Active Citizenship – Goffs ‘General Election’ Results 2015

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© Nevit Dilmen via wiki commons

By Daniel Chichester-Miles

As voters up and down the country cast their ballots in the General election recently,  May 7th saw students at Goffs School in Hertfordshire get their own taste of election fever as 11-18 year olds in the Cheshunt school held a mock election of their own to select which party they would most want to see in Downing Street for the next five years.

Assemblies were held for pupils in each year group leading up to the vote, to learn about the process and some of the key policies of major parties, with members of the school community encouraged to find out more on the internet and news channels in their spare time.  This culminated in Sixth-formers setting up polling booths in the dining room and acting as election officials as students streamed in to make record their votes.

Enthusiasm and turnout ran high with a variety of opinion ranging across the different age groups. This is important as at Goffs we believe it is important to couple academic achievement with a firm awareness of life outside the classroom. An understanding of how our country is governed and our democracy works is obviously a key part of that.  Students said they found it exciting to have the chance to share their thoughts even if it didn’t effect the result of the Broxbourne constituency itself, which was held by Conservative Charles Walker.

The results however, did not entirely mirror the political scene nationally.

While the Conservatives topped the poll, they were closely followed by UKIP only a handful of votes behind , Labour in a respectable third, while The Lib Dems and Greens came a distant fourth and fifth respectively.

Meditation in Education: An Ancient Remedy for Dealing With Modern Stress and Anxiety

Credit: 'GRPH3B18' via Wikicommons

Written by Andrew Jones. Originally published by the Huffington Post on 15/08/2013.

It’s not easy being young. According to a recent study a third of Swedish teenagers are suffering from chronic stress. In the US an estimated 10% of students suffer from a serious anxiety disorder and in the UK 10% of children suffer from some form of mental disorder, which include anxiety and depression. To make this more worrisome, Canadian academics have suggested that teenage stress doubles the risk of depression in adulthood.

Of course, this is not to mention the day-to-day stress and anxiety that all children face; from exam pressure to friendship issues, it is self-evident that many young people spend a lot of time worrying. This can, for some, be emotionally draining and time consuming; leaving less time for productive thoughts and activities.

However, acknowledging the problems associated with stress and anxiety is nothing new. Over 2,500 years ago an Indian mendicant dedicated to meditating founded a spiritual movement based on the idea of overcoming the stressful suffering caused by our desires, anxieties and dissatisfaction with life. In fact, the first teaching given by this ‘awakened one’, or Buddha, was that all off us suffer due to the pressures of life and, as seen above, this ancient teaching is also very modern.

One of the practices Buddhists use to counter suffering is a form of meditation referred to as mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation allows us to be aware of our moment-to-moment experiences; noticing and accepting our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Although spiritual in origin, German scientists have found that non-religious and non-esoteric ‘mindfulness-based stress reduction’ (MBSR) increases awareness of our emotions and mental processes. In turn, this can improve coping strategies in stressful situations, reduce anxiety and improve our general well-being. Furthermore, other scientists have found that mindfulness can reduce anxiety by almost 40% per cent as well as improving brain functions.

It would be a no-brainer, then, to bypass the usefulness of mindfulness meditation in an educational setting. Whether higher education, high school or elementary school, mindfulness can benefit stressed out kids prepping for exams, falling out with each other or dealing with difficult home lives. For instance, research published in the journal Paediatrics into the use of mindfulness meditation to treat physiologic, psychosocial and behavioural conditions among young people was positive and researchers in California found that mindfulness produced statistically significant improvements in students’ behaviour. Importantly, a whole host of other studies have shown similar results.

In the UK some teachers, including myself, have used mindfulness meditation in Religious Education (RE), which is a subject that is technically compulsory in England. The two state schools I have worked in have both been mixed comprehensives and, importantly, neither are faith schools. Buddhist meditation is taught at both as part of a course on Buddhism for 11 and 12 year olds (they learn about all the major world religions). In one of the schools meditation is also taught to 17 and 18 year olds who have chosen to study RE (focused on Buddhism) in greater depth. The students are not, of course, Buddhist, but they do practice various forms of meditation; including practising mindfulness with actual monks. The overwhelming attitude to participating in guided meditation with both age groups is positive and, despite giggles, most try to take it seriously.

However, this brief use of meditation is limited to schools with creative RE departments and does not offer a long term solution to stress and anxiety among students.

Introducing mindfulness meditation as a serious tool of stress relief and using it in an extra-curricular capacity does happen in the UK, but it is largely a personal initiative; it is certainly not government policy in the way that ‘broadly Christian’ collective worship is. I had seen meditation used effectively in Thai state schools and felt it could adapted as a secular form of ‘quiet time‘ to calm students down in the UK, especially those feeling the pressure of expectations. To that effect, a colleague of mine set up a Zen Club at lunchtime that offered any interested student the opportunity to meditate, sit in reflection or simply escape the commotion of the school day.

Despite the name, Zen Club is secular in its raison d’être and students of all backgrounds attend. Mindfulness is developed through attention to the breath, which has a tranquilising quality; hence the phrase – ‘take a deep breath’. By focusing on the breath the mind has something it can return to if it starts to wonder, to worry or get anxious. The idea is that the mind is aware of these thoughts, worries and anxieties and can better deal with them when they arise. Essentially, mindfulness meditation offers a coping mechanism for dealing with everyday stress and anxiety. Of course, this does not work for everyone and many students decide it’s not for them.

Although the meditation outlined above will be met with pessimism by many and is not necessarily the solution to the most serious cases of stress and anxiety among teenagers, it still offers a way of coping with those issues. Subsequently, more and more organisations are promoting secular mindfulness meditation in schools. For example, Mind Space in the UK offers practical help to teachers, develops resources and conducts research into school based mindfulness meditation. Mental health charities, such as the Mental Health Foundation, are also championing its wider use. Likewise, Edutopia, The Hawn Foundation and Mindful Schools advocate the use of secular meditation in US schools.

It would seem, therefore, that a mendicant in India thousands of years ago taught a form of stress and anxiety relief that can be justifiably used in modern secular settings, especially considering the mounting scientific evidence of its benefits. One cynic once described mindfulness meditation in schools as a ‘fad’, but if it is, it’s a pretty ancient one.

Pop in Classroom: how pop culture engages students at Goffs!

“A high culture is the self-consciousness of a society”, the philosopher Roger Scruton wrote a few years ago in the Guardian newspaper. “It contains the works of art, literature, scholarship and philosophy that establish a shared frame of reference among educated people.”

As a teacher at Goffs, the last part of this statement interested me because one of the aims of our school should be nurturing “educated people”.

Nonetheless, in terms of teaching, learning and the curriculum, our dilemma is relatively simple, but not trivial; should we endeavour to reference high culture in our lessons so that our students can appreciate cultural life at its finest, or, in order to engage students and make learning enjoyable, should we litter our lessons with references to what might be perceived as low culture, which is probably best defined as ‘pop culture’ in the context of young people.

Pop culture would probably appeal to most students more as it is culture that is popular, easy to understand and entertaining to the majority of young people. For example, pop music, romantic Hollywood comedies and soap operas. High culture, on the other hand, may include renaissance art, classical music and opera. The latter is arguably more sophisticated, intellectually challenging and intrinsically rewarding.

However, if I am to add ‘educated people’ to society, can I really do it through referencing and advocating fine art, poetry, classical music and opera, or will this just switch the students off?

I feel that the infusion of pop culture into RS lessons has brought the subject alive and made it more relevant. For instance, my lessons have incorporated music from Alicia Keyes (Karma), a unit on medical ethics included readings and clips from My Sister’s Keeper (saviour siblings) and Weird Al’s I Think I’m a Clone Now (genetic engineering), and lessons on wealth and poverty have included games based around Supermarket Sweep in order to assess how altruistic students really are, if given the opportunity to grab what they want.

Relating Christianity to pop culture may be more fruitful, especially as Christianity is evident in hip-hop (Kanye West’s Jesus Walks, for example), novels, such as the Da Vinci Code, and followed by a host of celebrities.

Other subjects have used pop culture in similar ways. Pop music is often used in PE to settle students, I have observed English lessons where social networking sites, such as twitter, have been used to frame questions related to news items and history have used rap to teach about historical figures.

Of course, it is possible to unite the two categories of culture. My colleagues and I have planned lessons on heaven and hell that mixed clips from Tom and Jerry with Gustave Doré’s illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Furthermore, lessons on the suffering include the literature from Elie Wiese and the paintings of Francisco Goya. And, essentially, there are multiple references to the King James Bible.

Despite these generous dollops of high culture, I would not dismiss the effectiveness of pop culture or, rather, low culture in the development of ‘educated people’. Although Roger Scruton may disagree, it is worth remembering that “a shared frame of reference” often centres on what is popular, and accessing it, even celebrating it, is a good way to initially engage learners.

Fancy a career change? What about teaching?

Many teachers enter the profession after working in other occupations and pursuing different careers. Often, these ‘career changers’ can bring important skills into both the classroom and schools. If this is something that has ever crossed your mind, please consider the below. The article considers the two main post-graduate routes into teaching: School Direct, which is based in schools, and the traditional university based PGCE.

Article first published in the Guardian on Monday 19 January 2015. Written by Andrew Jones.

Over the last few years, the government has encouraged schools to take more control of teacher training, as part of their plan to move towards school-centred initial teacher training (Scitt) rather than the more traditional routes provided by universities and higher education institutions.

There are now two main graduate routes into teaching: the School Direct path, focused on being paid to train within schools; and the traditional Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), which is based at universities. Although some School Direct fee-paying courses can lead to a PGCE, in general providers distinguish the two as “School Direct” and “university based PGCE routes”. In this article ‘PGCE’ will refer to the route based at university and with two placements during the year of study.

The thinking behind the move towards schools administering teacher training is that they can provide more practical, hands-on preparation overseen by experienced teachers – rather than university lecturers, who may be more removed from everyday school life.

However, the reality is more complex than this. As a lead practitioner, I’ve been co-ordinating the School Direct programme at my school this year. While it has real benefits over the PGCE route, there are also additional challenges particularly around affordability, application procedures and the all-important in-school experience.

An obvious benefit is that School Direct trainees are employed as unqualified teachers and can be paid. Salaries start from around £15,000 and go higher depending on experience.

Many PGCE students have to take out additional student loans, however. I am still paying off mine after nine years because I took extra to cover my PGCE too. And bursaries are available for some PGCE courses, but often limited to certain subjects.

In terms of the application process, both School Direct and PGCE candidates need to pass the skills tests (in numeracy and literacy), have at least a C at GCSE in English and Maths and a good degree (we specify a 2.1 or 2.2 with experience). In addition, the School Direct salaried route also requires three years’ paid work experience in any occupation. This can deter people straight out of university or career changers who may have to take a pay cut.

Once a candidate fulfils all the basic criteria, with School Direct there’s more leeway for schools to appoint a trainee of their choice. Although applications are made via Ucas, schools shortlist, conduct interviews and assess the experience and skills of candidates in relation to the needs of the school. With a PGCE, there’s a more general interview process and school placements may be made after the candidate is accepted by a university.

The most important element for new recruits is the school experience itself – and this is where the two courses differ more widely. One of the benefits of School Direct is the immediate immersion in school life. Unlike a PGCE course, where you often start with lectures before going out on shorter placements, School Direct allows trainees to participate as active members of the community from the off . Working from the of September through to July allows trainees to build lasting relationships with students and colleagues.

Despite being thrown in at the deep end, trainees are gradually introduced to teaching through an initial period of observations before starting a timetable of six hours a week and finishing with 18 hours a week. There is also a second placement lasting up to six weeks and a day each week spent at the school’s higher education partner – often a local university.

PGCE courses tend to offer two placements lasting up to two thirds of the course between them. This means you gain experience in schools and will move from a placement if it is not entirely suited to you; School Direct trainees are stuck unless they resign and leave the programme. You also have more time at university, which means more time for studying and reflecting on your progress as well as spending far more valuable time with peers in a similar situation.

I valued my time away from school as a PGCE trainee and made some lasting friendships with colleagues beyond my own place of work. I also liked the academic focus of being university based and appreciated the gradual immersion into the classroom. But those who just want to get on with the practice of teaching might prefer the School Direct route, especially if you have the confidence to jump in at the deep end and/or experience of working schools. Both routes lead to qualified teacher status and are followed by a probation year and cover the same key standards.

Goofs School Direct vacancies can be found here: http://www.goffs.herts.sch.uk/information/schooldirect.shtml

Learning Matters has a make over!

Welcome to the November edition of the Goffs ‘Learning Matters’ blog. This blog is dedicated to learning and teaching at Goffs and working together with the parental community. It is similar to the previous newsletters, but will be available online. Being online allows ‘Learning Matters’ to be more interactive and allow for parental feedback and ‘learning chat’ via our comments section. Each month we will up date the blog with various articles, brainteasers and discussions on how to support your child’s learning away from school. Although the blog does not replace existing forms of parental information (the school website and in-touch are the main channels of communication), it is hoped you will find the content both useful and practical in helping your child achieve their full potential.