School learning then vs learning now

The difference between school learning now and then

The one thing that remote learning has done, has provided parents more of an insight into the work and learning their children are doing. Unless children are in a different room or in headphones all day, school work has been open for all at home to see. It was probably very stressful having that added to the extra work needed for teachers. It’s been interesting to see how different schooling nowadays really is compared with back years ago when I was at school.

School then

I think of my schooling as being in the middle of everything.

1980s to 90s primary school, comprehensive, then private school for 6th form.  Both the primary and secondary school were well thought of and I enjoyed my school life. I was a hard worker, but looking back, my school lessons pre-6th form weren’t consistently good. It was all dependent on the teacher. Straight A grades at GCSE were basically dependent on having either school teacher parents or extra tuition. The rest of us weren’t pushed, but if you got on with it, you’d do sufficiently well, but not as well as you could have done. 

We were post O Levels, a few years past the start of GCSEs. Still in the GCSEs aren’t as good as O Levels stage. But pre-all the A* phase, and before all the high numbers of As that seem to be prolific nowadays. Schools were aiming for 5Cs, but we didn’t have gifted and talented programmes, we didn’t have support teams who were there for well-being of students, and there were no TAs. It was teachers and that was it apart from the occasional mum coming in to do sewing, bank or library.

I was in the top set for everything at secondary, and in the stretch maths programme at primary run by the head teacher which was more about practical maths.  But I still don’t remember having been taught anything other than basic fractions. I sat my Science GCSE having realised that over 5 years, we’d never been taught anything about blood in biology, and it appeared in 2 of my science papers.  

As for grammar. Unlike my parents who had it drummed into them back in the 50s-60s, It was non-existent in my english lessons. I only knew about nouns, adjectives and pronouns because my mum bought me an Usbourne Word Detective book featuring Inspector Noun and friends. Once we started learning french at secondary school, I knew about grammar. I still to this day (after A level English and a year studying it as an additional uni first year subject), have no idea about the correct structure of a sentence. I can guess and put one together, but not because I’ve been taught it.

My love of reading taught me grammar. Teachers taught us information we needed, but also about finding the subjects we were passionate about. They would answer our questions and challenges as we learnt. 

It’s so different now.  While lots of people complain, and I’d agree that we don’t need to know technical terms for fronted adverbials and expanded noun phrases, I think schools are teaching now so much better than they did back in my day. 

Maybe we’ve just been lucky in the way ours teaches it. 

Maybe it depends on the child and how that strict national curriculum teaching works for the.

But my 10 year old has learnt so much more in primary school than I would have done.

School learning then vs learning now

Schooling  now

Yes they use some long winded ways of teaching maths. It takes ages for them getting to vertical or standard sums. Everything is built up so children understand how numbers are made up. We were just taught here’s the numbers, here’s the method, now do the sums. We were probably doing similar standard maths at the same time.

English is totally different with the emphasis on SPAG. 

For N, SPAG works. He isn’t a big reader like I was. So SPAG helps him think about what he needs to add to basic sentences. Yes it’s a dull scientific way of building sentences, but for some children it helps their understanding where others just gain that knowledge through their love of books. 

It doesn’t feel like their school drills it into them. It’s combined with weekly spellings, they do bits at a time. In earlier years, they may have focused on one aspect within their lessons, but it seemed to move quite fast onto the next.  

A lot is building on that understanding through their boxing up prep for writing. For me at school it just seemed to be a lot of creative writing – poetry and stories. I loved reading but I had a serious lack of imagination or confidence in trying anything random, so hated creative writing. N is just the same, so the increased variety they do – structure of letters, information texts, stories, poetry, interviews, reports, playscripts – is so much more interesting. They work on their SPAG through their written work, learning how to embellish their work. 

His most enjoyable work was using a homework poetry reading comprehension about a missing sister, to create a police investigation complete with crime scene artwork, missing person poster, and interviews. Ingenious work, he loved it. Despite not liking poetry or reading comprehension.

While curriculum is also criticised for being dull, uninspiring and lacking, ours certainly fit in plenty of sport, science and topic work. My topic work seemed to be the same topics going on for ages – Time, Railways, English Civil War, Africa, Romans. The way his school teaches topic blends in all the different subjects using that theme whether it’s art, geography, history, maths, science. He’s learnt about so much more than we seemed to – water, rivers, ancient greeks, romans, mapping the UK, volcanoes and natural hazards, under the sea, magic, family, anglosaxons and more. He’s also done music history of different genres alongside recorder lessons from a musician who’s played with famous bands. It’s much more inspiring than we’ve done. 

Technology differences

I could not have imagined doing remote learning back in my school time.  For starters there was no internet for most of us until mid to late secondary school. Ours was limited to a word processor first, then my mum got a huge desktop computer when I was at 6th form. At private 6th form was the first time I’d seen computer rooms with a laptop for everyone, rather than us having to share on the rare occasion we got access at secondary. None of the students had personal laptops. 

Even at uni in the mid 1990s, students were only just starting to get word processors and the occasional desktop by the time we were final year. My dissertation was written in one of the computer labs where you could reserve the use of one.

No laptops, no printing facilities. Certainly no streamed lessons.

Live lessons are certainly a great tool and have been so valuable to us. As a working mum and with a child who follows rules and wants to work hard, the paper packs over the summer worked fine. But there’s no way his remote live learning could have been improved. 

Preparing children for later education and work

I think school nowadays prepared children much better for further education. They’re encouraged much more to be outspoken in class (I was shy and left to being quiet) at a younger age.

They learn to research at a younger age.  We didn’t start doing proper personal research until secondary school. N’s been doing research since key stage 2. Made all the more easier with the internet of course. But they’ve also learnt how to make judgements on good and bad data sources online. 

Learning languages earlier. Secondary vs primary school french. Even some nurseries start them off with La Jolie Ronde or getting french speaking parents in to talk to the children so they’d learn to hear phrases (not that N was interested when he was at nursery).

As well as academic work, there’s sessions and talks on mindfulness, where they can talk about  their feelings and thoughts. N hates this kind of stuff because he feels it’s pointless for him (he’s decided that when he needs to talk, he goes to talk to his calves on the farm). This would have been unheard of in my schools.

Different presentation methods from posters to reports to artwork to online methods. Technology coming to the fore again. Add on coding lessons. And during lockdown N’s class have been doing 10 minutes typing practice a day. In only a few weeks, his typing’s improved so much, in contrast to my own when I only started getting really fast once I started working and was typing every day. The 10,000 word dissertation at uni helped. But our children will be pros at computers by the time they’re at uni or starting work.

More sports choices. At my school we did quite a lot of sport, but not as much choice as N has done. Yoga, hockey, tennis, aussie rules football, dodgeball, and a whole lot of others minor sports.

I enjoyed school when I was there, but I think now, there’s so much more on offer for our children. It’s up to them to make the most of it how they can, whether we agree with the detail and precision that has to be taught, or not. Anything we believe is missing, we can share with them in their lives at home.

How do you compare school now to your school days?

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  1. It has been great to learn about what my youngest has been learning at school but I don’t understand any of the maths she does because how they have changed how they do their workings out. lol
    Technology has been a wonderful thing helping with the home learning. The live lessons have kept us in a routine and worked really well. It would have been so different when I was at school. x

    1. Yes, I’ve loved having a nosy. N was always good at sharing what they did, but so interesting hearing how the teachers teach. I agree, it would have been so much harder back in our day.

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