Let’s Try to Talk About Genes (again)

John Mountford's picture
 2

Hold on to your hats! It’s that thorny subject, rearing its ‘timely’ head again. Roger Titcombe and I are busy trying to convince others that cognitive ability is something we need to look square in the face. This is proving to be difficult. I have written at length to several renowned professors, some even claiming to champion debate about our genes and how they relate to learning and teaching - the result is a stunning silence. Well, if the honourable professors won’t take it on (maybe their sponsors won’t be happy), let’s see if there are practicing educationalists willing to push the boat out.

 

Our secondary school are relying increasingly on the application of CATs in Yr7 because they have difficulty setting Progress and Attainment 8 targets for their students on the basis of the SATs results awarded only a few short months earlier. It would appear from this practice that they have no difficulty with cognitive ability per se. I conclude this because they’re using them at great cost to supplement the information they feel they can rely on. As we all know, CATs measure cognitive ability and have historically been a reasonable proxy for general intelligence, as opposed to the rather meaningless results obtained from SATs. So what is cognitive ability and how can it help make kids smarter and not simply pass the test?

 

Decades of research have revealed that there are education related genetic variants (ERGV for short). The fact is, as much as some are reluctant to be drawn into this debate for fear that some will argue that genes determine outcomes we still need to go there.  The study of genes tells us an increasing amount about child development. Evidence shows that just as for other traits, there are genes for educational attainment. These genes contribute to development from the outset and go on to exert an influence throughout our lives in a very close association with the environment - step forward educators. Let’s, however, be clear: they do not determine what happens, rather they offer potential development opportunities. With the best teaching in the world, I was never destined to become a concert pianist. On the other hand, if we were ever able to map the genes that contribute to intelligence, we need to be willing to use that information for the benefit of the individual just as we are already doing in medicine.

 

Enter ERGV’s. We all carry these gene variants, some more than others. Children who have been identified as possessing more of them learn to speak at an earlier age and later develop reading skills more rapidly. What is interesting from this research is that, unsurprisingly, ERGV’s do not favour children from any particular social background. Researchers are looking at ways to use this information to develop effective teaching strategies to intervene where needed to help children reach their maximum development. What can never happen is what we are unendingly being told we have to do now, to manufacture equality of opportunity to produce homogeneous attainment outcomes. We are ALL different. Different is good, but we need to understand it and work with it rather than against.

 

Teaching that targets cognitive growth relies on an understanding of human development. Our genes are a vital part of that story and we have ignored this fact for far too long. Time to grow up and take responsibility for aiming to make everyone more intelligent through a recognition that environment matters.

Share on Twitter

Comments

agov's picture
Wed, 23/05/2018 - 15:46

"the result is a stunning silence"

You're surprised? Ever hear of what happened to Jensen?

"Our secondary school are relying increasingly on the application of CATs in Yr7 because they have difficulty setting Progress and Attainment 8 targets for their students on the basis of the SATs results awarded only a few short months earlier."

Alternatively, they (very sensibly) want to establish their own baseline so they can refer to it when Ofsted comes calling, as Ofsted pretends to take notice of a schools own assessments (- as if it ever does!). It is true that secondary schools were tending to do that anyway for educational reasons but the current impetus comes from the new subjection of secondary schools to the same sort of Ofsted treatment junior schools have been on the receiving end of for years. Progress 8 will still be judged relative to SATS.

"I was never destined to become a concert pianist"

Thereby asserting that not all are equal in all things (except perhaps whites, who are naturally really evil unlike everyone else) and that you are therefore a thought criminal.

"What can never happen is what we are unendingly being told we have to do now, to manufacture equality of opportunity to produce homogeneous attainment outcomes."

Don't tell the fascist Left (or Labour Party, as it now effectively is). The hundreds of police dedicated to looking for any thought criminals saying hurty things will come get you.

"Time to grow up"

No it isn't. Nowhere near it.


John Mountford's picture
Wed, 23/05/2018 - 22:28

The 'stunning silence' is no surprise to me: it is a disappointment. We have to agree to disagree, I'm afraid, agov. I believe it is time to grow up. Fear of dissent is a lame excuse for not tackling 'hard' issues. Certainly, however, you are correct, Progress 8 will indeed be judged in relatioin to SATs. However, that will only be for as long as these two measures remain in fashion.  Every dog has its day, as we all know.

That secondary schools may now be facing the wrath of Ofsted, as you say junior schools have been for years, may indeed be true. It may not have been the case then that the teaching bodies stood together, but times are changing and maybe this time around there will be a concerted effort to stand up and be counted. However, what's important is that children are missing out on the kind of teaching and learning that can best prepare them for the future. That's what we have to work towards and it may well require thinking the unthinkable. Understanding how our genes contribute is too important to pass on because we find it a difficult subject.

As for  Ofsted, it's another of that breed of canine wonder whose day will come!!


Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.