Tests for five year olds, the benefits of slippers in the classroom and the education world’s response to Donald Trump.
Academics rally against Donald Trump over ‘Muslim ban’ – Independent
Over 4,500 academics from across the world have signed a petition pledging to boycott international conferences held in America while Trump’s ban is still in place. Mr Trump’s new policy blocks refugees from entering the country for a 120-day period. There is an indefinite ban on refugees from Syria and a 90-day ban on citizens from Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, though it currently suspended by the judiciary. Many students and academics have already canceled trips to America.
The ban has already affected an Iranian student from Exeter University, who was due to present research at a prestigious US institution, but wasn’t allowed into the country.
Meanwhile, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, under-qualified billionaire Betsy DeVos, risks losing the necessary 50 votes that would confirm her appointment if one more Republican defects. Two Republican senators have voted against her after she revealed questionable policy decisions and an apparent ignorance of her job requirements.
Standardised tests for 5 year-olds – yes, FIVE YEAR OLDS – could be implemented in Britain from next year, despite being rejected by Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium. The tablet-based tests, run by the OECD as a junior version of the PISA tests taken at 15, will assess children on four aspects of development: literacy, language and verbal skills; numeracy and mathematics; “self-regulation” and ability to pay attention; and “empathy and trust”.
Peter Moss, emeritus professor of early years education at University College London’s Institute of Education, said there was concern that the new tests could create pressure on teachers to narrow the curriculum and “reduce the diversity and creativity of approaches to early childhood development”, as ministers emphasised the importance of its results. Mathias Urban, professor of early childhood at the University of Roehampton and lead author of a paper backed by 170 academics which criticises the OECD’s plans, saying: “There is a lot of resistance to this developing, internationally…this standardised assessment approach is not going to provide any useful information in terms of the diverse experiences of young children around the world.”
Minerva would like it to be crystal clear that we in no way support or condone standardised testing of toddlers. We would like to point the OECD to the Finnish system, which doesn’t even start until age 7, has no standardised testing until 16, and is consistently rated the best education system in the world.
Young girls view ‘brilliance’ as a male trait – Independent
Despite consistently outperforming boys at every level in almost every subject at school, recent research in the journal Science reveals that from a young age, girls assimilate the idea that brilliance, genius and exceptional talent are male traits. Study co-author Andrei Cimpian, a psychology professor at New York University, said: “Not only do we see that girls just starting out in school are absorbing some of society’s stereotyped notions of brilliance, but these young girls are also choosing activities based on these stereotypes… This is heartbreaking.” However, the current research pool is narrow, encompassing only around 400 largely white and middle-class children.
This belief that boys are smarter could be holding girls back in both education and future prospects, as they feel discouraged away from prestigious careers in certain fields. The findings also tie into the wage gap between genders; a study by the McKinsey Global Institute has argued that narrowing this yawning gap could boost the UK economy by hundreds of billions of pounds.
Recent figures reveal which universities have the lowest proportion of state school students, with Cambridge no longer topping the list. After specialist institutions (Royal Acadmey of Music, Royal Agricultural University, Courtauld Institute of Art and Royal College of Music), there are six popular – and traditionally elitist – universities in the top ten. Of these institutions, Oxford has the worst figures with only 55.7% of state school students, closely followed by St. Andrew’s (56.7%). Durham, Bristol, Cambridge and Imperial (all 60-65% state school students) complete the top 10, although Bristol recently announced extensive plans to widen access for disadvantaged applicants.
Brexit threatens students, universities and the NHS – Independent
In other university news that should surprise approximately no one, applications to British universities by EU students have dropped 7% – the first decrease in a decade – the latest UCAS stats reveal. Last year, the Government confirmed plans to end bursaries for student nurses and midwives from 2017, a move the Royal College of Midwives said threatened the future of maternity services in England. As a result, applications to study nursing fell by 23% in 2017, making it the worst hit course and fuelling growing fears of an imminent NHS crisis.
Responding to the figures, Shelly Asquith, NUS Vice President, said “Nursing students are more likely to be women, mature students, black, and have caring responsibilities,” describing it as “alarming but not surprising” that applications had dropped. Unsurprisingly, leading academics have long been saying that a hard Brexit would be catastrophic for the UK higher education industry.
Research by the Teacher Development Trust reveals that 600 schools in England – encompassing 20,000 teachers – have been forced to wipe out their budget for teacher training. Despite the Department for Education’s claim that such training was “vital for all teachers”, immense pressures on schools funding have led to cuts across the board, and head teachers warned that training budgets are often among the first to suffer. David Weston, chief executive of the Teacher Development Trust, said the findings were “extremely concerning”, and described the government’s education budget-slashing as “shockingly short-sighted.” All evidence reveals that higher-achieving schools spend more on staff training, but that current funding for training is “pitifully low.”
The funding crisis in West Sussex schools, one of the areas worst hit by cuts, has now got so bad that governors are threatening a first-ever strike. School governors in West Sussex are writing to MPs to warn them they will refuse to sign off budgets or carry out their supervisory work if their long-running concerns are not addressed.
Findern Primary School is one of the first in the UK to adopt the Scandinavian approach of allowing students to wear slippers in the classroom – and has seen marked improvements. Headteacher Emma Titchener said: “It has had a real positive impact; the children are much calmer and more receptive to learning. The pupils are more comfortable, they feel more at home and more in tune with the classes. She added that reception from children, teachers and parents has been ‘unanimously positive.’ Her claims are backed up by ten-years of research from the University of Bournemouth, looking at thousands of children from 25 countries. Those who removed their shoes in the classroom were likely to arrive at school earlier, leave later and read more widely.
By David Bard
David is a Minerva Pro Tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about everything that’s trending in education.