Shining the light on yoga in schools – Part 2

Welcome back! Here’s part 2 of Netia Mayman’s presentation from Instil. 

Make sure you’ve read part 1 before continuing…

“Understanding where we have come from helps us to know where we are. In order to explore the question I listed the sustained changes (not the ones cancelled wholesale with changes of government) that have taken place since 1982, the year I gained qualified teacher status down the road at The Institute of Education. Apologies to delegates from other parts of the UK, but this really is just England. There really are differences across the UK between Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales… I only have 45 mins.

These are legislative actions which have consistently come to underpin the way schools operate. They have been characterised by increasingly wholesale, more rapid and less consultative implementation.

  • Introduction of teacher appraisal eventually tied to pay
  • Establishment of inspection increasingly linked to implementation of government policy
  • School policies must be available and published (believe it or not my first school had nary a one)
  • National curriculum for subjects (pace academies and free schools, more about you later)
  • Legal establishment of school day (yes, there really had been no law for this until the Great Education Reform Act of 1988)
  • Minimisation of the role of local authorities and increasingly wide differentiation in types of school
  • Increased attention to safeguarding in all respects, including aspects of pupil behaviour like bullying, attitudes to race and disability. Victoria Climbie in memorium. Services working together to protect children… kind of. Sadly, since the national vow to make sure that no child ever died because professionals did not talk to each other, as in Victoria’s death, there have been many more cases.
  • Testing, testing, testing with a move from teacher assessment to examinations.
  • League tables. Publication of results of individual schools.
  • Measuring inequality leading to exposure of the underperformance of ‘indigenous’ working-class pupils and those with SEND
  • Balkanisation of teacher training and significant fluctuations in the supply of teachers, usually linked to the strength of the economy. Recruitment rises when there are few alternatives to teaching… but there are other significant factors.

I then recalled a conversation with a tearful trainee teacher last week. She had come to staff yoga tell me she was too stressed to participate. She couldn’t understand the latest data trawl and had to work instead of coming to class. She said she felt like the cat that had been kicked at the end of a long chain of accountability, starting with the headteacher’s need to keep the school ‘Outstanding.’

Evidence from the National Foundation for Educational Research, the teaching unions and other bodies suggests:

The overall number of secondary teachers is falling fast, pushing the average pupil-teacher ratio from 14.9 in 2011 to 16.0 in 2017

The government has missed its teacher recruitment targets for 5 years in a row

Increasingly large numbers of working age teacher are leaving. Despite a smaller proportion retiring, the leaving rate is climbing significantly.

Long working hours, rapidly implemented government changes and pupil behaviour continue to be key contributory factors to teachers leaving the profession after 2 years.

Teachers are happy with their pay, and frequently take less well-paid jobs when they leave. Of the three professions of nursing, policing and teaching, teachers have the lowest rate of satisfaction with their amount of free time and the longest working hours (50 pw in term time.)

This made me explore common features of times when I had felt particularly effective and happy in my own work as a teacher. These were those when I had felt trusted and appreciated by those to whom I was accountable. This didn’t mean that I was left to do what I liked, quite the reverse. Rather, the leader inspired me by an example of kindness, discrimination and deep knowledge of what I was doing, not how it looked on an excel spreadsheet. It would not be an exaggeration to say that these leaders emitted an aura of compassion and enlightenment.

Data, money and off-rolling

Data about individual outcomes can drive who is actually on-roll as a student. It also drives finance as schools are funded per pupil. There can be perverse incentives leading to the cynical removal of students from schools.

This is what real terms spending cuts have been since 2010:

20% fall in spending on each 6th former

8% fall in 16-18 spending in further education

88% of schools real terms spending cuts since 2015

Loss of £178,321 per year to secondary schools overall

Loss of £52,546 per year to primary schools overall

Let’s not forget though, that the average Primary and Sport Premium per school £16,000 since 2016. This money is ring-fenced and Sport England guidance is that yoga is a highly appropriate target for this funding.

Meanwhile, Ofsted found that more that 19,000 pupils who were in year 10 in 2016 had vanished from the school roll by the start of year 11 and GCSEs. In 2016/17 40 secondary students per day were permanently excluded, compared to 35 a day in the previous year. Students presenting with challenging behaviour consume a disproportionate amount of resource and negatively influence exam outcomes.

Data in itself is neither good nor bad, hostile or compassionate. All knowledge is power. It’s just a question of what use the knower puts the knowledge to… and humility about what we don’t know and need to find out.

Meanwhile, revisiting the sustained changes, I STILL couldn’t see an underlying thread to shed light on the issue of enlightenment. The question of the knower, the knowable and of knowledge. What were the values in it all? Where, if anywhere, was the Samadhi?

Comparisons are always helpful in clarifying thinking. I wondered would happen if I took something objective, like the PISA tests and compared England’s sustained changes with those of Finland, the top performing country in the PISA tests. We can all argue about the basis for these triennial international measures of the skills and knowledge of 15 year olds, started in 2001. There’s a compelling account for giving them attention in Lucy Crehan’s, ‘Cleverlands’. Finland started a very slow and steady programme of education reform in 1972 which resulted in it coming top in reading, third in scientific literacy and 4th in maths literacy in 2001, and staying consistently at the top in subsequent collections.

I recognise that there are challenges in comparing a country with a very small population to ours, but what is so striking about Finland’s PISA scores is the level of consistency of performance across schools, unmatched by any other country.

In the list of sustained change in Finland, I have excluded the crucial common key features of all top performing countries: paying teachers well, giving them high status and provision of access to high quality CPD. It felt more important to compare our changes with less obvious ones:

  • Shortest schools day and year in Europe and late start to ‘formal education’ at 7. Universal, play-based early years provision.
  • No appraisal, abolished inspection 1990s, key role of LAs and high local autonomy
  • No nationally published testing except for evaluation of national system-effectiveness, sample-based.
  • Grades on basic ed cert age 18-19 given by teachers, moderated by a national board.
  • National curriculum adjusted locally. Vocation curriculum embedded and linked to local industries. A significant role for Local Authorities.
  • Few private and no segregated schools except for carefully assessed SEND.

I realised that the key word binding together the English changes was accountability, or rather COERCION and for Finland, TRUST. How would these translate in to the yoga ethical precepts, the yamas and nyamas? These precepts are there to help us control the instinctive mind.

I’ll pick out two, with bearing on trust and coercion, based on Swami Satchidananda’s wonderfully contemporary explanation of the sutras. He makes constant referral to world systems of morality including Buddism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Taken together, these belief systems are perhaps ‘Universal values.’

Ahimsa – non violence, non-injury, COMPASSION. Satchindananda writes, ‘When the vow of ahimsa is established in someone, all enmity ceases in his or her presence because that person emits harmonious vibrations.’ Is it melodramatic of me to suggest that the situation in our schools is informed by hostility? Could we say that educational leadership emits harmonious vibrations? Is there is a lack of trust and a climate of fear in schools? If so, what can we as yoga teachers do about it?

Tapas – austerity and discipline. We all know how difficult it can sometimes be to get on the mat or meditation cushion. Our own practice, is in many ways a microcosm of our struggle to give a framework to our lives. Discipline is a central to what we can give our learners, whether it be to practice yoga at home, or organise their bag for the next day’s learning. Gandhi gave us a wonderful understanding of this. Our habits enact our values:

Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.

Institutions and society need rules, routines and structures and processes; without them there is no ‘democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law or tolerance of individual belief systems.’ Habits of thinking start early in life and interact with the way the nervous system develops. The good news is that the parasympathetic nervous system is highly teachable. Are the values underlying the standard operating procedures of schools coercive, or do the values work because everyone understands and consents to them?

Now to turn to the question of

What young people are like in 2018?

Bad behaviour is not the first issue cited in teachers leaving the profession, but it’s a regular feature.

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

Is this the railing of a conservative politician, an infuriated parent of a teenager or an exhausted head of year 8? No, as many of you may know, it’s Socrates.

I’m going to suggest that:

  • We now understand much more about how young humans develop and can positively implement this knowledge.
  • That young people in the UK may be under more pressure than any generation since those who like my late father, walked through the gates of Maidstone barracks to fight for his country aged 17 in 1944.
  • That young people in the UK are increasing responsible and potentially committed to looking after their own well-being.”

The last part of this interesting presentation is going to be released next Tuesday – make sure you check back then!