Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Gruel and more gruel

There’s no doubt that Gordon Brown had a ‘good summer’, there he was battling against the floods, edging away from George Bush and scrapping the plans to build casinos. Possibly it was just being ABTB (Anyone But Tony Blair). He raced into an opinion poll lead and received glowing plaudits and eulogies from the press.

For me it was another example of spin over substance. Hadn’t Gordon Brown been at the heart of government for the last ten years? Was the spat with Tony Blair about policies or power? In reality the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan grind on, privatisation continues apace, pay in the public sector is restrained and there is full support for academy schools. More of the same with a different face?

Headteachers arrived back at their desks to find a letter from the new schools minister Ed Balls. It started with a patronising tone congratulating them on results, then came the section that… well… was treating them like naughty school children, they had to go ‘back to basics’ and strive might and main to reach government targets. The fingerprints of an ambitious young politician, eager to ‘sort education’, were all over the document.

The latest ‘panic’ is over writing results for 7-year olds, a fall of 1% since 2006. This is partly due to the fact that the tests had become low key – expect that to change. The task of distinguishing whether a child is 2C or 1A is Byzantine in its complexity. Also most European countries don’t start any formal education until children reach 7 years of age.

When I was training I read some of Piaget’s work, most of it was fairly incomprehensible but one thing I did learn was the concept of ‘readiness to learn’, for young children that can vary dramatically. Boys in particular are often late developers, they need to develop verbal skills, listen to stories and develop fine motor skills. Shoe horning them into formal learning with tests that tell them they are failures can actually set them back.

Ed Balls hectoring letter was a total disgrace. There wasn’t much of a reaction from headteachers maybe they are too demoralised to respond. There are of course historical parallels. That grim utilitarian Chadwick was the architect of the 1834 Poor Law that criminalized poverty and imprisoned the poor in the hated workhouses. The diet was at subsistence level just above starvation. The Overseers of the Poor were constantly directed by missives from the Poor Law Commissioners on how to further restrict the diet to ‘the basics’.

So here we have Ed Balls’ prescribed diet for education ‘gruel and more gruel’. Welcome back, the exam factories have reopened!


"Boys in particular are often late developers...."

Or are treated / viewed differently? I don't want to question your experience. Mine have been quite different.

In a decade's worth of early childhood and school-age literacy work, I've seen no gender-based lag in reading skills (e.g., reading level), self-perception as a reader, or reading frequency. There's lots of cross-gender, individual differences, of course.

And as for the gender differences in school test outcomes or adults' characterizations of boys ...

As usual, your over-all argument is depressingly sound. (Or soundly depressing... sigh)
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