Monday 18 July 2016

Upstart Scotland: The importance of Kindergarten to the age of six

My older son was so fortunate when we lived in America to gain from 3 years of Montessori nursery and then 2 years of Kindergarten, at Mundelein north of Chicago. The Montessori kindergarten ran from 2 to 7 years. He gained enormously from having an excellent ground work in the spoken work, speech work, creativity, number, size and more …..BEFORE he began his formal schooling at 7.

There is a new educational initiative in Scotland now called ‘Upstart Scotland’ to consider that young children here might be better served by starting formal education at 6 or 7 years, rather than the 5 years at primary one here. 

Its important to understand that Kindergarten is not simply going out into a garden for rough and tumble play. Yes games do matter of course, but Kindergarten is firstly about laying the ground work for learning – such as colours and shapes; working on speech and how the individual letters are made; role play through house corners etc.; language development through team work, story book corners, creative work with modeling and drawing, drama etc. 

Its misleading to say this is simply about play. The difference is that compared to Primary one – where there are pressures to start the Reading scheme and to begin formal writing and number in jotters – kindergarten is about learning the basics beforehand – so that when the children do start formal learning the process goes much more quickly 

Many children, especially boys lack the concentration needed to learn in primary one – so kindergarten helps to develop this. The problem in our system is that those who do not developed what educationalist call ‘readiness to learn’, fall behind right at the start.  

*Education is an art form – that cannot be easily defined, tested or analysed. The most effective way to improve education is with top quality teachers. This requires attracting the best people, through good salaries and five year masters degrees.  This saves money too – because top quality teachers require less monitoring or testing costs and can autonomously run their own schools and classrooms and make wise, informed decisions. Unfortunately many pre-school teachers here have not had enough training. 

Some teachers spend two thirds of their time on ‘monitoring paperwork’ that no one ever looks at – when their time and energy would be better spent in teaching. 

Keep the Primary school Curriculum Simple!  
(1) A Focus on Basic Skills for half the Curriculum
(2)  Other Half PBL (Project Based Learning) and individual Project earning. 

For the first – these are the skills that can be counted and measured.
However for the second of PBL, good quality education is full of equally important skills that are not so easily measured – creativity, emotional resilience, teamwork, enterprise, individual thought, oral skills, enthusiasm, motivation, originality social skills, lateral thinking, more. 

The problem with any Targets is that they measure what can be counted, rather than what matters. That’s why testing is limited. A good teacher does small test routinely to check on learning outcomes. Also Head teachers can easily do their own testing of classwork, by taking a class for some lessons. 

Levels in number work are set for each level and at Primary most will meet these basic requirements. The Basic Skills should be the first requirements of the school day – with the PBL or Developmental Skills done to make the school day more challenging and motivational.
We have a culture of elitism in both our society and education.

Closing the Attainment Gap
**In Scotland and the UK there is a culture of ‘Empire’ attitudes – that have been encouraged by the teaching of both the Roman and British Empires for decades, in order to perpetuate the myths and falsehoods that some are born into privileged and better than others and feel themselves to be ‘superior’ to others.

According to Stuart Hardy in his book     , the ancient Scottish clans ran a more equal system (rather than feudal) – where there was a clan chief and all the clan were seen as responsible for the success of the clan by pulling together. 

Scotland was never controlled by the Romans. Scotland led the way with a rich Enlightenment and innovating thought and discoveries.

We were the first country to offer education to all boys in Parish schools. Lets build on our past successes now, by embracing a more egalitarian society and attitudes, and not simply ‘accepting’ that some children are born to be ‘lower ranks’. We can’t all be the same – all academics, or all business-minded, or all good with people, or all good technically – but we can have a society where all children are offered a much more equal chance in life to develop rich, rewarding lives.

Those who live in grand, enormous estates or homes in Scotland – perhaps they should go one day a month to visit and help those children in dire poverty here and have their eyes opened to the dreadful plight of the children. It is getting worse, not better here in Scotland and they should be ashamed. 
The ICESCR is looking into the failures in the UK and Scotland to offer these children their human rights to decent health , pay and work. And also to stop the discriminate towards women, the disabled and pensioners.

The Tories say they want to improve educational outcomes – their first step might be for them to request to abolish the Private schools then? 

The educational attainment gap is mainly the result of social inequalities and only a tiny amount about schools and teachers.  In Scandinavian countries childcare is free for the poorest (and a maximum of £200 per month) In Kindergarten, any failures with speech can be identified – and work done on the pronunciation of letters. I know about this as a former Primary teacher – it is too late by the age of 5 or 6 to do anything. I had one boy at the age of 9 who was still using baby talk – so it was impossible even with all the teachers best intentions to teach him the written words – never mind his being able to read.

Children are not born stupid. Their environment can be changed and the earlier this is done the better. Language is the key. England is being Americanized. Does Scotland want to follow the healthier, more socially equal Nordic model – or the elitism capitalist American model? We need to choose.

The Upstart Scotland program and Personal Development and Emotional Resilience

It is most important that this 2 to 7 Kindergarten is portrayed as highly ‘Structured Play’ - so that parents realize this is not in any way about simply running about in the park. 

We’re trapped by history and tradition.  In 1870, the English parliament chose an early  school starting age so children’s mothers could provide cheap labour in factories. Scotland followed suit, and ever since we’ve taken it for granted that formal education must start at five. (Only 12% of countries worldwide start children at school so early – and all are ex-members of the British Empire.)  

Upstart – Sue Palmer Published by Floris 16th June 2016. 

95% attend State Schools
Most Teachers hold Masters degrees, from Kindergarten onwards
2 – 7 years Kindergarten
7 – 14 years. First tests at 14,
14 – 18 years
No school is bigger than 600. Small class sizes 

Sunday 15 November 2015

Is a Country Judged by its Ethics

It concerns me greatly the lack of ethics and morality in some important places.  It seems that lying is OK as long as you are either thick or a celebrity, an athlete or politician and as long as can get away with it??! 

The Crown decision to let Bin lorry driver Harry Clark off the hook after killing 6 people last Christmas in the centre of Glasgow last year and to condone his  lying on his DVLA application on his having previous blackouts (on his medical records.)  What is the Law for - to prevent this kind of tragedy happening again?? This decision is unethical and morally wrong.

On the BBC program by Jackie Bird shown 3rd November, an expert stated that these Crown office decisions normally take around 9 months -  but this decision was rushed through not to persecute Harry Clark after only a few weeks. 

The victims families were even told he was let off because he is a fat, uneducated West of Scotland man!??  Unbelievable. Does this mean only educated people are prosecuted? 

All the lying around criminal paedophile Jimmy Saville's attacking helpless children in hospital is morally wrong - it was OK to lie about him because he was a celebrity apparently!

Then there is the lies it seems that surround Tony Blair - who claims his lying over weapons of mass destruction to enter an illegal war was OK because -  George Bush said so and Bush senior wanted revenge... and because Saddam was evil.  

There is also Lib Dem Mr Carmichael's lies about Nicola Sturgeon, to damage her politically last year which he claims was OK as long as it was a political lie! ??  He lied to Channel 4 News, the Daily Record and the Cabinet Office! He thought he was so protected by the establishment. Some democracy we have.  He hadn't bargained for crowdfunding  £280,000 and four individuals bringing a case against him.  

I was shocked at the level of lying permissible during the Referendum campaign last year. We were told in the print press that our national poet Robert Burn and novelist Walter Scott were both unionists! The vulnerable and sick were told they would loose benefits and even access to hospital treatment.. These were all downright and bold lies. After all these lies can they now justify our supposedly moral and equal union?  

After the 1707 union Scotland was free of the establishment who left for London, which must have been refreshing. How nice to be free once again! We don't live in a true democracy - that ignore the voices of its own people. Westminster seeks to erode human rights - by leaving the EBHR and scary levels of online intrusions. What happens if all this fell into the wrong hands?    

**I admire Nicola Sturgeon (and most of the SNP politicians, John Sweeney, Alex Salmond and others) because she and others appear to have high ethical standards. By that I mean honesty, integrity, morality a conscience and they believe in doing the right thing. Some may view this as religion but it doesn't need to be about religious beliefs. 

I guess religion used to tell people if they did wrong there were punishments.  
The fact is that a lie is a lie! There are no good lies and doing wrong will always come back to haunt you and get you eventually. Instead of religion today we have a supposedly free press, that is otne misguided and misrepresentative of supportive of the establishment. 

Society requires standard, ethics and morality.  Lies and corruption damage others in society. now we also have the lies over drug taking in athletics. 

It looks likely Blair may still be charged. Carmichael has court proceedings against him. And only after death Saville's awful crimes have come to light. We might say you reap what you sow.... 

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Breastfeeding; Health Benefits

I am shocked by the latest figures here on breastfeeding -  "The breastfeeding rate in Scotland has stayed at a “broadly similar level” over the last decade, according to official data.  In 2014-15, just over 48 % of babies in Scotland were being breastfed at the time of the first child health review visit in Scotland, which takes place when they are around ten days old. That fell to 38% by the time of the six-eight week review statistics show." 

Compare these figures to Scandinavia, where 96% of babies are breastfed! The main reason not to breast feed is a seriously ill mother. Only a small number of woman are unable to breastfeed. 

Breastfeeding is natural, easy, free and by miles the healthiest option for both mother and baby.  So why on earth are new mothers turning to the extra work of expensive cows milk formula? 

The problem is both formula advertising and that breastfeeding is damn hard work to start off with. But after a few weeks breastfeeding is wonderful and offers a unique closeness with your baby. 
It is also a nonsense that babies don't get enough food breastfeeding! My son tripled his weight in 6 months!  Don't add in extra bottles though - the rubber teat on a bottle is easier for baby and will put them off breastfeeding.

TIPS - Read a book on breastfeeding ; make sure nipple is in a correct position, or sucking can hurt; showers help with full breasts the first few weeks and Vaseline; and try to breastfeed exclusively until adding solids.  Don't expect breastfeeding to be easy and it does take time the first couple of weeks. It is also wonderful too and healthy for your breasts.   

The NHS should pay more attention to preventive medicine and advertise the benefits of breastfeeding.  The statistics are shocking for the UKs health. Breastfed children as less likely to be obese and have stronger immune systems. 

In countries like Scandinavian around 98% are breastfed, in Canada 89%, in Australia 92%. This webpage shows charts of how poor UK figures are for breastfeeding compared to these other countries. I have to think these countries offer belter maternity leave.  

IMV if the Scottish government want to really deal with poverty and inequality the first route is through health and then education.

My daughter works in Pediatrics - and she says the problem is that new mothers are sent home from hospital almost immediately (unless they ask to stay longer) and are offered NO advice at all often on looking after their baby. It is no wonder there are problems at the first 6 week check up for baby! Some mothers are only feeding their babies every 6 hours! Many babies need fed every 3 hours depending on their weight! Oh dear. Surely some small amount of advice would go a very long way to give new mothers important advice on looking after their babies.

There is support and advice for new mothers.

Thursday 5 March 2015

Healthy Teeth

On the Channel Four's recent program, ‘Junk Food Kids: Whose to Blame? ‘ -   
they showed four year old overweight children with rotten teeth, having to get full mouth teeth extractions due to decay and ulcers. It’s totally shocking as all this is easily preventable. 

On the program one young mother complained it is always easier to say 'yes' to her young children's demands! - oh dear!. She wants an easy life. she explains.  
Ignorance is not bliss and is no excuse. I feel so sorry for these young mums – why is no one offering them advice??! Yes it is possible to have no fillings by simply looking after your teeth  and by brushing and avoiding sugary drinks and foods. I only allowed my children occasional chocolate or ice cream – but NEVER sweets that drips sugar for hours – such as lollipops, toffees, carbonated sugar drinks etc. 

 Why are we not allowed to have fluoride in our water as they do in other countries?

My son works as a paediatric dentist – the consultant on the program says that pulling the teeth is like putting windows into a burning house fire.

It is easier and right to say NO sometimes! It is so much easier to say no and to have children with healthy teeth - how it is easier to watch your children have all their teeth pulled out?

Children reach an age (about two) when they test to find out what the boundaries are - and if a parent doesn't set any boundaries they can get highly confused.

I had a light bulb moment when I lived north of Chicago. I was talking with a neighbour, another young mum the same age as me then, mid-thirties, and she mentioned she had no fillings! I was astonished and I asked her how this was possible? She said she flossed and brushed her teeth regularly growing up. She said it was too expensive not to, as dental treatment is not free there. Oddly in America decayed tooth repairs are called cavities, while here in the UK they are called fillings! 

The government could do much more and stop being in thrall to the sugar lobby. The amounts of sugar and salt added to our food should be reduced, as it is in other countries. We have managed to ban cigarette smoking in public places - its time now to reduce sugar intake.   
The advertising of unhealthy food options to children should be banned on tv and on the front of sugar-filled breakfast cereals. 

Our eating junk food is one of the major costs to the NHS - and causes obesity, diabetes, teeth decay, heart disease and more.

Our NHS health treatment here is not free either - someone pays for all the nurses and doctors, hospitals and equipment!  If we waste health service on unnecessary treatments we then take money away from vital, life-saving services.)  

**Its time for more PREVENTATIVE MEDICINE – as being the cheaper approach! – through local pedatric centres for babies and young infants, for monthly health checks, where mothers get advice from nurses on healthy food. I had such a wonderful centre when my daughter was born, north of Chicago near Lake Forrest and it was invaluable. I don’t see GPs as the answer as many of them have NO pediatric training!  I want to see more specialist health centres.

Why is nothing improving? Many young mothers also smoke which harms their babies.
Children learn by example. Baby teeth are softer and more susceptible to decay. The good news is decay it totally preventable with only a few simple measures. 

- Brush teeth twice a day. Also floss.
- Use a fluoride toothpaste.
- Visit your dentist regularly. Get advice on correct brushing techniques. Once children have their back molars they can be sealed to prevent decay.
- Read a children's book on healthy teeth with your children and talk about animals teeth.    

- Avoid sugary drinks - such as high sugary fruit juices and carbonated fizzy drinks, which mean that unhealthy sugars stay in the mouth for hours.
- Avoid sucking sugar-filled lollipops, toffees and other chewy sugars that drip sugar on the baby teeth for hours at a time.   

Instead offer children healthier snack options - such as snack cheeses, crackers, fruit, nuts, peanut butter, honey.

Instead of lollipops, I occasionally allowed my children ice-cream or chocolate treats, which stay in the mouth only a short time by contrast. 
**ALSO We have an untapped army of retired professionals (former nurses, teachers and others) who might be used to volunteer their time to offer advice to young mothers on such things as breastfeeding, healthy diets, parenting, DIY and much more.