Lessons from #SchoolSwap by @Mroberts90Matt

So I have just watched BBC’s School Swap: Korea Style and of course there was a lot to pick out from it. I think the report was decent – pretty obvious conclusions were made: South Korea could do with giving their students a break (children helplessly dropping off to sleep, suicide rates in 10-30 year olds and so on) and Wales (but let’s be honest, the UK) could do with toughening up their learners to build more stamina in their education. The wrapping up of the report I felt was the most disappointing – yes ok, we need to learn from South Korea, so what are those things? Well, here are some things that I picked up:

1: Respect of the authority of the teacher
This is an issue in the schools across the UK. Admittedly there is more of an issue generally in secondary education, however it is becoming a more widespread in primary education also. In fact:

A survey for the ATL teachers’ union of 1,250 teachers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland reports that:

  • 40% of teachers have experienced at least one incidence of violence from pupils in the past year.
  • Of those, 77% said they had been pushed, and around half were kicked or had an object thrown at them.
  • 90% had dealt with challenging behaviour, such as swearing or shouting, in the past year.
  • 45% feel that pupil behaviour has worsened over the past two years

These are concerning figures. Change has to occur. In the programme it was clear the children in Korea had the upmost respect for their teachers. This was evident in the way they engaged with the lessons (which, incidentally, if there had been bad behaviour present would have been branded as ‘boring and led to the poor behaviour’) and the celebrity status of the shown teacher (although I thought that was bizarre).Whilst I am sure that in the whole country of South Korea there are some schools with behaviour issues, it seems the general consensus is one of the utmost respect for the authority of the teacher. This has a major impact on learning as behaviour will generally improve as respect for the teacher heightens. Of course, not all behaviour issues will be eliminated but it will go a long way. 

2: Crack down on behaviour

If three teenagers go to another country and say that they think rules should be enforced better back home in their education system, we all need to sit up and listen. However, something isn’t right…our country knows this. The DfE published a document in January 2016 concerning behaviour. In this document it says:

“When poor behaviour is identified, sanctions should be implemented consistently and fairly in line with the behaviour policy.”

Behaviour is identified in our government’s policies and is set as a clear expectation within all schools. So why the issue? I won’t pretend to understand why – maybe it links to the previous point on respect, maybe it is the attitude of the general population of parents, maybe it’s a lack in consistency in the managing of behaviour. For whatever reason, behaviour is an issue in UK schools. Despite the number of schools receiving Good or Outstanding in their ‘Behaviour’ category in Ofsted reports, it is something that must improve if the UK is to progress in it’s learning generally.

3: After-school learning

In Primary education we can look to most schools and see a lot of after-school activity. What is the majority of them? Speaking from my personal experience Sports and the Arts. It is rare you see a Maths Club (although it does happen). In South Korea they have ‘hagwons’ where children go after school and engage in more focused learning. This would be positive. What are the problems? Money. Who will provide, where will the funding come from in an already stretched budget. Prevalent culture. How many are really going to accept that without a problem?

These are a few things picked out – however somethings really stood out that highlighted some areas that we are doing…better in.

Broad and Balanced Curriculum

Now – I know that in our education system it is sometimes difficult (particularly being a Year 6 teacher) to offer a broad and balanced curriculum – although we do just about manage it! There is a reason why Team GB have been progressively getting better and better at the Olympics for example. We are showing some ability to raise sporting and creative talent. Not that I am saying we are the best in the world – but we are excelling further than South Korea are.

Wellbeing (to some degree)

Again, this is not a statement saying that in the UK we produce able learners who have good wellbeing. There are still things to work on, particularly in physical fitness across the general population. However, the segment in the program about young suicide rates in South Korea was an eye-opener. We still have some way to go, however I am pleased to know that my children will have the opportunity to enjoy some childhood (…maybe until they sit the GPS Test in Year 2)…


Able Training (2016): http://www.able-training.co.uk/2016/01/challenging-behaviour-and-aggression-in-schools/


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