Process for learners’ social needs

Does the educational experience build on social relationships, cultural understandings and learner identities?

Once, teaching was based on filling the ‘empty vessel’ of each child’s mind. Later, the activity of the pupil in ‘making sense’ of new knowledge became recognised. In both cases, the learner was treated as an individual, with little consideration of social circumstances and relationships.

Now, the enduring role of culture and social processes are better understood. The ways in which knowledge is represented and understood are cultural, and the processes through which pupils engage with learning are influenced by peer and teacher relationships within the school and by family, community and media beyond. Further, young people are engaged not only in learning specific knowledge and skills, but in a process of personal development. They develop an identity within their network of social relationships in family, school and community.

This is not easy, and provision for personalisation, good relationships and inclusive participation are likely to be greatly appreciated by children and young people.

Curriculum

Personalisation: does the curriculum resonate with the social and cultural needs of diverse learners and provide appropriate elements of choice?

There has been much discussion in England about the meaning of ‘personalised learning’. The Chief Inspector explained: ‘Personalising learning means, in practical terms, focusing in a more structured way on each child’s learning in order to enhance progress, achievement and participation’ (Gilbert, 2006, p2). Her recommendation was for more responsiveness from teachers, including use of assessment for learning, pupil consultation, learning how to learn and new technologies.

This is not, then, a throwback to ‘child-centredness’ in the sense of following pupil interests for their own sake. Rather, it proposes customisation of curriculum entitlements so that learners from diverse backgrounds and capabilities are better able to engage with them appropriately. Personalisation thus implies elements of choice. However, for both manageability and effectiveness, many of these choices are likely to be structured around common issues which arise in tackling learning difficulties or extending understanding.

Pedagogy

Relationships: are teacher-pupil relationships nurtured as the foundation of good behaviour, mutual wellbeing and high standards?

'Good relationships' between the teacher and the class are at the heart of pedagogic effectiveness – and every teacher knows this. But what does it really mean?

Both pupils and teachers can feel vulnerable in classrooms, but a good relationship is founded on mutual respect and acceptance of ways of getting on together – described technically as a ‘working consensus’ (Pollard, 1985). This embraces taken-for-granted rules about acceptable behaviour and understandings about how infringements will be dealt with.

The teacher leads in establishing such rules, but must be mindful of pupil interests and act fairly and consistently. The understandings which result are the basis of the moral order of the classroom and the foundation of good behaviour. Expectations for standards of work then follow. As successes are achieved, a sense of fulfilment and well-being is shared, and a positive classroom climate is created. This climate has to be nurtured and sustained over time, for its ebb and flow can be sensed.

Assessment

Inclusion: are all learners treated respectfully and fairly in both formal and informal interaction?

Every child certainly does matter, and ensuring that no one is ‘left behind’ is not easy. Children with special educational needs within mainstream classes require particular attention to ensure that potential barriers to their learning are removed as far as possible. In the case of a physical disability this may require a practical form of provision. Inclusion is more complex for children who have some form of learning difficulty. Careful and sensitive diagnostic work is necessary.

An enduring problem for education systems is that some groups of pupils tend to underperform. The strongest pattern is that of social class but other factors such as ethnicity and gender are important too. TLRP’s inclusion projects showed how teacher expectations about capabilities influence learners – sometimes adversely (Ainscow et al 2006). Engaging positively is thus likely to be very helpful (Howes et al, 2009). Where teachers do differentiate between pupils, the effects are often reinforced by the polarizing effects of child culture.