Monday, March 23, 2009

BSF – the best thing since sliced bread?

I’ve received a comment posted by C. Ellams from Liverpool about BSF -

Could your attitude be anymore negative about one of the most exciting projects in this country? I am sick of people looking down, moaning about taxpayers money being used up, this is education for God's sake not nuclear defence so why do you oppose worthy use of the taxpayers money? It is expensive but history tells us the best does not come cheap, all great additions need large finical backing, the London metropolitan sewers, motorways and regeneration of Manchester to name a few.

Teaching is outdated in the UK, sat behind desks in classes of 30 originated as a regimental approach from the Victorian era. The new school designed by Aedas Architects in Kirby is one of the best in the country and there is no need for parents to worry about their children not running off without doing any work as this method of teaching has been tried and tested all over Western Europe, beyond this prior to opening this school had a truancy rate of 48% and since opening attendance is at 88% so something is right. How do I know this? As I am currently writing a dissertation on the BSF programme and have made extensive research into the BSF and I am aware of the negative attitude from the media but none more full of rubbish than this article.

Most schools will close but not until new improved schools are opened. As for the comments about Knowsley being abandoned by teachers, universities are producing a huge amount of teachers aware of 21st century learning techniques and not stuck to their chalk and blackboard.

Finally schools being turned into learning centres, Oh Dear what a disaster! As I type with sarcasm, this is to supply facilities to the community at all hours and our children's education will not be affected. New schools will offer fantastic facilities state of the art laboratories, ICT, teaching zones, local libraries and sports facilities. It would be senseless to deprive Kirby of these facilities that they significantly lack and could teach the unemployed skills that they so drastically require to work. BSF is a good thing it just needs time.

Well, good luck with the dissertation C. Ellams it sounds as though you’ve been talking to some of the Knowsley ‘consultants’, I wonder if you have spent any time with teachers?

You start with the usual consultant-speak, which is to employ that well-known debating tactic – reduce your opponent’s arguments to absurdity. So am I really opposed to spending millions of pounds on new school facilities? Amazing as it may sound, I’m not, the devil is of course in the detail.

That other default mode that the consultants always employ is that any one opposed to BSF is a Luddite and technophobe. This tactic was constantly used at the ‘consultation’ meetings with teachers.

Of course it is true that some people are resistant to change. On the other side you do need to try and take people with you and motivate them. At the start of BSF in Knowsley it was spelt out that poor results = crap teachers. Let’s just say that moral didn’t improve when all teachers were informed they would all get a P45 and have to reapply for jobs in the new ‘Learning Centres’.

Despite extensive national advertising only 8 people applied for 5 posts as ‘Leaning Centre Manager’ (a.k.a. ‘Headteacher’). One school recently advertised for a Head of English and got zero applicants. Knowsley’s attitude to teachers being made redundant was ‘Good Riddance!’ but now they’ve been forced to introduce a ‘bumped’ redundancy policy where teachers can retire early and the post will go to a Knowsley teacher.

So shiny new buildings, state of the art computers, what else do you need? Er, yes, teachers. Social class, ethnic origin, gender, parental help, they all impact on children’s learning but the most significant factor is the quality of the teacher at the front of the class.

And just how good are the shiny new BSF buildings? Has C. Ellams managed to find the report by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment? They reviewed 40 designs and found that 80% were either ‘mediocre’ or ‘not yet good enough’.

The other implication is that use of computers and ICT in and of itself will improve children’s education. A book I’ve quoted many times is Larry Cuban’s ‘Oversold and Underused’. Effect use of computers depends on high levels of maintenance and excellent training for teachers. In Knowsley RM have been given the contract for ‘maintenance’. I have to smile. We have had a set of lap tops, for eighteen months, one of them has never worked, during that time RM and Knowsley have passed the buck between them – ‘not us try RM’ and ‘no, it’s Knowsley’. Wonderful.

In the original BSF material Knowsley extensively quoted the example of Bishop’s Park in Essex who had changed children’s learning experience by introducing a topic based curriculum and vocational courses. Look now and you won’t find it. Why? Because although Bishop’s Park serves a disadvantaged area test results were poor, they failed their Ofsted inspection, went into special measures and are now facing closure. How long will the Knowsley experiment last? Knowsley is already bottom of the GCSE table, poor results and we will be back to rote learning and testing. The Government are constantly threatening to sack the local authority and install a private contractor.

So, school or learning centre? No problem with either, it’s just that the other Knowsley mantra is ‘no change is not an option’. Interesting that, twenty years ago the old mutual building societies were told that they would have to convert to banks, ‘no change is not an option’. Just lending money for people to build houses was old fashioned. What’s happened since? They’ve had to be bailed out by the taxpayer.

So, BSF? Demoralise the teachers, shoddy buildings and over reliance on computers. Yeah, ‘no change is not an option’.

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