The dark side of the whiteboard - Equipped for a leaky society

19th November 2010 at 00:00

I've just finished Guy Claxton's book, What's the Point of School? Yes, I know. You probably read it when it came out two years ago. But I come from up North. We are still struggling with the bubonic plague and restricted O2 coverage, so it takes a while for any pedagogical innovations to make it this far. They usually get stuck at Scotch Corner, jammed behind the Nissan Micra with a "Baby on Board" sticker and the turnip behind the wheel and the 1967 tractor driven by a man with ear tufts and poor spatial awareness. While all you innovators and early adopters are flinging around the latest hi-tech teaching and learning gadgetry, the rest of us laggards are still loitering in Comet buying into the pedagogical equivalent of the Betamax.

So for me, Claxton's book was a fascinating read. If you can suppress the suspicion that he wears cable-knit sweaters, eats dhal and has tantric sex, then what he says makes perfect sense. He argues that our schools are outmoded institutions based on inappropriate, archaic educational models that no longer suit the needs of life in the 21st century. And while he admires the vision of such ambitious statements as, "The goal of education is to equip all pupils with the foundation skills, attitudes and expectations necessary to prosper in a changing society" (the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence), he questions how we will get there.

So what skills do our kids need to cope with the lean times ahead? Well, following the comprehensive spending review, we could begin by exchanging the national curriculum for Ray Mears's extreme economic survival guide. Far better to teach our youngsters how to feed their families on a ragout of roadkill than to recognise a subordinating conjunction. And while we are responding to the demands of our changing environment, we should dump the "thinking curriculum". A few years down the line, when all our youngsters are employed mopping up our pee, a pair of rubber gloves and a bucket will be handier than any higher-order thinking skills. Besides, "thinking about their thinking" isn't going to get our meals-on-wheels trays to us any faster, whereas listening to their satnav might.

Although Claxton's book is less prissy than most, any pedagogical guide makes for uncomfortable reading. There you are, a conscientious, over-worked, under-paid member of the teaching rank and file, struggling to keep up with the latest TL fashions. You have just spent six months updating your department's musty schemes of work, adding in brain breaks, class-builders, team-builders, and a full complement of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic activities. You can't help but feel a little smug: your schemes are now so politically correct they make The Guardian read like Nuts magazine. Each lesson is differentiated to suit GT, SEN, Gardner's multiple intelligences, and Snow White and most of her dwarfs. Then some smart alec like Claxton comes along and points out that sipping water doesn't hydrate your brain, and brain breaks alone don't improve performance. Suddenly you feel like you are wearing last year's thong.

Claxton's solution is to create a learning gym where kids exercise their "learning muscles" to develop fitter minds. And I would happily enrol. Except I suspect that by the time I make it to the Claxton cross-trainer he will be revving up a storm in another spinning studio.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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