I’ve recently, after more than 10 years, begun swimming regularly again- y’know- the kind of thing you do for yourself. I think some people call it ‘me time’, others might call it ‘life.’

It provides some seriously important time out for reflection and there’s nowt like water to give you that!

So- it wasn’t too long before my mind inevitably turned to education once more. At most of the sessions I go to, the pool is split into lanes: fast, medium and slow. Basically super-fit, getting fit and the most unfit people you can think of. I went in the slow lane. It has been more than 10 years and I was going for the relaxation benefit not the burning of calories.

After a couple of sessions, it became apparent that I was having to practically tread water so that I didn’t bash into the person in front of me. I glanced over at the middle lane repeatedly:

Could I?

What would be the worst thing to happen?

How fast is he going?

How many people are there in that lane?

Could I really do that?

And so my 30 minutes of coasting along at a snail’s pace was over and I was frustrated. I hadn’t relaxed and it seems I had greater expectations of myself than I’d thought. Well, this was inconvenient.

The next early morning session, I jumped into the next lane. I caned it up and down, up and down until I thought my arms might fall off and as I climbed out, my jelly legs could barely hold me up. Had I relaxed? Not a jot! The athlete wannabes around me may as well have been tremendously hungry sharks! I was so focused on not slowing them down that I’d not achieved my aim of relaxing.

In the next session, I went back to my old and slow but frustrated ways and I wished there were a mid-middle-speed lane.

After two months off, I’m now back in the slow lane and I know I’m going to hit the same barrier soon.

It made me think about setting at schools. The high flyers are able to fly high with no-one standing in their way. The middle sets are such a mix of abilities that no-one feels comfortable and the bottom set are made to feel slow at every turn because there’s always someone going that little bit slower than you; meaning you make even less progress.

On a Monday evening, it’s a general swim session rather than a lanes session. When I got into the water on Monday, it was pure bliss. I sailed up and down at my own pace and felt I might like swimming again after all. And then things got bad…

Two young men got in but appeared to want to stand at the shallow end and chat rather than swim. More people arrived and I started having to weave up and down and calculate my route back down the other end for least disturbance.

And then things got worse…

Two women got in and for some unknown reason started to kick up and down making as much splash as they could before bursting into raucous laughter. And I mean women- not children. Maybe this was called fun but I’m not one for fun that involves me attempting to relax and being smashed by waves of water from all directions. Yes, I really am that boring, sensible, intolerant and unsociable (with my more tolerant hat on, I can see that it was probably loads of fun and a great way to relax but joining them would have been, well…weird!)

You can surely imagine the scenario: a mixed ability class with too many learners in it; some lazing around and others more overtly creating disruption. Each individual has the choice whether to carry on wading through the distractions or surrender and join in because it increasingly looks like good fun and a less stressful option. All of this, whilst the high ability swimmers in the under-populated lane are swimming along rather happily.

What a world we’d have if our education system, and our swimming pools, could provide opportunities for learners to move at their own pace? Not so much that they never felt the challenge to move it up a notch and not so beyond their natural pace that they burnout completely. I feel like project based learning holds a lot of the answers to this and I absolutely think George Pilhower’s innovations might hold a lot of what our education system needs.

Anyway. I don’t have an actual clue what the answer to this is. I hope you weren’t expecting this. I am terribly sorry I don’t have a more satisfying conclusion for you, it was just an observation I’d made and wanted to share. Thanks for reading though!

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