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FREE eBOOK! How Schools Un-educate Children… And What We Can Do About It

December 24, 2013

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How schools un-educate children

The relentless focus in schools on academic achievement in its most narrow sense, means that the development of vital skills and attributes for learning and life are being sidelined. Over their time in school, most students will fail to make any significant progress in developing the skills of problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration and communication; the very skills and attributes they need to thrive in the 21st century.

And what we can do about it

What is needed is a new approach to education, where learning has a real purpose, audience and outcome; where students have more choice over what and how they learn, and where developing skills is as important as developing knowledge. This book makes a powerful and practical case that project-based learning is one of the best ways to achieve this.

The author, Pete Pattisson, has been involved in education for 18 years, including seven years as a teacher in London. He is a specialist in Citizenship education and project-based learning. He was a Lead Practitioner for the Specialist Schools & Academy Trust, the National Subject Lead for Citizenship and is a widely respected speaker and trainer.

To download the book for free, just click on the image above.

Feel free to share it, reTweet it and comment on it!

10 reasons why Citizenship skills must be re-instated in the curriculum

July 16, 2013

I know I said that I would not be writing any new posts on this blog… but I’ve been provoked.

The re-draft of the National Curriculum, following the public consultation which closed in April, has been entirely cosmetic as far as Citizenship is concerned. Despite widespread demands that Citizenship skills should be included in the programmes of study, the latest draft still only lists areas of knowledge. We shouldn’t be too surprised.

In March, I submitted a Freedom of Information request to ask the DfE how they had arrived at the first draft of the Citizenship programmes of study. I did this because I was certain the experts they consulted (who included my former Head at Deptford Green School, Sir Keith Ajegbo) would not have recommended what was in the draft. My request was denied on that grounds that certain information needs,

‘to be withheld in certain instances, including where Ministers and officials need to consider various options at an early stage of policy formulation away from the public gaze.  The purpose of this exemption is to allow for suggestions to be made and considered, which might not be made if options were to be exposed to the public.’

This of course is nonsense, but it allows the Government to hide the fact that they simply did not listen to the experts. And with the latest draft announced last week, the Government has done it again.

We have one more opportunity to press the Government to re-consider. The current draft of the National Curriculum is out for final consultation. The deadline to respond is August 8th and all the documents you need to do so are HERE.

And this is what everyone should say:

The Citizenship skills of critical thinking and enquiry, advocacy and representation, and taking informed action must be re-instated in the programmes of study.

That’s it. Nothing more. Do not cloud the issue with trying to get global issues in to Key Stage 3 or by trying to reword financial education. Just focus on the inclusion of skills. Here are 10 reasons why:

  1. Citizenship knowledge is important, but without the inclination and skills to put that knowledge to good use, it is of little value;
  2. Citizenship was introduced in the curriculum to, ‘change the political culture of this country, for people to think of themselves as active citizens, willing, able and equipped to have an influence in public life’ (The ‘Crick Report’, 1998). We can’t achieve this without Citizenship skills;
  3. The original programmes of study stated that, ‘Citizenship knowledge must be acquired and applied through Citizenship skills’. We need to remember that;
  4. You can’t learn to swim from a book, you actually have to jump in the swimming pool. In the same way, you can’t learn about democracy from a book, you actually have to go out there and practice being democratic.You only feel politically powerful when you have had a powerful experience of acting politically;
  5. Teaching Citizenship knowledge without Citizenship skills, is like teaching PE but not allowing students to kick a ball, or art but not giving students a chance to paint, or even English, but not expecting them to actually read a book;
  6. Citizenship has always been not just a new subject, but a new kind of subject – a pedagogy defined by giving students some choice and autonomy in their learning, developing knowledge through skills and offering opportunities for real world action. In other words, a pedagogy which all subjects would benefit from. Without skills, Citizenship is no longer a new kind of subject, or even a new subject – it’s just civics;
  7. The Association for Citizenship Teaching argues, “In a climate where young people are statistically less and less engaged in politics and democratic life, by being active citizens and actually ‘doing’ politics, they are far more likely to be deeply engaged in the politics of their country, especially where this involves genuine active citizenship.”
  8. If you are teaching children about democracy and participation, you have to reflect those principles in your lessons. There has to be coherence between your message and your method;
  9. From my experience of teaching Citizenship for over seven years in London schools, what students love about the subject is that they actually get to do stuff – debate, investigate, present, act! They recognise that Citizenship is different and they value it;
  10. By undermining Citizenship education we undermine democracy. And when democracy fails we all lose out, but it is the poorest and the most marginalised who lose out the most.

So if you care about Citizenship education, I would urge you to do two things:

  1. Respond to the final consultation on the Citizenship programmes of study and just say one thing: Re-instate Citizenship skills;
  2. Regardless of the outcome of the consultation, teach Citizenship skills alongside knowledge. Our primary duty is not follow a programme of study, but to prepare young people to be informed, active and effective citizens who have the commitment and skills to make a difference.

New National Curriculum Consultation – DEADLINE APRIL 16!

April 14, 2013

Just a reminder that the deadline to respond to the proposed new curriculum, including the programmes of study for Citizenship ends on April 16th.

You can respond directly HERE or use the guide created by Democratic Life / Association for Citizenship Teaching HERE. If you haven’t yet read the draft programmes of study for Citizenship, you can download the document HERE.

If you’re stuck for ideas, here’s my response to one of the questions:

Do you have any comments on the content set out in the draft programmes of study? 
While I support slimmed down programmes of study in principle, I do not agree with how the Citizenship draft programmes of study have been slimmed down.
The most significant problem is the omission of the Citizenship skills of critical thinking, enquiry, advocacy, communication and taking action. Without these skills, the whole point of Citizenship education is undermined. It becomes a theoretical subject about institutions and processes, rather than a practical subject about learning how your community, country and world works, in order to change it for the better. The draft programmes of study only encourage ‘know-about’ learning (know about Parliament, know about the criminal justice system etc.). ‘Know about’ is important, but only if it is taught through ‘know-how’ learning (know how to build a strong argument, know how to plan and run a campaign etc.).  It’s the ‘know-how’ that is missing from the draft programmes of study.
When Citizenship was established, its aim was to “change the political culture of this country. For people to think of themselves as active citizens, willing, able and equipped to have an influence in public life.”
You cannot learn to be an active citizen from a textbook, you can only learn about it by being active – by debating, asking good questions, being persuasive, analysing information for bias and then acting to make a difference. You need knowledge to do this effectively, but without these skills this knowledge will be of little interest and use to children.
You don’t feel politically powerful, unless you have had a powerful experience of acting politically. That is why these Citizenship skills must be retained in the new programmes of study.
In addition to this; human rights should be retained, global issues should be included at KS3, and the references to volunteering should be removed (not that volunteering is not important, but it is not central to Citizenship education). Furthermore, personal finance education has very little to do with Citizenship, whereas as public finance education (the economy, the Budget, global finance etc) certainly does, and should be included.

My last blog post

July 22, 2012

After two memorable years, I left Blackfen Schools for Girls on Friday. This film is a little ‘thank you’ to the staff and students of the school.

I’ve enjoyed sharing our work, ideas and resources on this blog. If you have found it useful and would like to make a donation for the time and effort involved, you can do so by clicking the donate button below. Thank you!

My brilliant colleague Lola Blatch will be taking over my role, and she’s planning to do a similar blog. When she’s set it up, I’ll send you a link.

Just to finish, here are 3 things I’ve learned from my time at Blackfen:

1. Children LOVE learning:

The default status of children is that they love learning. So if your students are not loving what they are doing with you then something is wrong – change it! Last week I asked my students to write down 3 words that best describe their Power Up! lessons and this is what they told me – the size of the words reflect the amounts of times students used them:

2. Get Real:

Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned (or re-learned) is how important it is to make learning real – learning that has a real purpose, a real audience and a real outcome. Not dress rehearsal learning, but live performance learning. What do I mean by that? Just have a look at this video.

3. If you teach in a girls school… learn to love Justin Bieber!

Why Citizenship Matters film

July 20, 2012

Some of you asked me to put this film on YouTube so you could play it for your students at school. I’m afraid it’s a little out of date now, but it might still work as a good introduction next year… or a little inspiration for you to make your own version! You can click here to view it on YouTube.


July 17, 2012

For the past few years we’ve run a project called Blackfen’s Got Talent, in which students choose something they are NOT talented at, and learn to become talented at it.

We’ve recently run a new project, which is the mirror image of Blackfen’s Got Talent – it’s called YouTeach. In this project, students choose something they are already good at, and make a video tutorial to teach other students.

The video above is self-explanatory, and the video below is an example of one group of the students’ YouTeach video.


July 13, 2012

This week Blackfen School for Girls hosted its very own TEDx event on the theme of, ‘What’s the biggest problem in the world… and how can we solve it?’ I think the video speaks for itself.

TEDx events are independently organised TED Talks. Anyone can apply to organise one, and there is a special category for youth events – click HERE to find out more.

This is a great way to engage young people in the big issues of the world, develop their public speaking skills and organise a high profile event which boosts your department within the school community, and your school within the community.

Below I have attached our lesson plans for the project. If you’re interested, get in touch and I can send more details and resources. Here’s the launch video we made for the project.

TED Lesson plans

My TED Talk… and a favour!

July 10, 2012

A few months ago I was invited to take part in a global audition to speak at the TED 2013. TED Talks are an international series of presentations on, ‘ideas worth spreading’. I hope you find my talk interesting.

Now for the favour! Obviously to stand any chance of being chosen to speak at TED 2013, I need people to rate my talk on content and delivery. To do this you have to click HERE, then register with TED. This does take a couple of minutes, but I hope you’re willing to make the effort as a little ‘thank you’ for the effort I’ve made with this blog!

By the way, look out for an up-coming post, in which we’ll be showcasing our very own TED event, which we have held at Blackfen School – TEDxYouth@Blackfen.

Choice & Change!

July 2, 2012

I’ve always argued that the best Citizenship education starts with CHOICE, and ends with CHANGE!

Give students some choice about what or how they learn, and then help them use this learning to change the world.

Last week we organised a Community Safety Event for all our Year 7 students. In the weeks leading up to the event, they had spent hours investigating safety out in the local community – what were the real problems, and what were the realistic solutions? Each class then chose a couple of students to represent their views. These students made powerful presentations at the event to a panel of ‘power players’ – our Head, a local councillor and our local police officer.

This is similar to an event we organised last year, so I won’t repeat the details. You can download the resources we used from HERE.

It may be worth sharing a few thoughts about running an event like this:

  • don’t be put off by the ‘hurdle’ of taking your students out of school to investigate the community. Our students simply walked around the roads immediately surrounding our school with clipboards taking down notes. It’s easy to manage, and you can do it within a lesson… or even just for homework.
  • leave plenty of time to practice the students’ presentations – we spend at least 3 hours on this, and insist students do not use any notes.
  • get in contact with key local ‘power players’ – local police, councillors, MPs etc, are almost always happy to come in and visit. But remember, they are not there to talk at students, but to listen to them!
  • try to establish what might be possible to change (e.g. installing new street lights, increasing police patrols in a local area etc) before the event – that way students will get a real sense they have had an impact. We failed to do this, and our students had to put up with the panel telling them about their responsibilities to behave well, rather than telling the students what they would do to take on board what our students had said, and work to make our community safer.
Here’s a short video of our students doing their investigations outside school, and some photos from the event.

Flip Your Classroom!

June 23, 2012

There’s a growing educational movement in America called, ‘Flipped Classrooms’. The idea behind this is that lesson ‘content’ is no longer delivered in the lesson, but in homework. How? Record the content on video, and ask students to watch it for homework. What’s the benefit? Well, I think there are many, but the main one for me is that it frees up lesson time to do more interactive learning.

We’ve tried it recently with our Citizenship GCSE students. We asked them to watch our short video tutorial (or vodcast) on the topic of  globalisation. This covered basic definitions, explained what free trade was and explained the strengths and weaknesses of the World Trade Organisation. This then freed up time in the lesson to play a simulation game on the World Trade Organisation. The video above is just a short extract from it.

I don’t think this something we’ll do all the time, but as an occasional strategy, I think it’s definitely worth trying. Here’s a video of an American teacher explaining his thinking behind the approach.

We’ve also tried another experiment – ask your students’ parents to mark their work. It’s a simple idea, but a powerful one. First, it gets your parents more involved in their students’ learning, and second it motivates students to produce their best work. Below is a cover letter I sent home with the students to explain what I was asking their parents to do. Later, when I asked my students for feedback on this approach, some liked it, others didn’t. Why didn’t they like it? Apparently their parents marked too strictly!