PSLE: A Focus on Learning

In recent weeks there has been a huge debate about the testing of primary school aged pupils, but there has been little comparison across international boundaries. In Singapore for example pupils leaving primary school have to sit the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). Causing more stress than SATS, the Exam has a strong focus on learning. There are some significant differences between the PSLE and SATs, such as the volume of examinations and the knowledge that is tested:

PSLE Stress

The PSLE is notorious in Asia for causing high levels of stress among 12 year-olds. This stress not only affects pupils, but has an effect on parents too. As the PSLE plays a large part in the children’s further schooling, parents tend to worry about it a lot. The exams are currently being changed – not to make them easier, but in an attempt to reduce the stress levels. However, when you look at the current elements of the PSLE and compare them to SATs, you will see why so many Singaporean pupils feel the pressure.

Language

Testing languages is broken up into English and the child’s mother tongue. For the English element there are usually three or four tests. One covers the child’s writing ability in different scenarios, such as letters or narrative. Comprehension and language use is tested separately. There is also a verbal comprehension test as well as an oral examination. These vary slightly in the mother tongue section but tend to reflect these four areas.

Science

The science examination is designed to test knowledge of concepts rather than simply memorised information. 50% of the test is multiple choice but the other half is open answers. The topics included in science would challenge some British GCSE students. Entrants for PSLE are expected to know about pollution, global warming, forces, energy, electromagnetism, life cycles, human anatomy and chemical testing. However these are only a few of the many topics that could be included.

Mathematics

There are three maths papers, and pupils are given two and a half hours in which to complete them. A calculator is only allowed for one of the papers, so students often have to form a new theorem, concept or algorithm in order to solve some of the questions. Only loosely based on knowledge gained in the classroom, the mathematics papers often receive the most criticism because there are often questions that are not covered by the syllabus.

Do you think the PSLE sounds too tough? How would your children cope? Share your thoughts on our social media pages and in the comments.

Top 10 Countries for University

More students are heading abroad to study than ever before but selecting the right overseas university can be difficult. If your child wants to go and study abroad there are lots of benefits to get on board with – a top-class education, broader horizons, independence, the chance to learn about a new culture and customs and depending on the destination, a new language to get to grips with. However, choosing an overseas university can also be a big challenge because of the language gap and the distance from home.

A report from QS Quacquarelli Symonds has ranked nations based on the quality and accessibility of their higher education systems. While these rankings shouldn’t be religiously followed they do make for a great short list:

10: Japan

Japan boasts two universities that feature in the top 50 institutions globally. The capital, Tokyo was also ranked as the third best city in the world for students because it has low student to population ratio.

9: South Korea

Seoul National University and Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, both feature in the global top 50. Seoul itself came 10th in the student city rankings.

8: China

China’s most well regarded university Tsinghua which is located in the former Imperial Gardens ranked 25th in the world. Peking University also made the top 50.

7: Netherlands

Five universities feature in the top 100 institutions and the highest placed of these is The University of Amsterdam. Maastricht University is one of the best modern universities in the world and is popular with international students because almost half of undergraduate programmes are in English.

 6: France

Paris was the best city to be a student anywhere in the world last year and two Parisian universities feature in the global top 50. The highest of these reached an impressive 23rd in the world.

5: Canada

Three universities make the top 50 with McGill being the highest placed at 34th. Many students attracted to the US should consider Canada because it is cheaper, easier for visas and involves a simpler application process.

4: Australia

There are seven Australian universities in the top 100. The Australian National University came in 19th place globally because of its academic reputation and large international faculty.

3: Germany

While the number of highly ranked institutions is lower than other nations the big pull factor for Germany is the tuition fee system. In 2014 the last German state abolished tuition fees, so studying here only involves a small admin fee and living costs.

2: United Kingdom

This may not be strictly international for most readers but with 18 universities in the top 100 and four institutions featured in the top ten, the standard of education is incredibly high.

1: United States

30 US institutions made the global 100. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) takes the number one spot overall.  On all factors including access, system strength, flagship and economy the US set the benchmark.

Are you surprised by these rankings? Will you be allowing your child to study abroad in these nations? Share your thoughts on our social media pages.

Is Standardised Testing the Best Way to Measure Progress?

Throughout the world exams are used as the primary means of measuring children’s progress but does this mean they are the most effective way to do so? Examinations start as young as seven years old in the UK and continue throughout the school system. They are often criticised for causing undue pressure on pupils but they are also criticised for what they claim to show.
The uniformity of exams is often cited as a reason for them being an objective way of measuring progress. This can also be seen as a negative factor. Because exams standardise knowledge, there is a possible negative knock-on effect on critical thinking skills, preventing students from developing a well-rounded education and skill set.
Tests also standardise intelligence, which should be recognised as a broad spectrum that is far from uniform. Some pupils will struggle with the pressure of exams and do poorly as a result – leaving to them being labelled as less intelligent than counterparts who do well. Really, intelligence can’t be measured like this because one pupil may have better reasoning while another is more practically minded. There are clearly several concerns surrounding standardised testing but could an alternative method provide a more balanced measure of progress?
Adaptive Testing
This computer based model will automatically discover the key areas for improvement. If a student gets a question wrong an easier one on the same topic will be generated, if they get it right a harder one will come up. This will tailor the test to student abilities. The questions are all taken from a bank of questions which means progress can be measured against others. One concern over this method is that it requires a large bank of questions and in some topics this may be unfeasible.
Simulations
An incredibly practical approach, which will immerse the students in real-life situations and see how they react. Pupils will experience simulations on a computer. It examines how knowledge is applied. This would be difficult for core subjects such as English or maths but for more practical subjects and HNDs it would be far more appropriate than a standardised test.
e-Portfolios
These will support coursework and can be used to measure progress over an entire course. The student will continually update it with their work and will receive regular feedback from an external examiner. This allows for progress to be constantly measured. Most applications of this are in more practical subjects and qualifications but it could be used for other more traditional subjects too.
Do you think testing needs to be radically changed? Share your thoughts on our social media pages.

Why We Need A Mental Health Champion

You probably didn’t even know that there was a Mental Health Champion for UK schools but this week the role was axed as part of a government shake-up. The role was created last August and aimed to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. Considering the high level of British pupils who suffer from mental health conditions, the role was important and it was arguably much more important than the government would suggest.

Natasha Devon, who has worked in schools delivering health and wellbeing classes for the last 10 years, was named the first Mental Health Champion. At the point her role was axed she still hadn’t completed her report into the state of mental health in schools but had been an active critic of some of the Department for Education policies.

Most recently she spoke out against the testing of primary school pupils. She claimed that this kind of testing is helping to create an anxiety crisis in the under 21s. In a column for The Times Educational Supplement she accused the government of creating “a social climate where it’s really difficult for any young person to enjoy optimal mental health.”

The Department for Education claimed that axing the role was not a reaction to the criticism Devon has levied at the government. Instead, they say that the role was cut because of an independent NHS report that claimed there needed to be a cross—government mental health champion and that this had led to a reconsideration of Devon’s role.

Devon was an independent expert with years of experience in children’s mental health and was unpaid for the role to maintain independence. Having an independent advisor who is an expert in the field was meant to help ensure that government policy worked for our children.

The government is re-advertising the position but it will in future be a salaried role. This will limit the effectiveness of any future Champion because they will not be truly independent from government and they will be less likely to criticise if their pay is on the line.

Mental health is an extremely serious issue in schools with more challenges than ever before and an ever increasing number of sufferers. Having this independent advisor ensured that there were attempts to reduce the levels of mental health disorders. It is most unfortunate that the government choose to get rid of this vital role.

What do you think about the axing of the Mental Health Champion? Share your thoughts on our social media pages.

MPs Launch Inquiry Into Sexual Harassment In Schools

MPs have launched an inquiry into sexual harassment and violence in schools after an influential report revealed that many serious incidents are not followed up. This is due to both the age of pupils involved and a fear in reporting such crimes.

Research was undertaken on behalf of the Commons, Woman & Equalities Committee. It involved workshops with 300 pupils between the ages of 16 and 25. It is not the first of its kind. Last September a BBC investigation that put freedom of information requests into police forces found there were 5,500 sexual offences recorded at schools in a 3-year period. 600 of these were rapes.

What effect will this kind of systematic sexual harassment have on their future? A profoundly negative effect is the general consensus, it can lead to long term issues of confidence and low levels of emotional intelligence. Which could lead to severe relationship difficulties later in life because they have never learned how to treat a partner.

The report also suggests that sexting is now ‘commonplace’ in our schools. But other girls even discussed being the victims of bullying for ‘being a virgin’. This is truly shocking and demonstrates the increasing role the media is playing in viewpoints on sex and sexuality. Also it is clearly a sign of an endemic problem with sexual harassment in our schools. So what can be done about this?

What Does This Mean For Sex Education?

This report and subsequent inquiry have given new life to the campaign for mandatory sex education in our schools. The hope is that more appropriate education will discourage this kind of behaviour because boys and girls will be educated about what is appropriate in relationships, how to show a partner respect and what consent is. Knowing these things will change behaviour towards the opposite sex in schools.

Christine Blower the general secretary of the NUT responded to the report saying, “As today’s report highlights, the pressures young people face are not going away. It is therefore vital that PSHE and age-appropriate SRE (sex and relationships education) becomes mandatory in schools.”

Parliament has been less direct in its response but MP Maria Miller who leads the committee has said that they want to use evidence from schools and children to find the most effective measures to reduce levels of sexual harassment and violence.

What do you think about this report? Would changes to sex education curb this shocking behaviour? Share your thoughts with us in the comments and on our social media pages.

How To Help Your Child With Pressure and Stress

Exam season may only just have arrived but it has already been riddled with controversy about the pressure being put on children with changes to testing. Some have dismissed the impact of testing but a new study commissioned by the BBC has found that nearly 90% of 10-11 year olds feel the pressure of exams. Almost 30% of them say they feel stressed out. If children as young as 10 are feeling this level of pressure and stress, you can only imagine how older children feel about the tests they are subjected to. There are several ways to limit the way your child feels pressure and stress.

Play

There are real stress relief benefits to pressure free play. Younger children will naturally do this but you may need to encourage it in slightly older children. Take them out on bike rides, play catch or encourage them to play pressure free video games that they enjoy. These will give them downtime where they can escape and alleviate feelings of anxiety.

Sleep

Bedtimes can be a nightmare but ensuring your child is well rested will make them more relaxed and less prone to agitation. Keeping electronics out of their room will ensure they actually go to sleep when in bed. You could also use rewards to encourage an early bedtime.

Manage Your Stress

Stress is contagious – when you are stressed out your child will feel stressed too. It is important that you care for yourself and learn to reduce your own stress in whatever way you can.

Talk

Encouraging your child to talk about their feelings is vital, and will give them the chance to express any stress or pressure. You may need to guide them to the right words to describe this but do not put words in their mouth. Listening to them and hearing their problems will ensure that they vent any problems to you on a regular basis and this can help you reduce stress in other ways. For instance, if they told you they felt stressed about being new at school you could easily ask their teacher to support them.

Realistic Expectations

Pressure and stress are often formed by the fear of making mistakes or not living up to expectations. Explain that everyone makes mistakes and that they are useful as a learning experience. Using examples makes it easier to understand. Talking about yourself will also make you relatable and they will understand if you can make mistakes and be ok, so can they.

Are there any other ways you’ve helped your child with pressure and stress? Share your experiences on our social media pages.

A Third of Children Are Not School Ready

A new study has claimed that a third of new primary school children are not prepared for the challenges of education. The State of Education Report was put together by Key and surveyed 2,000 school leaders and governors. It found that many children lacked basic social skills, proper hygiene and resilience. All of which makes it much harder for children to adapt to the school environment. These same concerns can also lead to problems later on the education journey.

Many respondents to the survey highlighted the growing use of smartphones as one possible reason younger children struggle to be mentally prepared for school. One school leader in the report stated, “Four year olds know how to swipe a phone but haven’t got a clue about conversation.” Children need help to be both mentally and emotionally ready for school.

What Can Parents Do?

In order to ensure your child is fully prepared for the school environment there are several things you should teach them at home. Here are a few additional ways you can help develop your child’s social skills…

Encourage Life Skills

Your child will need to do a lot of things for themselves when they are at school, it will help them if you can encourage this behaviour at home before they enter the classroom. Teach them to dress themselves and how to fold and pack clothes – these skills will be necessary for before and after PE lessons.

You also need to go through using the toilet and personal hygiene. A lack of understanding in this areas was one of the key issues highlighted in the survey. It found that some parents simply don’t teach their child how to use the toilet. It is worth going through proper toilet etiquette and teaching kids how to clean up afterwards. This will save a lot of hassle at school.

Social Skills

Playing games with your child and reading to them will benefit their overall social skills and make it much easier for them to hold an actual conversation with their teachers and classmates. Encourage playdates with other children and limit their screen time in favour of social development.

Resilience

Practice the school day and take them to visit their new school. This will help them understand where they are going and why, which will mean there are less protests when it comes to school time itself. A positive start to the school day and year will help them adapt quickly and will mean that they are enjoying their education more than if they were completely unprepared.

Has this helped you prepare your child for school? Share your tips on how else to help them on our social media pages.

Virtual Reality And Education

With more and more tech giants staking a claim in the virtual reality market many are asking the question what can this technology be used for? Is it just a fun way to play games? Will films move to virtual reality? We don’t know as yet but education is one area where this futuristic technology is already making a noticeable impact and it goes beyond the simple Google apps that have been floating around for over a year. Outlined below is some suggestions as to how this ground-breaking industry could change the way in which we educate our children.

Google Cardboard

It would be unfair to talk about virtual reality without at least mentioning Googles super affordable cardboard solution. Firstly, how many children do you know you have a smartphone? It is almost certainly the majority of your children’s friends. Which means that VR in this format is extremely accessible despite being simplistic in its functionality. Pioneer Expeditions was launched in 2015 and unless their parents are very affluent, this gives children the chance to see things they simply would not have the opportunity to. From the Great Wall of China to Mars the experience are limitless. That is not all that can be offered through Google cardboard though with several ingenious developers working on education apps that can be downloaded straight from the app store but there are also more companies offering all-inclusive solutions to bolster current curriculums.

Curriculum

Since 2012 VR start-ups have raised more than $1.4bn in venture capital and not all of them are working on games some are putting these resources squarely behind providing VR solutions for the education sector. Z-Space, Alchemy VR and Immersive Education are the three big contenders in this sector and all offer something slightly different but still relevant.

Z-space provides a hardware based solution with desktop computers then children would put glasses on to see in 3d. Inputs can be a simple keyboard and mouse setup or a pen that allows interaction with virtual objects. This allows children the chance to work collaboratively and explore in ways that have never been possible before. Using the pen children can dissect the planet or the human eye to understand how it works or they can build engineering projects before seeing how they will work.

Alchemy VR are software developers and have worked on the Google Pioneer project among many others. Currently virtual reality tours of the Great Barrier Reef and first life both with David Attenborough are on display in museums around the world. They aim to create the most compelling virtual reality experiences which allow the user to experience something truly remarkable.

Immersive Education approach VR in another way entirely they offer Lecture VR which allows the creation of virtual reality presentations to give immersive lectures that could be taken anywhere in the world. This means that in the future your child whilst at university could sit through a lecture on Roman history where the lecturer can physically show them buildings and more through their VR headset. On top of this they offer similar experience based learning tours to Alchemy VR.

The world of Education has never been more exciting than it is with these breath-taking virtual reality experiences that can enhance learning and engage children in a way that teachers can struggle to.

Do you think virtual reality will be the biggest development in education in the next few years? Share your thoughts on our social media pages.

Motivating A Teenager

The stereotypical moody teenager is a reality as most parents up and down the country will attest to, not only can they be in foul moods they can also suffer from a serious lack of motivation to do anything but sleep. There is some scientific evidence behind this too, with many experts citing these mood changes as a result of their changing brain chemistry. Many parents will worry about their child’s future or lack of during these periods but there are ways you can motivate them and encourage them to perform well in school.

Tangible Tasks

There is no easy solution that will change your child into a motivated young person determined to succeed, because you can’t make someone care about something that they simply couldn’t care less about. Instead, you need to offer rewards that they value as a motivating factor. They want to go to a concert this weekend well that’s fine but say they can only go if they complete their homework or finish college/university applications. But you actually have to follow up on this instruction otherwise you will appear to be a soft touch which will only make them challenge you more.

Consequences

Another way to motivate them is to allow them to make their own choices even if this means skipping homework, it will make you anxious but they will have to face the consequences for their own decision. Nothing quite makes them change their behaviour like punishment from school or extra work to make up for what they choose to skip over. Fairly quickly they will start to make better decisions about what they want to do and how they should be spending their time. This also means that they will be more motivated because they are aware of what will happen if they don’t get on top of the responsibilities that they have.

Inspiration

You shouldn’t try and appear to be motivating them instead you should aim to inspire them to achieve. Being controlling by screaming and shouting at them will not work, you need to ask yourself if the behaviour you show your child is overly controlling. It is difficult to understand what an inspiring behaviour is but the best way to achieve it is think about someone who has inspired you and model your behaviour around theirs. Chances are if it inspired you it will have a similar effect on your moody teen.

How do you motivate your child? Share your tips with us on our social media pages.

Underweight Pupils Now A Huge Concern

For several years now we have spoken about how the obesity crisis is harming our children. While it is still a real issue for a great number of children, what is even more alarming is that thousands of pupils start school underweight and suffering from poor nutrition. The effects of this can be as serious as the consequences of a child being overweight.

The National Child Measurement Programme has highlighted these changes in the average child. It found that 6,367 children began reception underweight and that 7,663 final year primary pupils were also suffering from these problems. These figures are more than a 15% rise on the number of underweight pupils in 2012. To add to this worrying trend the House of Commons Library found that more than half a million under-fives were anaemic – which is the highest level in 20 years.

A smaller study in Birkenhead also found that a fifth of pupils arrive to school hungry and for some of them this is a persistent problem. All of this data shows that there clearly is a nutritional crisis in our schools. But what is causing this significant problem?

It is unclear why this is happening. An MPs debate laid blame at the door of parents who cannot afford to feed their children and even suggested that this could be part of a wider problem with neglect. With an increase of parents on low incomes it can be argued that economic forces are playing the largest part in this nutritional epidemic. No matter the cause what can actually be done to combat this problem?

What Can Be Done?

The Government wants to eliminate child poverty and improve life chances for all. In the last budget £10m was pledged to breakfast clubs and there are still free school meals for more than 1.3 million kids. But is this enough to meet the challenges involved?

In Scotland all primary 1-3 pupils receive a free school meal. Would mirroring this scheme in England have an effect on the levels of malnutrition? This would be an expensive scheme to roll out and considering a lot of these pupils will already be entitled to a free school meal seems unnecessary. Instead it might be better to strengthen breakfast clubs and encourage parents to take their children along. Because this will guarantee them a healthy and nutritional start to the day.

Further education for parents could also have a positive impact on this damaging problem. If parents were taught the benefits of a balanced breakfast and offered support to provide it – those who struggle at the moment will be in a better position to give their child what they need.

What do you think about this new health crisis? What is the best course of action to reduce the number of underweight children? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section and on our social media pages.