Divorced, Beheaded, Died: Divorced, Beheaded, Survived

When asked, perhaps unsurprisingly, Maths wasn’t the favourite subject of the majority of students in my classroom at Rekindle School. The evening session was being delivered by a local wealth management company, Brewin Dolphin, to deliver a collaboratively produced workshop on financial literacy. The resulting workshop was specifically aimed at children and young adults.

So what are they interested in learning about? “useful things”; “taxes” “making songs” and “stuff we enjoy” were the prevalent answers. Vague, to be sure, but indicative of a desire to learn – a desire to learn that has withstood the constant buffeting of lazy teaching models and an uninspiring National Curriculum. When asked to explain, the students in question spoke about wanting to learn things that they will use in real life in a way that is interesting to them. “The things we learn about at school are boring and I’m never going to use them again”. Students are not rebuffing subjects themselves, but the way they are taught; in an emotionless way, without context or reason and far too often “copying off the board”.

There’s a failure to address the enormous access to information that children have. Ofcom reported in 2023 that 84% of 13-18 year olds use social media, with usage in 8-12 year olds at 38%. With video sharing platforms being the overwhelming majority of online time, young people are exposed to a world of information at ages earlier than any previous generation. When the printing press was created in 1440, we know the teens were not huddled round a pamphlet for two or four or six or more hours per day. Our young people nowadays are showing off dances, watching blogs, telling stories and learning about highly technical e-commerce methods. They are watching videos about the Gaza conflict (which their history teachers will give a wide berth) and wondering why politicians can find £2billion for Ukraine but Nanny had to sleep on a trolley in hospital for over twelve hours. One thirteen-year-old explained to me the step-by-step process of creating a viable drop-shipping business.

This access to fact, and fiction alike, has given students a reality check. Mainstream education is being delivered in a way that stifles the critical thinking of our children.  Where is the adaptation to the National Curriculum and teaching methods that our students are begging for? Online they are learning about how things work and why things work, yet when returning to the classroom they are asked to regurgitate facts like King Henry’s wives at the demand of teachers and exam boards.

Policymakers continue to push a cookie-cutter model, creating neatly shaped cogs which slot into the system, and any deviation from that norm is labelled as disruptive and the doors of opportunity for such students are then promptly closed. This is a sharp contrast to the world children are viewing, in which supposedly everyone has a platform and individuality is celebrated. The DfE has failed to address the fact that students are capable of critical thought and the national curriculum is not immune to their scrutiny.

Students are being failed as this cycle continues. We can’t be surprised that children today are facing a mental health crisis when punitive methods are still the overwhelming majority in behavioural management techniques. Teachers too are being failed as this cycle of dissatisfaction repeats. More than 100,000 teachers under 40 have quit in the last five years (stats from Department for Education.) When teachers aren’t able to create a healthy relationship with students or a safe space in their classrooms, students will seek that elsewhere, on phones or outside the school gates entirely. Post-pandemic, almost one in four students are labelled “persistently absent” from school.

Rekindle School exists to tackle this crisis of care. The school’s SNAP (Support, Nourish, Achieve, Protect) framework is centred around the child and takes a holistic approach to understanding the context of our learners’ needs. The proverb ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is a core pillar of our provision, with relationships being built in the community, at home and in school.

Young people are empowered through our cultural curriculum, taught how they can create impact through the power of critical thinking and activism. Linking learning outcomes to local, relevant examples provides the young people with an anchor on which important topics can be discussed and challenged.

Our view is to shatter the glass ceilings created through social injustices that young people are limited by, providing them with opportunities in an array of industries, a network of approachable contacts and most importantly, a platform in which they can be seen and heard.

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