Scrooge or Gradgrind?

The School That Cancelled Christmas” – chanced on this story when idly browsing the internet.. er, I mean making constructive use of the school holidays!

The primary school in question has roused the ire of local parents (who have dubbed it Scrooge Academy) by dispensing with frivolities such as a nativity play, carol concert or Christmas party, citing their desire not to interrupt pupil learning and their focus on raising standards. But all is not lost – apparently there’ll be “an opportunity to reintroduce termly music and drama” when “standards have been noticeably raised”.

The school concerned has come a cropper in local league tables, and clearly think that this is the solution.  How can it be?

OK, you can probably raise attainment in literacy and numeracy – in as far as it is measured by KS2 tests – by concentrating on them to the exclusion of almost all else. You could raise performance in a test in any subject if you focused on it that much. But you are very likely to develop or reinforce negative attitudes to these basics that way – no-one really wants a monotonous educational diet, particularly not at primary school, and there will undoubtedly be a (correct) perception that this is a consequence of the league-table poor performance, encouraging work on these subjects to be seen as a “punishment” (by contrast with the “reward” of the plays, concerts etc).

Pupil motivation is also, of course, a huge part of academic success. And exactly how motivated will these kids have been to learn tough new material, at the end of a long, tiring term, when they are aware their friends in other schools are dressing up in a sheet with tinsel halo, or playing “Little Donkey” on an out-of-tune recorder? The fact that in previous years they too were joining in the fun will really drive it home to them. Sure, the teachers will undoubtedly get some work out of them – but will it be retained?

Oh, and of course the “focus on the basics” approach neglects the boost to the self-esteem of a child who is not the greatest at academic work, but flourishes on the stage -apart from this being a good in itself, once the self-esteem is sorted, improvements in attainment in other areas may well follow.

But even more important – this seems to me a prime example of the educational tendency to value what we can measure, rather than measure what we value.  The culture seems to be to adopt Mr Gradgrind’s view:-“Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.” (also epitomised by our beloved Education Secretary’s preference for examinations where rote learning is prioritised)

Surely a school is much more than a place to develop particular skills and competencies, and inculcate knowledge? It should be a community, it should celebrate everyone’s talents, it should give everyone a chance to contribute.  As with most communities, it will have regular events that frame the day and the year and form a reassuring backdrop, particularly for children with little structure in their lives,  and it will have high days and holidays.  Within the community, teachers aren’t just there to get facts and skills into the little darlings’ heads – they are also role models in how they treat others, how they deal with things going wrong, how to approach learning, how ready they are to give of themselves; the full benefit can never come from just standard classroom interaction – both children and teachers gain so much from working together  during those extracurricular “inessentials”.

I hope the school concerned think again. At the end of this term, let the kids practice their numeracy calculating how many small eggs they need to make Easter nests, their writing by making up a story about the Easter bunny and their reading by finding out how Easter eggs originated. Let them put on an end-of-term concert or talent contest. Make them feel  that fun is an important part of life and that they are valued as people, not just as exam candidates.

Edited to add: I’ve just seen this article making similar points.

This entry was posted in Educational Developments, Opinions, Pupil relationships. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Scrooge or Gradgrind?

  1. Joy says:

    Hmm – I’m not sure I entirely agree with you. Reading the link, it seems that the only thing they cancelled was the Christmas show and, having produced several shows now, I can testify to how time consuming they are to put on. We worry a lot about how to keep the momentum going through the disruption and upset, which lasts for weeks and to which some children react quite badly to.
    They still ‘had Christmas’ in various other ways.

  2. Joy says:

    Eeeek – what awful sentence construction. So sorry! 🙂
    J x

  3. teacherposts says:

    See your point, Joy – and I do know all those things are hard work to put on (I’ve seen how much goes into our productions and concerts). It just seems a bit miserable to cancel it, rather than, say, to decide they wouldn’t have it in the first place – wouldn’t the kids see it as a reflection on them?

    Keeping momentum going – yup, come across that a few times! One of those issues with long terms.
    (Wouldn’t worry about sentence construction – I’m a mathematician, I’m in no position to judge! 😉

  4. Joy says:

    Did they start it and then stop? I think ‘cancel’ can also mean ‘decide not to do it this year’. If I made that decision, I would use the term ‘cancel’.

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