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Education

“Nudge-u-cation” could improve education

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Dr David Halpern: Behavioural approaches unlock new solutions

MANY British adults are showing signs of pessimism about the state of education in schools, but are ready to place their hope in teachers who take a more experimental approach, a new survey has found.

The poll of 2,000 adults by the charity Pro Bono Economics, has found that only one in four British people (27%) believe that children today get a better overall primary and secondary school education than they did. As many as 43% say that schools are worse than they were in their day, while just 14% believe that there is no difference compared to the proverbial best days of their lives.

Meanwhile, the public mood among adults implies that there are fewer guarantees of security when it comes to jobs, finances, owning a home and a comfortable retirement.

Comparing today’s school children to their parents:

  • Two-thirds (65%) of British adults think that today’s young people will be less likely to own their own home;
  • 57% say they will have less job security;
  • 54% say they will be less likely to benefit from a good pension;
  • 47% say they will be worse off financially.

On a more optimistic note, only one fifth (27%) of respondents say that today’s children will be less likely to move to a more affluent area than their parents, and just 22% believe they will be less happy with their job and their lives overall. A mere 19% predict that today’s children will be less likely to attend university or go on to further education. But pessimism returns when it comes to comparing the future lives of today’s young people and the current life of their parents: only 6% of respondents feel that they will not be worse off in any way.

In their efforts to help young people reach further education, and improve their life chances and social mobility, some schools have been adopting behavioural science techniques – also known as ‘nudges’ – with the aim of improving academic achievement and attendance. This approach appears to have the support of many members of the public.

With the Education Policy Institute reporting that a large number of local authority-maintained schools are now spending beyond their means, the survey reveals that many now believe it is time to take a new approach to improving children’s education, attendance and grades. Over four in ten (44%) feel that teachers should be allowed to experiment with new approaches, and 26% believe teachers should test new approaches before they are more widely adopted. Only 12% think that teachers should continue as they are, adopting consistent, accepted approaches that are believed to favour academic progress.

“In less than a decade, behavioural science has moved from the fringes to the heart of policy,” says Dr David Halpern, Chief Executive of the Behavioural Insights Team, who delivered the Pro Bono Economics Annual Lecture on Wednesday (March 28) at the Royal Society.

“Successive governments around the world have seen the benefits of introducing a more realistic model of human behaviour to public services. Our own trials in education have shown how interventions as simple and low-cost as a text message can have transformative effects – from increased attendance to improved pass rates. Experimental and behavioural approaches are both unlocking new solutions and improving old ones.”

Behavioural approaches have also helped encourage the much wider use of experimental methods – notably the randomised control trial – in routine policymaking. In the UK, this empiricism has found expression in the ‘What Works’ movement and network, and in the creation of independent What Works centres covering education, crime, early intervention, local economic growth, well-being, better aging and, most recently, youth social work.

In his Pro Bono Economics lecture, Dr Halpern will explore the dimensions and potential of the What Works movement. In particular, he will examine the cutting-edge power of the behavioural approach when it comes to education and social mobility, while identifying the barriers that still limit its enormous possibilities.

Julia Grant, Chief Executive of Pro Bono Economics, commented: “Whether or not our education system really is better or worse than a generation ago, this survey indicates that many British adults don’t believe that young people are being properly prepared for the world beyond school. No matter whether they are planning on university, another form of further education or the workplace, there is a feeling that limits are being put on their life chances.

“The positive we can take from these findings is that people are willing to put aside their scepticism and embrace more experimental approaches to improving children’s learning, attendance, grades and access to further education.

“Collectively, we need to move away from the orthodoxy of approaches that are supported by little or no evidence of their impact and adopt new, experimental approaches that produce evidence to demonstrate their immediate success or failure.”

Education

Well done Gemma, you are an inspiration to us all

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A SINGLE mum of seven who left school with no qualifications is celebrating after gaining a degree from Swansea University.

Gemma Turnbull, aged 34, admits she didn’t attend school regularly as a child but now her determination to carve out a bright future for her and her family has seen her complete a BA in Humanities after studying part-time for six years through the University’s Department of Adult Continuing Education (DACE).

After leaving state education without a single GCSE, Gemma, from Pembrokeshire, fell pregnant at 16 and went on to have four children of her own, including Ruby, 11, who was born with a heart condition and 15-year-old Joe who has autism.

In 2011, wanting to secure a better life, Gemma began to explore further learning opportunities but she had to overcome further setbacks along the way.

Shortly after starting a two-year Foundation Certificate, Gemma found out that her sister’s three children were about to be moved into care.

She became the legal guardian to Leonie, Shaun and Jack, meaning she was responsible for seven children at the age of just 26.

“Life was quite bleak to be honest,” said Gemma, who is the first in her family to engage in higher education.

“At first, I worried about how I would cope being a student but I didn’t want the family to be split up.

“I wanted better for them and for them to be proud of me. I didn’t want the children to be like me, growing up with no education or no job.

“I was 26, with seven children to look after, and it was hard. I remember being asleep in the bathroom at one point at 4am after trying to do an essay all night and I was knackered – but now I’ve done it.”

Her nephew, nine-year-old Shaun, has Foetal Alcohol Syndrome which affects his behaviour, while Gemma herself was also diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia during her studies. It was during this period that her marriage broke down.

“All I ever wanted was to have the mum and dad all sat down as a family, with the children, like you see on TV,” she said.

“I know that isn’t reality sometimes but that’s what I wanted, so it was hard admitting that I’d end up being divorced like my parents. Nobody wants that.

“They haven’t got that male role model in their lives, but hopefully I can give them that and help them to have positive lives.

“I wouldn’t change anything. Life is what you make of it – you can either sink or swim. The best thing I ever did was have the children all with me under one roof. In fact, I actually cope better with seven than I did with four!”

With her graduation secured, Gemma has already set her sights on what she wants to achieve next.

“I plan to gain my Maths and English GCSE, but I’m going to get a private tutor for those. Then I hope to go on and do a PGCE before hopefully becoming a primary school teacher,” said Gemma, who is also a parent governor at Ysgol Harri Tudur in Pembroke.

“You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it and you want it badly enough. The whole experience has been really positive, especially the staff at Swansea University and their attitude towards helping me.

“If I had had teachers like that when I was at school I know I would have done a lot better – they have been amazing.

“The whole journey has made me a better mum – everything I do is for the children – and I think it is the best thing I’ve ever done.”

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Education

Fishguard school last in Wales without broadband

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CHILDREN in a school in Fishguard are excited about next term before the summer holidays have even begun.

Ysgol Llanychllwydog is the last school in Wales without broadband.

The pupils sometimes have to wait half an hour for pages to load. Sometimes videos won’t play. Now the school is looking forward to an ultra-fast future, and for the head teacher the changes cannot come quickly enough.

Currently when the internet goes down Amanda Lawrence has to drive 10 minutes to her other school to send an email to report it.

“It’s frustrating. There are lots of schools that are able to use schemes where you can plan electronically, but it’s difficult for staff here to do that,” she said.

As part of a scheme to target hard-to-reach places, fibre optic cable is being laid along a 15-mile route from Haverfordwest.

Matt Lovegrove, who works for Openreach, admitted it had been ‘a massive challenge’.

He said: “We’ve had to plough 1.5 miles of new trench to put new duct in, we’ve had to put new poles and had to span the cable between 50 poles as well, so a real variety of challenges.

“The product is limitless in terms of speed. It’s gigabit capable, that means they can download music, interactive learning et cetera, and it will be instant for them.”

The wider community will also benefit from the upgrade, he said. “We are looking to work with local government and residents to expand that fibre footprint to as much of the village as possible.”

“They’ll be able to access the high speed broadband and again get all the benefits from that.”

The last school in Wales without broadband

Broadband is a Welsh Government priority. It’s invested £13.8m in school broadband.

But Llanarchllwydog has been a tough nut. It’s taken the efforts of Welsh and UK governments to bring broadband.

“Because of the challenging topography, that we are familiar with, it has taken rather a long time to make sure that every school is equipped with the broadband speeds that they need,” said Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams.

“This means that schools will have the external infrastructure that they need to deliver our exciting new curriculum and I hope to be making an announcement shortly on further investment on kit and equipment inside schools.”

The work is being done through the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) £200m Rural Gigabit Connectivity programme.

DCMS minister Margot James MP agrees cooperation between the two governments has helped deliver the project.

“That’s not the end of it for Wales,” Ms James said.

“The other aspects of the rural gigabit connectivity programme is that we are using that £200 million to bring full fibre to local public buildings like hospitals and schools so that they get the gigabit connectivity first.”

The cable has now reached the telegraph post outside the school. The final work will happen over summer.

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Education

A practical lesson for primary school pupils on the problem of plastic pollution

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A PEMBROKESHIRE primary school came up with a novel way to educate its young pupils about the problems of plastic pollution.

Goodwick CP School took its year 2 and 3 pupils to Fishguard Leisure Centre where the swimming pool was filled with plastic waste. The lesson was the idea of class teacher Miss Davies,
whose is teaching the effect of plastic on the environment and particularly the sea.

The children worked together to clean the pool of single use plastic, collecting more than ten bags of rubbish.

The school posted on Facebook: “Miss Davies’ class had a bit of a shock when they arrived at the swimming pool for a swimming lesson today!

“The pool was unfortunately full of plastic.

“It gave the children an insight into what it must be like for marine life living amongst plastic pollution.

“They then worked together to clean the pool.

“Thank you to Richards Bros for getting the children there and back, and to the staff of the leisure centre for allowing us to do this.”

Photos of the lesson were shared nearly 3,000 times from the school’s Facebook page.

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