Following discussion in a recent lecture about the function of schools in modern day society, I have reflected upon my views of formal education in Britain. Despite considering this during our first year study of sociology, I believe looking at global education systems, within the 2CM5 module, and through research into the proposed changes of Scottish Education in the near future has changed my views to an extent.
Before starting my degree I had seen primary and secondary education as two separate entities with different aims. I will never forget my experiences and memories made within primary school. I enjoyed every day I went to school – with the exception of Sports Day (and the troubles of being vertically challenged and finding a suitable partner for the three legged race) – because I knew that all members of staff supported us and our developmental needs were catered for, regardless of how large or small they might be. Lessons were always engaging and inspiring and our emotional and social wellbeing was at the heart of the school. Secondary school, however, was a completely different story. Within a month of attending high school, I was downtrodden by the ethos that centred around attainment and who was ‘intelligent’ and who was ‘thick’ which was made clear by some members of staff who did not ‘have time for “silly” questions’ or who were too busy reading off a powerpoint slide to even look for raised hands.
My opinion was altered during 1CM2, our first year Education Studies module, which focused more specifically on sociological, psychological and philosophical theories on the subject. Durkheim’s theory of Functionalism, which was addressed within the module, suggested that education had the main purposes of reinforcing social solidarity, maintaining social role and to maintain the division of labour. I had questioned this throughout my first year, accepting it as a theory however not fully understanding how this socialisation process had been prominent throughout my education from 3-18. It wasn’t until recently, when discussing Early Years development, that I appreciated this forced nature of socialisation. As our lecturer highlighted, in nurseries children are given the freedom to play when and where they want; they can make as much noise as they desire; they can explore and make meaning through their experiences and most importantly, can enjoy being children. However the transition to primary school is completely new to these children. Firstly they are expected to stay seated for long periods of time at a desk or on an uncomfortable carpeted area with a teacher looming above them. They are expected to remain silent or raise their hand to ask questions. Their playtime is limited to interval and lunchtime. Finally they are unable to make meaning from their play as the learning is curriculum based and during this “critical period”, reading schemes and phonics schemes are rigorously followed. This is evidently a means of socialising pupils that I had never considered before.
Another issue that has been brought to our attention is the forced cognitive development of pupils in the Early Years. In Scandinavian countries, formal schooling does not begin until children are between the ages of six to seven years old unlike Britain where children can walk through school doors as early as four years old. In Sweden and Norway, pupils are introduced to early learning experiences in pre-schools where they engage in meaningful outdoor learning. Furthermore, their learning environment mirrors home life unlike British schools that can sometimes feel like a multi-coloured storage box rammed with desks and limited areas to move. In Scandinavian countries, children are not introduced to literacy activities until they enter school at seven years of age – because this is when they are cognitively ready – and the attainment reflects the success of this methodology as Sweden sits at the top of the global literacy league table. Despite evidence suggesting that Britain would benefit from a move towards rising school entrance age, politicians seem to avoid the truth.
These political views seem to have a considerable impact on the functionalist role of schools. Why are we ignoring evidence proving that children should have time to develop through play and we should introduce them to literacy and academia when they are cognitively and physically ready? Finances? Economic necessity? Early in September it was announced that Nicola Sturgeon had plans to introduce standardised testing into the Scottish curriculum, one that was designed to move away from testing and attainment. Although I am aware that 32 councils across Scotland utilise different forms of assessment, I see this standardised testing as yet another functionalist system that will cause forced cognitive development on young children and move away from the ideology of CfE. I believe at this early stage we should be focusing on progressing children as individuals, not as a group target to be attained. Although I was taught under the 5-14 curriculum that utilised standardised testing to identify progression and I did not feel pressured by this system, I cannot speak for those who struggled in mathematics or literacy and were pushed by desperate teachers who needed to ensure the success of their so-called “underachieving” pupils.
Early socialisation and development of literacy and numeracy in the early years, assessment and other political drivers make me feel as though we are creating ‘little adults’ and not giving children the time and space that they require to be children. Although I appreciate the need for these systems currently, I hope to see change in the future of Education and that educational research can move us towards a more personalised education where development is seen as an individual attribute and not classified by attainment.
Bartlett, S. and Burton, D. (2012) Introduction to Education Studies. 3rd edn. London: Sage.
Bignold, W. And Gayton, L. (eds.) (2009) Global Issues and Comparative Education. Exeter:Learning Matters
Keatch, B. (2015) Early Years – Sweden [Lecture to MA (Hons) Education Year 2], ED21004 Educational Studies: Historical and Comparative Perspectives on Education. Dundee University. Tuesday 29th September 2015.
McIvor, J. (2015) Scottish Education: The return of Standardised testing? Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-34108172 [Accessed: Tuesday 6th October 2015]
Sweden heads new literacy league. (no date) Available at: www.unicef.org/pon96/inlitera.htm [Accessed: Tuesday 6th October 2015]