Privilege and the Old Boy Network

If anyone ever had cause to wonder whether privilege still opens doors in the UK, whether those born with the proverbial silver spoon still get all the best opportunities, then here’s the evidence.

London Evening Standard – Nine UK Schools Produce Country’s Most Powerful People

As the article suggests, a great deal of thought and energy has gone in over many years to improving equality of opportunity, to ensure that education can level the field and create social mobility. However, the article appears to show that whatever effect there has been is woefully little.

It still matters a great deal where you went to school ….. and who with!

Being Strong is not Narcissism

school cricket

As an educator, I’ve long held certain beliefs that underpin my approach and decision making – particularly the direction that i seek to bring to the schools under my care. One of the strongest of those beliefs is that it was always a mistake for people to suggest that somehow there was a polar choice between an academically oriented education for children or a ‘holistic development’ approach. Rather, I believe that when children are given the appropriate support and guidance they develop the ability to take their strength in one aspect of their life (maybe sport) and turn it in to strength in other areas – e.g. academics, personal relations etc.

In my youth, my favoured sport was rugby. For many years i was tall and willowy and that wasn’t the best build for the game. However, with some good coaches I worked at it, bulked out and eventually reached a reasonable level of performance. Rugby culture has long held a strong orientation around selflessness and orientation around the team. It’s changed a bit these days, but in my day, when a player scored a try he (or she, though girls in the game were rare then) got a brief pat on the back from the nearest colleagues and everyone got in place quickly to get on with the game. There were no fancy celebrations or glorification of the individual. Today, the media wants to make a big issue of the person who dots the ball down at the end, ignoring all that has gone before.

In Delhi, there are a couple of occasions that come to mind when I felt the need to intervene, believing it was important that children be learning the right lessons, not just for sport, but for life. On the first occasion one of our schools was hosting an inter-school cricket tournament. When the final came around, our home team hadn’t got through. As the two teams took to the field, I heard some bad-mannered booing from students beside the field. After a short while, I saw some of them walking around the perimeter of the field, behind the bowler’s arm. This is very off-putting for batsmen. I needed to take them to one side to inform them that they were being very selfish and not treating the finalists with the respect deserved (for beating them to get there!) After some time, I saw a bowler take the wicket of the opposing batsmen. What I then saw was shocking. He ran down the wicket and leered and celebrated right in the face of the disappointed batsman. The two umpires on the field did nothing to stop this disgusting and atrocious behaviour. This might be something these children had seen an idol do on TV, but had no place in school sport. I was probably more shocked by the failure to act on the part of the umpires (school PE teachers). At the change of overs when they came off the field I took them to task, having seen similar behaviour played out a few more times. The umpires seemed surprised at my concern.

To my mind, this is at the very root of the issue between self-belief and narcissism. To be proud that you’re a good cricket bowler is healthy. To be motivated to hone your skills, to work to be the best bowler you can be is all positive and bi-products of grit and a growth mindset. However, reveling in the downfall of the batsmen, belittling them and taunting them is to fall in to negative and unhealthy narcissism. The sad fact here was that the adults, educators couldn’t tell the difference and didn’t see the need to do anything about it.

On another occasion there was a basketball game. As the game got in to the last few minutes the teams were neck and neck. The lead kept changing hands. There was tension and supporters of both teams were shouting encouragement from the sidelines. In the last couple of minutes, one team opened out and maintained a small gap – enough to win. As the final whistle blew the team were ecstatic. They jumped, they whooped, they hugged each other. Except for one boy. I was standing close to the scorer’s table. Instead of joining the huddle with his team mates, he ran towards the table shouting, “How many points did I score?” Before he had the chance to receive an answer, I swiftly took him by the shoulders, turned him around one hundred and eighty degrees, pointed him towards the huddle – “Go and celebrate. The TEAM won!” He got it, smiled sheepishly and ran off excitedly.

When I went to Sharjah to take up a new job our first responsibilities were all about creating a brand new school. In the rushed first weeks i was asked to come up with a ‘strap line’. It was needed very quickly for a document that was going to the printers. We were at a very early stage in the project, so there wasn’t really a big team to consult. I sat down to play with ideas, trying to get to the core of what i saw as most important in terms of core messages I wanted the new school to convey. I slept on the ideas for one night, not convinced that I yet had what I was looking for. I was back on the case next morning. I came up with a lot of ideas, before the one I knew was right came in to my head – “I am me, I am unique.” To me, it was about emphasising personalisation in education and learning to respond to the individual needs of each student. I wanted each student to know their own strengths, leverage those strengths whilst acknowledging those things that were still to work on. When we launched brochures and other materials with this phrase on, it really resonated with parents and students. Teachers also saw what was expected of them in supporting the uniqueness. I clearly remember conversations about how this was not a matter of simply giving them platitudes, telling them they were wonderful etc.

Here is an article that relates to a book putting across the same point. Self awareness and self belief are important attributes for youngsters today. There is, indeed, a narcissism problem largely caused by polar and simplistic thinking. There is a world of difference between growing up understanding that I’m unique or believing that i’m special, entitled and expecting to have everything come my way.

The Guardian – Self-entitled, moi? Teens, narcissism and why ‘special’ and ‘unique’ are different things

Physical Education in Primary School

Body and mind are all part of one integrated system. However, until we see universal education that acknowledges this, we have to question the commitment to holistic education – development of the whole child.

I was once a speaker at a school event in India talking to a sizeable gathering of parents, sharing the stage with a senior policeman. I spoke first, sat down and then he got up to speak. In my short speech I had highlighted the importance of physical exercise and being active in terms of the overall development of a child. When the police officer stood up, he gleefully told the audience they should take full note of what I’d said because – “Look at Sachin Tendulkar! Your children can make a lot of money in sport!” I cringed. The full intent of what I’d been saying was lost on that audience.

So, we get a number of problems, especially in the Indian education system, when it comes to physical wellness and approaches to physical education;

a) The schools system is so wedded to the idea of education as the transfer of a body of knowledge from educators to pupils, to be memorised, reproduced and graded. There’s not much of the learnable ‘stuff’ in PE, so it’s often treated as an add-on in the day to day school programme. It’s given titles like extra curricular.

b) Most of a child’s day in school is spent being so ‘suppressed’ that PE lessons are seen as a thankful release and nobody is surprised that they’re treated as a fun break time away from the ‘real stuff’ of school.

c) Nobody wants to be a PE teacher. Children are taught for these lesson periods by people who claim to be sports coaches, rather than PE teachers. Even though classroom teachers, especially in the Primary years may believe in the ‘mother teacher’ concept (sometimes begrudgingly), rather than subject specialists, they would be truly shocked if asked to conduct PE lessons for the children in their class. They fail to see that this is completely incompatible with the idea of educating the whole child.

d) Too many school leaders also see sports, games and PE as the light relief from the real, genuine reasons for schooling. As a result, the PE lessons are often the first to get sacrificed when extra time is needed for other things. In addition, they will largely be happy if the children have some activities to engage in which are fun, they enjoy as relief and where those with the best, natural comparative innate abilities go in to teams and bring some accolades and trophies for the school to be proudly displayed in a cabinet.

e) The parents and the children also buy in to ideas of sports and games as what’s important, put those with initial innate talent on pedestals and fail to understand the connections between development of foundational skills, effort and practice and eventual potential in physical activities.

f) One result of this is that by around Class 6, those children not seen as having innate talent for a sport choose to voluntarily opt out of physical activity. This proves useful for the schools as most of them don’t actually have enough space for all these children right through to class 12 to stay physically active. However, it destroys the association between physical wellness and the good of the whole person.

I have had many times when I’ve challenged teachers that they cannot afford to perpetuate these approaches. They could develop the finest minds in their classrooms, children with the finest knowledge, the abilities to succeed in all sorts of examinations and academic pursuits. However, if that young person has their first stroke or heart attack in their 30’s, can the educators really deny the role and responsibility they have for the situation?

In way too many schools, pandering to all the misguided notions, PE lessons consist of children playing or, at best, being trained for sports like cricket and football. It might look cute to parents to watch 20 5 year olds running around a football pitch chasing a ball – so close that you could throw a blanket over them. However, it provides those children very little of what they truly need.

Even in adult sport there are many clues. One that I witnessed personally was to see Subroto Cup level football players at the high school level who couldn’t kick a long ball without falling down and then having to get up before they could start running again. I recently also heard similar issues from rugby coaches working with youngsters at the top level at club and national level in India. They needed to find a lot of extra time to work with these youngsters if they were to come up to sufficient ability. They lacked in body awareness, balance, flexibility and body suppleness and stamina – the sorts of things that form the foundational bedrock of a good Primary School PE programme.

People in India wonder why all the enthusiasm and the sheer numbers of participants don’t translate in to any kind of success in football. The country has a lowly world ranking, loses ignominiously against countries with far smaller populations to select from and has only even seen a couple of players able to make the grade to play overseas, even at modest club levels. Whilst nothing can ever be put down to a single problem, the lack of foundational skills development in primary school is a significant issue impairing the ability levels. The issues holding back ability levels in rugby are similar. There’s no question, the young people playing do so with enormous dedication and enthusiasm. They put enormous effort in to their training, especially for fitness and strength. However, the country is yet to see any kind of international breakthrough.

When you compare children’s primary school experiences with those in Britain there is one massive contrast. The vast majority of British athletes and sports men and women have come through government education systems, especially at the primary level. Most of those schools have little in the way of specialised manpower for PE and sports. Instead, they are taught by their regular teachers who see the physical development of the children as being as much a part of their responsibility as language or maths skills development.

Here’s a good 15 minute professional development training video from UK that gives good insights in to the kind of skills developed in Primary School PE classes;

An education system that tries to develop fine minds whilst neglecting the body will, in my view, always fail. The development of a healthy body is not just for the few who might go on to play a sport, but the start of fundamental life habits that can benefit every pupil throughout their lives. We have a long road ahead in our schools.

Do NOT Let Your Child Play Rugby

I love this piece, so subtle in its use of irony (or is it sarcasm?).

We need to guide the young very wisely!

In the Loose – Article
(Click on link to find out why you should keep your child away from this nasty nasty sport!)

The Finest Beard in Sport Today

I couldn't resist posting this after the stunning and superb British & Irish Lions victory over Australia yesterday, by 41 points to 16 in the final game of a tense 3 match series.

Geoff Parling, also of England and Leicester Tigers was one of many players who really stepped up and gave everything in the match. His performance was colossal.