Time is so so important in education. From countdown clocks on school TVs that track every second to the beginning of the first GCSE/A-level exam of the year, the micro planning of movement around a school to the hotly contested (in some schools) directed time allocation. Schools measure time like no other. My only comparison is from my time in the Army, where timings were crucial and if not precise led to catastrophic implications.
From my readings of books such as “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers” by the good folk of Michaela School I was reacquainted with the idea of the ‘Matthew Effect’. Now this is (losely) based on a particular teaching of Jesus found in the book of Matthew. It is the parable of the Talents. It’s educational spin is that the achievement gap grows when those that have, get more, and those without move further and further behind. It represents a problem with current education, and has led to a flurry of techniques designed to ‘close the gap’, a friend of many a good snake’s oil salesman. The world of economics gives us some insight with the ‘opportunity cost’, doing one thing means you cant do another.
But may be another tact will help.
Other developed countries close their achievement gaps but we don’t, why is that? Our kids when they are young start off at similar academic levels (let’s take reading) than those from other developed countries. But as they get older we start to fall behind, why is this? May be its for socio-economic reasons? Nope, other countries have the same issues as us. May its because our teachers could be rubbish? Nope, ours are well trained and well resourced. So what is it? The chief cause seems to be bad theory. We’re barking up the wrong tree with the wrong stuff trying to achieve the wrong goals. Cards sorts, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, Fling the Teacher and the like. All designed for ‘participant enjoyment’ but all a massive waste of possible learning time. “But it’s fun”, “the kids love it”, “they’re so ‘engaged'”. Engaged in what? – a game, a making task or a ‘Im not really sure but they seem to like it’.
I have come to see from over 20+ years doing this stuff that the key to this game is INTENSITY in lessons (This is not pace, the easiest stick to beat any and all teachers with). That’s my takeaway for you, Academic Intensity. When I came across others who also wanted to know, “Where’s the academic RIGOUR in this?”, I cartwheeled all the way home. Students learning more in the same period of time. Disadvantaged kids rely more on school to help them close the gap their more fortunate students are gaining from outside of school. Its a highly unpopular idea but for some kids school is the middle class parents they don’t have. So the issues is not “What works (with these kids)?”, but on how to make the most effective use of time. And efficiency needs to play an important part to help students catch up, like they do in other developed countries. A school that says ‘We count time because time counts’ is not a factory as some would like to criticise it with, but one that sees the need to make the most of every opportunity. Opportunity costs, and this can be seen very acutely in the way KS3 is to be a playtime of fun activities designed to hook the ‘clients’ for your subject as it competes with other subjects for GCSE students come options time.
Content is king, rigour is crucial. Motivation comes from achievement and every second counts. Let’s not short change our kids just to benefit ourselves with a short term gain of keeping kids happy. Let’s give them the best to help them become their best.