TeacherToolkit founder Ross McGill discusses issues around energy and consumption in the curriculum
Why is it important that children are engaged with energy usage and consumption?
Our national curriculum is already a challenge for many schools, with requirements imposed on schools to also offer an English Baccalaureate offer to all its students.
I suspect adding further content into an education landscape that is already congested, brimming with a desirable knowledge and skills our pupils must learn, would be one squeeze too far and be counterproductive.
But what if we all had one wish? What if we could step back in time to our childhood and rewind our school years to a point in time where we could be re-taught the things in life we really needed to know. You know, the essentials in life; that knowledge and range of skills that we’ll use time and time again. What would yours be?
If we added something else to the curriculum, not only does that raise the issue of what should it be, but we must also ask ‘in replace of, or instead of what?’
If I could have one topic I wish I had been taught at school, it would have been financial management. I really needed financial support throughout my 20s and 30s, and garnering this knowledge and financial skillset would have helped me manage cash flow, utility bills and budgeting much earlier on in my life.
World Teacher’s Day
On 5th October 2017, it is World Teachers’ Day. Designed to commemorate teachers and organisations worldwide; to raise the profile of education and the inspiring work teachers do to ensure that the needs of future generations will be met.
So, who better to introduce interesting content into the curriculum? Well, an inspiring and hard-working teacher of course, but First Utility offer a fresh approach to multi-utilities; to make the management of bills straightforward, painless and value for money for everyone. Their goals are simple; to support the running of your home (managing energy, broadband and home-services).
This knowledge is something I would have benefited from when leaving home at 19 years old. Not only are First Utility the largest independent energy provider in the country, they have saved customers over £500m in cheaper energy bills, and along the way, empower customers to make informed decisions about their energy use – something only touched upon in the general science curriculum and personal development lessons throughout school.
Current misgivings on energy usage and consumption education
With the current requirements for schools to teach to the test and ‘get through’ the curriculum, it can be too easy for schools and their teachers to ignore other topics that are not part of the required curriculum.
At present, energy consumption is covered in subjects such as business studies, design technology, geography and science throughout the early years of secondary school, leading to much more in-depth analysis of these topics towards examination level. As a result, misconceptions are unresolved and students - with the option of not selecting these subjects to study at GCSE level - can leave school with very little knowledge about energy use and financial management at just 14 years old.
For example, according to provisional summer 2017 exam entries published1 by Ofqual (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) who act as a non-ministerial government department that regulates qualifications, exams and tests in England, GCSE entries for 16-year olds who studied geography, rose from 227,750 (2016) to 231,450 (2017).
According to the National Office of Statistics, in 2017 there were 8,669,0852 pupils registered in all schools across England. One tenth of these students sit examinations every summer and therefore, each year, there are over 5,000,000 individual examinations attempted by 16 years olds. English, maths and science accumulate 1.7 million of these entries alone. For Geography, this would be an even smaller percentage of entries from the overall population.
So, what does this all mean? Well, in layman terms, we have hundreds of thousands of teenagers who are not studying Geography; more specifically, leaving school without detailed knowledge and understanding of energy conservation and consumption. As a result, knowledge surrounding utilities, the science of energy and how to manage usage in everyday life, is something left to enrichment days, where guest speakers may introduce these topics.
But, if you are one of those people, who like me, left school with very little awareness about the power and dangers of financial management, or how to control and manage energy bills and consumption in the home; what can we do to address one of the many life skills our students leave school without?
How do we engage kids in a seemingly boring life skills topic?
Is it possible?
Well, it’s a complicated ask and there is no ideal solution. With our current government focus on qualifications as the passport students need to be able to take the next step onto college, or into the place of work, our school curriculum is aimed to teach pupils to pass exams rather than equip them with the life skills they really need. It should be said that our teachers are doing a sterling job teaching pupils vital information about well-thought through curriculums and specifications in a wide range of qualifications, envied by much of the world. But, at what cost?
We have pupils who can leave school and regurgitate knowledge for an examination, but many who are unable to manage their income, expenditure and importantly, their home utility bills.
According to the Money Advice Service3, across the UK, approximately 8.8 million people are over-indebted. That’s 18% of our population, with 74% of those claiming they are "unhappy". Today, well-known financial advisors4 report “seven out of ten adults have average debts of £6,372.”
Perhaps our schools need to be more geared towards educating youngsters to lead more thoughtful and considered lives. That way, the transition from school to work wouldn’t be such a shock.
How do we engage kids in a seemingly boring life skills topic?
So, how could a teacher engage their pupils in a subject, such as managing their utility bills, and make it relevant and meaningful? The moment any teacher fails to connect a topic with its audience, and engage them, the lesson is already destined to fail. Research5 suggests that the 12 principles of effective teaching require:
- Teachers' knowledge of the subject matter is essential to the implementation of important teaching tasks
- Active involvement of the learner enhances learning - teachers must know how to make any topic engaging
- Interaction between teachers and students is the most important factor in student motivation and involvement
- Students benefit from taking responsibility for their learning
- There are many roads to learning - one size does not fit all
- If teachers expect more, students will achieve more
- Learning is enhanced in an atmosphere of cooperation
- Material must be meaningful and suitable for groups of learners
- Both teaching and learning are enhanced by descriptive feedback - that it is a continuous loop
- Critical feedback is only useful if the learner has alternatives to pursue
- Time plus energy equals learning - students need to work hard
- Teacher experience usually improves the quality of teaching
Good teachers the world over, make learning relevant and applicable to students. The above is a mere glimmer into the complex world of classrooms.
Ross McGill; What Do I Do?
I am an experienced teacher and former school leader who is one of the most followed educators on social media in the U.K. I have worked in some of the most challenging schools in London over the past three decades. Throughout my school leadership, I have been responsible for improving quality of teaching and learning and have a national profile as a leading contributor and organiser of professional development within a growing community of education professionals.
I have received nominations for teaching, blogging and as an author – most recently the Times 500, listed as one of the most influential people in Britain and the only classroom teacher to have featured to this day. I am frequently asked to speak at national conferences and asked to reflect on educational developments in various newspapers, radio and online medium about education policy.