The right sized fish in the right sized pond
A throw away remark made by my son recently summed up much that we are thinking about at DYT.
Issues such as what is SEND? (see my previous blog). Why do we have a homogeneous definition for a variety of issues? If you have definitions, you have labels – is this good or bad? What do we mean when we talk about inclusion? Why do people assume that if you have an inclusive school you are ‘dumbing down’?
Do people realise that every class has several children with a SEND and many of these are not visible? And the biggest question of all – what do we mean as a society when we talk about education? Is this, and should it be, about learning in its broadest sense or is it about passing tests?
So when Archie and I were discussing his choices for the future, whether to go to university and if so, what to do, these issues were at the back of my mind. His dilemma is this. He is a very bright boy with very good A level results – maths A, economics A and physics C.
He got these with a lot of support from his school, a reader and a scribe, 50 per cent extra time, breaks and without taking a single readable note in his entire time at school! He listens, he remembers and he dictates full essays in one hit, which is quite a feat in itself.
Ideally he should do a science or maths based degree, which have less of a focus on essays, but his grades for a Russell Group university are not quite high enough. Of more importance, he doesn’t really want to do that. Nor does he want to do something practical. What he wants to do is economics and politics. He’s genuinely interested in these subjects, is devouring audible books on a range of related topics (something he didn’t have time to do in school which is interesting in itself) and wants the academic stimulus of being around other like-minded people.
We talked about the need for learning support, for them to understand it’s almost as if he’s blind when it comes to words and for him to take responsibility for putting it in place. We discussed where he should apply – the ‘top top’ universities won’t look at him (despite what he’s achieved against the odds) and if they did, would he be better as a ‘small fish in a big pond’ or, as Malcolm Gladwell talks about, would he do better as a ‘big fish in a small pond’ at a slightly less prestigious/popular university?
Driving down a road lit only by streetlamps in the darkening evening he asked me – ‘Why can’t I be the right sized fish in the right sized pond?’ That for me sums up the core of the issues that have been swirling in my head.
We need a broad, 21st century education system that doesn’t lump all those with SEND into one category, but caters through quality first teaching (including lecturing) and the graduated response to meet the needs of all learners and in so doing see; what they really know (rather than how well they can read and write), what they think, what they can teach us, what they can go on to contribute to society and in so doing, create learning environments where everyone can be ‘the right sized fish in the right sized pond.’
At DYT this is what we constantly advocate and put into practice with our flagship programme Drive for Literacy. It takes system change but it can be done. Check out our website and our short film to see what we stand for here.