her. I was discharged from mental health services at the end of last year, and I stopped seeing a therapist in June. The eating disorder will probably always be at the back of my mind, but in many ways it has been a full recovery. I still have to be careful – I don’t drink to excess or sleep in, and I try to avoid environments which I know might be tricky. I feel I now have the mental equipment to deal with life. Excellence is fine, but nobody’s perfect.”

I think lessons can be learnt from this. It is very easy to get sucked in to going to the top universities like Oxbridge or other members of the Russell Group for example, but if it is not right for you, scenario’s like Morwenna’s can and probably will happen. So if you are looking to go to university, here is my advice for you:

  1. Think very carefully about the course you want to study before looking at universities. Not all universities offer every single course and sometimes universities may not offer the course at all.
  2. Once you’ve decided on what you would like to study, then start to look at universities. Think carefully about where you would like to go, and have a browse of the league tables, not just for the current year, but previous years gone by so you get an idea of where they are going. Yes I know league tables don’t necessarily reflect every single part of the university but if the university is slipping down the league tables for the course you want to study, then it can be quite off-putting.
  3. This one is probably the most vital. Before you apply to any of the universities, you MUST go on at least one open day at the university to get a feel for what to expect. If you don’t, then you might find yourself winding up at a university and dropping out pretty quickly as it’s not what you wanted. Remember you are going to be committing anywhere between 3 and 5 years of your life to this course, as well as an awful lot of money with tuition fees alone at £9k a year. Don’t blow that sort of money on somewhere that isn’t right for you. Go to the open days, get as much information as you possibly can out of them, including information on support networks and other options should things not work out, because you never know if or when you might need them.
  4. When applying to universities, remember that universities only want the best candidates. Not all courses require an interview, but for education you do. These interviews are either grouped or paired or individual interviews so be prepared for a variety of situations. In my experience, universities tend to like those students who can use their learning from their A levels and apply it effortlessly to the particular field. In my case, I made reference to a lot of psychological theory, particularly developmental psychology, in my interviews to back up my beliefs. Worked for me as I applied for 5 universities, and got 5 interviews and 5 offers.
  5. Don’t be too down if a university doesn’t pick you. Remember that thousands of other people are competing with you for that place, and you are potentially applying for 5 universities. Do your best to stand out from the crowd, but be true to yourself.
  6. When you do go to the university that you have chosen, if you’ve taken thorough enough care of it, you should feel at home, so make sure you build up a social group, maybe join a few societies that the university’s student union offer you, and maximise your time there. Honestly the years will fly by, so make the most of them.

The damaging effects of homework?

It is often a question asked of many teachers and parents alike of what age should a child be given homework. I’m personally one for giving homework if it is necessary to support the child’s particular learning, so if it is just a case of the child needs a bit more practice then set them a bit of homework to give them that. I don’t believe it should be compulsory early on though. Another interesting perspective on this came up in the Telegraph yesterday.

Primary-age pupils should be effectively exempt from homework because it is damaging childhood and creating tensions between families, a private school head has warned.

Teachers should stop setting work until the final few years of primary education to prevent pupils being overloaded at a young age, said Dawn Moore, head of King Alfred School, north London. She said that virtually all schools in the state and independent sector had “firmly embedded” policies on regular homework for children aged five to 11.

Previous guidelines introduced by Labour had suggested an hour of work a week for infants aged up to the age of seven, rising to half an hour a night for those in the final four years of primary education.But Mrs Moore said the practice may be damaging to children’s education and home life.

She said pupils needed “downtime” and the opportunity to play outdoors after school, insisting that homework created too much tension in the between parents and children.

“I really question how beneficial homework is, particularity for the younger primary age children,” she said. “I have been quite concerned about this idea of children doing two or three hours of homework a night at the age of eight or nine.”

The comments were made before a homework conference next weekend at the £15,900-a-year school, which is billed as a progressive and “informal” institution.

Debate surrounding the amount – and type – of homework set for children has intensified in recent years, particularly in primary schools. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has previously called for a ban on compulsory homework for primary-age children, saying that children should be able to explore, experiment and enjoy learning without feeling pressured.

A number of schools have also introduced individual curbs on homework. This includes the Jane Austen College in Norwich – one of the government’s flagship free schools – which expects pupils to do all their work during normal timetabled hours.

It represents a significant shift following pressure from the previous Labour government to ensure children were set up to two and a half hours of homework each night. Under the old guidelines introduced in 1998, primary schools were told to set an hour of homework a week for children aged five to seven, rising to half an hour a night for seven-to-11-year-olds. Secondary schools were told to set 45 to 90 minutes a night for pupils aged 11 to 14, and up to two-and-a-half hours a night for those aged 14 to 16.

But the guidance was axed by Michael Gove, the former Education Secretary, amid claims head teachers should be given the final say on work outside of school hours.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Mrs Moore said her school did not introduce children to basic homework until Year 5 – when pupils are aged nine-to-10. By the age of 11, they are required to do one hour a week – typically receiving a project on a Friday and handing it in the following week.

“I think children have a very busy day at school and when they get home they’re often quite tired and need some downtime,” she said. “When we were kids we used to go out to play and get a lot of fresh air and there’s a huge amount of value in that.”

She added: “One of the things that worry me most is when families get into situations where the whole evening gets tense because of the amount of homework that needs to get done – trying to squeeze homework in between school and having a bath and going to bed.”

She insisted homework should only be set for older children “if it is worthwhile” and usually linked directly linked to a lesson. “I feel that it can lead to demotivation and finding learning somewhat boring,” she said. “It is not about seeing how it can help them explore their curiosity; it is about ticking boxes. I say to all of my teachers, only set homework if there’s a point to it. Don’t set it for the sake of it.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “A modest amount of homework for older primary age children – Key Stage 2 – is appropriate but it shouldn’t be extensive amounts on a daily basis. It can be helpful particularly for practising spellings and times tables for doing little projects where they can build projects with their family.But you can certainly overdo it on the homework front and there needs to be some space for childhood. There also needs to be some space for children to relax and recover. We find that they learn better in the classroom when that’s enabled.”

I have to say I don’t completely agree with the fact that it’s not appropriate to give homework to younger children. It’s not about giving the homework, it’s about how you use it. As I said earlier, giving homework is a useful tool if the child needs additional help with an objective. I don’t agree with giving any child homework for the sake of giving them homework, no matter what age they are. I have seen homework used as either consolidation for the previous topic, or as a starter point for the next topic. I’m not too convinced by the latter reason as you always end up questioning how much the child actually knew that or how much of it was the parents helping out.

Talent Shoutout: Bethany Stoddard

Hi all

It’s been a long while but I have another talent shoutout I want to bring to your attention. This one comes from another good friend of mine who has a real love of writing. She recently sent me a story that she has been working on and I really enjoyed reading it. I’m sure there are quite a lot of people who can relate to the story, particularly those in the UK and anyone who knows what we think about our weather system!

Here is the link to her story: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1AlHedYuIVIFnMhTNkJqcMFHbXAjdwoiJLQ8SHVsi6NA/edit

As yet it is untitled, if you have a title suggestion you may want to give or any other feedback, feel free to leave a comment on this thread or tweet it to me @youngproteacher and I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.

Hope you enjoy

Mr M

Teaching Links – Updated January 9th, 2015

Hi all

Here is a list of all the education resource sites I have come across in my time in the profession, hope they all help out, and if you know of any others feel free to comment them or tweet them to me @youngproteacher and I’ll put them up on here for you. Not all of them are free so bare this in mind when looking them up. I will try to update this at the beginning of each month so hopefully new sites will appear on here constantly so there are plenty to work from!

TES: http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resources/
Primary Resources: http://www.primaryresources.co.uk/
Instant Displays: http://www.instantdisplay.co.uk/index.htm
Communication4All: http://www.communication4all.co.uk/HomePage.htm
TopMarks: http://www.topmarks.co.uk/
Studyzone: http://www.studyzone.tv/
Teaching Ideas: http://www.teachingideas.co.uk/
Primary Treasure Chest: http://www.primarytreasurechest.com/
Sparklebox: http://www.sparklebox.co.uk/
Nrich: http://nrich.maths.org/frontpage
Teacher’s Pet: http://tpet.co.uk/#/home
The Teacher’s Corner: http://www.theteacherscorner.net/

TeacherLED:  http://teachr.co/1BzIOTi

ShowMe: http://teachr.co/1HxVNsb

The Geographical Association (one for teacher training materials):  http://teachr.co/1AoNdst

I hope these help

Mr M

Scottish Independence – My Take

Now I know I am an education blogger, but honestly there hasn’t really been much in the education world that has caught my interest lately, mostly because of the hype around the Independence referendum in Scotland, so I decided that as it could have an impact on education, that I would give my take on what could happen and describe what I would like to see.

Now it has been a while since my Economics A level days, but economics has still been a minor interest of mine, so when it comes to looking at economic statistics, I’m always intrigued. I personally feel that Independence for Scotland will be fiscal and economical suicide, and here’s why.

Firstly, let’s look at the currency. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond MSP believes that they will be able to keep using the British Pound, to which Westminster have pretty much responded with ‘over our dead bodies’. This of course doesn’t mean that Scotland can’t go on using the pound without such agreement with Westminster, but they would have to build reserves of around £20billion. How would they do that? Well they would have to cut back on building ammenities such as schools, universities and hospitals, which could be disastrous for Scottish Education and Health, which are two areas in which Scotland are considered strong. If universities and school plans are cut, how can Scotland fund the free higher education that it currently has? It was made known recently that in order to achieve this policy in the first place, Scotland cut around 140,000 places. In short, this idea is far too expensive and can lead to disastrous consequences.

The next crucial point to look at is membership of the EU and other links. As it stands the whole of the UK pays billions of pounds to be a member of the EU. Again the question that needs to be answered is ‘How does Scotland intend to fund that?’ Well one way to do that is to increase tax and prices on everything, which is going to have a big impact on the incomes of families as wages still remain stagnant and below inflation as it is, so making the cost of living even higher will seriously slow down consumption, and slow down the economy even further. Losing membership of the EU and UK will mean that Scotland loses an awful lot of trade links around the world, meaning it’s import and export market will be affected, and that will cause price rises as well.

The next point to ponder concerns Scotland’s share of the national debt. Alex Salmond has claimed in an argument that if Westminster does not give an Independent Scotland an agreement to stay in the British Pound, Scotland will default on it’s share of the debts. Well that is a suicidal comment in it’s own right. If Scotland does indeed default on it’s debts, that will give Scotland a reputation of ‘sure give us money but we won’t give it back’. Does anyone else think that sounds like an Icelandic bank? What this will mean is that an Independent Scotland will be charged astronomically high interest rates on any loans they do take from other countries, which will not be sustainable for Scotland to pay back.

Here’s another thought which hasn’t really been mentioned. If Scotland becomes an independent nation, does that mean all Scottish people in the UK become foreign and would require a visa and English citizenship to work in this country? If that is true imagine how many people may find themselves forced to leave the country and head back to Scotland. That would certainly be a significant chunk of Parliament out. It could also mean jobs for English workers suddenly become available in England, but it would have the opposite effect on employment in Scotland. If thousands of people suddenly end up in Scotland without work, the unemployment statistics will go through the roof, putting huge amounts of pressure on the welfare state in Scotland. Not going to look good don’t you think?

So given all this, what would I like to see? Well you would think I would want to see the Scottish people vote No, and that is what my logic would argue. But actually I would like to see Alex Salmond suffer so in a cynical way I would like to see them vote Yes. I would like to see the result of them becoming independent, the SNP raising all the wages of his political party and then end up begging us to let them back in the UK.

If of course Scotland votes No, then what does that mean for Alex Salmond’s position? You would think all people who voted Yes but got outvoted would lose all faithin Salmond’s convictions and would find himself in a position where his own party’s standing is destroyed. I do personally think that Independence will benefit the SNP, not the Scottish people.

If any of you are Scottish, I would be interested to hear what your views on what Scotland should do are as you will have a say in it in less than 24 hours time.

Daily life of a primary school teacher – My take

So here it is, the week where we’re all back to school as teachers and pupils. To mark such occasion, I wanted to talk about what being a teacher is like from my perspective. Of course these opinions are my opinions and may not necessarily represent the views of the general population.

We hear all the time about what being a primary school teacher is about from the perspective of the government, but what we also hear is what the teachers themselves describe as their daily life. Things that the government often mention is that the job starts at 9am and finishes around 3.30pm, the job has a significant amount of holiday time amongst other things. These are often joked about by comedians when it comes to education, but I’m going to offer an insider view as to what the profession is really about. Yes I’m a final year student, but having spent 4 years in the profession already, I have already had a good amount of experience of what it means to be a teacher.

What you see as a parent is that you drop your child off at school around 8.50am for school to start at 9am (obviously I’m aware that times vary from area to area but this is an average) and then pick your child up again around 3pm. In that time you expect a teacher to be teaching lessons of different subjects and broadening the depths of knowledge that the child can take forward. But what you don’t see is the amount of work that goes on in order to make those lessons happen. The hours of planning and resourcing spent both in school and at home, the marking of the kids’ work to inform these hours of planning. I often arrive at school around 7.30am and often leave sometime around 6pm and sometimes even later in order to keep up with the workload. I have to say even with this amount of time, sometimes it feels like there isn’t enough hours in the day to keep up. What does this mean? We need to use our weekends as well. In short, teaching isn’t a 9 till 3.30, 5 days a week job, it’s a lifestyle 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

This notion of doing the job for the holidays as well is naïve. Whilst the children get a 6 week holiday or sometimes 7 week holiday in the summer, what are the teachers doing? Well whilst some people believe we all go on holidays in the sun, what the vast majority of us do is spend a lot of time planning lessons for the next batch of children coming through our classroom doors in September. We also have to set our classrooms up (these things don’t appear by magic you know) in the best possible way to promote a love of learning in our classroom. In reality we might be lucky to get a couple of weeks to be able to wind down to ourselves.

Pay and salary is a topic that has come up a lot in the last few years with all these strikes over pensions and conditions. I’ve done a bit of research and the average pay per annum for an NQT (which I will be soon) is around £22k outside of London, around £28k inside London. With the amount of hours put into our work, that equates to around £3 per hour. Doesn’t seem like much does it?

So despite all this, what brought me into the teaching profession? Well Sue Cowley describes education and teaching as one of the most challenging yet most rewarding professions in the world. In the current circumstances you’d find it hard to disagree with that. I went into the profession because the thought of having an impact on the future of our children’s lives, from being able to put a smile on their face today, to seeing them graduate into long and successful lives in the days of tomorrow fills me with a great sense of pride and honour that you do not get from a desk job. Sure the job has it’s stresses, whether it’s caused by the government constantly on our backs, or the child who just decided they didn’t want to do the work you put so much effort into planning in that one day. But do you know what? For me the rewards outweigh the stresses. You pour all your emotion into teaching, and I have all sorts of cards and drawings that the kids have made for me, and there is no greater thing than a memory of every class you teach. I will look back on my journey when I eventually retire (who knows how old will I be when that happens) and will look back on all those young people I’ve had an impact on and be proud of what I’ve achieved.

Three R’s on the up

I think the term Three R’s is one of my least favourite educational terms, mostly because the only one of these R’s that actually even begins with R is Reading (if you didn’t know, the others are Writing and Arithmetic). Am I the only person who think they should be killed RAW skills? Anyhow enough of that …

It was announced today that there has been a sharp rise in the results for the Three R’s as measured by our SATs results. Four out of five 11-year-olds (79%) achieved Level 4 in their Sats tests in reading, writing and arithmetic, up from 75% in 2013. Results in the new grammar and spelling tests, first sat in 2013, rose three percentage points at Level 4 to 76%.

The government said thousands more pupils were secure in the basics. School reform minister Nick Gibb said the results showed that teachers and pupils had responded well to the higher standards his government’s education reforms have demanded. “Our education system is beginning to show the first fruits of our plan for education, helping to prepare young people for life in modern Britain. There is more to do but teachers and pupils deserve huge credit for such outstanding results.” He said: “Eighty thousand more children than five years ago will start secondary school this year secure in the basics – and able to move on to more complex subjects. It means in the long term these children stand a far better chance of winning a place at university, gaining an apprenticeship and securing good jobs. We have set unashamedly high expectations for all children, introduced a new test in the basics of punctuation, spelling and grammar, and removed calculators from maths tests.”

In detail, the results show improvements in all subjects at Level 4.

• Reading – 89% – up five percentage points

• Spelling, punctuation and grammar 76% – up three percentage points

• Maths – 86% – up one percentage point

• Writing 85% – up two percentage points (Based on teacher assessments)

From this year, schools are deemed to be underperforming if fewer than 65% of pupils achieve Level 4 in all subjects in the last year of primary school. I still don’t necessarily agree with it being based on percentage, especially having worked in a couple of small schools in my rather short career. In fact I’ve worked in a Year 6 class with only 18 children, and around half a dozen of them were on IEPs and were not predicted to achieve level 4’s across the board. Fortunately the IEP children did very well so the school was not deemed underperforming. But it could quite easily be a whole different story, where a school with fantastic staff could be deemed underperforming and who knows what would happen to morale then?

I’ll tell you though one of those stats that bothers me is this Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar one. Nearly 10% lower than the others? That suggests that perhaps we need to be put a bit more focus into teaching that as a matter of urgency. I mean I know we are being a technology driven age and word processing programs carry a spell check feature, but how do you know a word is really spelled wrong if you can’t in fact spell in the first place? How do you know the computer is 100% accurate? I mean it’s very easy to have the program set to recognise the English (US) language instead of English (UK), in which case you could end up learning how to spell words incorrectly. We need to start giving this more attention, but making sure we do not lose the great results we are achieving in the other subjects.

Sex Ed at Seven?

The wonderful area of the curriculum known as sex education, or to give it it’s full title ‘sex and relationships education’, the topic that receives much debate over when we should start teaching our children.

Well the Liberal Democrats have recently spoken out that all children in England’s state schools should receive lessons on this topic from the age of 7 years old, so basically Year 3. The idea behind this is that so long as the lessons are age-appropriate, it is all part of the government’s idea of building a ‘curriculum for life’ which will also include Citizenship and money management. The idea is backed by Labour although they suggest that the Lib Dems have not delivered it so far.

Under the Lib Dem plans, which will be included in the party’s manifesto for next year’s general election, schools would be required to offer lessons on sex and relationships in Key Stage 2 – which includes children aged seven to 11. The party also plans to make all state-run secondary schools offer the lessons, which form part of the wider area known as personal, social and health education (PSHE).

At present, state secondary schools run by local authorities must offer sex and relationships education, but free schools and academies are not required to do so. Lib Dem schools minister David Laws said: “It is vitally important that children learn all the life skills they need when they are at school, and Liberal Democrats believe that this should include learning financial literacy, citizenship and age-appropriate sex and relationship education. We have long made the case, both inside and outside government, for updated sex and relationship education to be taught in all schools, including academies and free schools, but it is not something the Conservatives are open to. We believe that by educating children about sex and relationships in an appropriate way, we can help them to make informed choices in their personal lives.”

The Labour Party said it had been calling for the move for years and that the Lib Dems had voted against a similar proposal when the opposition tabled it in the House of Lords earlier this year.

“Violence in young relationships is a huge issue as is preventing violence in future relationships,” said shadow Home Office minister Seema Malhotra. “Only through ideas like compulsory sex and relationship education can we tackle the root causes of domestic abuse and give young people the tools and support they need to make informed decisions about their lives. It is welcome that the Lib Dems have finally caught onto this agenda but they have had four years in government to take some action and have failed.”

The Department for Education said sex and relationships education was an “important part of preparing young people for life in modern Britain”. “Sex and relationship education is compulsory in all maintained secondary schools and many primary schools also teach it in an age appropriate manner,” a spokeswoman said. “We also expect academies and free schools to deliver relationship education as part of their provision of a broad and balanced curriculum. We have also made financial literacy compulsory for the first time ever for 11-to-16 year olds, which will cover the importance of budgeting, sound money management and how different financial services work.”

Overall GCSE Grades risen, butt ay drop inn Inglish

It’s another results day! This time for those hundreds of thousands of pupils who have battled through the wonderful world of GCSEs.

As you can tell from the title, there has been quite a significant drop in the English GCSE results, however the overall number of those achieving the A*-C grades have risen on average across all subjects. So it looks like on average we’re improving, but become seemingly less literate. Slightly worrying …

Exam officials revealed that 68.8% of entries scored A*-C, up 0.7 percentage points on last summer. However, The proportion of pupils getting the top A* grade across all subjects fell slightly to 6.7%, down from 6.8% last year.

There were significant differences between the A* to C grade results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – where increasingly dissimilar versions of GCSE are being taught. Results rose in each of the three education systems.

There have been warnings of “volatility” in results following an overhaul of the exam system. Brian Lightman, head of the Association of School and College Leaders, reported “increased volatility” in the results being received by schools. A “significant minority” had not received their predicted results, he said, with schools with many disadvantaged students having been “hit the hardest”. “The volume of change has made year on year comparisons in GCSE results increasingly meaningless. It is almost apples and oranges,” said Mr Lightman.

Andrew Hall, head of the AQA exam board, said the most significant impact on this year’s results has been the big fall in younger pupils taking exams a year early. Changes in the league tables discouraged schools from such multiple entries. I am still not convinced this isn’t holding back those children who are capable of getting high quality grades a year earlier. I don’t agree with schools using this system to as a pass to get more than one attempt at these GCSEs, but if they are capable of getting an A* or an A a year early, then let them.

It is important also to remember that across the three nations of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, whilst all have the same name of GCSEs, they are in fact different courses because the reforms such as the switch to linear, non-modular courses and less coursework, have applied only to England.

The results in English seem to have been most affected, with the number of A*-C grades down 1.9 percentage points to 61.7%. This was also influenced by the removal of the “speaking and listening” element of the subject.

The CBI’s deputy director general, Katja Hall, said exam reforms have helped to increase “rigour”. But from an employer’s perspective, she said more was needed to ensure a GCSE grade was an accurate measure of “skills they can bring to the workplace”. The removal of speaking and listening from the English GCSE was “particularly concerning”, said Ms Hall. She also warned that “we cannot continue to turn a blind eye” to the question of whether there should be such an exam for 16 year olds.

There is still a significant gender gap in this year’s results, with 73.1% of girls’ exam entries achieving A* to C compared with 64.3% for boys.

Exam officials also highlighted a fall in the numbers of entries for biology, chemistry and physics, the first such decline for a decade.

Another factor that can be considered an influence has been the ability of some schools, notably free schools and academies, to hire unqualified teachers, which is something highlighted by Tristram Hunt. “It is now the case that some of the pupils who have received their grades today may have higher qualifications than the teachers who will be teaching them at the start of the next school term,” claimed Mr Hunt.

Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment at Buckingham University, warned of “shocks in store” for some schools, depending on “how much they relied on gaming the old system”.

“All of this piecemeal change to GCSE means that is incredibly difficult for schools to forecast what grades students might expect to achieve, or indeed to compare the school’s results with previous years,” said head teachers’ leader Brian Lightman. Young people are not statistics. They are individuals whose life chances depend on these results. They have worked extremely hard for these exams and been conscientiously supported by their teachers. I hope that their results do them justice.”

Chris Keates, leader of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said this year’s GCSE exam entrants had to “cope with a raft of rushed through and ill-conceived changes to the qualifications system and so today’s results are especially commendable”.

The National Union of Teachers’ leader Christine Blower said that the headline figures “mask underlying issues which will only become clear over time”. “We must ensure that changes being made to our qualifications system do not unfairly disadvantage specific groups of students, including those with special educational needs or those from backgrounds of economic disadvantage.”

As always, if you either have students receiving their results or are in fact a student receiving your results, I hope you all got the results you were striving for and will continue on to achieve your potential in whatever route you go down.

Child’s drawing a predictor of intelligence?

One of the many activities children love to do when they’re young in their free time is to simply draw, and sometimes when their imagination runs wild you can get some real amazing ones. I’ve even had kids attempt to draw pictures of me in the past. Normally you don’t think anything of it, but is there more to it than we think?

A study might suggest so as it suggests that the way children draw at the age of four can be a predictor of later intelligence. Sounds weird? I thought so too when I saw this study come up.

Researchers asked 7,752 pairs of twins to draw a picture of a child which was then scored by the number of features such as head, legs, hands and feet. The children were also asked by the King’s College, London team to complete intelligence tests at age four and 14. They found a moderately strong link between higher drawing scores and the later intelligence test results.

The team, led by Dr Rosalind Arden, of King’s College’s Institute of Psychiatry, used a Draw-a-Child test devised in the 1920s to assess children’s intelligence at the age of four. Dr Arden said: “Drawing is an ancient behaviour, dating back beyond 15,000 years ago. Through drawing, we are attempting to show someone else what’s in our mind. This capacity to reproduce figures is a uniquely human ability and a sign of cognitive ability, in a similar way to writing, which transformed the human species’ ability to store information, and build a civilisation.”

She said it was no surprise the test results correlated with the verbal and non-verbal intelligence tests taken at age four, but added: “What surprised us was that it correlated with intelligence a decade later. The correlation is moderate, so our findings are interesting, but it does not mean that parents should worry if their child draws badly. Drawing ability does not determine intelligence, there are countless factors, both genetic and environmental, which affect intelligence in later life.”

The researchers also looked at whether a child’s drawing ability was inherited. They did this by separating out the drawings of identical twins and non-identical twins, and comparing them with each other. Identical twins share all their genes with each other, while non-identical twins share only 50% of their genes. However, both usually share the same family background and upbringing. As the drawings from identical twins were more similar to one another than those from non-identical twin pairs, the researchers concluded that drawing ability had a genetic link.

I have to say this is a really interesting study. I don’t know about you but I might pay a lot more attention to what the kids I teach draw and how well they’re drawing now. I will be curious to see if I can find similar results from them, as this is really fascinating to me. It might even add to a conjecture that maybe you could be born an artist, and if that’s the case, could you be born to be any profession? Oh the mind boggles …