Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa
Serving it up at Manenberg Primary!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The English Education System: Woof

Good afternoon from London, everyone! I hope you are staying warm. Even though temperatures are pretty chilly in London, it has been uncharacteristically sunny since I arrived. It hasn’t even rained since being here (fingers crossed for the rest of my time here!!)! Perhaps this is record-breaking? Or perhaps just climate change. Well, that turned down a dark path quickly…

Before talking about my school visit last week, I think it’s necessary to explain some key differences between the English and American schools systems, because they are quite different (by name). For the few weeks, I was utterly confused - public schools are private schools? What? You can be a junior at age 5? Hehe, I was pretty lost!

Here is a video that will help with understanding:

[Isn’t she clever? This video was really helpful … after watching it twice. Haha, these are puzzling differences!]

So, now that we have a basic understanding of schools in England, let’s add in another type of educational institution that was not mentioned: Academies.

The Academy: Further complicating the English education system
The academy is only found in England; Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales do not have academies. In fact, the United Kingdom’s school districts are pretty different on the whole.

The academy is an independent, state-funded school that is controlled by the central government (in contrast to a local authority, which has historically been more common). Academies are overseen by a charitable entity or private business, such as UBS. Academies first emerged in 2000 as a governmental attempt to revamp the worst-performing schools. It’s not clear what the logic is behind having a private business oversee the worst-performing schools. Perhaps it is based on the logic that the business mindset will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of a school. Or, perhaps it is similar to the charter school movement in America, which was founded on the idea of giving more autonomy and choice to educators and students.

A very important aspect of academies is that they can have different standards than traditional state schools. Or, more accurately, they are not obligated to follow the same standards. Oftentimes, academies do replicate the same standards as state schools - and the curricula mainly look the same. But as you will see with the academy I visited last week, the recent additions to nutrition guidelines do not apply to academies. Academies do not have the same restrictions and standards for school dinners. Does this mean that academies are serving their children french fries, donuts, and burgers all day long? You’ll soon see! ;)

[Without the obligation to follow the Department of Education’s nutritional guidelines, does this mean Jamie Oliver’s arch nemesis, the Turkey Twizzler, could appear in academies?!]

Academies grew in popularity, with a peak in 2010. At its peak, both failing and successful schools were being transformed into academies. Today, academies account for 62% of secondary schools and 15% of primary schools. Regardless of how successful academies are, it is significant to recognize how much money and resources were used to transform nearly 4,500 schools over a ten-year period. While a school’s transformation may not seem to cost much, the Department of Education gave schools £25,000 for transition costs. This was a massive shift in the educational system - but the question everyone wants to know is, do academies work?

The answer to this question has important implications for the future of England’s education system. The government, up until October (not trying to spoil anything), mandated that all state schools must be “academised” by 2022. Depending on how achievement results change, this requirement may or may not be voided.

The effectiveness of academies … it depends on who you ask.
Some people love academies, some don’t. Similar to American charter schools, some academies have greatly improved the educational outcomes of children who had attended failing schools. Some academies have shown lower levels of achievement (as compared to its achievement when it was governed by a local authority) and even corruption (yikes). On the whole, Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) has found that achievement results do not indicate a significant difference in educational achievement.

In October 2016, the Education Bill was revised to omit the conversion requirement. Though they still “encourage” schools to become academies, this message was taken as evidence that academies were not succeeding like the government had expected. Richard Watts, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said, there was “evidence that council-maintained schools perform more highly than academies and free schools in Ofsted inspection.”

Wait, Erin, aren’t you studying school dinners?
Yes, which is why I need to wrap this up! The rise of academies definitely matters in relation to my research project, so I want to make sure that the distinctions in the education system are understood first :) Ok, I am off to go on a walking tour to see London’s street art - see you all later!

[Street art from Camden, a borough of London]

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Futbol, fear, and ... papyrus?

Hey everyone!

People have always said that London is a bustling, busy city, and I have definitely adopted that mantra over the last few weeks. I was looking through the pictures I've taken over the last few weeks, and realized that there aren't that many of them ... whoops :)

I visited my first school (or should I say, academy - yes, a post on the British educational system is necessary) yesterday, which was a blast. I had my coffee in hand (funky unicorn mug and everything), so I was ready to go! Do I look like a teacher?

[Taken at 6:53 AM]

But before I make those posts, I wanted to write a post that has little to do with school dinners. This post will talk about Futbol, fear, and papyrus - yes, it's been a busy time to say the least. 

Futbol and Fear

Several of the questions I received while interviewing for the Keegan Fellowship had nothing to do with my research. And no, I am not referring to the, "Tell us about yourself" kind of questions :) Rather, the questions gauged my willingness to experience new things, as well as my curiosity/exploratory nature. I believe the selection committee was looking for someone who would enjoy putting themselves out there. I definitely was not the only applicant to exhibit this - but I can definitively say, I have faced a fear that I thought I would never overcome. Talk about putting myself out there!

Long story short, I had a serious soccer incident in 2009 that ended my soccer career, changed my life trajectory, and instilled in me a significant fear of contact sports. I was a pretty good soccer player, and was seriously considering playing the sport in college. After having knee surgery and physical therapy, I was never able to get back onto the field; whenever people would run at me (regardless of where this was, i.e. on a soccer field, in the school hallway), I instinctively recoiled. I had convinced myself that I would never try soccer again.

Oh ho ho. Last Wednesday, I played soccer for the first time in seven years. Another Vandy alum asked if I could join their intramural team, and my mind immediately screamed, "NO." But for reasons I don't understand, I could hear myself saying out loud, "Sure, I'd love to play." What just happened?! Talk about an out of body experience!

No, I was no longer a skilled player - I made some poor passes, I didn't score any goals. At least I didn't have any own goals! What I did have, though, was this ethereal high at the end of the game: I had faced my fear and played soccer. My knee actually did quite well, despite the cold weather and lack of soccer cleats. 

Though I will not be the next Mia Hamm, perhaps I'll play intramurals back in the US. But that's not the important thing to me. I just love that I can.


This will have to be a quick story because I've got to run! Another thing that I've never tried before is Toastmasters. Toastmasters is a non-profit that helps people become better public speakers and communicators, which I think everyone can benefit from. My Vandy friend took me to the meeting that she went to (at 7 am ... their chapter is called the Toastmasters Early Birds for a reason), and I figured I would sit in the audience and watch as people spoke eloquent speeches! 

Haha. Nope!

There is a section of Toastmasters where people are given random topics to build a 30-60 second impromptu speech off of. Half asleep from being so tired, I was surprised to hear my name called, followed by the word, "papyrus."

Haha, what?! 

Well, I gave a 47 second speech on papyrus, and won the award for the impromptu speeches! Wooo!

[I'm smiling like that to hide the bags under my eyes hehe]

Coming up soon is a post about my first visit to a UK school - get excited! Thanks for reading through this blogpost, I appreciate your support so much.