In this week’s WimTeach, Dr John Parsons, Director of Sixth Form, muses over AI, Beethoven, and the learning process.
Ludwig van Beethoven died in 1827. Within days of his death, Beethoven’s first biographers were swift to recognise the seismic impact the composer had made on the musical language, style and forms of the emerging ‘Romantic’ age. They also saw him as providing a blueprint for a new kind of human creative spirit; a composer embodying not just the artist contra mundum but also the artist struggling against himself. Beethoven’s autograph scores and extant sketches show us that frustration and struggle; energised, angry scrubbing-out, playful trial and error, revisions and reworkings, rejected ideas and erratic inky marks made so quicky (‘when the spirit moves me,’ as he himself had said) that they are sometimes barely legible. Here on paper is Beethoven showing his working (as an exam-board or teacher might ask) and evidently learning as he went along. A look at the page helps us to imagine the composer (doubtless brow furrowed) very much in flow – in the moment. The layers of creative struggle and his learning process are there in black and white.
In school we learn that Beethoven wrote nine symphonies. It
is easy to see the slow-to-build but ecstatic exclamation of Schiller’s Ode
to Joy in the closing section of the ninth as his final statement in the symphonic
form. But it wasn’t; there is a tenth – or at least scribbles and sketches for
one. Beethoven, it seems, had no intention of leaving it at nine. Musicologists
for the next 200 years would be left wondering ‘what if…?’ Until now.
A ground-breaking project at Harvard university has brought
together musicologists and computer scientists to see if an AI computer can be
taught to create music that sounds like it was made by Beethoven and thereby to
complete the composer’s missing tenth symphony. Here is a machine that has been
taught not only Beethoven’s entire body of work but also his creative process
in order to fill in the blanks and come up with a coherent and developed piece
Beethoven was an intensively motivic composer, meaning that
his compositional process saw him painstakingly derive complex and copious material
from tiny motifs (just think of the famous four-note da da da daaa that
opens the fifth symphony and the 40 minutes of music based on it that follows).
As the Harvard AI task became more complex, so the machine became cleverer and
more skilled at recognising such patterns in how Beethoven had reworked his
motifs. The same happens when we as learners take on and stick with the
struggle of learning something new and difficult, and (as with the AI, too) over
time mastery is attained. Indeed, one of the computer scientists remarked ‘the
AI reminded me of an eager music student who practises every day, learns and
becomes better and better.’
Not for the first time, then, AI shows us something of what human learning is
A year or so into their work, in 2019, the Harvard team
travelled to Bonn and the composer’s birthplace museum to perform some of what
had been ‘composed’ by the machine for a sceptical room of historians,
journalists and musicians to see if they could tell where Beethoven stops and
AI takes over. They couldn’t. There will be purists who say that AI should not try
to replicate the human creative process, but of course the machine is not
autonomous. Rather, it must have a multi-disciplined team of experts to teach
it to do its thing (STEAM+ in action).
The human learning process is one of trial and error. Scrubbings
out and puzzle solving is par for the course and the process owes as much to
frustration as it does to playful experimentation and repetition. As teachers
we see that in the classroom every day. The most effective learners accept and
embrace the struggle. Evidently, that was the same for Beethoven – the most
human of composers – as it is for any of us as we go about the business of
learning new things and creating our own masterpieces.
Further reading on the Harvard Beethoven project here.
Ms Jenny Cox, Director of Co-curricular and Partnerships considers ‘School life outside the curriculum, is it important?’
“I need 3 A*’s to get to where I want to be. That means more focus on work less time on other things.”
sure we have all heard this or possibly said this at some time in our lives,
particularly when we feel under pressure. I’m pleased to say that Wimbledon
High bucks the trend with the approach that promotes work, work, and more work,
as being the key to success. We see the drive to achievement as a more rounded
and fulfilling experience. However, is everyone convinced of this?
Anxiety, self-confidence, motivation
and concentration can play a huge role in our mind during day-to-day life. How
we choose to deal with these can affect our well-being and our ability to
function effectively. Cognitive anxiety can exhibit itself as Fuzzy Head Anxiety, sometimes also known as Brain
fog anxiety, which can occur when a person feels so anxious, they have difficulty
concentrating or thinking clearly. At
times, high somatic
anxiety can lead to sickness, upset and a lack of appetite. Whilst it is normal to experience occasional cognitive
and somatic anxiety, especially during times of high stress, it important to
have strategies to help us lift ourselves out of this, as the worries about grades, about covid and about not
being good enough, are all very real concerns as we ease ourselves back into
Look beyond yourself
It has long been acknowledged that acts of generosity raise
levels of happiness and emotional well-being, giving charitable people a
pleasant feeling known, as a “warm glow.”
In the Medical News Today, Maria Cohut (2017) wrote an article on how ‘Generosity makes you happier’. She reported on a study of forty-eight people, all of whom were allocated a sum of money on a weekly basis for four weeks. In short, one group were asked to spend the money and the other group asked to make public pledges and all participants were asked to report their level of happiness both at the beginning and at the end of the experiment. The results found that all participants who had performed, or had been willing to perform, an act of generosity – no matter how small – viewed themselves as happier at the end of the experiment. It is studies like this, alongside others, that convince us that our partnership and charities work, so heavily and generously invested in by our students, is vital to maintaining a sense of perspective and our sense of well-being.
Work hard and play hard
In 2020, 98% of the top ten highest achievers in Years 7, 8 and 9 at Wimbledon High took part in at least five sessions of co-curricular activities per week; is this a coincidence? Previous research has also revealed positive and significant relationships between higher physical activity and greater academic achievement (Chih and Chen 2011; Bailey 2006; Chomitz, Slining, McGowan, Mitchell, Dawson, and Hacker, 2009). There are a multitude of benefits to taking part in a balanced programme of co-curricular activities. Whether they are in school or externally organised, both appear to be hugely beneficial.
the feelings of immersing yourself in the activities you love will again enhance
feelings of well-being and start to reduce levels of stress, should they be
high. The well documented moments of Flow (Csikszentmihalyi,
Harper and Row, 1990) refer to those times when people report feelings of
concentration and deep enjoyment. These moments maybe found on the hockey
pitch, in orchestra, chess club, debating, GeogOn, Femigineers, whatever is
your passion. Investigations have revealed that what makes the experience
genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness; a state of concentration so
focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity. People typically
feel strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of
their abilities. Both a sense of time and emotional problems seem to disappear,
and there is an exhilarating feeling of wholeness. This can be controlled, and
not just left to chance, by setting ourselves challenges – tasks
that are neither too difficult nor too simple for our abilities. With such
goals, we learn to order the information that enters our consciousness and
thereby improve the quality of our lives.
outside the curriculum, is it important?
Evidence seems to point in the direction that a well-planned
and attainable life outside the curriculum will enhance academic studies,
promote feelings of well-being, and give a sense of perspective on day-to-day
anxieties. Having said this, we have
decided to research this ourselves. Look out for the opportunity to be part of
a piece of research later this year, conducted by Ms Coutts-Wood and I, where
we shall dig deeper into life at Wimbledon High. Specifically, we will be
investigating the impact of our co-curricular and partnership programmes on
academic progress and well-being.
Bailey, R. 2006. Physical education and sport in schools: A review of benefits and outcomes. Journal of School Health, Vol. 76, No. 8.
Chih, C.H. and Chen, J. 2011. The Relationship between Physical Education Performance, Fitness Tests and Academic Achievement in Elementary School. The International Journal of Sport and Society, Vol. 2, No.1.
Chomitz, V.R., Slining, M.M., McGowan, R.J., Mitchell, S.E., Dawson, G.F., Hacker, K.A. 2009. Is there a relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement? Positive results from public school children in the Northeastern United States. Journal of School Health, Vol. 79 Issue 1, P30.
Cohut, Maria. 2017. Medical News Today ‘Generosity makes you happier’
Alexia P. Head Girl, analyses the historic and future impact of trees on the economy.
‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’. A cliché I’m sure
most people will have heard when they were younger; when they had no
understanding of the true value of money.
However, is this cliché wrong – are there economic benefits to trees?
As of 2020, there are approximately 3.04 trillion
trees on the planet, made up of 60,065 different species. Their uses vary, from
being produced into something tangible, such as paper or furniture, or
providing intangible services, such as the carbon cycle or retaining nutrients
in biomass to aid farmers in growing crops. Over time, although their uses may
have changed, trees have always been a vital part of our economy, in ways that
at first, may not be apparent.
Let’s jump back in time. The year is 1690, and the
global dominance of the British Empire is growing. In Britain, most of the
population are in the primary sector of employment, particularly in
agriculture, growing trees to help build houses, or to trade for an animal to
increase income for the household. As timber and fruits were traded amongst
farmers, incomes increased. However, as more villages were established, space
that was previously forestland was cleared of trees, and the supply started to
diminish. The navy – at the time, the biggest in the world – relied on the
timber for their ships; to continue to expand their fleet, they had to travel
further abroad. Ships then travelled to America, India, and Europe to gain
resources, power, and valuable influence to create trading alliances that are
still in place today. This extra money and resources gave Britain an advantage
when The Industrial Revolution hit in 1760. This allowed for a quick and smooth
integration of the new, more efficient way of life that asserted Britain further
as a global power and further boosted its economy. And all of this stemmed from
the reliance and resources of trees, without which, the roots of our economy
would not stand today.
However, as countries developed, their reliance on
single resources and tangible products have decreased, particularly in ‘advanced’
countries in favour of services and jobs in tertiary and quaternary sectors. As
a result, agriculture – such as timber production – has steadily decreased.
But trees still play a vital part in the growth of
our economy today. In LIDCs and EDCs, such as Brazil, logging and mass
production of wood has become part of the economy. Although the industry is
environmentally frowned upon, it has an estimated worth of $200 billion
annually, allowing many developing countries who produce this material to place
money into developing infrastructure and technology further. There are not only
economic benefits. In some societies, such as in parts of Indonesia, trees and
wood have been used as currency on a local scale, allowing people to trade wood
for farming animals, or clothes, encouraging economic movement in smaller
villages, that may not have reliable national trading routes. Paper, furniture
and fuel are just some other ways that trees have become so heavily relied on
in people’s lives, with few other ways to substitute the valuable resources
However, the rate at which tree resources are
exploited is becoming too high. In the quest to become economically developed, forest
sustainability has been forgotten. Increasing tropical deforestation rates account
for loss of biodiversity and reduction in carbon intakes,affecting further tree
growth in surrounding areas as nutrients are removed.
There have been recent attempts, however, to
preserve the trees and rainforests. In a recent study by Yale School of
Forestry and Environmental Studies, it was determined that rainforests store
around 25% of carbon dioxide, with the Amazon alone strong 127 billion tons. To
release these gases would heavily increase the enhanced greenhouse effect,
changing the balance of the Earth’s ecosystems.
Sustainable income from trees is becoming more
apparent, particularly in countries where deforestation rates are highest. In
Bangladesh, where fuel industry relies on 81% wood, the logging industry has been
encouraged to collect dead trees, wood waste and pruning rather than felling
increased sections of forest. This still allows for an income, whilst ensuring
trees remain part of the ecosystem. Furthermore, there has been a global effort
to move away from the use of wood entirely. Reusable energy, such as solar
power, makes up 26% of the global energy used and is expected to rise to 45% by
2045. Although this means the usage of trees in the economy will decline, it
allows for new income sources, such as eco-tourism that encourages more
environmentally aware holidays; for example, Samasati lodge, Costa Rica. The
lodge uses rainwater instead of transporting water through pipes; is built on
stilts rather than the ground as not to disrupt run-off water to rivers; and
blends in with surroundings to ensure not to disturb local wildlife in attempts
to make holidays more environmentally sustainable, whilst still taking economic
advantages of trees.
‘Money doesn’t grow on trees’. Well, since 2016 in
the UK, it hasn’t. Our bank note system changed from paper to plastic, showing
the progression from a society that once relied on a single produce, to a new, man-made
source. This well represents our economy today and our declining reliance on
trees: what was once the roots of our economy will soon become a thing of the
Teaching and learning Gem #43 – teacher and student collaborative experimentation – promoting student instinct, braveness and wider philosophical questions
Phoebe in the Art Department shares an activity in which students and teacher are all involved in a process of collaboration, making and responding. The activity makes teacher and student part of the same process, a democratising process and one which explores a fundamental philosophical question: what is the role of the artist, teacher and pupil. Who is the artist?
How it works:
Phoebe instigated a process of making and responding with the instruction ‘Respond to this piece. You have 5 minutes. When you are finished, give your response and a new canvas to the next person with these instructions’.
Phoebe provided the rules and parameters to stimulate production, yet each individual had the autonomy to intervene, influence and change the ‘chain of making’.
Phoebe’s own responses started and finished the process.
Neurodiversity considerations for this activity from Isabelle and Catherine
Encourage students to trust their gut instinct – a good explanation is key as you might get nervousness from students who might want to be perfectionists.
Benefits – Phoebe explains that:
The students found that the time limit forced them to work without thinking too much about it, allowing them to trust their instincts and be braver than if they had time to plan.
This was really beneficial at the start of year 12 where experimentation is vital for their development as artists.
It was also rewarding for them to see how their work could inspire each other.
Through group collaboration, we are exploring the role of the artist, the role of the teacher and the role of the pupil, raising the question: Who is the artist?
I want to repeat this activity in the coming weeks and see how much their work as grown and compare them with their initial responses.
Deputy Head Pastoral, Ben Turner, questions what role can schools play in tackling violence against women.
The killing of Sabina Nessa, a 28-year-old primary school teacher, has again brought the media spotlight onto how the government, and wider society, is protecting women and girls against violence. Six months on from Sarah Everard’s murder, questions are rightly being asked about whether women are any safer.
As we acknowledge the grief caused
by the loss of another young woman, we must also look at our continued work to
help safeguard young women in our own school community. While the spotlight has
focussed on other areas, Wimbledon High has been busy outlining the pillars of
the Wimbledon Charter. A set of principles around protecting young girls from
sexual assault and harassment, as well as taking a proactive, preventative
approach with both sexes in meaningful partnership with Kings College School,
Wimbledon, and other prospective partners.
The Charter seeks to outline the
key role every member of our and other school communities can play in
safeguarding young people, as we seek lasting change in the way that girls and
women are seen, recognising our role in wider society to protect and inform.
A safeguarding culture where
voices are heard and protected
The Everyone’s Invited movement
caused seismic shifts in the way that some institutions acted around reports of
sexual assault and harassment. In our own school we have asked hard questions
of how and when students are able to disclose what may have happened but also
how those voices have been protected. Fundamental to the Charter is the
acknowledgement that this is not solely a boys’ school issue. The importance of
specialist training for staff, but also an acknowledgement and protection of
peers, is essential in single and mixed sex institutions.
As a school we have taken some
definitive steps to ensure we continue to reflect an open and overt
safeguarding culture. The appointment of a Lead Counsellor, with a specialism
in sexual trauma, has been an important step. Making that role clear to
students and staff is equally important however and adding another ‘space’ that
girls can go has been vital. Building on the safeguarding update that all staff
receive, we will also seek to train at least four key pastoral staff as
specialists in sexual violence and harassment in partnership with Lime Culture,
which will be mirrored by KCS.
We must always ensure that we are
working in partnership with those agencies that can affect change beyond the
school gates. We are working closely with our Police Liaison, and other
partners in Merton, to ensure that the sharing of information around risk and
vulnerable students is always our first priority.
A proactive and synchronised
programme of Relationship & Sex Education
The time for tea is over, was a
line I wrote at the time of EI and the murder of Sarah Everard. I wrote it out
of frustration with the manner in which PSHE can often be forgotten or
diminished by teachers, and therefore schools, who are more focussed on the
scholastic integrity of their subject than paying credence to a curriculum
outside of their own department. Instead, schools have often deferred to
experts, experts who come in for thirty or forty minutes, finishing with the
notorious ‘cup of tea’ consent video, and ‘job done!’. The Charter is a call to
arms for all teachers, to recommit to the knowledge that discussion of these
topics, uncomfortable as they might be, is just as important, if not more so,
than the discussion of an historical text or Maths equation. Moreover, it is so
important that we have a candid conversation with ourselves, and our Year
Teams, as to what topics we are comfortable teaching, and how we need to be
supported in order to deliver the best RSE provision that our students deserve,
Even more important is the
knowledge that, through contextual safeguarding, we know that teens need to
learn about relationships and sex earlier. It is too late to be addressing
these issues at GCSE, when wider society and peer group are much more
influential to teens than their parents or their school. ‘Age appropriate’
needs to be rethought, and our long-term partners in the RAP Project, and It
Happens Education, are at the forefront of changing the landscape of
conversations within schools. Together we want to tackle such topics as dating,
partying, sexting, lad-culture & revenge porn. Teenagers are vulnerable to any
number of these issues, and we seek to empower them with the law, the power of
practicing discretion, mutual respect, and mutual consent.
This, however, is all very well
if we are not ensuring that the same conversations are happing with boys of the
same age. We are working with KCS, and other prospective partner schools, to
ensure that we are following a programme that is synchronised across year groups,
across schools, to ensure that teens are given the same information, earlier.
Meaningful and diverse
There are two crucial
partnerships that the Charter hopes to formalise. The first, recognises the vital
role that parents play, individually and collectively, in supporting what is
happening within schools. Parents face any number of individual challenges with
their teenagers, and as they age, we know that school and home are far less
influential than peers and wider society. Through parent consultation we know
that there is a great deal that can be done by giving all parents a set of
guidelines around parties, social time and curfews. We are believers in
‘elastic parenting’ and empowering teens to make decisions within clear boundaries.
Parents, however, need the support of schools, and most importantly, each
other, to ensure that they can put those boundaries in place, consistently.
The second partnership, and what
I believe is the long-term key to our education’s role in preventing violence
against women, is diverse and meaningful partnership between boys and girls. It
is essential that men see women as more than mothers and potential girlfriends.
Intellectual and social interaction, formalised across year groups is vital if
we are to change endemic attitudes. That is why the Charter is committed to
links like debating competitions for Year 10, leadership conferences for Sixth
Formers, and transition activities with Year 7.
So, what next?
We hope to launch the Charter
before Christmas and ensure that all steps have been taken, by both schools
before launch. We hope that when the media spotlight once again leaves this
issue, we will continue to be at the forefront of advocating for the safety and
protection of women and girls, and the Charter seems like a meaningful platform
to widen our fight.
Teaching and Learning Gem #41 – ‘Reflect’ check-in app in Microsoft Teams
Helen, Misha and Suzy trialled the new ‘Reflect’ app in Microsoft Teams with some of their classes this week. It allows teachers to ‘check-in’ easily with how students are feeling. We used it for academic purposes to encourage students to reflect on how they feel about their progress. Watch this video to find out more about it.
How it works
Once you have installed the app in Teams, you click on the ‘Reflect’ icon when you start a new conversation in the general channel.
You select a question from the drop-down list i.e. ‘How are you feeling about the material we covered today?’ or ‘How do you feel about your progress in this class?’ or ‘How do you feel about your last assignment.’ There are lots of options.
Students then select an emoji to represent their feeling.
They can further select from some adjectives i.e. ‘motivated’, ‘confident’, ‘ambitious’, ‘creative’, ‘happy’ etc.
You can set it so that only the teacher can see the responses (see below some screenshots from Helen for what the teacher sees):
It is super quick and easy to use for both teachers and students.
The student is encouraged to reflect.
It makes every student’s feelings visible to the teacher.
The teacher can monitor the whole class spread of feelings, as well as dig down into individuals.
The teacher can review the responses using Insights to see patterns across the class and to track students attitudes over time.
The teacher can then adapt teaching if necessary or arrange one-to-one meetings with any student of concern.
It can be an opportunity for students almost to give feedback to the teacher.
You can’t write your own question – you have to use one from the list (although the consistency in question does allow for tracking over time).
Students can’t add any further comments themselves (again, this keeps it quick and not onerous, but could be perceived as a drawback).
It is fairly broad-brush and definitely requires teachers to be proactive in digging into why a student might feel a certain way. It could be a good springboard into that discussion, though.
Director of Studies, Suzy Pett, discusses how the WHS English Department has started to decolonise the curriculum, including introducing a new A Level unit on postcolonial writers.
Rallying cries to decolonise the
curriculum have been building for a while now. It is one of the most important
conversations in education today and our recent alumnae have been vocal about it.
In a 2018 interview for Varsity magazine, Wimbledon High alumna, Mariam Abdel-Razek, speaks about her experience studying English at Cambridge. She says that, “sometimes it feels like I can’t be heard unless I’m shouting.” In 2020, recent alumna, Nida, set up Wimbledon High’s first POCSOC (People of Colour Society). However, she emphasises that discussions need to be built into the curriculum, otherwise the “the burden is placed on the students of colour in schools to lead the conversations.” And, in a 2020 podcast at Oxford University, alumna Afua Hirsch raises the need to “[disrupt] the racket of positioning anything non-European as alternate” as she discusses the role of the curriculum in structuring alternate worldviews and knowledges.
Alert to this vital dialogue and
convinced of the necessity to make change, the English Department at Wimbledon
High wanted to rethink the A Level course, among other elements of the
curriculum. Our new postcolonial coursework unit explores the writers Kiran
Desai and Derek Walcott. We are excited by the way our politically savvy
students will respond and the impact it might have for them both as readers and
citizens of the 21st century. The course carries with it weighty
concerns that couldn’t be more important to our lives today: politics of power;
societal alienation; belonging and dislocation;
migration; diaspora; and identity. These are a complex nexus of issues that
resonate for all of us in our lived experiences. This is a course that extends
far beyond the A Level classroom, and as English teachers, that fill us with excitement
and, to be honest, some nerves.
Our new course has been a year in the
making. So, how have we gone about it and what are the issues at the front of
our minds when teaching postcolonial literature?
Whilst we are referring to our unit as ‘postcolonial’, this
is a controversial term. Some suggest that it implies we have moved beyond
colonialism, when clearly this is far from the case. Keen to learn from other
educators, we set up a Zoom call with teachers in US. We heard it was for this
reason that they had renamed their course ‘de-colonial literature.’ However, for us this is equally problematic.
It seeks to politicise texts by non-white authors by positioning them as ‘writing
back’ against colonial oppression. It risks distracting from the other
aesthetic or experimental modes important to an author. Certainly, this was the
view expressed by the brilliant writer Irenosen Okojie, who spoke candidly to our Year 12s and 13s last
year about her experience as a black author. Alumna, Nida Ahmed, also suggested
that the term ‘postcolonial’ risks singling out these groups of writers,
signalling that they are ‘alternate’ to ‘official’ literature. Of course, these
debates are all useful to have with our students. We are using ‘postcolonial’ not to imply that
colonialism is a ‘completed’ act of the past. Nor does it suggest that the only
intention of this literature and our reading of it is socio-political
our own default settings: Unpacking
our own ‘ways of reading’ the world/texts
As John McLeod writes, “the act of reading in postcolonial contexts is
by no means a neutral activity. How we read is just as important as what we
As individuals, we need to unpack how we are approaching the texts. If you think you are approaching the texts
from a ‘neutral’ perspective, then you are aligned with the dominant white
culture. This approach to literature maps onto our approach to ‘reading’ our world.
Understanding our ‘default settings’ to texts and life is important, and so
revisiting our own identities throughout the course is essential if our reading
practices “are to contribute to the contestation of colonial discourses.”
intellectualising lived experiences
interested to read the article of Edinburgh lecturer, Michelle Keown, who works
in a similar socio-economic environment to Wimbledon High. She warns that in a
predominantly white context, reading about other cultures could become “a
form of intellectual or cultural tourism.” The risk is that students use
the texts “to learn more about other cultures, which bespeaks
well-meaning, liberal sentiments, but also the highly problematic assumption
that one can gain knowledge of a culture by reading [fiction].”
To avoid this, we will be asking students to actively engage self-reflexively
with the complex racial problems seen in the texts: How do those social
problems manifest within their own circle of social connections? Students need
to engage with their immediate contexts. We do not want to “tinker around
the edges” in our teaching of postcolonial fiction with students
“[failing] to really connect with racism as something that impacts them.”
For us, it is important in our reading of postcolonial fiction that, through
self-reflexive thought and criticism, the social problems are relocated from
“over there” to “here”.
The power of this course is undeniable.
It involves a radical rethinking of our teaching practices and raises
far-reaching questions about what it means to ‘read’ English literature. We’re
intending to be bold and disruptive. In self-consciously re-examining how we ‘read’
literature, we are re-examining how we ‘read’ the world. By understanding the complex
relationship between text-reader-author, we can similarly hope to better
understand the complexities of our lived relationships.
Chan, ‘Rethinking the canon: the burdens of representation’. Varsity, 16
November 2018, https://www.varsity.co.uk/features/16578
How does a curriculum introduce and structure alternate worldviews and
knowledges? [online podcast initially held at TORCH], University of Oxford
Podcasts, February 2019, http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/discussion-how-does-curriculum-introduce-and-structure-alternate-worldviews-and-knowledges
McLeod, Beginning Postcolonialism, Manchester University Press, 2000, p.
Cara H, Editor of Unconquered Peaks, looks at the key reasons that led David Cameron to hold the 2016 EU referendum.
In this essay I focus on the factors which led to the 2016 Referendum being held, rather than the result. David Cameron called the 2016 EU Referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) in 2015, giving the British public the right to decide whether their future would be in or out of the EU. They chose to leave the EU by a margin of 51.9% leave, versus 48.1% remain. The UK-EU relationship has always been complicated and fraught, ever since joining in 1973. Factors analysed are ‘important’ as they led to Euroscepticism in British politics or the British public, and/or led to political pressure on Cameron to hold a referendum on EU membership.
I argue that the UK’s historic
relationship with the EU contrasts sharply with their current aims. As for
immigration, general anti-immigration sentiment, and the rise of UKIP (which are
very much linked) strongly contributed to Euroscepticism and political pressure
on Cameron. I also touch on Cameron himself, and his decision making around quelling
A transactional vs political
always viewed the EU differently to our European friends. Whilst most of Europe
see themselves as European, Britons are the least likely to have Europe form
part of their identity (see graph below), and do not have the same allegiance
to Europe in comparisons to the German or French. Instead, we view our
relationship with the EU as transactional, through a cost-benefit, economic
analysis. This can be clearly traced back to our original reasons for joining.
In the late
1950s, Britain was experiencing a post-war economic rut, while Germany and
France were experiencing strong growth. Britain’s spheres of influence were
declining, and trade with the USA and Commonwealth had decreased. This led to
the belief that joining the bloc might remedy the UK’s economic problems.
Macmillan, the UK Prime Minister at the time, “saw the European Community
as an economic panacea… here was a way in which the British economy could
overcome so many of its problems without resorting to a radical and painful
domestic economic overhaul” (Holmes, n.d.) This analysis of
Britain’s reasons for joining contrasts sharply with the EU’s increasingly
political aims. Though Britain arguably shares the aims of the European Project,
it does not share the same desire to become one with Europe and is interested
in the EU only economically. Having joined the EU for economic reasons, and later
being faced with political integration, increased tensions.
tensions between an economic, free trade-based union and a political
integratory one, have been the backdrop of the UK’s interactions with the EU.
For example, the Eurozone Crisis in the UK especially damaged views towards
Europe, not simply because of what happened, but because the ‘cost’ of
remaining a member became highlighted. The heightened tensions within the
political establishments of the UK and the EU have seeped into the general
public psyche. Therefore, the dual nature of the EU as a trade-bloc and a
political union had a negative impact on the UK’s relationship with the EU, by
increasing Euroscepticism, and in turn increasing political pressure on Cameron
to hold a referendum in 2016.
Immigration concerns conflated
movement is enshrined in the EU’s ‘DNA’. As stated in 1957 in the Treaty of
Rome, it can be defined as ‘EU nationals having the right to move freely within
the European Union and to enter and reside in any EU member state’ (Bundesministeriums des Innern, 2015). Non-EU immigration
levels have always been higher than EU immigration levels. Meaning that the
argument around freedom of movement as a cause of unsustainable immigration has
been greatly exaggerated. It is the perception of EU immigration that has
stuck; the EU became synonymous with immigration of any kind, whether this is misguided
level of non-EU and EU immigration put pressure on aspects of British culture
which are not so open to those perceived as ‘non-British’. Integration is often
difficult for those of a different culture. For example, differences in
language, traditions and skills, can lead to those with a strong sense of British
national identity perceiving immigrants negatively, as they threaten what some
see as British culture. And yet this immigration concern is incorrectly conflated
with the EU, as the majority of immigration to the UK has little to do with the
European Union (though one could also argue that all British anti-immigration
sentiment is largely unfounded, regardless of the place of origin). An
excellent paper by Chatham House presents a cross analysis of people’s voting
choices (leave vs remain), compared to their attitudes towards immigration
(both non-EU and EU). The trait that most divided the ‘leavers’ from the ‘remainers’
was their attitudes towards immigration and British culture: nearly ¾ of
‘outers’ agreed that ‘Immigration undermines British culture”.
Therefore, this cultural negativity towards immigration manifests itself in many ways, one of which is opposition to the EU, through the conflation of (any) immigration with EU membership. One of the EU’s most sacred principles is freedom of movement, and the growing number of immigrants since the UK’s membership of the EU has only increased this Euroscepticism, which increased the likelihood of EU-UK referendum.
UKIP’s sudden rise
founded in 1991 and can be categorised as a single-issue party, with the sole
aim of bringing the UK out of the EU, via a referendum. Once Nigel Farage
became leader of UKIP in 2006, it grew in popularity, with gains in the 2013
local elections (22% of the vote), two Conservative Party defections to UKIP in
2013, and impressive results in both the 2014 European Parliament elections
(largest number of seats with 24) and the 2015 General Election (12.5% of the
popular vote). They were most certainly on the up.
led to Cameron’s electoral position becoming increasingly threatened: UKIP is a
right-wing party, whose voters were more likely to be white and older than that
of Labour’s electorate. Therefore, UKIP was able to split the Conservative vote
(Martill, 2018). In 2014, UKIP managed to gain over a
quarter of votes in European Parliament elections, outnumbering the
Conservatives. Understandably, this was a clear threat to the Conservative
Party at the time. Though support for UKIP was clearly influenced by other
factors, (i.e factors that pushed voters towards UKIP), UKIP managed to harness
Euroscepticism in the general public, and transform this into meaningful
political pressure on David Cameron to hold a referendum. The nature of UKIP’s
rise – sudden, large, and at a time when the Conservatives did not have a
majority (pre-2015 General Election), was a very important factor in leading to
the referendum. Arguably, UKIP’s pressure on Cameron led him to hold an
election, lest he lose public and potentially party support, and inevitably, a
general election. Therefore, due to the rise of UKIP, a party based on support
for a referendum on the EU, Cameron was incentivised to put a referendum
promise in his party’s manifesto in 2015 and hold one in 2016, in order to keep
his Conservative Government in office.
for a quick fix
Minister is by far the main source of authority over whether to hold a
referendum or not, so analysing Cameron is important in answering this essay’s
question. Cameron’s decision around party management was an impactful factor in
leading to the 2016 EU Referendum.
of a referendum can be seen as a ‘quick fix’ method of appeasement to the
Eurosceptic backbenchers. As is clear from the rise of the Conservative
Eurosceptic faction, heightened tensions were forming in the Conservative Party
from 2013 onwards, and this threatened the Party’s ability to govern. Hence,
Cameron felt compelled to manage his party over Europe, by delegating the
decision to the public. When the referendum was initially promised in June
2013, Cameron was concerned with stopping the backbenchers rebelling in the
coalition. He wanted to silence the Eurosceptic wing of the party that had
caused so much trouble for the party over the years; an ‘easy fix’ to a
longstanding problem (Martill, 2018). A comment that encapsulates this, is
from Donald Tusk (former President of the European Council), recounting his
meeting with Cameron after the referendum was announced in 2013:
“Why did you decide on this referendum, [Tusk recounts asking Cameron this] – it’s so dangerous, even stupid, you know, and he told me – and I was really amazed and even shocked – that the only reason was his own party… [He told me] he felt really safe, because he thought at the same time that there’s no risk of a referendum, because his coalition partner, the Liberals, would block this idea of a referendum” (BBC, 2019).
party management was very influential in Cameron’s decision-making. Therefore,
the decision desire to repair the divide in his party, was hugely impactful in
leading to the 2016 EU Referendum.
conclusion, the nature of our relationship with the EU, immigration sentiment, UKIP
and Cameron’s decision making were the most important factors in leading to the
EU Referendum. Especially impactful was UKIP’s ability to harness
Euroscepticism into political pressure. But arguably, the end of our EU
membership was spelt out from the beginning.
BBC, 2019. Inside Europe: Ten
Years of Turmoil. [Online]
Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0c1rjj7
[Accessed 29 06 2021].
des Innern, f. B. u. H. B., 2015. Freedom of movement. [Online]
Available at: https://www.bmi.bund.de/EN/topics/migration/law-on-foreigners/freedom-of-movement/freedom-of-movement-node.html
[Accessed 29 06 2021].
House, 2015. Britain, the European Union and the Referendum: What Drives
Available at: https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/publications/research/20151209EuroscepticismGoodwinMilazzo.pdf
[Accessed 9 20 2021].
2015. National versus European identification, s.l.: s.n.
M., n.d. The Conservative Party and Europe. [Online]
Available at: https://www.brugesgroup.com/media-centre/papers/8-papers/807-the-conservative-party-and-europe
[Accessed 9 20 2021].
B., 2018. Brexit and Beyond: Rethinking the Futures of Europe. London:
This comes from Jess in our Geography department, who shared the idea in a WHS TeachMeet last year. It’s great for getting students out of their seats and learning from each other. Now that restrictions have been lifted, embrace the freedom and see if this idea could be adapted for your subject.
What is Quiz Quiz Trade?
The teacher gives each student a question and the pupil writes the answer on the other side. Alternatively, the pupil can write their own question.
Once this has been completed the students pair up and they then ask each other their question (Quiz Quiz).
Once the questions have been answered correctly, the pupils then swap questions (Trade), find a new partner to repeat the process.
Neurodiversity considerations for this activity from Isabelle and Catherine
1. Allow and encourage a pause before students answer…this is not about speed!
2. This sort of activity might be trickier for autistic students. Allow students to hold up/show the question rather than ask it, and allow answers to be written on mini whiteboards. Alternatively they might prefer to sit this out and answer the questions on paper individually.
You can use Quiz Quiz Trade at any point in a lesson:
Before introducing new material to tap into prior knowledge
After a unit to review terms/case study material/languages vocab/maths symbols and equations
Before pupils begin a written task, such as an essay to gather ideas or understand processes
Quiz Quiz Trade is good in the classroom because:
It is brilliant for retrieval practice, strengthening memory by recalling information from long term memory and putting it in their working memory.
Students are working with peers and building confidence: It encourages co-operative learning and engagement.
It is based on low stakes quizzing, allowing students to get things wrong and get immediate feedback from their peers in a non-threatening way.
Examples of how Jess used this activity:
When I did it, I used it as revision for case study material. This then fed into some case study exam questions to consolidate their learning. Exampled below.
Clare Duncan, Deputy Head Academic, looks at the impact sharing passion for your subject can have on learning outcomes and STEAM.
‘Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire’ W.B Yeats
that most, if not every, teacher came into the profession, not because they had
a love of assessment and report writing, but because they had a passion for
something – whether that be the writing of W.B. Yeats or, in my case,
the beauty of the Fibonacci sequence. I find it fascinating
that such a simple recurrence sequence, where each subsequent number is
the sum of the previous two numbers, is found so often
in the natural world. The sunflower seed formation – from
the centre outwards, of 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13… and so on –
is one such stunning example.
educators, we have the envious position of having a captive audience on whom to
unleash our enthusiasms. As teachers we are always reflecting, always
thinking of ways not just to impart knowledge but also to spark pupils’
interest in our subject. By demonstrating passion and curiosity ourselves
we allow pupils to do the same – surely a worthy aim in itself, particularly
if we want them to become lifelong learners.
more than this, students modelling your behaviour can assist them in their next
steps. It’s clear that the university applications that achieve the greatest
success are those in which students demonstrate their deep enthusiasm for the
subject, whether through their personal statement or at interview. In a recent Telegraph
article about the application process, Peter Claus, the new access fellow for
Oxford, discussed this idea:
we’re crazy about our subjects as tutors – so we look for people of equal
fervour. Demonstrating independent intellectual fervour around your subject is
much more important than any Duke of Edinburgh awards. We need to see that
students have gone above and beyond and are aware of the culture of
own Sixth Form Review reinforces that what teachers say and how they say it is
hugely important, particularly in terms of the expertise and interest
they themselves demonstrate. One student commented:
‘(it’s) impressive when teachers know their stuff‘ and described
taking the time after such a lesson to ‘let things sink in’.
tips for teachers to think about would be to:
passion to your students. By showing your excitement you may ignite it in them.
Find resources that
fuel your passion and allow you
to show them what excites you about your subject. (For me one such example is
the BBC’s More or Less1 where
the presenter explains – and sometimes debunks – the numbers and statistics
used in political debate, the news and everyday life.)
underestimate the power of interdisciplinary learning. It is at the heart of our STEAM+ agenda. The best way to
help reinforce a student’s passion is to show them that it can be applied to, and enriched
by, multiple subjects.
why is instilling passion in students important? Here are words of Sara
‘When students are passionately engaged in their learning – when
they are mesmerized by their learning environment or activities – there are
myriad responses in their brains making connections and building schema that
simply would not occur without that passion or emotion.’ 2
what will I be adding to my lesson plans this Autumn? The Year 13 Further Maths
students will be introduced to the beauty of the catenary curve
and how it can be modelled in using hyperbolic functions.