Judging by the response at the recent Westminster Briefings in London and Manchester, the concept of ‘Being Secondary Ready’ is a controversial one. Asked by the organisers to speak at the events on the subject, it was clear that Gove’s latest proposal to test and rank 11 year olds was a non-starter. So rather than go there full of doom and gloom and attempt to present how it might work in reality, I couldn’t resist the opportunity of seizing the moment.
For too long, we as a profession have allowed the curriculum to become a political battleground. Rather than huff and puff at the current plans, I appealed to school leaders to reclaim the curriculum and make it work for our schools. Whether an academy or not, the content of the curriculum is largely irrelevant if it is underpinned by a set of fundamental beliefs and core values. Heads need to go back to their schools and have discussions with pupils, teachers, parents and governors about what they believe to be the non-negotiables of a real and purposeful curriculum that is at the heart of a whole education. Regardless of changes to the national curriculum, these will always outlive any proposal by a Secretary of State. Pedagogical context is far more important than content and will always stand the test of time.
A good starting point is the school prospectus. Packed away as a PDF or stashed away in a box somewhere, the glossy brochure is likely to contain a very useful and relevant set of aims and values. They look great as a set but how often do we actually assess whether or not a child has achieved each individual one when they leave Year 6? We tend to be so driven by performance at SATs that we lose sight of the other more valid and valuable ideals. Almost every school will have an aim to do with ‘high standards of achievement’ which is obviously measurable. But what about the other more important ones such as ‘positive attitudes and values’ or ‘lively and enquiring minds’ and so on? We don’t of course dwell on these because they are harder to measure, but that doesn’t mean that we must abandon them. If anything, these are the really crucial ones that really and truly make a child ‘secondary ready’. Indeed, a recent survey by the City and Guilds showed that the majority of employers see vocational skills as being far more important than academic achievement. According to the report, half of the polled businesses/employers believe the current education system has failed to meet their needs. As educators, we have known this all along. We just need to convince the policy makers of its importance.
For me then, being secondary ready consists of 3 key elements. If pupils can leave any given school with these competences then they are well placed to become members of a highly productive workforce of the future. (And don’t get me going on PISA rankings and the ‘hothouse flowering’ of students who wither and fade as soon as they leave school.)
1. The ability to speak fluent Learnish.
In this particular school, pupils speak over 40 different languages. However, the one language that unites them all is ‘Learnish’. First coined by Guy Claxton, Learnish involves pupils being able to use the language associated with deep-rooted learning to help them build their learning power. Pupils need to Yearn to Learn so that they have a natural thirst and desire for knowledge and enquiry. Children must not expect immediate answers and instant gratification in the pursuit of knowledge. A pub-quiz curriculum is of no use to anyone. They need to be continually involved in active JOBS during a lesson (the Joy Of Being Stuck) that requires pupils to build up a mental sweat in order to become unstuck without turning to the teacher. Pupils need to relish and celebrate this moment in the knowledge that they will shortly be learning something new. Pupils who are secondary ready will possess the emotional intelligence to be able to acknowledge this feeling and thrive on it. They will roll their sleeves up, deal with the turmoil and get stuck into the learning. As a result, children need to be expert at meta-learning and use the language of Learnish to articulate not only what they’ve learned but more importantly how they’ve learned.
2. The digital pencil case.
Every child needs a pencil case where they keep all their bits and pieces to help them learn – pens, rubbers, calculator etc. These traditional pencil cases are very important, but in order to be a 21st century lead learner every child should have a Digital Pencil Case as well. Essential kit within their digital pencil case will include a one-to-one device to use at home and school giving pupils 24/7 connectivity. The device will include the latest innovative software such as the Microsoft Learning Suite and a range of Apps to support learning. By blending their learning children will have access to iPads, netbooks, laptops, green screens, iMacs and PCs as well as the more traditional methods. We need to teach our children to be digital lead learners and to be able to ‘Digiflex’ by choosing how best to learn at any given moment.
By ‘flipping’ the classroom we can ensure that the learning of new content is completed at home using their digital pencil case and then extended and challenged in school. In much the same way as selecting a club from a golf bag to play a shot, the digital pencil case allows pupils to choose the most appropriate application to complete a task. When playing golf, you don’t need to use every club for every hole, but it’s good to know they’re there if you need them. It’s about being able to make the right shot selection at any given moment. The same applies to pupils who can Digiflex. Having access to a well-stocked digital pencil case is at the heart of being secondary ready.
3. A thinking toolkit
Regardless of the curriculum content, in a school where Learnish is the language of choice, children can be taught how to think from the moment they enter Nursery. This allows children to learn to yearn and be naturally inquisitive and tenacious in their thinking. Edward de Bono’s thinking hats and CoRT 1 tools ensure pupils quickly become resilient and resourceful learners who are able to capitalise, distil, imitate and revise. Teach children how to use TASC wheels and a whole new dimension to enterprise and initiative opens up. Thinking Actively in a Social Context not only does exactly as it says, but it also provides the perfect arena for the speaking of Learnish. Mastery learning, immersion and learning in depth all serve to equip pupils with the mental obstinacy and doggedness required to be powerful learners.
Irrespective of the curriculum a school chooses to follow, be it academy or maintained, the above 3 competences will serve learners well and guarantee they are secondary ready. Of course, all of these will be irrelevant if a secondary school does not value and promote them on entry to KS3. Indeed, this was one of the main concerns raised by primary colleagues – being ‘secondary ready’ is all well and good but what if the local High School is not ‘primary ready’?
Never will the day come when we as a profession are able to agree what being secondary ready means, let alone test and rank it. It’s an absurd notion and means absolutely nothing to educationists. We shouldn’t even waste time trying to build consensus. Instead, let’s seize the moment and seek to steal an advantage by reclaiming the moral compass once and for all.