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Exam revision and social media don’t mix

TehnologyAccording to Tom Bennett, the government’s adviser on behaviour in schools, exam revision and social media don’t mix. His comments may have been in the headlines recently but they will hardly have come as news to parents. The average teenager’s desk (or bed, because bed is apparently the new desk) may feature a laptop, a tablet and a phone, all in use. Are they watching a film, playing music and scrolling through Instagram maybe? Or how about YouTube, Twitter and WhatsApp? Those are just the things that people over 40 can recognise and every one of them is so much more interesting than revision. Therein lies the problem; almost anything is more interesting than revision.

A generation ago disapproving parents would walk into their children’s bedrooms and ask how it was possible to revise with all that racket going on (from the radio, CD player, portable TV, or whatever the distraction of the age was). And hands up how many of us spent hours in our bedrooms, ahem, ‘revising’, or even went round to a friend’s house to ‘revise together’? The trouble is that today parents may not even be able to identify what it is that has their child’s concentration. They just know it’s probably not Macbeth, or maths, or the features of a glaciated valley.

Maybe evolution is sorting this out and the young people of tomorrow will have multi-platform brains that enable them to text, watch a film, listen to music and revise to perfection – all at the same time. But until then, what can parents do? Over to Dr Sandra Leaton Gray of University College London Institute of Education. She says: ‘It's a mistake for parents to barge in and just say "turn it off”. The clever way round it is to say, “How are things going online?” Ask them if they're being distracted.’ Hmmm. Has Dr Leaton Gray actually met any teenagers?

Perhaps technology can harness its own addictive qualities for the cause. Quiz app Kahoot enables teachers to devise their own subject-based games and tests – or use pre-existing formats. Pupils download the app on to their own devices and can challenge each other for points – a case of technology making users more, rather than less, sociable. The website Vocab Express, used by modern languages students to practise vocabulary, crashed a few years ago because it couldn’t cope with the intensity of inter-school competitions!

When it comes to inventing displacement activities there’s no end to human ingenuity. As any writer will tell you, deadlines weren’t invented to get work done. They were invented to get cupboards emptied, rooms cleaned and socks organised. If procrastination makes tidying kitchen drawers look like an interesting occupation, what chance has revision got against social media?

It’s easy enough to diagnose this problem. The challenge for schools and parents is to find ways of tackling it. As is often the case, it’s likely to come down to a carefully calibrated combination of carrot and stick, with parents working out what ratio of promise to threat would work best for their child. Hang on, maybe there’s an app for that?


You are awesomeChildren’s book of the month

Each month the Good Schools Guide Newsletter chooses a brand-new book that we think children will enjoy.

Our choice for March is: You Are Awesome: Find your confidence and dare to be brilliant at (almost) anything by Matthew Syed (Wren & Rook, £9.99)

Age: 9+

‘An inspiring, uplifting read. I wish I’d had it as a kid.’ Those are TV presenter Dermot O’Leary’s words on the front cover of Matthew Syed’s first book for children – and when we read it we felt exactly the same.

Parents will know Matthew Syed as an Olympic table-tennis player, Times journalist and author of Black Box Thinking and Bounce, motivational books for adults.

In You Are Awesome Syed switches his attention to younger readers, aiming to give them the confidence to have a go at different things in life and achieve their potential. As he eloquently explains, success is earned rather than pre-ordained in life and if you practise and practise at something the odds are that you’ll get better at it. He describes how he started playing table tennis against his brother in the garage at home and eventually became a British champion.

Syed also features examples of ‘famous failures’– people who failed the first time round but were determined to keep going. One quote comes from the late Steve Jobs, the tech visionary and founder of Apple, who said: ‘I’m convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.’

With lively illustrations and graphics, lots of personal anecdotes and suggestions for further reading, Syed’s book is engaging, entertaining and confidence boosting. Children will be motivated by it – and so will their parents.


Going up, going down

Going up

Anyone for avocado? Congratulations to an enterprising group of year 9 boys at Brighton College for inventing a nifty new gadget to peel and de-stone avocados safely. The tool is called the Avogo and triumphed in the independent and overseas schools’ category of the Design Museum’s Design Ventura competition. The pupils launched a Kickstarter fund to develop their idea and now a Sheffield engineering company is manufacturing the first batch. We’ll be queuing up to buy it.

Goodbye to gender stereotypes. A school in Guernsey has ditched the roles of head boy and head girl and replaced them with a leadership team led by a chairperson and vice-chairperson. Liz Coffey, headteacher of Guernsey Grammar School and Sixth Form Centre, says she wants pupils to grow up without stereotypical gender roles. Do let us know your views at: [[email protected]]

The new Zoella. In the run-up to the summer exam season teenagers are getting advice from a new breed of video bloggers. While the phenomenally successful Zoella vlogs about beauty, style, food and travel, teens like Jade Bowler (her YouTube channel is called Unjaded Jade) share revision tips and strategies to cope with exam stress.

Going down

The old-fashioned school clock. Some schools are getting rid of conventional clocks (the ones with hands and numbers) and replacing them with digital versions. Why? Because pupils have lost the skill of telling the time the traditional way and teachers don’t want them wasting vital seconds in exams trying to make sense of old-fashioned school clocks.

School ready or not? Nearly one in three children starting primary school aren’t ‘school ready’, warns the charity Teach First. School readiness includes children’s communication skills, their ability to listen and pay attention and how they play, share and interact with their peers.

Student debt misery. Millions of students will be racking up even more student debt in the coming years. The interest rate charged on student loans is rising to a hefty 6.3 per cent for some graduates in England and Wales from September.


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New statistics show that four in ten children will have special educational needs at some point in their school career. A special educational need is anything which makes it harder for a child to learn than his or her peers – so as well as lifelong disabilities, it includes concerns which may be more transient, such as mental health difficulties, or learning difficulties which are mitigated by the right strategic help.

The Good Schools Guide has launched a dedicated SEN newsletter which highlights the schools for SEN which have impressed us; SEN school news – expansions, head moves, newly released Ofsted reports and so on; resources for parents of children with SEN; forthcoming events; news; and our own forthright views.

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