Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The decine in social mobility- The culpability of the state

A report on social mobility recently stated that social mobility is not only decreasing, but also that the gap between rich and poor is becoming greater. A panel of independent experts, led by former minister Alan Milburn, suggested that doctors and lawyers who are in their late 30s today are of more affluent provenance than their colleagues in the 1950s. Strikingly, the report suggests that social mobility opportunities are not diminished only for the working class, but the middle classes are now beginning to suffer from the concentration of privilege.
For many of us who work in state education this unintended consequence is hardly surprising. Ignoring the prescient assertions by Edmund Burke that the pursuit of financial and social equality by some sort of centralised agenda was ‘a monstrous absurdity’, successive governments have sought to impose an order of sorts with disastrous consequences. Anthony Crosland’s ideological assault on the grammar schools in the early 1970s was a significant strike at the heart of effectiveness, with those from more humble beginnings denied access to higher standards of education. Of course, there were concerns about the manner in which entry to grammar schools operated but to declare war on exemplars of good practice and standards, thereby forcing talented poorer children into mediocrity, did nothing to aid social mobility for the academically able.
That said, even in the comprehensive schools (too many of which were famously labelled as ‘bog standard by Alistair Campbell), talented youngsters from poorer backgrounds could still find themselves in a top set or stream, studying for the same examinations as children at even the most prestigious schools, such as Eton. In leafy Surrey and industrial Sheffield, the Ordinary level and the gold standard Advanced level examinations provided a certain equity and comparative experience. For the privileged, education would allow a certain continuity of success and social status. For the poor, it would serve as a means of escape from poverty and a vehicle to something better.
Recent years have seen some worrying shifts in education provision in the state sector which has seen it become increasingly distinguishable from private education. In particular, the drive for quantity instead of quality in terms of examination passes and the replacement of concrete knowledge with a vacuous skills agenda are aggravating differences in the quality of educational experience between pupils taught in the private and the state sectors respectively. In terms of the latter, the shift in emphasis will place the pupils at a disadvantage, be they working class or middle class. Increasingly, their experiences will be substantially different to those of more knowledgeable privately educated youngsters.
Coerced by the government through its OfSTED shock troops, schools centre their policies, practices and procedures on the sole aim of increasing examination result pass rates. Schools cannot be blamed for this, given that access to the coveted ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ judgments cannot be secured without acceptable improvements in examinations results. Attainment has become the be all and end all of contemplations for improvements. However, this has encouraged the most nefarious strategies of window dressing.
Firstly, OfSTED, local authorities and central government are looking for raw indicators of statistical improvements which are based solely on numbers, not quality. Therefore, senior management teams in state schools are investing in ‘softer’ subjects and the expense of those which are more difficult (and arguably more necessary in terms of providing a more rounded and robust education). A BTEC in say, Sports Studies, will deliver the equivalent of 4 GCSEs in a period of study often less than 2 years. Conversely, a GCSE in German will deliver just 1 GCSE after a period of study which is usually 5 years. Equally, a combined science qualification gives an award of 2 or more GCSEs. This does not compare favourably with a GCSE in Physics which gives a statistically poor 1 qualification for the bureaucrats to consider. Little wonder then that the number of pupils studying a language to GCSE level in state schools is now at 33% compared to 82% in the independent sector (CILT Languages Trends Survey).
Secondly, many schools are now committing themselves to a de facto ideological rejection of academic knowledge. Following an agenda called ‘learnacy’, of which Guy Claxton is a guru, schools are acting as collective sheep in rushing towards a skills based agenda called ‘Learning to Learn’. Aspects of the philosophy are difficult to disagree with, such as the transferability of skills into real life and self-evaluative consideration of how individuals learn. However, be it a misapprehension or not, schools are now starting to teach this skills agenda expressly by merging academic subjects such as Geography, History and sometimes Languages(remember, they only give 1 GCSE). Content has been replaced by skills, facts by competencies. In reality, humanities now involve youngsters sitting around a table contemplating skills such as those needed for teamwork as opposed to learning facts. Of course, in ignoring knowledge we are excluding children from the development of certain types of skills. How can a child evaluate, assimilate and apply facts to situations if they do not have the knowledge to play with in the first place? Of course, knowledge is not really needed for processors is it? That is the domain of the executives. In that context the rush to ‘learnacy’ by so many state schools may create a sociological catastrophe in terms of social mobility. While the private schools invest in the creation of the executives of tomorrow, the state invests in the processors.
In sum, the decline of social mobility and divergence of experiences for those educated privately and by the state have been aggravated by an increase in state intervention and interference in education. Only when we remove the state from education and allow individuals and communities to invest locally in themselves will we see improvements. Unfortunately, the report is likely to be addressed by those in power through calls for yet more interference. Plus ca change.......

Thursday, 23 July 2009

CCTV in school toilets

Is nothing sacred?


Part of a mindset which forgets that we can invest in individuals to respect themselves, each other and property. Instead, we use authoritarian methods to control them even in very private situations. Sometimes, you have to give trust to receive it.

The SATs failure and government interference.


For many years secondary teachers have questioned the reliability of the primary SATs results, given that the level achieved by youngsters with poor literacy skills seemed at odds with the skills we inherited. Micro-management of the government across the examination system has now been confirmed by the Parliamentary select committe. Once, it was the academics who ran and administered the examinations system, now it is private companies at the behest of Whitehall. Did such a change take place because the independence of the academics may lead to them being less pliant in the great window dressing scam that pretends standards are rising?

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Alexis de Tocqueville

De Tocqueville gave us a warning from history whic is what has happened in schools:-

Consistent government interference results in a soft despotism of expanding paternalistic state power that gradually undermines self-government. Soft despotism does not “tyrannize, it gets in the way: it curtails, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies, and finally it reduces each nation to nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”


I am an experienced secondary school teacher and the aim of this blog is to share thoughts about what really happens in education. A prolonged culture of externally dictated initiatives and targets has made education less personal than ever, and 'success' is, in fact measured in a manner which has become trite and damaging to young people.

Teachers are, in my experience, generally very good people who really care about children. However, once they lost the responsibility to self govern effectively and to determine the direction of education policy, the faceless bureaucrats took over. Success was no longer determined by the healthy relationships between teacher and pupil with the reward of seeing a child advance, but had to be quantifiable and based on the whims of bureaucrats. Byzantine attainment targets and programmes of study replaced local curriculum policies aimed at local youngsters, colourful lessons became sanitised by identical lesson styles to be delivered by automatons, children became 'learners' determined, not by the holistic content of their whole being and personality, but on the basis of spurious targets which, in themselves, are based on shaky science. No wonder our children are so unhappy, when the warmth of the informal has been replaced by the relentless attainment testing of the clipboard carrier.

Your children became statistics to be graphed (I believe that is now a verb in the brave new world of education), as opposed to wonderful individuals to be nurtured.

It is this philosophical change which continues to depersonalise education and to take away the joy of education. This blog, will talk about what happens in education on the front-line, free of the apocryphal window dressing of the bureaucrats.