HOW TO STOP CHILDREN SWITCHING OFF & BECOMING ‘ZOMBIE STUDENTS’
‘Zombie students’ usually make an appearance among older teens but the seeds of their condition are sown much earlier, so how can we stop children zoning out on their earlier years?
Year after year, the enormous pressure on schools to deliver exam results continues to grow. With secondary schools putting such effort into guiding their older pupils through formal exams, children in the earlier years can easily be neglected.
In what Ofsted has referred to as ‘the wasted years’, children who aren’t properly stimulated can start to ‘zone out’. Present in body but not in mind, they effectively become ‘zombie’ students.
This is especially true of middle-class youngsters in Years 8 and 9, who cause no trouble and win no prizes. They are perfectly capable of coping academically but they respond to a lack of stimulation by silently switching off. And it is precisely because they are generally compliant and not rebellious that they are often overlooked.
The typical zombie student is bright but disengaged. They turn up to lessons and quietly obey instruction, but leave with little more than lifted boredom. They do just enough work to get through each school day and stay under the radar.
That, of course, is the problem. It’s easy for schools to ignore them. Zombie students usually make an appearance among older teens but the seeds of their condition are sown much earlier. The huge expectation on schools to perform well in exams means heads are often most concerned with investing their best assets at GCSE and A-Level. So what can schools do to prevent a zombie takeover and stop their younger children switching off?
The key is to engage youngsters from the start and to sustain that enthusiasm. Schools have to offer them a broad, creative and stimulating curriculum early on
‘The key is to engage youngsters from the start and to sustain that enthusiasm,’ says Jonathan Taylor, Head Teacher at Islington’s North Bridge House Canonbury Senior and Sixth Form. ‘Schools have to offer them a broad, creative and stimulating curriculum early on – they can’t leave the best teaching for the exam years or let the naughty and talented grab all the attention.
‘If teachers can prevent children “zoning out” and drifting off in Years 8 and 9, they will have a much better chance of engaging them in Years 10 and 11.’
North Bridge House Canonbury, rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted, takes an active approach to understanding teens and what makes them tick. The school aims to prevent children ‘zoning out’ in Years 8 and 9, sustaining enthusiasm through a broad and stimulating curriculum. Teachers tailor the curriculum to engage each and every pupil, not just the particularly receptive or talented, or those preparing for exams.
‘Years 8 and 9 are the key to our impressive value-added score,’ continues My Taylor. ‘This is the time during which we aim to advance students’ learning and instil confidence in their ability. So when students reach their exam years, they do not suddenly find the curriculum daunting but perform even better than expected.’
North Bridge House Canonbury is proven to add value to pupils’ academic progress, with a student typically expected to achieve BBB at A-Level actually gaining ABB after joining the school.
As such, Mr Taylor believes it’s crucial for schools to aim for those all-important exam results in the early years of secondary education, using strong and capable teachers rather than dedicating them to the older children.
get the magazine
Insights, features and interviews from Britains best independent and boarding schools.