Teacher/Educationalist Voice 8

Josie Yeung – Former Primary Teacher and Home Educator

Following PGCE teacher training, Josie taught in Key Stages 1 & 2 in the state system. She left to start a family but says she knew at that point it was unlikely she would ever go back into teaching. During her teaching career she worked with many talented and dedicated people. Josie loved the time spent with the children and the joy and variety they brought to the role.  However, by the time she left, she was feeling disillusioned and felt like, as a result of Ofsted and DfE expectations, the lessons and teaching were becoming more prescriptive, with less opportunity for creativity and too much time spent focusing on assessment and results.

Why are you interested in progressive education?

My interest in progressive education came about when I became a mother. I saw a contrast between the learning that I had experienced as a teacher and the natural learning process I was seeing through my children. This really interested me and I spent a lot of time reading about alternative learning styles and the latest in child development research, alongside observing my own children. I discovered that optimum learning is a natural, organic, intrinsically motivated process which can be hindered by coercion or someone else’s agenda. Alongside this, I found that the method of rewards and punishments to ensure positive behaviour and learning can also have a detrimental effect on a child’s self- esteem.

As a result of this research and my own experiences I decided to home educate my children using a self-directed learning approach as this feels most in line with what I have learned and observed. However, I have been hugely encouraged by the number of alternative settings being set up which focus on democratic and self-directed learning and am always hopeful that mainstream schools and the alternative education sector can find a way to work together as I feel that both have a lot to offer each other.

In your opinion what are the main challenges of our current state school system?

  • Coping with a wide range of different needs in a one size fits all system with an inflexible curriculum.
  • Large class sizes and staff to pupil ratios don’t allow enough opportunity for all pupils to have their voice heard and to follow their own interests.
  • Being ranked mainly on their academic results can mean schools have less time and resources to spend on areas which they may feel would be more beneficial to their pupils.

What are state schools doing well?

A lot. I don’t think the schools themselves are necessarily the problem, it is the system under which they are working. There are many talented and dedicated people working in schools including teachers, TAs, LSAs and senior management teams who want the very best for the children in their care and strive to ensure that their pupils are happy and enjoy learning.

Schools often create a great sense of community in local areas, have access to a wide range of resources and can be a safe haven for many vulnerable pupils. 

However, when working under a system that only values academic performance, it is very difficult not to employ methods such as the carrot and stick approach and teaching to tests in order to meet targets, especially in schools with large numbers of pupils.  Take away the rigidity of the current system and give schools more freedom to do things differently and I believe amazing things could happen.  I believe the potential and the will is there, it’s the system that prevents it.

If you could make changes to the state education system, what would be your top priorities?

  • Remove all testing in primary schools and instead focus on the individual children’s needs and interests and allow more time for free play.
  • Rethink exams at secondary level to give a broader and more balanced view of pupil achievement.
  • Focus on pupil wellbeing and emotional health as a priority, including rethinking the system of rewards and punishments for motivation.
  • Introduce more self-directed learning.
  • Rethink how schools are assessed – the current framework is still heavily results driven.
  • Give schools and teachers more freedom to be creative and innovative without feeling like they have their hands tied by policies and paperwork.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

If we look at our own experiences of learning, and when we learn best and feel the most passionate and fulfilled, it is rarely when it is placed on us by someone else. It is when something has caught our attention and fired us up from the inside, making us more curious and wanting to learn more. We need no carrot or stick to move us forward in our learning, we do it naturally, in our own way, at our own pace and it feels good. If we can open up more opportunities for this kind of learning to happen, I believe we would see more creativity, more passion and much happier and fulfilled students.