What’s Stopping You?

July 3, 2012 2 comments

What is your first response when you are faced with something new and unfamiliar?  If, like me, you work with young people what would their first response be?

This will certainly be influenced by your past experiences and, most importantly perhaps, your perceptions and beliefs about your own abilities.

It has become something of a cliché to assert that individuals learn more from failure than from success but that does not necessarily mean we should discard the sentiment.

Of course, in reality, what and how we learn from failure is far more complex than this bald statement can possibly convey.

In Engaging all young people in meaningful learning after 16: A review Naomi Haywood et al assert that “Some young people develop an ingrained sense of failure. This can be due to the emphasis schools place on academic achievement and measuring success by test results and levels of qualification[1]”.

This damning indictment of the way the testing system in our schools can create, and then continuously reinforce, self-limiting beliefs that actually condition our children and young people to switch off from learning is something that I have seen frequently in young people.

Perhaps though, it would be more accurate to state that it is the ingrained fear of failure which creates the most significant barrier to learning and makes it so hard for some young people to face new situations and challenges.  The fear of failure triggers ‘fight or flight’ responses in the body, the physiological effect of which is to divert blood flow from the brain and thus make it almost impossible to learn.

Of course this fear is not limited only to ‘academic’ learning.  It includes all learning, all new experiences and challenges that each of us faces almost every day of our lives.

There is a strong likelihood that you will be more comfortable when faced with a new challenge if you have previously had the chance to ‘fail’ in a safe and supportive environment. If you’ve never had that chance, everything new and unfamiliar can seem impossible and you are likely to ‘fly’ from it.

This has led me to think about how we can help young people to unlearn those self-limiting beliefs that are born from the fear of failure.  How can we create a place where young people can begin to ‘fail’ safely? How can we enable them to face new challenges secure in the knowledge that it’s not only ok but good to fail because everyone does (in my case frequently), and that the experience we gain from the attempt improves our chance of future success.

I haven’t got any answers.  I’m asking the question of myself, my colleagues and the young people we work with though so watch this space! Perhaps you’ve got some ideas you’d like to share too…


Housing Benefit and Young People

I’ve almost recovered from a bout of apoplexy engendered by the Tories latest ill-considered wheeze to reduce welfare spending by removing entitlement to Housing Benefit from young people under 25. Almost, but not quite. So please forgive any lapses in lucidity in what follows. It may be that once I’ve got the rant out of the way I’ll be able to concentrate on forming a logical and well structured critique of the subject. However, as the Tory policy machine doesn’t seem to bother with logic I may not bother either.

Let’s leave aside for the moment the bare-faced gall of a public educated scion of wealth castigating a whole generation for having an expectation of having things handed to them on a plate. Let’s leave aside too, the vacuity of, Louise Mensch, the Tories top twitterer’s thoughtful “It’s such a lovely day today. Am encouraged by Mail support for housing reform. Necessary stuff.” Let’s focus instead in some of the facts about young people who receive housing benefit at the moment who this proposal will harm deeply.

Justin is 23, he joined the Army at 16 and has served two tours of duty in Afghanistan. Justin has been made redundant as a result of the armed forces cuts. However, Justin is one of the lucky ones and has managed to get himself a job. It’s only part-time of course and it’s relatively low paid. He’s used his pay-off from the army for his deposit on a flat and a relatively reliable car to get him to and from work (his hours are antisocial and public transport is non-existent after 9pm because his local council have cut their subsidy to the bus company). Sadly, Justin’s employer loses a contract and cuts his hours, he can no longer pay the rent on his flat without help. Here Justin’s life could follow one of two paths.

Path One

The Tory government have removed entitlement to Housing Benefit from all young adults under 25. Justin falls behind with his rent and can no longer continue to pay his car insurance. Reluctantly, Justin moves back to his parents’ home 100 miles away. He has lost his much of the deposit he paid as the landlord has recovered the arrears from it. Obviously, the move and lack of transport mean that Justin no longer has a job. He claims the new Universal Credit but finds to his dismay that because he left his employment voluntarily he’s not entitled to that either. His self-esteem plummets he has no job and can’t even pay his parents a little towards his keep each week. Justin remains unemployed for well over a year, he gets interviews occasionally but other than a couple of weeks cash in hand labouring, no sniff of a job.

Path Two

When Justin’s hours were reduced the state provided a safety net. Justin was able to claim a little Housing Benefit to help him stay on top of his rent. He keeps his flat and his job and a few months later Justin’s company manages to secure a new contract, pleased with Justin’s work and reliability, increases his hours once more. Justin no longer needs help with his rent. He continues to do well at work and secures a promotion. Throughout, Justin has continued to contribute to the economy. He’s paid tax and NI. He still had some spending power so paid some indirect taxes too. Justin has a little spare time and volunteers at his local Army Cadet Force providing some positive activities for local youngsters who respect his experience.

Which of these two paths benefits Justin and society?

Would Cameron, Mensch et al seriously advocate Path One? Would anyone with an

ounce of sense?

The majority of young people claiming Housing Benefit are in fact working. Often part-time and often at low pay but, they are working.

If the government really want to reduce the HB bill, they would do better to make genuine investment in jobs for young people that give them the self-esteem, confidence and ability to pay their way and contribute to their society. I believe that this is what young people really want – Opportunity and positivity without the constant belittling of them that is fed by organs such as The Daily Mail and ridiculously ill thought out policy which has the sole purpose of appeasing the Tory right and the 1922 committee.

On Gove and Poetry

Pre-literate peoples rely on an oral tradition to maintain their cultural narrative. Despite its importance in our relatively recent past this is largely irrelevant to us in the technology driven 21st century. This does not of course mean that poetry and other creative arts are irrelevant. Children DO learn poetry and enjoy learning it but, requiring them to do so by rote does not add anything to their education, nor does it equip them better for adult life. Reading for meaning in a text is of real value, learning it parrot fashion has none without genuine understanding. Similarly, simple recall of historical facts is worthless without knowledge of what that fact meant and continues to mean for humanity.

The vast majority of teachers in state schools are skilful and knowledgeable professionals who understand children and how they learn. Gove is a journalist turned politician without the necessary knowledge, skills and experience to qualify him to dictate to them how to teach. His civil service advisers have a similar deficit .

He’d do much more to improve outcomes in schools by concentrating on diverting more resources to them. He could finance this by bullying his Treasury colleagues, as he currently does teachers, to improve their performance in the collection of tax from the likes of Vodafone for example.

The trouble with teenagers

June 19, 2012 1 comment

For the past several months I have, due to a back injury, had to use a stick to get around and struggled to stand for any length of time.

I am also a frequent user of public transport.

These are not comfortable bedfellows!

This combination of circumstances has however, given me some insight into modern manners and caused me to examine my own past behaviours.


Now, I haven’t collected empirical data to prove the observations and assertions that I’m about to make but, I believe them to be pretty accurate nevertheless.

Who is most likely to offer their seat to me during rush hour?

Now if I’d thought about this eight or nine months ago I’d have said without a doubt that it would be my generation – I would have been very, very wrong.  I’m on the cusp of middle-age and am sorely disappointed by many of my peers’ lack of courtesy and decency.  It would appear on the face of it that blindness has become endemic amongst this demographic in this part of the world. But then again, “there’s none so blind as them as don’t want to see” as my grandmother frequently told me. Eyes that seem perfectly capable of reading the newspaper are rapidly averted when they alight on the stick in my hand and the pantomime of pretending not to see would be quite entertaining in different circumstances.

If it’s not my generation most willing to offer their seat then, who is? Well it is teenagers of course. You know, those noisy, disrespectful, antisocial creatures who are simply a constant pain in the neck. The lazy, feckless, rioting teenagers that the Daily Mail and other media would have us believe are destined to be a constant drain on our resources for the rest of their natural lives.

Oh and as an aside these aren’t just any teenagers, they’re south London teenagers and they frequently smile when offering their seat. Sadly, they also sometimes look shocked when I thank them for their kindness.

I mentioned earlier that my current circumstances and these observations have led me to re-examine my own past actions too. I am more than a little ashamed to realise that, on occasions at least, I have not offered my seat with good grace to someone more in need of it than me.

What goes around comes around as they say.

I am on the mend now and hopefully will no longer ‘need’ a seat as I do at present. When I have recovered I vow to look up at each stop and if there’s someone more in need of a seat I will offer it with a smile and a thought for all the young people who offered me a seat and by doing so taught me a valuable lesson.


June 17, 2012 1 comment

I’ve been posting on Twitter for around a year but, sometimes 140 characters simply isn’t enough.  So, I thought maybe I’d try a less restrictive format.

I’ve no idea really if I’ll manage to post regularly or indeed if what I post will be of interest to anyone other than me.  However, I used to rather enjoy writing when I found the time to sit down and focus and hope that this will serve as a useful diversion from a steady stream of increasingly inane television into which I seem to be have recently allowed myself to be drawn.

You’ll see from my ‘About’ page the subjects that, at the start at least, I think I’m likely to want to discuss here. My interest in most of these subjects stems from my work with young people in supported housing and my experiences as a school governor.  The views expressed are personal to me and are not those of my employer who I will not in any case identify directly.  I should also declare at this juncture that, as the long-suffering spouse of a dedicated teacher who works ridiculously hard , the opinions I express about the current state of our education system are unavoidably partisan.

I hope you enjoy visiting my blog.  Please take the time to leave a comment or feedback if a post makes an impression on you.