Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Not being a snob or cultural elitist, but a amidst the docu-soaps, reality TV, cookery channels and soaps, there is the odd BBC 2 programme with a mission to inform – ‘Restoration’ and ‘Coast’ to name but two.
How to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Indian independence? We were served by way of ‘India with Sanjeev Bhaskar’. The programme reeked to high heaven of lazy TV. I can just imagine the commissioning meeting, ‘India? Let’s get that guy from the Kumars. OK, what’s next Ancient Greece? Get Peter Andre, he’ll draw the punters in.’
I don’t object to celebrities or the famous for being famous presenting travel programmes, the problem was that at the start of ‘India with Sanjeev Bhaskar’ there was no attempt to explain his personal relationship with the country. At what age did he leave? How often has he returned? Does he have any relatives there? As a result we didn’t have any personal connection to the presenter.
We started with Sanjeev Bhaskar on the set of a popular Indian TV soap. If he’d made a programme on that aspect of popular culture it would have been illuminating. Could other ex-pats have presented programmes on cricket, religion or business?
He was keen to show the ‘New India’, no problem there, although it began to grate. It all went downhill when he was asked to judge the ‘Mrs India’ contest. The organiser was an ambitious, driven woman who made Margaret Thatcher look like a domestic drudge. There were moments of toe-curling embarrassment, one contestant an innocent air stewardess was quizzed about the ‘Mile High Club’. Then came that beamer ‘what do you think about marital rape?’ Where the hell were we going? ‘How many times a week do you do it? What positions?’
Sanjeev Bhaskar might be a comic actor but his default is to laugh, smirk or make light of everything. It was a bit like having a supercilious, immature teenager with no moral compass as your guide. Marital rape? At that moment he should have walked.
Just to give some ‘balance’ a lawyer gave him a guided tour of the recycling district. Every conceivable object – paper, cardboard, electric wires, cars, was scavenged. People eking out a living sorting other peoples’ rubbish. It’s interesting how seriously posh people regard penury as some kind of life-style choice. His lawyer friend assured him that they had two mobile phones, ‘One more than me’ smirked Bhaskar. He then started burbling about how recycling was so much better here than in London. No Sanjeev, they do it because they are dirt poor; it is the only way they can survive.
After half an hour we moved on to Bangalore the centre of the Indian computer industry. There’s no dispute that there is an expanding middle class and that the economy is growing exponentially. However, the fault line was that the programme was neither documentary, travelogue nor personal reminiscence.
There was no explanation or attempt to engage in debate or pose questions to the audience. The fact that 70% of Indians live in villages, without access to computers didn’t warrant a mention. A whole hour on India and nothing about the caste system or the large Muslim minority, you wouldn’t imagine that was possible.
Bhaskar was so concerned that the stereotype that India was all about snake charmers that all he succeeded in doing was presenting another stereotype – Bollywood, billionaires, Mrs India and IT geeks. In one hour he didn’t interview anyone that wasn’t comfortably off.
‘India with Sanjeev Bhaskar’ was stricken by the curse of ‘Celebrity TV’. The premise here is that the viewers are such drongoes with the attention span of a gnat that you can’t have a serious presenter (Boring!!) you have to throw in a celeb. As a result you get the inane, the vacuous and content-lite that this programme represented, devoid of any depth or analysis. It was more a vehicle for Sanjeev Bhaskar – ‘Look At Me’ – Sanjeev at the docu-soap, Sanjeev on the billionaire’s yacht, Sanjeev as a judge at ‘Mrs India’; the camera was never away from him.
Indian independence was one of the most momentous events in history, yet here reduced to celebrity-TV, a posturing, pretentious, jokey take on it. BBC 2 you have really ‘lost the plot’.
BBC 4 ‘Bombay Rail’ – an excellent programme, you’ll learn more in ten minutes than an hour of ‘India with Sanjeev Bhaskar’
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Private school fees have risen by 41% since 2002 according to Halifax Financial Services.
The number of private pupils has increased by 6% between 2001/2 and 2006/7 from 631,800 to 669,300, meanwhile the number of state pupils fell by 2% from 9,484,200 to 9,289,300. In 2007 the average annual fees were £9,627 compared to £6,820 in 2002. Only 13 occupations can now afford fees compared with 23 in 2002.
In response Jonathan Shephard, general secretary of the ISC, which represents 1,300 independent day and boarding schools, said: “We hope that sooner or later Halifax will join the 21st century and recognise that stable families commonly have two income earners.
“A police constable and a teacher outside London would have a combined income of £49,430 three years into their careers - easily enough, on Halifax's calculations, to fund an independent school place.
“Affordability is always an issue, but independent education is within the reach of many more families than is often believed. By ignoring the likelihood of two income earners the Halifax survey is flawed and misleading.”
I loved that bit about “stable families” – no judgements there of course.
The ISC do have a point some couples do have one person who ‘works to pay the school fees’. The fact remains that the really exclusive private schools are only within the financial reach of the filthy rich. You can see the same process with the housing market, as the research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation showed, some towns and villages have become the exclusive preserve of the mega-rich. Even “hard working middle class families” can’t afford the private schools or houses.
Labels: Public Schools
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Could it only happen in America? Some schools are so desperate for funds that they have teamed up with that healthy food alternative McDonald’s to organise McTeacher’s nights.
School staff don McDonald’s uniforms and serve burgers and Cokes. The school takes 20% of the takings which usually amounts to $500, although with raffles and staff organised games this can rise to $1,000.
McDonald’s offer tips to schools on how to organise the event and staff are encouraged to sing the “I’m lovin’ it” jingle when they get a tip.
Pass the sick bag.
Hall of Shame
White Plains Elementary - North Carolina
Odessa – Missouri
Brisas – Arizona
Our Lady of Black Rock – New York
Lakeridge - Washington
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
It really does take me about a week to ‘recover’ at the end of the school year. I doze off in the middle of the afternoons, forget what I was meant to be doing and find it hard to concentrate. Fact – teaching drains your mental and physical energy.
You still get those annoying people who give you a patronising smile and mention ‘all the holidays’. I’ve gone past the stage of wanting to inflict irreparable physical damage, I just stare at them and say ‘try teaching’, and there are never many takers.
I read an article in the TES a few years a go about a power station manager who had a sort of mid life crisis and decided to retrain as a teacher. He got a job in a “challenging” inner city school. He only lasted a year. In the power station he had 10 under managers and 400 staff, every decision he made was implemented almost instantaneously and there was only one main target – producing electricity.
Teaching was entirely different, a large percentage of the children didn’t want to be there and he had to devise strategies to keep them involved and interested. There was the paperwork and the host of different targets to meet and fulfil. Also the job never ended at 5 pm. With a sigh of relief he returned to the sanity of the power station.
At the end of term you usually stagger over the finishing line and collapse, but it always important to keep going right to the tape – my best marathon time was 3 hours 25 minutes, it helps if you can avoid walking the last few miles – it’s agony.
Every year the pressure seems to increase, we’ve had reports, ‘optional’ tests, reading tests, spelling tests, SEN reviews, observations, performance management interviews and Key Skills to highlight, the list really is endless.
Still, there’s ‘Life in the Old Dog’ yet. The other week it was Friday the 13th and the talk in the class was that Freddy Kreuger was going to pay a visit on ‘Freaky Friday’. That morning I snook into the ICT room and loaded up pictures of Freddy (nothing too gory you understand) onto every PC. There were shrieks of laughter when the children turned the screens on.
At this moment the Head walked through and inevitably the class snitch grassed on me. The newspaper headlines from the GTC hearing flitted through my mind, ‘Sick teacher downloads horror pics!’ Fortunately he saw the funny side of it.
At the end of the year there’s the sadness of seeing the Year 6 depart with that part bravado, part fear of the unknown (secondary school). I wonder how some of them will fare? We’ve got three boys who are still at Level 2, Eric spends his spare time getting chased by the security guards at the shopping centre. His ambition? To be a policeman so he can ‘arrest people’.
We’ve got our ‘Golden Girls’ as well, who should make it to university, they’re bright and intelligent, and they always come up to me at playtime asking for questions, ‘we’re bored off our cake sir!’ That’s apart from the time when the hunky student teacher was in, I didn’t get a look in then.
The Year 6 teacher always gets the pick of the presents, a tiny compensation for the worst job in primary. They’d all written notes and letters. James typed one on the computers extolling the virtues of his teacher and ended with, ‘I will miss you like a dog’ and a picture of two cute puppies. The thought was there…
I’m musing on all of this when there is a knock at the door, the memory kicks back in, the fridge repairman has arrived, one of those long delayed tasks I’d postponed indefinitely. I open the door and we take a mutual step back, it’s Peter my pupil from my first class ten years ago.
I only just recognise him with his smart blue uniform and he’s shot up. I usher him in and it’s obvious he has been well trained because he sucks the air in thorough his teeth, shakes his head and asks me, ‘who did this last repair?’ As he dismantles the fridge we talk about old times and I fish out the old class photo from the bottom of the drawer. Gazing at the cherubic smiles he goes across them, ‘drugs… had a child… lost the plot… drugs… left home had a baby… trouble with the police… expelled.’ Only Peter and one or two others have survived.
Peter shows me the fridge manual and starts a long and detailed explanation of the problem, looking at my glassy expression he breaks off and smiles, ‘this is weird, me, teaching you sir!’ As he departs we shake hands and I realise that I’ll always be his teacher.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Monday, July 23, 2007
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Reading again Roy Hattersley’s article on Charterhouse public school in Tuesday’s ‘Guardian’, reminded me how both left and right in Old Labour used to be united in attacking the entrenched privilege that public schools represented. They were an easy target, a quick sound bite to prove a politician’s socialist credentials.
Such is New Labour’s craven worship of wealth that an old moderate like Hattersley appears now to be a dangerous class warrior.
Last week saw the publication of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report into poverty and wealth. They identified three groups in society, the breadline poor - 27% (subdivided into the core poor), the non-poor, non-wealthy - 50% and the asset wealthy - 23% (subdivided into the exclusive wealthy).
The key findings were-
· The breadline poor (those excluded from participating in the norms of society) had risen from 17% in 1980, to 22% in 1990 and 27% in 2000.
· The numbers of core poor (materially deprived) had slightly fallen from 14% in 1990 to 11% in 2000.
· The personal wealth of the richest 1% of the population grew as a proportion of the national share from 17% in 1991 to 24% in 2002.
One of the authors of the report Professor Danny Dorling noted that there was a ‘rise in the geographical separation of the poor from the rich – where the two groups live physically apart.’
The people in the most segregated social group were those wealthy people who could exclude themselves from schools, hospitals and recreation facilities.
This was accentuated in some affluent areas like Mole Valley in Surrey and Chesham and Amershan in Buckinghamshire where in 1980 67% were neither rich nor poor, twenty years later only a quarter were in that category. A quarter were rich in 1980 but this had soared to 61% in 2000.
During the 1990s large parts of cities had over half the population living in poverty. As Dorling concluded, ‘In these places, it is, in effect, now normal to be poor.’
Our schools also reflect society from the exclusive public schools to the sink schools on the sink estates.
Abolish the public schools? It isn’t going to happen any time soon. Let’s be honest though, claiming £100 million in tax relief, by posing as ‘charities’ really is ‘taking the p***.’
Friday, July 20, 2007
Thursday, July 19, 2007
I started writing in the Everton fanzine ‘When Skies Are Grey’ in 2004. So this is an introduction to my other alter-ego ‘Knotty Ash Blue’. It’s not just a one-club blog, I’ve widened out to write about issues like racism, ticket prices, drugs, LFC and England.
Here’s a selection of my articles-
Frontal Lobotomy – March 2004 - Coming back to football after a few years
My national pride – May 2004 – Why I’m not the greatest England fan…
Ooh the ‘ell are you? – August 2004 – Season’s end and it’s not looking good
Team game – December 2004 – Football Pundits (er… including me) are proved wrong Everton make a fantastic start to the season
Careering – March 2005 – How fans get ripped off with ticket prices
The Red Side a plea for tolerance – April 2005 – The first scarf laid at Anfield in remembrance of Hillsborough was a blue one…
Kick them Out! – May 2005 – Why the club shouldn’t tolerate racism
The pink medicine – October 2005 – Club takeovers
The Fat, Little, Badly Guy – December 2005 – Footballers should retire gracefully
The boring, boring Premiership – February 2006 – Is it any good if Man U and Chelsea have got it all sown up?
The ‘Magic’ of the FA Cup – April 2006 – Not
The Main Enemy is at Home – June 2006 – Will I be cheering Wayne Rooney in the World Cup?
Legends and Cults – August 2006 – Why Duncan Ferguson isn’t a legend but is a cult player
Bad Breath and Shrinking Testicles – October 2006 – The impact of drug taking
You Could Have Been a God… - November 2006 – A retrospective on Wayne Rooney
MOYES MUST GO! – February 2007 – Well… not just yet
You Goin? Tara then – April 2007 – Liverpool City Council aren’t busting a gut to keep Everton in the city
Do You and Rose Have a ‘your song’? – May 2007 – The LFC takeover
Dawn of the Dead – June 2007 – Your guide to diving
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
My blog about Public Schools on the TES web site has attracted a couple of comments. ‘Sinstarcool’ wrote,
“This is outdated rubbish! Most public schools are full of the children of hard working middle class parents who make huge sacrifices so that their children do not have to enter the state education lottery.”
I’m not so sure about the “hard working middle class parents”, remember that public schools only educate 7% of children. There was an interesting article by Roy Hattersley in ‘The Guardian’ on Tuesday about Charterhouse, the fees are £26,000 a year, as he pointed out you would need a taxable income starting at £40,000. Only the financial elite can afford money like that.
Some “hard working middle class parents” do send their children to the less pricey minor public schools, partly because they want to avoid the “education lottery” and partly to avoid the mass of the unwashed. I’ve no doubts that public schools like Eton, Harrow and Charterhouse give their pupils an excellent education. As for some of the minor public schools… the truth is, they just aren’t that good.
An interesting post was from ‘Fartist’,
“This is a tricky subject for me, but it’s worth talking about. How can I put this, I went to a public school. Yet I agree with Mr Read on a fair few points that he has mentioned. There is still a divide in this country and it is an economic one. The opportunities for public school children are far greater then those children who went to state schools.
“I remember as a kid not understanding my surroundings because some of the kids attitudes were peculiar. Yes my parents were lucky and had both gone to good schools. They were what you might call upwardly mobile (middle class) parents. My dad worked incredibly hard and suffered from stress for years to put me and my brother in public schools-he did this himself, my mother worked hard at home and concentrated on home values. These patterns are old fashioned now and not really achievable in today’s society. What I found hard to deal with at public school was the value that was given to 'Things’ or 'possessions', it made me feel so angry. Peoples holidays, their cars, their new clothes, what salary daddy made in his high flying career! There was no reality. There was only one boy in the whole school who got there through a scholarship, I really liked him, he had a positive outlook on life.
“Well I was a hermit at school, I would go and find somewhere where I could be alone (sad!), but I just found everyone so annoying. I found it hard to learn at school and felt guilty because my dad was paying. I did not go on to high flying job after school, although I have achieved in my own way-I became a teacher! I also learnt more out of school then I ever did at school. I now teach in an FE state run school. I guess there is some irony there-or maybe not! Who knows? But I think there is always two sides to every story.”
Many years ago someone from my school won a place at Balliol College, Oxford. The discrimination and snobbery against students from minor public schools was unbelievable, coming from the state sector he was viewed as some kind of insect that had crawled out from under a stone, he only lasted a year.
Labels: Public Schools
Monday, July 16, 2007
We’re in Sedbergh on the western edges of the Yorkshire Dales, it’s a gorgeous day and we’ve been camping in Dent, a beautiful picture-postcard village with cobbled streets and its own locally brewed beer. We’re relaxing watching a game of cricket, deck chairs and a flask of tea. The game is louder than I remember it, plenty of verbal encouragement, but no “sledging” i.e., casting aspersions on the batsman’s parenthood.
Sedbergh is dominated by its public school, which was founded in 1525 by the provost of Eton. The boys are strolling past with their foppish hair and expensive Italian shoes, the girls seem to be preparing to undergo metamorphosis into Sloane Rangers. The cricket pitch is absolutely immaculate, like a bowling green, somehow it doesn’t compare with the leisure facilities on the council estate that surrounds our school. Even the play facilities are limited, it took the local youth club ages to get a few swings and a slide, and even then it was through hard won grants.
Walking through Sedbergh this also seems to be replicated on their council estates, walk a mile away and there’s a piece of rutted ground that must be the football pitch because there’s a set of rusty posts bent in the middle. Arriving back later at the cricket pitch the pavilion scoreboard is still ticking over and some hale and hearty types are shouting encouragement, with their blazers, cricket whites and jumpers it’s almost like a scene out of ‘Brideshead Revisited’. I suppose it’s fitting that we’re watching the cricket from a crumbling concrete embankment fringed by nettles, two of the benches have been smashed up and there’s spiked iron railings to keep the plebs at bay.
Under apartheid or “separate development” in South Africa, blacks had no access whatsoever to professional or skilled jobs. Of course it isn’t directly equivalent, just that the UK and USA have less social mobility than other advanced societies and it is getting worse.
A survey published in April 2006 by the economist Tom Hertz showed that the United States has one of the lowest levels of intergenerational mobility in the rich world. A child born into a poor family has a 1% chance of growing up to become one of the richest 5%, while a child born into a wealthy family has a 22% chance. Another study, published by Business Week, found that in 1978 23% of adult men whose fathers were in the bottom quartile made it into the top quartile. In 2004 the figure was 10%.
Hertz noted "among high-income countries for which comparable estimates are available, only the United Kingdom had a lower rate of mobility than the United States". In 2006 the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a study showing that UK citizens in their 30s today are twice as likely to be stuck in the same economic class as their parents than people born 10 years earlier.
You can’t have an equitable or happy society when it is rigidly divided into Helots and Homoioi. As the French have discovered once you create a permanent under-class with no hope of advancement you create problems – even ethnic minority youth with University degrees cannot find work.
Another feature of apartheid was that the whites had no knowledge or understanding of black society. For many of them their only contact was through their black servants, the townships were on another planet.
In the past public schools were quite blatant about social separation, writing in 1930 Ronald Gurner, a one-time master at Marlborough school noted that, “It is difficult, if you are a country solicitor or doctor of any standing, to contemplate with equanimity the possibility of your son sitting side by side with the son of your junior clerk or chauffeur - better send him to St Cuthbert's on the south coast. The fees are high, and you are not certain as to exactly what is the standard of education... but there are no board-school boys there, and in the things that matter your boy will be safe.”
Public schools are still socially selective cloistered environments that isolate their pupils from wider society. Yet they will be the people managing companies, serving as the officer corps in the army and representing us as MPs. It took the shock of the Second World War before some of the aristocracy understood anything about the lives of ordinary people. William Whitelaw visited the parents of his guardsmen killed in battle and was distressed at the state of the slums many of them were forced to live in. It didn’t radicalise him he was a patrician Tory, but he never forgot it.
That social mixing rarely occurs, at Eton some students were asked to write an essay about poverty, one of them wrote, “the family were poor, the father was poor, the mother was poor, the children were poor and so was the butler.”
Of course there are time worn arguments in favour of public schools – they are centres of excellence; they raise the general level of achievement; disadvantaged children can attend through scholarships or bursaries; they save the state money by educating 7% of children at their parents’ expense and some children need to be boarders because their parents live abroad.
There’s no doubt that public schools can develop a child’s potential. I saw a programme about blacksmiths and one of the most prominent ones had been to Eton. He recounted that when he told his housemaster that he wanted to be a blacksmith he said, “Dear boy, aim to be the best.” They bought a forge for him and recruited an experienced blacksmith to teach him, money no object.
There was a survey on sporting facilities that showed that 59% of public schools had their own swimming pool, 37% their own astro-turf and 39% had a squash court. The British Olympic Association estimated that 60% of the country’s medal winners were privately educated. The Sutton Report in 2006 revealed that children educated at public schools accounted for 50% of Oxford University students, one third of MPs, 70% of top barristers and half of prominent journalists.
The fees charged by public schools ensure that only the super –rich can attend. Sedbergh’s fees are £20,000 a year. They boast that the rural seclusion will keep their charges away from ‘urban temptations’, their excellent sporting facilities have produced stars like Will Carling and Will Greenwood.
Through their fees and endowments public schools are able to boast average class sizes of 9.8 per teacher, 14% of teachers are employed by public schools and in secondary schools the state spends on average £5,000 per pupil against £8,000 for those able to pay.
However, many ‘public’ schools owe their origins to acts of charity by wealthy men. One example is top public school Haberdasher’s Aske, which was established in 1689, when Sir Robert Aske left £30,000 to the Haberdasher’s Company to educate sons of poor freemen. I wonder if they would like to reveal how many poor haberdashers’ sons are currently educated there, how many receive Free School Meals or are Special Education Needs?
The call for the abolition of public schools is decried as crude class envy, so I’ll plead guilty on that score. But what is farcical is that because some of them were endowed as charities in the dim and distant past they are eligible for tax relief, current value over £100 million. They also leech from the state by taking teachers trained at the taxpayers’ expense. Perhaps they would like to make a financial contribution towards the cost?
Public schools entrench class privilege and give a small group the type of education that children at my school could only dream of. Or maybe they are just preparing them for the type of society where a chief executive earns 86 times the ordinary worker or in Sir Terry Leahy’s case 574 times more than the woman on the till at Tesco’s.
Meanwhile back to the game of cricket and here the class divide and life chances conferred by an expensive education are apparent, 35% of first-class cricketers have been educated at public schools, looking at the facilities it isn’t a surprise.
Labels: Public Schools
Sunday, July 15, 2007
‘A vast bureaucracy whose leaders may not have grasped its complexity’, was the damning conclusion by the House of Commons Education Committee in its report on Ofsted. Its remit has extended from schools to cover childminders, secure training units, fostering agencies and registration of children’s homes.
When teachers complain about inspections you normally get a sympathetic smile, but can anyone understand unless they’ve gone through the mind-boggling, soul-destroying and energy-sapping process?
For seventeen years my wife worked as a childminder. They used to be inspected by the council Social Services Department and the emphasis was on support, encouragement and advice. In 2000 under the Care Standards Act the duty of inspection was handed over to Ofsted. Clipboard in hand, they managed to successfully transfer the humourless android approach they pioneered in schools to childminding.
With Ofsted also came the bureaucracy of filling in forms in triplicate, childminders were expected to have ‘Policies’ on every subject under the sun and training courses, in the evening or at weekends, became a regular fixture.
In came regulation and control, out went things like grants for toys or sustainability – money to tide them over when children moved on to school and they were waiting for new clients.
Inspections used to be arranged for a certain day, that changed with ‘unannounced visits’. There was also the practise of damning with faint praise encapsulated in that Ofsted phrase ‘satisfactory’. Unsurprisingly the numbers of childminders dropped from 98,500 in 1997 to 68,200 in 2003.
My wife recently joined the exodus. She wrote to Ofsted because she needed a letter to confirm that she had been a childminder. I won’t bore you with the complicated, Byzantine process, you would think it was so simple, ‘this is to confirm that X was a childminder from xxx to xxx’. But no this organisation that expects the highest standards of efficiency from schools and childminders couldn’t even achieve this basic little task. Only the threat of legal action moved them.
A survey of Ofsted staff last year revealed that almost a quarter said they had been bullied at work. Ofsted’s response? ‘Some people did not like being managed and saw that as bullying’.
I rest my case.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
An article in ‘The Independent’ on May 18th used that quote from rock legend Alice Cooper ‘School’s Out Forever’ as the title. It claimed that,
“Knowsley Council in Merseyside, which - for years - has languished near or at the bottom of exam league tables, has abolished the use of the word [school] to describe secondary education in the borough.
“It is taking the dramatic step of closing all of its eleven existing secondary schools by 2009. As part of a £150m government-backed rebuilding programme, they will reopen as seven state-of-the-art, round-the-clock, learning centres with the aid of Microsoft - which has already developed links with one school in the borough, Bowring.
“The style of learning will be completely different. The new centres will open from 7am until 10pm in both term-time and what used to be known as the school holidays. At weekends, they will open from 9am to 8pm.
“Youngsters will not be taught in formal classes, nor will they stick to a rigid timetable; instead they will work online at their own speeds on programmes that are tailor-made to match their interests.
“Children will be able to study haircare, beauty therapy, leisure and tourism, and engineering as well as the more traditional academic subjects.
“They will be given their day's assignments in groups of 120 in the morning before dispersing to internet cafe-style zones in the learning centres to carry them out.
“The 21,000 youngsters of secondary education age in Knowsley will also be able to access their learning programmes from home.”
The article attracted some interest on the blogosphere. Graham Atwell wrote,
“I see this as the first big crack in the present model of schooling which dates from the first industrial revolution.”
Some posts on his blog described it as, “a bold step forward”, “what a great model for higher education,” and “thanks for such a heartening story, it sounds like science fiction!”
I’ve got to admit that I only agreed with the second part of the last post.
Some posts were from teachers who believed that after years of centralised control and proscriptive learning that the Knowsley plan was innovative. All I would say is don’t believe the spin and the hype. After teachers reacted furiously to the phrases about “Too many in secondary schooling expected little or nothing of local children,” and questions about what hours teachers would be expected to work, Knowsley distanced themselves from the ‘Independent’ article claiming that the quotes were ‘highly edited and selective’.
The other issue is how do you make change? Do you try to persuade and bring teachers with you when you implement a new exciting curriculum or do you issue them all with P45s and make them reapply for their jobs to ‘get them out of the comfort zone’.
Over the past few years Knowsley teachers have had a roller coaster ride. In 1999 Knowsley schools were languishing at the bottom of the national league table, only 23% gained 5 A-C GCES passes. Steve Munby was parachuted in as Chief Education Officer to ‘turn the authority round’. Through judicious use of GNVQs (one counts as four GCSE passes) by 2005 the pass rate had shot up to 43%. Munby hailed the ‘Knowsley miracle’ there were banner headlines in the local press, ‘Record Results for Knowsley Schools!’ and teachers received extravagant praise.
The government became aware of the GNVQ scam, some schools didn’t put children in for History, Geography or Modern Language GCSEs and the double science GNVQ was not an adequate grounding for science ‘A’ levels. In 2005 they changed the league tables so that passes in English and Maths had to be included in the five GCSE passes. A few months before they were released Steve Munby left Knowsley to become the chief executive of the National College for School Leadership, when the new league tables came out Knowsley was at the bottom. In the initial ‘consultation’ meetings with teachers over BSF the clear message was ‘poor results = poor teaching’.
In order to promote BSF Knowsley have produced ‘Update’ a Panglossian leaflet that claims to give ‘Information about transforming education and learning in Knowsley’. I was thinking of putting out a spoof copy but as the late Ted Wragg used to point out in education ‘irony and satire is dead’, the government and councils are doing the job themselves.
As one teacher said when you ask questions about BSF, ‘it’s like grappling with a jelly’ you can never get a straight answer from officials. How long will the school day be? What days will teachers work? Will everyone get a job? Most of these questions are deflected to the schools ‘Temporary Governing Bodies’, they will decide on curriculum, hours and staffing.
Questions are also being raised as to whether children will all be able to fit into the new ‘Learning Centres’. Some schools have gone from ten science laboratories down to two, plus an open plan ‘science warehouse’. Some design and technology rooms have no natural light and have to be accessed through other classrooms. One school is moving to a new site in April, right in the middle of the exam period, but it was not possible to wait until September because the council would incur ‘penalty points’ from the contractors.
The most controversial move has been to change teachers into ‘coaches’ or ‘facilitators’. The suspicion is that the preferred model is to have teams of Advanced Skills Teachers taking classes of 120 and then splitting them into groups with teaching assistants so they can undertake ‘independent research’.
Teachers have been promised that they will be ‘guaranteed’ an interview when jobs become available. They were also reassured that ‘good’ teachers would have nothing to fear. However, in the last few days interviews have been held for learning centre leaders (or head teachers as we used to call them), in two schools Knowsley heads seeking to transfer to the new learning centres have not been appointed and the jobs will go out for national advertising. If headteachers, who have all danced to the tune of the council officials, can’t get jobs what hope do classroom teachers have?
Where academies have replaced existing schools it has been used as on opportunity to cull teachers over 40. Some headteachers prefer younger staff who won’t ask that inconvenient question – ‘why?’ In San Francisco a new initiative was ‘Dream Schools’ an existing school was shut down and re-opened with new staff, in most cases there was a high turnover of staff, no continuity for children and problems with discipline.
Will the new learning centres be state of the art facilities with cutting edge technology that provide a stimulating curriculum? Or will they be shoddily built PFI classrooms ‘not fit for purpose’, chock full of gauche NQTs and disgruntled survivors who have witnessed scores of older teachers being made redundant? Time will tell.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Thursday, July 12, 2007
My blog on phonics attracted some interest from the Reading Reform Foundation, these people really are the swivel-eyed zealots of the phonics movement. Here’s a sample from their web site of their intemperate, intolerant approach,
“People need to ask themselves whether they would choose PREVENTION over intervention. They need to choose what kind of teaching they would prefer for their boys and whether they want to risk their children becoming dyslexic. Quite simply, if you are a parent, to which type of school would YOU most confidently send YOUR children?”
I don’t know all the details about the initiative in West Dunbartonshire, but maybe it came about in Scotland because local authorities still have a measure of autonomy and aren’t completely subject to ruthless central dictates. When the Scottish Executive cut funding for their programme they carried on anyway. Also in Scotland there is no high-stakes testing, no league tables and no Ofsted.
What was also interesting about West Dunbartonshire was that they’d not only used phonics but involved parents and tried to create a “literacy community”. Crucially they’d also recognised that some children don’t progress by phonics alone and the Toe-by-Toe programme gave intensive support to those older children who had fallen by the wayside.
So what are the dangers of phonics that emanate from the Rose review?
1) If you introduce some children to formal education at too early a stage they aren’t ready for it, this particularly applies to boys. The Rose review proscribes when and how to teach, it doesn’t leave it to the judgement of teachers to decide.
2) English is not a phonetic language, sorry to literally spell it out but how do you cope with those inconsistencies like soft ‘c’ and hard ‘c’; magic ‘e’ at the end; soft ‘g’ and hard ‘g’; silent letters at the beginning and end of words? Then there are all those little words - like, one, once, was, only, the, your, you, she, do, sure, what, who, out, does, come, want, busy, are, two.
3) Why do 20% of children find it difficult to read? Phonics leaves those children to struggle. Reading Recovery is an intensive and expensive programme delivered by trained teachers, peer reviewed international research has shown that it works. Albeit that even then one-fifth with global learning difficulties will also fail here, so again there really is no ‘magic bullet’.
4) Phonics fit well into the ‘back to basics’ agenda, phonics teaches children the mechanics of reading, but it doesn’t create a love of books. As the new Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen commented,
“I also reject the notion that you can teach reading without books: there has been a huge push to create an environment in nursery and reception where books are secondary to the process of reading.
“If you are just given a list of words, then the emotional impact is that reading is dull. For example, we care about the mouse and the Gruffalo when we read The Gruffalo.”
5) The notion that every child who doesn’t reach Level 4 is ‘illiterate’ is really dangerous nonsense. We had one special needs child in our school who came into nursery unable to speak, after making tremendous progress in the Juniors she got a Level 3 in her SATs. Yet she is branded an ‘illiterate’ failure and the school is dragged down in the league tables.
One of the much-quoted experiments in phonics was in Clackmannanshire, a small study of 300 children. Under pressure to introduce this ‘magic bullet’ scheme, Ruth Kelly did put out a circular to councils pointing out that by their own figures comprehension levels for 11 year-olds were no different from other councils. Later, in full retreat from an onslaught from the Daily Mail and the phonics lobby she instituted the Rose review.
Schools under central direction are now crudely introducing phonics but without the other features of West Dunbartonshire like the Toe-by-Toe programme.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
‘How Not To Teach’ is currently available in ten branches of Waterstone’s. The publishers tell me they have tried to get it into more but they have found it ‘difficult’.
It’s sad to see the way Waterstone’s have gone, they used to stock a wide range of books and encouraged diversity. In response to the supermarkets attempting to muscle in on their market, by selling the top 100 books, Waterstone’s have gone down the 3 for 2 route, featuring massive discounts for Jeremy Clarkson, Jeffrey Archer and Jamie Oliver.
The idea is that by using loss leaders they will attract people in to buy other books, faint chance of that. In the new ‘revamped’ stores (Liverpool is one example) the number of books has been slashed. Why go in? There is no point in browsing, cut the trouble go to the Internet.
If you do have a problem buying ‘How Not To Teach’ use News From Nowhere, they are a cooperative based in Bold St Liverpool.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Phonics is an important building block in the process of children learning to read. Just in case there’s any doubt I’ll repeat it - Phonics is an important building block in the process of children learning to read. But phonics alone is not a ‘magic bullet’. I’ll repeat that again - phonics alone is not a ‘magic bullet’.
There was an interesting article in ‘The Guardian’ today about a literacy programme in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland. They claim they are in the process of ‘eradicating illiteracy’. In 1997 only 5% of children had very high scores on word reading, today the figure is 45%. Synthetic phonics has been at the core of the scheme.
But it has not been the only factor. A 10-strand intervention was set up, featuring a team of specially trained teachers, focused assessment, extra time for reading in the curriculum, home support for parents and the fostering of a “literacy environment” in the community.
There is also an early intervention system from nursery upwards and those who do fall through the net are given the intensive, one-on-one Toe by Toe programme. Synthetic phonics has been only one strand in the West Dunbartonshire approach.
This is a far cry from the Rose inquiry and the subsequent edicts that all primary schools must teach phonics, the so-called ‘magic bullet’. Why doesn’t phonics alone work? Because unlike Finnish or Welsh, English is not phonetically consistent. Every study since the sixteenth century has found that 20% of children have difficulties in starting to read. In my experience the poorer readers usually rely on phonics alone, they can’t read in context and have poor sight memory of words.
Phonics has been thrust down the throat of schools, without the sophisticated and expensive programme that was adopted in West Dunbartonshire. Phonics alone will not help the poorer readers and those who can already read will be bored to death, some of them need to engage with real books, not scraps of text. In one international study England scored highly in reading but low on interest in books.
The most important thing is to inculcate a lifetime love of reading not just the mechanics of the process.
Monday, July 09, 2007
I’ve just received the latest copy of Educational Computing and Technology (EC&T), a magazine that goes out free to ICT coordinators.
To give you a flavour of the articles-
· My Space – a review of personalised learning systems
· A case study of a school that has successfully used them
· A Life’s Work – an article on the CEO of Research Machines
· A sporting chance – how to use ICT in PE lessons
· Something for nothing – a welcome review of Open Source
· Technology Trailblazers – a primary school where, ‘innovation in ICT has become a way of life’
· Assessment made easier – by the product manager of Promethean
· Web sites on CPD
· Resources Reviews
Before I go on to the content of the articles some of the more discerning readers may have spotted a gap or omission. Yes, once again when it comes to magazines aimed at teachers, nil, zilch, nothing, zero, nought by teachers, not even a solitary letter (at least in the DfES ‘Teachers’ magazine we get a few, ‘I think the Literacy Strategy is the best thing since sliced bread,’ letters from willing stooges). Everything in EC&T is written by journalists, consultants or business people.
The premise in these magazines (which seem to be multiplying at a bewildering pace) is that ICT is an each way bet. Because the ordinary teacher at the whiteboard is never heard from there is no attempt to grapple with or answer the problems relating to ICT.
1) Technical support – computers and other ICT equipment is only as good as the repair system. How many expensive pieces of equipment lie idle or are never used because it’s waiting for a part or different departments in the council or private contractors pass the buck between them?
2) Training for teachers – councils will routinely spend millions on expensive hardware and software, but when it comes to showing staff how to use it, somehow the budget gets tight.
3) The cost of maintaining equipment – when the bulb goes in the interactive whiteboard the cost of a replacement is £300 - £500.
Whilst it’s true that teachers’ confidence in using ICT has increased, in many subject areas it is still at very low levels. There are plenty of books on how to use ICT but very few on why. Surely after spending billions on ICT there should be more research?
A few years ago the government commissioned research by Becta on whether the introduction of whiteboards in schools had produced an increase in Key Stage 2 SATs results. There were negligible increases for English and Maths and embarrassingly for them a slight decrease in Science results.
The Literacy Trust undertook research that showed that some schools had increased spending on ICT by huge amount but were only buying negligible amounts of new books. According to their figures spending money on books in primary schools was twice more effective in raising results than ICT.
Promethean (one of the largest suppliers of whiteboards) found that the new technology could actually lead to more didactic teaching less interaction and questioning with pupils. In many cases teachers were purely using them as glorified whiteboards.
I’m not a Luddite or a technophobe, ICT can be useful in motivating children to learn. On the other hand books inspire people and change lives.
The problem with journals like EC&T is that they will appeal to the small minority of techno-geeks, but case studies of successful schools is not the real picture. Like me, a lot of teachers just don’t believe all the hype surrounding computers. More people would read EC&T if it tried to engage in a dialogue with teachers instead of lecturing from above.
Sunday, July 08, 2007
The School Summer Fete is a tradition long established in our seasonal cultural heritage, along with Tim Henman losing gallantly at Wimbledon, Glastonbury festival goers being caked in mud and Big Brother contestants being branded the most brainless, moronic, selfish, egotistical contestants - ever!
With school fetes the class divide is always evident, some of them are organised in a balmy, idyllic village setting with cream teas on the lawn and expensive stalls like – ‘Guess the Weight of the Champagne Bottle’, ‘Find the X and Win a Holiday in St Tropez’ and the raffle for the Fortnum and Mason’s Hamper.
Our school fete is sandwiched in at the end of the school day, our hall is stuffy, cramped and heaving with humanity. We usually have a problem involving parents, in anything. A high proportion of them never come to parents’ evenings, don’t read with their children or ensure homework is completed. The same old faithfuls keep our PTA going.
We make a huge effort with the fete for a return of a few hundred pounds. Our parents just don’t have the money, most of the children wander around the stalls eking out the £1 or £2 they have to spend.
As a way of keeping the parents around for the past couple of years we’ve organised a Children’s Talent Contest. This year the standard was incredible and we even had two boys participating.
After the seven acts had finished we had an interval while the judges conferred. We were promised two ‘guest appearances’. The first was one of the performer’s mum’s (now I know why he is such a shy, retiring violet – not). We got a teeth jangling version of that old Gloria Gaynor standard, ‘I Will Survive’. If that wasn’t bad enough the volume was cranked up and we had ‘Simply The Best’.
Next up was ‘Club Singer Dad’, the volume ratcheted up even more for ‘Amarillo’. By this time it was 5.15 pm and after a hard day’s work, an hour of the fete and the talent contest, thoughts were of home. No chance of that. As an encore we were treated to ‘Live and Let Die’ – the extended twelve minute version. All the hall marks of the hackneyed club singer were evident – greasing up the audience, getting everyone to clap along, involving the children and embarrassing selected members of the audience.
Even as people began to vote with their feet, he couldn’t take the hint. Now I love a sing-a-long, but in the right place at the right time and preferably with a few cans of lager down my neck to blot it all out.
If there’s a Parents’ or Teachers’ Talent Contest then it ‘Does Exactly What It Says On The Tin’. Our old Deputy Head was a bit of a stickler on most things but one thing that I did agree with her on was, ‘the children always come first’.
The Children’s Talent Contest? Somehow we’ve got to get the genie back in the bottle in time for next year.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
The General Teaching Council were holding one of their consultation meetings on their plans to end high-stakes testing. As it was in Liverpool, I decided to mosey along.
It wasn’t an auspicious start, there were plenty of ‘suits’ from the GTC looking around nervously at the sparsely attended venue. Eavesdropping on some of the conversations there appeared to be a preponderance of Heads of Department, ASTs and head teachers, and not many ‘ordinary teachers’. Eventually the audience swelled to around thirty.
Two boffins from the London Institute of Education made short presentations putting the standard case against testing. Their alternative to high-stakes testing was cohort sampling. From 1978 to 1988 the DfES had an Assessment Performance Unit, every year they tested 10,000 students (1.5% of the school population). The tests gave an accurate indication of whether ‘standards’ were rising; as different schools were tested they were able to use the same questions every year.
One teacher was from one of the 500 schools undertaking a two-year pilot of ‘Single Level Progress Tests’. This has been hailed as the alternative to SATs testing. Don’t get excited – it’s far worse! Pupils from Year 3 through to Year 9 take two tests every year, when they are deemed to be ‘ready’. Schools are rewarded with progression premiums for boosting the number of pupils that gain two levels in a year, i.e., 3C to 3A. In this teacher’s school successful pupils received certificates, those who didn’t reach the required level got the equivalent of an Ofsted ‘notice to improve’.
The attack by the GTC on high-stakes testing follows on from the Institute of Physics who described them as, “blunt instruments that have a number of undesired consequences.” The Institute of Educational Examiners, which represents 3,500 examiners, believes that all external exams before the age of 18 should be phased out. The Royal Society, Britain’s national academy of science, has described the present system as not “fit for purpose” and believes that testing is stifling creativity. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority have also called for an end to the present testing regime.
What effect will the GTC have? For a start they have almost zero credibility with teachers – something the government will be aware of. Their main aim is to ‘persuade’ the government with a softly-softly campaign. Will the government listen? If you look at the appointments to Gordon Brown’s new National Council for Education Excellence, the prospects aren’t wonderful. Among them was Damon Buffini from the private equity sector, where the executives pay less tax than their cleaning ladies and Terry Leahy the boss of Tesco who earns 574 times more than his shop floor workers -could he help children with equations? British industry doesn’t have a great track record in training its own workers; the Leitch Review found that the lack of investment in skills, particularly in manual workers, had cost the economy more than £4.8 billion.
The plain truth is that the ‘Daily Mail’ sets government policy. If the GTC does speak out too loudly they can always abolish it. Teachers out on the streets demonstrating with placards ‘Save the GTC’? It isn’t going to happen.
The great and the good have all spoken out against high-stakes testing that just leaves the people who could abolish it in one fell swoop – teachers. There was an excellent unofficial Anti-SATs campaign that moved the NUT into calling a ballot in 2003 to boycott testing, 86% of those who voted wanted to take action, however, the turnout was only 34% and the union rules stipulated a 50% turn out. If we are honest everyone took their eye off the ball and the campaign folded. Surely the time is right to call for another ballot of Key Stage 2, and this time to include Key Stage 3, on boycotting tests?
I don’t hold out much hope of the NAS joining in, they are busy proving themselves the goody-two-shoes of the Rewards and Incentives Group. A moot point is, ‘what incentives?’ Apart from PPA for primary teachers, on the debit column there’s been – Performance Management, Payment by Results, Management Allowances replaced by Teaching and Learning Responsibility payments and teaching assistants taking classes. Even though a testing boycott would save half of the NAHT’s membership from an incipient nervous breakdown, the prospects don’t look great there either.
The GTC meeting finished with an address from the new Chief Executive (and former Ofsted Assistant Divisional Manager) Keith Bartley. He looked like one of those accidental figures that are thrust into the limelight. After he released the statement opposing testing he did fifteen media interviews. He posed some elliptical questions about ‘accountability’, he didn’t exactly make a stirring call for teachers to rise up and loosen their chains, Martin Luther King it wasn’t. Less ‘I Have a Dream’ more ‘Here’s Some Interesting Statistics’.
One thing is clear, high-stakes testing has become education’s equivalent of the Iraq War. Almost all the experts (including those who initially supported it) are in opposition, the Weapons of Mass Destruction have never materialised, the troops on the ground and even the generals know it’s a lost cause, the cost has escalated exponentially and as the casualties pile up public opinion is hostile. The only people in denial? The government.
Friday, July 06, 2007
Thursday, July 05, 2007
I know it’s getting near the end of term… it hasn’t stopped raining for weeks and I’ve just started reading Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ (A father and his young son walk alone through burned America, heading slowly for the coast. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind) the start of ‘doom lit’; the cat’s gone to the vets again (he routinely gets beat up by the other cats and his face has swelled up with an abscess, yes, we have got pet insurance and they only pay out when the bill is more than £50), but I’ve really got the ‘What-The-Hell-Am-I-Doing-In-Teaching-Who-The-Hell-Invented-All-This-Useless-Useless-Planning… Blues’
The staff meeting was on the new ‘Standards Planning Framework’ for literacy and maths. At a recent meeting for coordinators the local authority consultants gave out the message, ‘It’s Compulsory! You Have To Do It! No Exceptions! No Excuses!’
We dutifully trawled through the web site with reams of objectives, targets and assessments. For anyone who didn’t have Doctor Spock’s ability in speed-reading, it would take hours to plough through it all.
Who exactly is planning for? Consultants? Ofsted? Certainly not teachers or children. Time spent on detailed, irrelevant planning is time that could be spent preparing an interesting lesson or reading books.
The grey bureaucrats at the DfES probably believe that creativity and imagination is something that can be achieved by measured, incremental steps, all directed by them from their office in Central London.
Writing results at Key Stage 2 are still way behind government targets. Why can’t children write well? There are all kinds of complex reasons, partly to do with cultural questions and the influence of television and videos. But one truism is that a ‘good reader is a good writer’ (I’d qualify that – an engaged, interested, questioning reader is a good writer, too many children are good mechanical readers, they can decode text). Get them reading good books and not the scraps of text doled out by the ‘Literacy Strategy’ - today children we’re looking at this boring, turgid piece that I’ve been instructed to teach you.
We really have become mere technicians mindlessly regurgitating this dull, prescriptive curriculum overloaded with targets, levels and tests.
In September we’ve got two days training on ‘Planning Using The New Frameworks’. I’m breathless with excitement.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
Welcome to the TES Blog Awards! I was going to book Russell Brand and organise a night of drink-fuelled excess in a classy hotel. Sadly, the budget has severely constrained any such notion.
Why blog? Our detractors on the TES Staffroom accuse of being self-opinionated, deluded, obsessives – well guilty as charged.
Of course it’s common knowledge that the average blog only lasts six months, is read by no one apart from the author and is of such poor quality that the blogger has a snowball in hell’s chance of ever cutting a book deal.
Against that there is the democracy of the Internet, your brilliant manuscript, instead of gathering dust in a musty old drawer has a potential audience of millions… if they can but find it amidst all the ephemera, junk and downright weird stuff that clutters cyberspace.
I can exclusively reveal that a new agency has been established to rigorously monitor and audit the effectiveness of teaching blogs – Ofblog. Due to my limited technical ability and low level of computer competence, I decided to appoint myself as Chief Inspector. In the best traditions of Ofsted I volunteered to stay in a five star hotel for a week whilst I was undertaking the blog inspection – sadly, the TES declined my generous offer and I’ve had to fit the inspection around writing the end of year reports, looking after my sick cat and moaning about the weather.
There are plenty of secondary teacher blogs – the infamous ‘Frank Chalk’, the slightly misnamed ‘Ranting Teacher’, the excellent ‘Life and Other Prime Numbers’ (who proves it is possible to be a young teacher and have a life, ‘Last half term I danced until I dropped’) and the slightly more political ‘Some Random Thoughts’.
Despite trawling through ‘Britblog’, ‘Sites for Teachers’ and Googling away, it’s hard to find many primary teacher blogs. There are plenty of excellent resources – Primary Teacher, Primary Resources, Primary Classroom Resources, Sparklebox, Classroom Displays, etc. But once you get beyond next week’s lesson there’s not much personal gossip or social commentary (when Unicef says we have the unhappiest children in the world some of us want to go beyond the cheapest laminates and day-glo stickers).
In the best traditions of Ofsted (once again) I’ll start by highlighting failure. Regrettably, I’ll have to single out the TES’s own Henry Walpole (last posting 17/11/06) for one of Ofblog’s infamous ‘notices to improve’. Henry, I know you’re busy writing your book and TES column but please write out 100 times, ‘I must not neglect my blog’.
Stumbling into the limelight are this year’s survivors (a good metaphor for teaching?) and in the spirit of ‘deferred success’ I’ll leave nominating an overall winner-
‘Smoke and Mirrors’ – a.ka. ‘Aspiring Head’ is from the independent sector, but in the spirit of inclusiveness I won’t exclude him from the competition
‘Year 6 Teacher’ – plenty of advice on how to pass SATs (OK someone has to do the job, just include me out of this one)
‘Tim Rylands – the mystical adventures of a west country primary teacher and muscian’ - has some really snazzy photographs, plus he gets to visit all kinds of exotic places, the lucky so-and-so!
‘Tales from the Plain - The ramblings of a teacher living in the Cheshire Plain, hanging in there and wondering what it's all about. Frequently out of step with the rest of the world (or so it seems) I just muddle through as best I can...’ - is one of my favourites although I’m not so keen on the knitting patterns…
and… er, that’s about it. Modesty forbids me to mention too much about ‘How Not To Teach’ suffice it say that it not just the TES blogs but jokes, film reviews, walking, news and the predictable rants against Ofsted.
If there are any more primary blogs out there let me know and I’ll link to them on my blog, remembering that essential piece of blogging etiquette, ‘If I link to yours, you’ll link to mine.’
Keep on blogging!
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
I love writing, but school reports really are a chore. You try to avoid any controversy, trim, use terminological inexactitudes, resort to eduspeak and employ the services of ‘Copy and Paste’. Finally I’ve finished. Phew!
In the English and Maths sections we had to write whether the children were above, at or below ‘national standards’. At the staff meeting there was talk about the ‘grid from the consultants’. Anything from these androids I normally bin or file away at the bottom of a pile of papers, just in case I might need it for the purposes of self-preservation.
Digging it out from underneath all the other junk about planning, standards, unit plans, spare socks, paracetamol, pliers (here’s an interesting thought get teachers to empty their bags and would you find anything to inspire children? I’m as guilty as the rest), it prescribed a ‘Range of Abilities’ for report writing for all years – Below, Average, High.
At the end of Year 6 the average was 4B, not just 4C, but 4B, another case of the consultants ‘raising the bar’. At the end of Year 4 the expectation was 3B. Now I know that my 3Cs will all get Level 4 but under this crazy system I’d have to say they were ‘below national expectations’.
So there we have it, the consultants are now telling us what to put in our reports. Maybe we should e-mail them our test results and they can churn out reports on a computer and mail them out to parents.
I’m not changing my reports. The consultants? As they say in Liverpool, ‘Do One!’
Monday, July 02, 2007
The tipping point for Warwick Mansell, the moment when he asked himself the question, ‘Is it me, or is this not absolutely outrageous?’ came in mid-November 2005 at a £200 per head seminar for French GCSE teachers, organised by one of the examining boards. Over the course of five hours, teachers were given a demonstration of how to cheat their way through coursework, to ‘script’ oral exams and advised not to teach much grammar (there are only a few marks for it). Throughout the day there were references to ‘grim kids’, this from a senior examiner.
‘Education by Numbers’ is a detailed and meticulous demolition job on the ‘exam industry’, which has blighted education in England – schools currently spend £610 million a year on them. The most dispiriting sight in bookshops are the shelves groaning with the revision booklets, as though knowledge can be distilled into that one volume.
Where has high stakes testing led us? Imagine you are an eleven year-old girl called Michelle and you are taking your exams in Maths, English and Science, on your results depend the future of your teacher, headteacher, local authority chief education officer, directors of the various national strategies and ultimately the Education Secretary. No pressure there then!
Chapter by chapter Mansell examines the grisly evidence-
· The narrowing of the curriculum – according to a study by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in 2003 primary schools were spending on average over ten hours a week from Christmas to May cramming children to pass tests in English, Maths and Science (equivalent to almost half of curriculum time).
· Frequent testing reinforces failure for lower ability children, as the London Institute of Education noted, it gave them ‘constant evidence of their low achievement.’
· Grade inflation – a study by David Jesson found that 1 in 6, equivalent to 100,000 children, had higher-level results at Key Stage 2 tests than their teachers believed they deserved.
· Concentration on ‘borderline’ children - close to Level 4 at Key Stage 2 or Grade C at GCSE. Mansell believes there is a good case to answer under Human Rights legislation for other children who don’t receive the same intensive support.
· Use of GNVQs (worth four GCSEs) to inflate results, no one can answer the question why a GNVQ is worth four times more.
· The sheer predictability of tests with the same type of basic questions reoccurring and exam boards colluding with schools to ease pupils’ route to success.
· The scandal of ‘coursework’ where students are spoon-fed information by teachers desperate to keep their department’s scores up to scratch.
· Reliability of results as test scores vary widely between certain exam boards.
Mansell details how it isn’t just the teacher unions that want a change to high-stakes testing, the QCA want modifications, even Ofsted, and the GTC (which has spent years proving there is death after life) has belatedly added its voice to the call for an end to league tables. When he asks the Department for Education what independent evidence there is that ‘standards have risen’ they can’t supply it, they are reduced to the tautology that ‘standards have risen because results have improved and the rise in results show that standards are improving.’
In one chapter Mansell interviews Blairite ideologue Julian Le Grand who advances the notion of ‘producer capture’ to justify accountability and that public servants can be divided into ‘knaves’ and ‘knights’. This chapter is at the end of the book and is a significant weakness. What under pinned the high stakes testing regime that emerged from the 1980s and 1990s?
In this era the myth of ‘falling standards’, the ‘failure’ of comprehensives, professional incompetence and lack of ‘basic skills’ was used to undermine public confidence in education. In its place the proponents of ‘school effectiveness’ promised a technical fix with value for money and ‘accountability’. In education there was the creation of a market with parental ‘choice’, Local Management of Schools, privatisation and the destruction of Local Education Authorities. The audit culture erected common standards (the National Curriculum) targets, performance indicators and gradings for schools. Teachers were now functionaries judged solely by common results and de-skilled and deprofessionalised. The final part of the jigsaw was the creation of Ofsted, with its notion of a ‘zero defect’ guarantee, taken from ‘Total Quality Control’ in private enterprise.
The 1980s and the 1990s ushered in the decline of welfarism and social justice. Both Blair and Clinton extended and widened the attack on public education, the trite slogans ‘Zero tolerance of failure’ and ‘Poverty is not an excuse’ became the campaign catchphrases. Everything was reduced to simple measurable ‘outputs’ that could be mapped on a graph – just read Michael Barber’s account of his time in the Department for Education.
The evidence shows that the Emperor is not just stark naked, he has no moral credibility and has been exposed as a liar, cheat and fraud. Faced with this conclusion Mansell retreats somewhat calling for longer Ofsted inspections and for the retention of the dire National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies for Key Stage 3. The book doesn’t explore how teachers could stop testing, there is no mention of the NUT ballot in 2003 when 86% voted for a boycott, but the turnout was only 34% and it had to be over 50% before action could be sanctioned by the union.
Despite the theoretical limitations ‘Education by Numbers’ chips away brick by brick at the tottering edifice that is high-stakes testing and brings it crashing to the ground. There is an old cliché in education book reviews that ‘every teacher should read this book’. Every teacher should read this book and ask himself or herself the question – How the hell did we let it happen?
Sunday, July 01, 2007
For years London schools have relied on overseas teachers. This summer with a change in rules on qualifications hundreds of teachers will be sacked and even face deportation.
The crackdown will affect staffing at some of the country's most challenging inner-city schools - making it difficult to fill posts.
The Government plans to insist that every teacher has the UK-recognised Qualified Teacher Status within four years of starting work here or face the withdrawal of their work permit. In the past, they have been allowed to continue working if they are already on a programme - or carry on as an instructor rather than a teacher.
Protest and lobby of the Department for Education and the Home Office
Wednesday July 11th