Category Archives: Comment

C14 Lessons from the USA

C14 Lessons from the USA

TRUMP SHOCK DOCTRINE FOR SCHOOLS

The Washington Post reported recently on the people Donald Trump has been talking to about schools. Advocates for community based public schools were not noticeable.

What is on its way has been called a ‘democratic disconnect’: the process by which services that once were managed and monitored by democratically accountable officers and elected representatives are handed over to private companies able to avoid scrutiny by citing commercial confidentiality.

In 2008 Brown and Jacobs wrote The Private Abuse of the Public Interest: Market Myths and Policy Muddles. They pointed out that the urge to privatise not only meant a retreat from public values and accountability but also generated a need for additional regulations and regulators. When there are holes in the road voters still wish them to be fixed. Who makes that happen if government is small and business is big? They noted that George W’s plans for smaller government increased its size. Not only do existing regulations and regulators not disappear but more regulations and regulators are needed to manage those now outside the public system. The difference is that voters cannot, for example, observe a local government education committee making the relevant decisions. Neither do their votes count as they once did.

In The Shock Doctrine (2007) Naomi Klein gave the example of how, following a hurricane, the residents of New Orleans returned to find that services such as schools were no longer public but private. A disaster creates turmoil and disorientation. Chaos provides opportunity, as Nick Boles, Michael Gove’s former flatmate, once pointed out. Cameron put him in charge of planning.

Thatcher, Baker, Blair, Adonis and Gove took several years to de-stabilise and disconnect schools. With Betsy DeVos in charge in the USA the democratic disconnect may come more quickly.

Fortunately, DeVos is sixteenth in line to be President should all those in front of her fall under a series of political buses: a small mercy.

Social Fracking is a long-term process of undermining social stability. The concept of choice is used a lot by social frackers. Voters are told that they will gain the power to choose but it is those in control of commodities with that power: children and their parents have a market value.

Trump is more a sudden shocker than a gradual fracker. Despite his assertions of inheriting a mess he has not. The speed at which he is dismantling social stabilisers plus the nature of the people he is placing in authority is providing the shock to create that mess. It is not easy to predict the outcome for schools in the USA but the pressure they will come under will unsettle teachers, children, parents and communities. The more time Trump and DeVos have the more extensive will be the damage.

Below is, first, a letter from the President of the American Federation of teachers and, second, a letter from the President of the National Education Association.

Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos are set to encounter resistance.

Cliff Jones, February 2017

February 14, 2017

Betsy DeVos

Secretary of Education

Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, D.C. 20202

Dear Secretary DeVos:

I watched this morning as you and President Trump reinforced the concerns raised by millions of parents, students, educators and the broader public during your confirmation process. Ninety percent of children in America attend public school, including children whose parents voted for Donald Trump. Yet, from what we could discern the president’s first meeting in the White House on education was used as a platform to denigrate—not strengthen—public schools with primarily private and home-schooling educators and parents as a backdrop.

Instead of continuing on a path of undermining public schools, we urge you—indeed challenge you—to take the more responsible path—to do the hard work that your oath of office as secretary of education requires. Demonstrate that you take seriously the responsibility that the Senate bestowed on you, not through photo ops or sound bites, but by responding in a real and thoughtful way to what parents and teachers need to strengthen our public schools for the students who attend and need them.

I invite you to see the broad diversity that is our strength, but also the challenges presented by the fact that half our children live in poverty. That is a factor that can neither be an excuse or ignored in our quest to help every single child climb up that ladder of opportunity.

I invite you to visit a public school, to spend hours in our classrooms, cafeterias, hallways, libraries, community rooms, nurses’ offices or all the little crevices and corners inside and outside school buildings where educators engage, nurture and grow this generation of children.

teachers what they need to be successful, or paraprofessionals how they spend their days. Talk to parents about supports they would like for their students, or ask them what they like about their public schools. Ask students about their educational experience. This—more than any particular ideology—will help inform every decision you make as secretary.

You are now the secretary of education for all of the students in the United States. Public school teachers and parents all over America are waiting for you to walk their walk.

Sincerely,

Randi Weingarten

President

American Federation of Teachers.

February 14, 2017

The Honorable Betsy DeVos

Secretary of Education 400 Maryland Avenue SW LBJ Education Building Washington DC 20202

Dear Secretary DeVos:

I am writing in response to your voice mail. I’m an elementary teacher from Utah. I’ve taught in middle-class suburbs. I’ve taught homeless children and hard-to-place foster kids in a residential home. I know how important it is for my students to have education leaders who understand their lives and the support they need. As president of the 3-million-member National Education Association, I look for partners to stand with us as we protect the rights of all our students.

NEA will continue to fight for students, educators, and public schools. I will make sure the voices of educators are heard and that policymakers understand that investing in public schools is an investment in the next generation of teachers, scientists, welders, and even politicians.

It’s important for educators, parents, and communities to know where you stand on some of the most critical work of the federal Department of Education. I must ask you to give us the substantive answers that I did not hear you give to the senators at your hearing on issues critical to our students:

1. Do you agree that all schools receiving public dollars must be held to the same accountability and transparency standards?

2. Will you agree not to privatize funding for Special Education or Title I?

3. Will you stand with educators and protect our most vulnerable students from discrimination, including LGBT students, immigrant students, students of color, girls and English language learners?

4. Will you focus, as educators are focused, on the civil rights of all children, regardless of their zip code, by challenging the inequities so many face in equal access to programs, services and support?

For us, there is a wrong answer to these questions. Privatizing and profiting from public education has not moved us toward equity, equal access, non-discrimination, and opportunity for all students. NEA members will never waver in our determination to create a system that works for ALL children. Educators, students, and parents deserve to know that the U.S. Secretary of Education will do the same.

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Lily Eskelsen García

1989 Utah Teacher of the Year

President, National Education Association

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/02/14/heres-who-trump-invited-to-the-white-house-to-talk-about-schools-the-list-says-a-lot-about-his-education-priorities/?utm_campaign=buffer&utm_content=buffer0cfe1&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_term=.bbcee8d705dd

C14 Lessons from the USA

TRUMP SHOCK DOCTRINE FOR SCHOOLS

The Washington Post reported recently on the people Donald Trump has been talking to about schools. Advocates for community based public schools were not noticeable.

What is on its way has been called a ‘democratic disconnect’: the process by which services that once were managed and monitored by democratically accountable officers and elected representatives are handed over to private companies able to avoid scrutiny by citing commercial confidentiality.

In 2008 Brown and Jacobs wrote The Private Abuse of the Public Interest: Market Myths and Policy Muddles. They pointed out that the urge to privatise not only meant a retreat from public values and accountability but also generated a need for additional regulations and regulators. When there are holes in the road voters still wish them to be fixed. Who makes that happen if government is small and business is big? They noted that George W’s plans for smaller government increased its size. Not only do existing regulations and regulators not disappear but more regulations and regulators are needed to manage those now outside the public system. The difference is that voters cannot, for example, observe a local government education committee making the relevant decisions. Neither do their votes count as they once did.

In The Shock Doctrine (2007) Naomi Klein gave the example of how, following a hurricane, the residents of New Orleans returned to find that services such as schools were no longer public but private. A disaster creates turmoil and disorientation. Chaos provides opportunity, as Nick Boles, Michael Gove’s former flatmate, once pointed out. Cameron put him in charge of planning.

Thatcher, Baker, Blair, Adonis and Gove took several years to de-stabilise and disconnect schools. With Betsy DeVos in charge in the USA the democratic disconnect may come more quickly.

Fortunately, DeVos is sixteenth in line to be President should all those in front of her fall under a series of political buses: a small mercy.

Social Fracking is a long-term process of undermining social stability. The concept of choice is used a lot by social frackers. Voters are told that they will gain the power to choose but it is those in control of commodities with that power: children and their parents have a market value.

Trump is more a sudden shocker than a gradual fracker. Despite his assertions of inheriting a mess he has not. The speed at which he is dismantling social stabilisers plus the nature of the people he is placing in authority is providing the shock to create that mess. It is not easy to predict the outcome for schools in the USA but the pressure they will come under will unsettle teachers, children, parents and communities. The more time Trump and DeVos have the more extensive will be the damage.

Below is, first, a letter from the President of the American Federation of teachers and, second, a letter from the President of the National Education Association.

Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos are set to encounter resistance.

Cliff Jones, February 2017

February 14, 2017

Betsy DeVos

Secretary of Education

Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, D.C. 20202

Dear Secretary DeVos:

I watched this morning as you and President Trump reinforced the concerns raised by millions of parents, students, educators and the broader public during your confirmation process. Ninety percent of children in America attend public school, including children whose parents voted for Donald Trump. Yet, from what we could discern the president’s first meeting in the White House on education was used as a platform to denigrate—not strengthen—public schools with primarily private and home-schooling educators and parents as a backdrop.

Instead of continuing on a path of undermining public schools, we urge you—indeed challenge you—to take the more responsible path—to do the hard work that your oath of office as secretary of education requires. Demonstrate that you take seriously the responsibility that the Senate bestowed on you, not through photo ops or sound bites, but by responding in a real and thoughtful way to what parents and teachers need to strengthen our public schools for the students who attend and need them.

I invite you to see the broad diversity that is our strength, but also the challenges presented by the fact that half our children live in poverty. That is a factor that can neither be an excuse or ignored in our quest to help every single child climb up that ladder of opportunity.

I invite you to visit a public school, to spend hours in our classrooms, cafeterias, hallways, libraries, community rooms, nurses’ offices or all the little crevices and corners inside and outside school buildings where educators engage, nurture and grow this generation of children.

teachers what they need to be successful, or paraprofessionals how they spend their days. Talk to parents about supports they would like for their students, or ask them what they like about their public schools. Ask students about their educational experience. This—more than any particular ideology—will help inform every decision you make as secretary.

You are now the secretary of education for all of the students in the United States. Public school teachers and parents all over America are waiting for you to walk their walk.

Sincerely,

Randi Weingarten

President

American Federation of Teachers.

February 14, 2017

The Honorable Betsy DeVos

Secretary of Education 400 Maryland Avenue SW LBJ Education Building Washington DC 20202

Dear Secretary DeVos:

I am writing in response to your voice mail. I’m an elementary teacher from Utah. I’ve taught in middle-class suburbs. I’ve taught homeless children and hard-to-place foster kids in a residential home. I know how important it is for my students to have education leaders who understand their lives and the support they need. As president of the 3-million-member National Education Association, I look for partners to stand with us as we protect the rights of all our students.

NEA will continue to fight for students, educators, and public schools. I will make sure the voices of educators are heard and that policymakers understand that investing in public schools is an investment in the next generation of teachers, scientists, welders, and even politicians.

It’s important for educators, parents, and communities to know where you stand on some of the most critical work of the federal Department of Education. I must ask you to give us the substantive answers that I did not hear you give to the senators at your hearing on issues critical to our students:

1. Do you agree that all schools receiving public dollars must be held to the same accountability and transparency standards?

2. Will you agree not to privatize funding for Special Education or Title I?

3. Will you stand with educators and protect our most vulnerable students from discrimination, including LGBT students, immigrant students, students of color, girls and English language learners?

4. Will you focus, as educators are focused, on the civil rights of all children, regardless of their zip code, by challenging the inequities so many face in equal access to programs, services and support?

For us, there is a wrong answer to these questions. Privatizing and profiting from public education has not moved us toward equity, equal access, non-discrimination, and opportunity for all students. NEA members will never waver in our determination to create a system that works for ALL children. Educators, students, and parents deserve to know that the U.S. Secretary of Education will do the same.

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Lily Eskelsen García

1989 Utah Teacher of the Year

President, National Education Association

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/02/14/heres-who-trump-invited-to-the-white-house-to-talk-about-schools-the-list-says-a-lot-about-his-education-priorities/?utm_campaign=buffer&utm_content=buffer0cfe1&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_term=.bbcee8d705dd

C13 Education as a ‘Political Circus’

C13 Education as a ‘Political Circus’

In the autumn of 2015 SOSS published an analysis of the School Revolution, a video from the Department for Education produced in spring 2014. This publicised the changes of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition, merely the latest stage of a process of constant change to English schools rampant for over a generation. There has been a virtual permanent revolution, using massive resources and teacher energy with few obvious improvements, if the latest PISA results are to be believed.

Why is it that English schools are forced to jump through these hoops? Ed Straw discusses here not the latest changes, but the process of change itself. As he says, what schools have to endure is “a circus where political will is trumps”. There may be different analyses of what the root causes are, and SOSS would highlight the Callaghan speech at Ruskin 40 years ago, which is not mentioned here. But there can be no doubt that the politicisation of English education is, as Ed Straw discusses here, the core problem which now has to be addressed. TF.

Where’s the Learning in Schools Policy?

Ed Straw

As our government zigzags on yet another approach for schools, I wonder why, unlike most countries, we can’t settle on a model and Get It Right. Consider that in no other European country do politicians agree so little on how its school system should be managed. The incessant arguments here about secondary schools, their ownership and control, structure, testing, exam results and curricula we take as ‘normal’ surprise and confuse visitors from abroad.

The German (selective) system has been in place since its independence in 1949 (imagine that here). In Finland (comprehensive) – usually acknowledged to be Europe’s top educational performer – the political parties went into the 2015 general election with a shared commitment to a policy document they had worked on with teacher and head teacher unions, parent groups and secondary school students.

Good grief, politicians agreeing for the greater good: how terribly backward, they must be foreign. But these countries know that education policy takes consensus to work – hardly surprising given the nature of the task: a collective social good; for a solid economy other children’s education is as important to us as our own; and the penalty of a poor education is felt by us all – in taxes, crime, and social cohesion.

Here, the latest rabbit has been pulled from the policy hat: grammar schools and the repoliticisation of a debate many thought over in the 1970s. You might have reacted rather wearily, as I did, to Theresa May’s announcement. Assuming that this was not simply an expedient diversion from the Brexit fix, or a generous attempt to give us all something else to talk about, then it’s time once more for us to put our hands in our pockets as the canoe of state zigzags from bank to bank consuming our cash in yet another ‘reform’ programme. These programmes evidently don’t work as they would have ceased long ago if they had. These violent policy alterations cost an unquantified lot in taxes, in disruption to children’s education, and in teacher stress. I’ve spent a working lifetime in and around governments and I’ve seen the waste endemic in our system regardless of the colour of the party in power.

Asked which A level pupils come best prepared from four different types of school around Chichester, a chemistry tutor who’s also my mother in law replied, ‘It depends on the teacher.’ And not on the type of school. On reflection, it fits into the ‘bleeding obvious’ category. Quality of education is ultimately determined by the teacher, and her or his experience, motivation, methods, and relationships with the pupils.

Of course, every school has an influence on the quality of teaching through its culture,

architecture, and management. And these in turn are affected by its governance. By governance I mean the combination of the school governors and their powers, and how the superstructure above seeks to exercise control and accountability – be it a local education authority, Ofsted, its private school equivalent, the Department for Education, and/or an academy chain company, and last and at present least, us.

But, the further away from the classroom these factors are, the less their influence will be felt. Indeed, many schools are now so proficient at managing Ofsted inspections they can ‘tick the boxes’ without disturbing the classrooms. The longer the threads of governance the more random the outcomes. It’s the major fault line in centralized states.

With academy chains, governance has been handed over to ‘charities’ controlled by (largely business) people who are content to be measured by a narrow range of academic results rather than wider objectives. Previously, school governance was largely in the hands of local authorities, themselves with sufficient issues of bureaucracy and lack of accountability to stimulate the search for alternatives.

One response might have been to work harder to make all local authorities into good governors of schools. But this would take real local government, that is government of a locality by its people, something the UK lost a long while back. In our ‘local authorities”, 90%+ of decisions are taken by the unelected officials often straight jacketed by instruments or ‘guidance’ from Whitehall – itself remote from the accountability of democracy – these are not local govts.

In Finland, there is more ‘local’ politics around education, particularly through much higher levels of parent participation in governance of schools. This combines with much more willingness to trust teachers to do the right thing and less hierarchical structures in schools. The huge irony is that a political process that contains no mechanisms for learning is used to attempt to improve learning in schools. Madness? Like many before me I gave up working on government policy. It is the most frustrating and opaque process, even for an insider/outsider like me, the results of which are often futile.

A very brief history of the zigzag of schools policies is instructive: we saw a highly selective two tier system settling in during the 50s and 60s, followed by the closure of usually sink ‘secondary moderns’ and of most grammar schools, and their replacement with non-selective comprehensives – many of which survive today. But concerns grew over the performance of some schools, fuelled by Mrs Thatcher’s attachment to ideology, such that in the 80s the modern approach kicked off. Since then we have had the marginalization or removal of local education authorities, special measures and academies for failing schools, the upsurge of Ofsted and testing, a renewed confidence in private schools, proposed and rescinded academy chains for all schools, and now grammars once more.

But the nature of our political system has compelled successive radical secretaries of state for education – Kenneth Baker in 1988, David Blunkett in 1997, Michael Gove in 2010 (and now PMs David Cameron in 2015 and Theresa May in 2016) – to go through a similar process: developing policy in private without engaging those essential to its operation; promising publically that they will deliver major change; arguing that they alone know how this can be achieved; insisting that the urgency of the task requires them to direct things from the centre; directing people’s energies towards a narrow range of test score targets; raising everyone’s stress levels; ignoring the voices of those warning of dangers ahead; undermining the motivation of those responsible for making their policies work; and bringing forth legislation that, at root, mirrors their own experience of education – apparently believing that what worked for them some decades ago will work for everybody in very different circumstances.

It falls to each of their successors to point out the limitations of such a one-dimensional approach to managing a complex system. This leads to their re-opening a limited dialogue with the profession, trying to repair the damage done to trust and morale, working out how to broaden the focus of the curriculum, and sometimes re-inventing the systems that were designed with such care a decade or so previously, then torn down before they had a chance to reach maturity … without of course confessing that this is what they are doing. (The NHS is another victim of zigzag government.

This approach to policy making is termed DAD – Decide, Announce, Defend. It has a long, costly, and conflict-inducing history. You will have experienced it many times. A government or a council announces that a hospital is to be closed, a flood defence to be constructed across your front garden, a new policy on welfare to be introduced. Pause for the shock to sink in…..and then those who consider it wrong mount a defence. If effective, this can go on for years until either the proposal is rescinded or forced through. The original decision is often taken quickly. But delivering the policy may take years or even decades. It leaves the ‘losers’ sore and disenfranchised.

This ‘expert, top-down’ model of decision-making suits those that believe they know best for whatever reason: of their education, intellect, or ego. It saves the messy business of engaging with the public and comprehending the actual complexity of the real world. Being ‘decisive’ makes for good politics – even though ‘strong’ government is rarely what is needed.

For how much longer will we have to endure this circus where political whim is trumps, knowledge is disposable, and commitment a foreign concept? The zigzag nature of policy-making has made it impossible to establish effective solutions. The waste of resources that results from ‘reform’ in perpetuity, and the damage it inflicts on the life chances of the young people caught up in the whirligig of change, are never measured. Running a system in a state of permanent revolution and high anxiety has significant downsides. It may seem extraordinary but Theresa May and the others are content to use children as guinea pigs. Politicians’ ideologies are evidently more important than children’s education.

The net result of 30 years of this political contest is that some schools are educating to a very high standard and children flourish. At the other end are ‘ASNLs’ – at school and not learning – the classic adolescent boys I meet: bored, alienated and rich in testosterone, unable to make sense of the purpose of 5 GCSEs when their destiny is the vital jobs of hill farming or broadband network builders. The Children’s Society has highlighted the levels of emotional distress experienced by large numbers of young people – traceable to schools? In A Mindfulness Guide For The Frazzled, Ruby Wax comments: “Right now children are being hot housed for exams. But no-one’s asking how much they can take before they burn their little brains out from the pressure.”

As an active parent, my daughter is presently plotting a way through the shifting maze of catchment and school grading, seeking out what is perceived to be the best school whilst avoiding the most traffic polluted, moving house to do so or, not in her case, contemplating temporarily adopting a religion. Others, committed to inclusive education but with the resources, throw in the towel to go private. Passive parents accept their inadequate lot.

A more experienced teacher explained his tactics for minimising the form filling, although subsequently he fell foul of the small print and was ‘let go’. Whilst a younger friend describes her long hours filing her lesson plans, risk assessments, training and performance management objectives, class profiles, and intervention reports, as well as transferring data from apparently online systems. Her school has 6 year olds on betablockers. 11 hour days for five days plus a Saturday or Sunday are her working week: an unhealthy and unsustainable regimen. Unvalued or miscritiqued good teachers leave for the private sector and more balanced appraisal processes. Levels of teacher turnover may make it impossible to grow a culture of mutual support and collective growth.

Heads and their senior teams we meet, expend time and energy on ‘gaming’ the performance measures and insulating staff from the blunt instrument of Ofsted, when they should be focusing on designing great learning experiences. Good head teachers are put out to grass because of one bad set of figures … whose explanation can be traced back to factors over which they had no control.

In this absorption with procedure and test scores, the key question gets lost: what is the point of schools? We hear only self-scoring politicians rhetorically massaging statistics to ‘prove’ their policies right, or if it’s the Opposition, then to ‘prove’ them wrong. You might as well get football managers to announce the scores at the end of the game – ‘Oh, we won again? Golly gosh.’

The statistical debate centres on exam and test scores. But schools play a far wider role than this, from the basic – reading, writing, and arithmetic; to the medium term trajectories through life of say neurosurgeons or railway workers – at work and home; to employment and the economy; to pure education for a civil society. In these days of big data the ‘epidemiology’ of school systems is surely entirely possible. But without a constitutional requirement for accurate feedback, the policy maker’s lens suffers from myopia.

If the lens were transparent we would see, for example, that the UK has never really ‘got’ vocational education and its many merits – historic class divisions, educational snobbery, and adversarial politics have got in the way. By contrast, consider Italy, where tourism is a major industry. At age 14, pupils can join vocational and technical schools for three years to specialise in hospitality and food alongside their general education. In regions where particular skills are needed, in ceramic tile production or aircraft maintenance for example, there are found schools for those skills. If France is a major market for these same industries, French will be on the syllabus – to communicate not to learn its grammar. The results of schooling become industry wide. In Germany, the strength of both its vocational education and of its manufacturing and engineering industries is presumably not coincidental.

The CBI is a regular critic of the skill levels being produced by the school system. Martin Wolf in the FT on coping with Brexit, states: “The UK has to rectify longstanding supply-side failings. The list includes ….. inadequate basic education of much of the population and the innumeracy of much of its elite.” (I did enjoy that latter point).

In the 25th anniversary edition of The Big Issue, its founder John Bird comments: “Recently I have been working in the House of Lords on issues of literacy and the around 30 per cent of our children who pass through school and come out ill-prepared for life. This is one area that we could put useful energies into because many of the people we work with have not done well at school.”

Meantime here, big companies have come to depend on well-educated East Europeans – understandably avoiding the cost of the retro fitting of skills for local people. Whilst the economic supply-side of vocational education fails to provide, the demand-side for solidly educated workers fuels within EU immigration (Nota Bene: from stable state systems). Nigel Farage advocates grammar schools, but his policy of reducing immigration might be better served by strong, respected and valued vocational education as an integral part of secondary schooling: grammar schools don’t do vocation. So much to learn amid the political party posturing preventing it.

There is an alternative approach to making policy: EDD – Engage, Deliberate, Decide. This means making policy in the open, accessible to all who are interested, gathering and promulgating a real fact base, looking at other countries’ systems, and talking about it away from adversarial politics and ideologies. The final decision becomes relatively straightforward. Most significantly, all those involved in making the system work – teachers, parents, pupils, employers, governors, and funders – are committed to it, a precondition for success. With stability, all can put their energies into its operation, rather than into yet another argument. And, guess what, you will find selective and non-selective systems that work well – it’s not the structure, it’s the commitment, the stability, and the system.

To state the obvious, schools are all about learning. But learning should apply as much in the development of its policy: first to learn from previous mistakes, second from the waste of zigzag, third from all the real facts and information out there, fourth from all those engaged in schools, and fifth from other countries. This takes time and humility, but not anywhere as much time as has been consumed by our political process in the last 30 years.

If we really want the ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’ espoused by the 2015 white paper, or ‘Schools That Work For Everyone’ as the 2016 green paper is named, would we succeed by starting an argument over grammar schools? Politics cannot deliver these aspirational titles. It hasn’t and it won’t. Good EDD will.

Ed Straw

with James Park

Ed Straw was for 20 years a partner at the professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, specialising in organisational strategy and performance. He served on the UK and global boards. He has been Chair of Relate, the national relationship charity, and the think tank Demos. He consulted extensively on both Thatcher’s and New Labour’s public service reforms and their implementation. He was advisor to the Labour government on its policy for families and on civil service reform. He was the architect of New Labour’s re-organisation in the mid-90s. In 2014, he published Stand & Deliver: A Design For Successful Government. His pamphlets include Relative Values (Demos, 1996) and The Dead Generalist (Demos, 2004).

James Park was the founding director of the charity Antidote (1997-2010) set up with psychotherapist Susie Orbach to work for a society where the facility to handle the complexities of our emotional lives was as commonplace as the ability to read, write and do arithmetic. He was the editor of the monthly journal Emotional Literacy Update for five years, wrote the Demos report Detoxifying School Accountability: the case for multi-perspective inspection (2013) and served on the government advisory group on Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning. He recently set up a new charity, ProgressWay, to demonstrate the power of collective bottom-up innovation to ensure public service organizations can deliver their true purpose. His books include Learning to Dream: the New British Cinema (1984, Faber); Icons: Key Figures of the Late Twentieth Century (1991, Bloomsbury); Shrinks: the Analysts Analyzed (1992, Bloomsbury) and Sons, Mothers and Other Lovers (1994, Little Brown).

The Callaghan Speech and Its Consequences

Introduction:
Assessing a turning point in English Education.

In October 1976, Labour Prime Minister Callaghan made a speech at Ruskin college which has shaped English education for forty years. Before, Prime Ministers did not discuss education. Afterward, they have hardly stopped. It has never been forgotten in the Westminster bubble. As recently as April 2016, Schools Minister Nick Gibb commented that “this year marks the 40th anniversary of Jim Callaghan’s Ruskin speech, a landmark speech in which Callaghan in many ways set the direction of reform for the next 4 decades”.

There is no doubt that Callaghan did set an agenda which is still influential to this day. As such it needs to be brought into focus and analysed for its long term effects. Did the speech set a positive course, or has its effects been mixed? Has the course now been run? SOSS, with support from Lord Watson of Invergowrie, staged a seminar chaired by Lord Watson in the House of Lords to promote a debate around the speech.

This is the record of the contributions of the four main speakers, who looked at different aspects of the legacy. Lord Donoughue was head of the Number 10 policy unit at the time of the speech and was responsible for its production, Professor Richard Pring who was active in schools at the time after a career in the Department of Education before becoming head of the Education Department at Oxford University discussed the background to the speech back to the 1944 Education Act, Lord Blunkett talked about the impact of the speech on Labour thinking, and Fiona Miller, writer and journalist, commented on the lasting impact of the speech.

The seminar opened up a wide range of issues for further debate, emphasising the importance of Callaghan’s initiative and its relevance for contemporary developments. As Fiona Millar said, it was the 1976 speech and not the 1988 Education Reform Act which was the most important development in education after the 1944 Act. Richard Pring pointed to a sea change from the key belief after 1944 that politicians should not “get their hands on education” to a belief after 1976 that they should do so. The seminar posed the questions of effect and value which arise from this sea change.

40 years after the Ruskin speech there was agreement at the seminar that it is time to take stock. What has been gained and what lost by political intervention in state schools? Is it now time for a new Great Debate on education purpose and outcomes, which Callaghan intended to be the outcome of his speech. Did this happen? If so, with what effects? What are the lessons of History on the 40 years since the Ruskin speech?

Trevor Fisher

Report of the Seminar

Symposium On Sustainable Schools Seminar On Jim Callaghan’s 1976 Ruskin College Speech Held At The House Of Lords On Thursday, 17th November 2016.

The panel: Lord Bernhard Donoughue, Prime Minister Callaghan’s Head of the Policy Unit in 1976; Lord David Blunkett, former Secretary of State for Education, 1997-2001; Fiona Millar, journalist and education activist; Emeritus Professor Richard Pring, Oxford University. In the chair, Lord Mike Watson, Labour Education spokesperson in the House of Lords.

Mike Watson welcomed those attending this event and introduced the panel and SOSS organisers of the event, Trevor Fisher and Richard Sidley.

Richard Pring opened the seminar in order to set the scene and the context of the speech. He admitted that it was based very much on anecdotal evidence but there was a consensus view that in the post 1944 Education Act period civil servants, and education professionals should “be prepared to die at the first ditch, should politicians get their hands on education!” As far as the Ministry of Education was concerned its primary function was to manage resources – allocate the money and ensure that there were appropriate numbers of teachers. It was to have little or nothing to do with the curriculum! In 1960 this was described, by Education Minister, David Eccles, as the “Secret Garden”. In keeping with the post 1944 philosophy the Schools Council was created in 1964 which put teachers and other education professionals firmly in control and which spawned many projects that were “teacher led” and free from political interference. It led to the establishment of teachers’ centres around the country to enable teachers to work together in curriculum development. However by the late 1960s and early 1970s there was growing opposition through the publication of the “Black Papers” to the ideas of John Dewey, the recommendations of the Plowden Report and so called “progressive child centred education” as exemplified by the William Tyndale School scandal.

Bernard Donoughue was Head of the No 10 Policy Unit in 1976. He had worked with Jim Callaghan for several years and knew him well. When Callaghan took over from Harold Wilson in 1976, he confided in Bernard Donoghue, wondering how he could make his mark as the new Prime Minister? Donoughue agreed to produce a paper of “broad sweep” initiatives on themes of government but where education was concerned, the theme was, “restoring higher standards in education, which turned out well qualified and employable young people, (who were) NOT just socially adjusted” – a reference to the education philosopher, John Dewey. The idea of “making his mark” in education appealed to Jim Callaghan, who in British Prime Ministerial terms, was relatively uneducated having left school at 14 and never attending university. Bernard Donoughue was keen to point out that, relatively uneducated, Callaghan may have been, but he possessed a powerful mind which many colleagues, and civil servants found very intimidating.

The political context of the speech was the economic turbulence of the 1970s and the increasing pressures from the IMF to sort out the British economy. Once again, the idea of improving education appealed to Callaghan. The speech was a joint effort between Donoughue and different advisors including Jill Arnott and it was shared with the then Education Minister, Fred Mulley, who urged caution on Callaghan. At this point the speech was leaked to the Times Educational Supplement (TES) where it was attacked and these attacks were personally directed at Callaghan.

The final draft was written over the summer and amended by Donoughue. When Callaghan was asked to lay a foundation stone at Ruskin College, Oxford, the Prime Minister saw this as an opportunity to deliver this important speech. Reaction in the hall was deferential but there were interruptions from “bearded leftists”! The response to the speech from the Chief HMI was to hold Bernard Donoughue personally responsible and to claim that “the Prime Minister had no right to get involved in education!” In its response the Department of Education took issue with the speech but without addressing the issues that Jim Callaghan had raised.

During the remaining period of the Callaghan premiership, little was carried through largely because education was overtaken by other issues including the economy, the LibLab Pact and the winter of discontent.

David Blunkett agreed that for the wider context and background to the speech it was necessary to go back to the Butler Act and the post war settlement. Education had not been on the Wilson agenda when Labour returned to power in 1964 as suggested by the fact that when offered the department Roy Jenkins had rejected it. Education was simply not sought out as the means of climbing the “greasy pole”. Even the impact of Tony Crossland in encouraging the spread of comprehensive schools had happened more “in passing” than driven by political zeal. However, David Blunkett did believe that the Ruskin Speech had changed the course of history by raising education as an important issue.

It took time but Margaret Thatcher understood this and with the appointments of Sir Keith Joseph who embarked on examination reform with GCSE and Ken Baker with Local Management of Schools, School Governance and the National Curriculum in 1988.

Labour initially opposed much of the Tory agenda but later accepted these reforms and changes. When Labour came to power in 1997 its areas of focus were: early years and Sure Start; building new schools; Literacy and Numeracy Strategies; innovative programmes like “Excellence in Cities” targeting resources at schools and local authorities most socially and economically deprived to raise standards; Further Education; Lifelong Learning and the Trade Union Learning Fund.

There were wide-ranging strategies to address the issues of under-achievement, “so blending the values of inclusion and being hard headed enough to improve the system”. To underpin all of this, Professor Tim Brighouse set up the Standards and Effectiveness Unit under Sir Michael Barber, with considerable support and advice from Professor Tim Brighouse, which brought theory and practice together.

David Blunkett was robust in his belief that there was a direct link with the discussions that had taken place between Callaghan and Donoughue fifty years ago and confirmed that it had been necessary then and when New Labour came to power in 1997 for Government to drive change in education.

Fiona Millar always had a soft spot for Ruskin as her parents had met there and she had re-read the Ruskin speech many times, and always noticed something new in it. She believed that 1976 and not as many believe, 1988 is the start of the story. Government “intervention” was needed for two reasons. First, in terms of the amount of public money that is spent on education and the right of the tax payer to know how it is spent. Second, because education is by nature political and goes to the heart of the society we want to see. The key is to achieve the right balance between political vision and excessive interference.

When considering the long term impact of the Ruskin speech it is striking how many issues have not been resolved. When you consider the Tawney aspiration of an education system that is best for all our children and then see the gap that exists between our best and worst off children and also that we still hear from employers that the education system does not give them the skills and attributes they need.

It seems our system is too centralised, too focussed on market solutions and the hierarchy of schools persist still. What would Jim Callaghan have made of what happens now?

More accountability had to be a good thing. Investment, a continuing focus on teaching, leadership, early years have all contributed to school improvement. Where parents are concerned, greater accountability has also helped e.g. her own children’s primary school in the 1990s when she first became a governor. No doubt that being bottom of the league tables and slated by Ofsted provides a strong incentive to improve schools and Governors have more data which is a good thing. Previously governors would have no way of knowing whether their school was doing a good job or not or how it compared with its neighbouring schools.

However, there are many issues that raise concern, for example, head teachers faced with the dilemma of doing what is best for their school against what is best for their pupils. Too much accountability can drive the wrong sort of behaviour e.g. bullying management, teaching to the test.

There are many unintended consequences, for example, massively increased teacher workload and the de-professionalization of teachers together with a lack of trust. The negative school culture and fear of forced academisation; the link between results and inspections which generates individual fears of job loss for heads and teachers. Issues of inclusion and segregation which have arisen from a combination of parent choice, league tables, and too many freedoms on school admissions which drive covert selection in order to advantage the school. A school curriculum which has either been down-graded by the use of some less valuable qualifications become too narrow.

With more direct government intervention has come the idea of a basic entitlement which is fundamentally good. However once again too much political interference driven by the political cycle is not. There is a need for a truly independent body to act as a counterweight to too much politically driven short term change. The fact that there is still no real value placed on vocational, practical, technical education years after the Tomlinson Report and at a time when those recommendations would have been slowly implemented is an indictment against the politicians

It was probably the case that when Callaghan made his Ruskin speech he was calling for a modest extension of government involvement. But from our perspective today, it has spiralled out of control. For example, before 1988 which heralded the biggest post Ruskin changes the Secretary of State had three basics powers (Removal of wartime air raid shelters; determination of teacher training numbers; approval of opening and closure of schools.) After 1988 it rose to 250 powers. In 2016 it is 2500 powers and there is significant education legislation every two years!

Nothing that goes on in schools is not the business of government, whereas local government has virtually no say in its local schools. Add in over 5000 schools directly contracted to the DFE, with different funding agreements and you might say Callaghan’s ideas have been taken to the extreme. The “diversity of schools” on offer does not necessarily raise standards but offers huge opportunity for unethical and even criminal behaviour, as we have seen recently. The deliberate and ideologically driven fragmentation of the school system presents huge problems of oversight and accountability.

Concluding Comments.

Fiona Millar believed we needed a local system holding schools to account. Take back control of teacher training and ally schools with universities. Move away from OFSTED and towards school peer review and broader range of measures to judge how well a school is doing. Also needed to address the need for better technical, practical, vocational education.

David Blunkett agreed with everything that Fiona Millar had said and would abolish OFQUAL. Accountability was a very big issue but we should avoid re-writing history.

Bernhard Donoughue believed that Callaghan genuinely wanted to do more than just make “his mark”. Donoughue believed that Jim Callaghan wanted to do something to address employers’ concerns and believed government had to do something about them.

Richard Pring said that lessons can and should be learnt from history! He wanted to see previous forms of school assessment reconsidered. There needed to be national projects leading into the National Curriculum. Teachers must be given a greater role. We need a Royal Commission to reflect and consider on the state system of education not piecemeal “reform” driven by political agendas.

Mike Watson closed by thanking everyone, speakers and audience for their contribution to a stimulating seminar which had provided much food for thought.

Report by Richard Sidley

 

The Callaghan Speech – education’s tipping point

Callaghan’s Ruskin speech – Education’s Tipping Point?

In October 1976 the Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan, gave a speech at Ruskin College in Oxford which still defines education politics today. Before Callaghan, no Prime Minister had ever given a speech about Education. Since he spoke, politicians have not stopped talking about schools.

In the Westminster bubble the speech has never been forgotten. Schools minister Nick Gibb made this explicit in a speech to an ASCL curriculum conference on April 27th. (1) Gibb argued that “this year marks the 40th anniversary of Jim Callaghan’s Ruskin Speech, a landmark speech in which Callaghan in many ways set the direction of reform for the next 4 decades”. For Gibb, the most important part of the speech was his curriculum comments notably Callaghan’s criticism of the view that children should have “just enough learning to earn their living in the factory”. Callaghan had argued, as Gibb said, that schools should “equip children to the best of their ability for a lively, constructive place in society”. Callaghan argued for a more balanced and rounded curriculum, though with a utilitarian and scientific bent, highlighting concerns which Margaret Thatcher would address a decade later through the short lived Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI).

Controversially, Gibb argued “Many during Callaghan’s time referred to the curriculum as the ‘secret garden’ for policy makers, but I think that the curriculum has also in recent history been… seen as slightly peripheral when it comes to driving improvement”. Callaghan certainly can be seen as proposing the National |Curriculum introduced in the 1988 Conservative Education Reform Act and it is very odd that Gibb thinks the curriculum has been neglected. He witnessed the disputes over Michael Gove’s revised National Curriculum from 2010-2013 and must be aware David Cameron described the Gove reforms as vital to national economic prosperity in words which echo Callaghan’s speech. Cameron said “This curriculum marks a new chapter in British education… As Prime Minister I know this revolution in education is critical for Britain’s* prosperity in the decades to come”. (2) How can Nick Gibb argue that with the new plans in place curriculum has become peripheral? However he is quite right to argue the Callaghan speech represented a fundamental shift of opinion.

Callaghan himself said before his death in 2005 that “of all the speeches I have delivered in a long political life, the Ruskin Speech is the one that is best remembered” (3). Two decades after the event, Tony Blair went to Ruskin to claim Education for Labour in the run up to the 1997 victory. Three decades later, his Schools Minister Andrew Adonis wrote an approving article in which he said Callaghan’s speech “lit a flare that has illuminated education reform ever since” (4). The Conservative Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, in recalling the speech claimed it for the politics of the present government. But what was the speech and why has it become legendary?

Primarily the speech was an assertion that politicians had the right to comment on education. Previously, the government role was limited to providing schools and teachers: while councils and teachers decided school policy. In 1960 Conservative Education Minister David Eccles had defined schools as “The Secret Garden” and the lack of information on what was happening in classrooms led Callaghan to call for what he called “the Great Debate”. Callaghan did not use the phrase “the Great Debate” at Ruskin, but he had used this in the Commons four days earlier. The phrase ‘Secret Garden’ did not appear in the speech either, but hung in the air.

Callaghan was not prescriptive about how more openness in school politics could be achieved, He focussed on standards, teaching methods, and the curriculum, showing a somewhat utilitarian concern for the needs of industry. The long running standards debate was seen in an economic context – Callaghan spoke of ‘complaints from industry that new recruits do not have the basic tools to do the job’ – with mathematics highlighted. He was concerned about the lack of interest in joining industry and the gender gap in science, querying “why is it that such a high proportion of girls abandon science before leaving school?” The Prime Minister did not commit to specifics on curriculum or the inspectorate, refusing to pronounce on “whether there should be be a basic curriculum with universal standards.. nor.. the role of the inspectorate”. It would be Conservative governments which brought in the National Curriculum and the Ofsted inspectorate.

Callaghan’s most contentious contribution was on teaching methods and without laying down guidelines he discussed “the unease felt by parents and others about the new informal methods of teaching …excellent… when in well qualified hands but … more dubious when they are not”. It was not hard to see in this a reference to the recent scandal at William Tyndale primary school in London.

The main legacy of the speech, however, may be less a concern for falling standards than the need for rising standards in a modern economy. Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds, who has written about Labour’s ‘Ruskin Tradition’ was on stronger ground in arguing “the aim of a relentless focus on educational improvement is one we now almost take for granted” (5). True, and it is clear the Conservatives match Labour stride for stride.

There is no doubt that the Callaghan speech initiated a new era in English education and the ferment of government activity it initiated is continuing. The Secret Garden is long gone, with hyperaccountability dominating every state school in England. When politicians state that this was a landmark speech, it is unquestionable that they are right- and with what effects?

Trevor Fisher November 2016

Notes

(1) Nick Gibb https://www.gov.uk/government/people/nick-gibb OR https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/speeches/the-importance-of-the-curriculum

  1. DFE press release 8th July 2013.

(3) Callaghan made the claim in Continuing the Education Debate, ed Michael Williams, Richard Daugherty & Frank Banks, Cassell 1992 p9.

(4) Guardian 17th October 2006

(5) On the Progress web site, www.progressonline.org.uk/2012/06/06/labours-education-ruskin-tradition,

Callaghan’s Ruskin speech – Education’s Tipping Point?

In October 1976 the Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan, gave a speech at Ruskin College in Oxford which still defines education politics today. Before Callaghan, no Prime Minister had ever given a speech about Education. Since he spoke, politicians have not stopped talking about schools.

In the Westminster bubble the speech has never been forgotten. Schools minister Nick Gibb made this explicit in a speech to an ASCL curriculum conference on April 27th. (1) Gibb argued that “this year marks the 40th anniversary of Jim Callaghan’s Ruskin Speech, a landmark speech in which Callaghan in many ways set the direction of reform for the next 4 decades”. For Gibb, the most important part of the speech was his curriculum comments notably Callaghan’s criticism of the view that children should have “just enough learning to earn their living in the factory”. Callaghan had argued, as Gibb said, that schools should “equip children to the best of their ability for a lively, constructive place in society”. Callaghan argued for a more balanced and rounded curriculum, though with a utilitarian and scientific bent, highlighting concerns which Margaret Thatcher would address a decade later through the short lived Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI).

Controversially, Gibb argued “Many during Callaghan’s time referred to the curriculum as the ‘secret garden’ for policy makers, but I think that the curriculum has also in recent history been… seen as slightly peripheral when it comes to driving improvement”. Callaghan certainly can be seen as proposing the National |Curriculum introduced in the 1988 Conservative Education Reform Act and it is very odd that Gibb thinks the curriculum has been neglected. He witnessed the disputes over Michael Gove’s revised National Curriculum from 2010-2013 and must be aware David Cameron described the Gove reforms as vital to national economic prosperity in words which echo Callaghan’s speech. Cameron said “This curriculum marks a new chapter in British education… As Prime Minister I know this revolution in education is critical for Britain’s* prosperity in the decades to come”. (2) How can Nick Gibb argue that with the new plans in place curriculum has become peripheral? However he is quite right to argue the Callaghan speech represented a fundamental shift of opinion.

Callaghan himself said before his death in 2005 that “of all the speeches I have delivered in a long political life, the Ruskin Speech is the one that is best remembered” (3). Two decades after the event, Tony Blair went to Ruskin to claim Education for Labour in the run up to the 1997 victory. Three decades later, his Schools Minister Andrew Adonis wrote an approving article in which he said Callaghan’s speech “lit a flare that has illuminated education reform ever since” (4). The Conservative Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, in recalling the speech claimed it for the politics of the present government. But what was the speech and why has it become legendary?

Primarily the speech was an assertion that politicians had the right to comment on education. Previously, the government role was limited to providing schools and teachers: while councils and teachers decided school policy. In 1960 Conservative Education Minister David Eccles had defined schools as “The Secret Garden” and the lack of information on what was happening in classrooms led Callaghan to call for what he called “the Great Debate”. Callaghan did not use the phrase “the Great Debate” at Ruskin, but he had used this in the Commons four days earlier. The phrase ‘Secret Garden’ did not appear in the speech either, but hung in the air.

Callaghan was not prescriptive about how more openness in school politics could be achieved, He focussed on standards, teaching methods, and the curriculum, showing a somewhat utilitarian concern for the needs of industry. The long running standards debate was seen in an economic context – Callaghan spoke of ‘complaints from industry that new recruits do not have the basic tools to do the job’ – with mathematics highlighted. He was concerned about the lack of interest in joining industry and the gender gap in science, querying “why is it that such a high proportion of girls abandon science before leaving school?” The Prime Minister did not commit to specifics on curriculum or the inspectorate, refusing to pronounce on “whether there should be be a basic curriculum with universal standards.. nor.. the role of the inspectorate”. It would be Conservative governments which brought in the National Curriculum and the Ofsted inspectorate.

Callaghan’s most contentious contribution was on teaching methods and without laying down guidelines he discussed “the unease felt by parents and others about the new informal methods of teaching …excellent… when in well qualified hands but … more dubious when they are not”. It was not hard to see in this a reference to the recent scandal at William Tyndale primary school in London.

The main legacy of the speech, however, may be less a concern for falling standards than the need for rising standards in a modern economy. Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds, who has written about Labour’s ‘Ruskin Tradition’ was on stronger ground in arguing “the aim of a relentless focus on educational improvement is one we now almost take for granted” (5). True, and it is clear the Conservatives match Labour stride for stride.

There is no doubt that the Callaghan speech initiated a new era in English education and the ferment of government activity it initiated is continuing. The Secret Garden is long gone, with hyperaccountability dominating every state school in England. When politicians state that this was a landmark speech, it is unquestionable that they are right- and with what effects?

Trevor Fisher November 2016

Notes

(1) Nick Gibb https://www.gov.uk/government/people/nick-gibb OR https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/speeches/the-importance-of-the-curriculum

  1. DFE press release 8th July 2013.

(3) Callaghan made the claim in Continuing the Education Debate, ed Michael Williams, Richard Daugherty & Frank Banks, Cassell 1992 p9.

(4) Guardian 17th October 2006

(5) On the Progress web site, www.progressonline.org.uk/2012/06/06/labours-education-ruskin-tradition,

The passing of the 2015 Academies Act

C11 In the School Revolution, it is the pace of constant change that proves that the more it changes, the more it stays the same – in terms of spin and rapid movement toward a new system. And with an increasingly totalitarian aspect in the imposition of change. This note records what the DfE claimed was the result of the passing into last Bill in February. Students of George Orwell will note the reference to the crude black and white thinking which recalls Four Legs Good, Two Legs bad of Animal Farm. TF

A response to the passing of the Education and Adoption Bill, February 2016

Another day, another press release. On the morning in February that the last Bill passed into law, the DfE released a statement announcing the passing of the Education and Adoption Bill which represented this Government’s thinly veiled disregard for research that challenges the dominant ideological position that Academies are Good and Council-Run schools are Bad:

The bill will see more schools becoming academies – transforming the education system by giving power and responsibility to teachers on the front line, empowering schools themselves to spread excellence everywhere.

Academies operate under the strictest possible system of oversight and accountability – more robust than in council-run schools – and are challenged to bring about rapid and sustained improvements when they do not reach the high standards we expect.

Why does this matter? We think there are two major, related problems with this.

First, this Bill, with its ratcheting up of the academies programme, is an ideological rather than an educational matter. There is still no conclusive evidence that reducing local authorities’ role in supporting schools in favour of academy sponsors has significant and consistent effects on improving education. This isn’t a new or a surprising development, as the Conservatives have long been proponents of transferring the running of schools from councils to academy sponsors — the 2010 Academies Act demonstrates this quite clearly.

Second, and connected to this, the Bill is a key milestone in the march towards the privatisation of public services. We know the story in relation to the NHS, but for some reason, in education, there is a lot less urgency in acknowledging that this is happening and subsequently challenging and resisting such shifts in how provisions are organised and who has ‘control’ over them. Academies and their sub-types are state funded, but not state controlled — private interests are central to how the academies programme has been developed. The accountability that the DfE is keen to tout in the above press release is built on sand. Yes, all schools are accountable to parents and the government through Ofsted inspection. Yet when the running and support for local schools is forcibly taken out the hands of local councils and given to academy sponsors, that accountability trail peters out in many ways.

Private academy trusts receive millions of pounds of tax-payers’ money, but are not directly inspected by Ofsted as unitary organisations. Parents, teachers or school staff may not choose Trusts’ board members or vote them out, and there is a strong tendency for private interests to have a majority say on academy governing bodies and through that, school leadership.

What connects these two points and is particularly unnerving in this newest legislation is not just the complete removal of consultation with parents and local communities in the conversion process, but the requirement for Councils’ and governors’ compliance. So, academisation is to be literally ‘forced’ upon the teachers, students and parents in schools that are identified (by the government, obviously) as either ‘failing’ or ‘coasting’ and there isn’t anything anyone can do about it. Indeed, stakeholders who might previously have dissented are now required to make it happen. This is a further manifestation of the increasing totalitarianism pervading the education system and its leadership.

So we should not be surprised, only dismayed, that parent consultation has disappeared from this newly intense vision for an academised system. Indeed, the Bill instead assumes logically that the public should have no say in a private, or privatised matter. The passing of the Bill was a dark day for public education in England.

Dr. Ruth McGinity and Dr. Steven Courtney

Manchester Institute of Education, University of Manchester

C10 The Education White Paper – A spring offensive

C10 The Education White paper – a spring offensive.

The proposed forcible academisation of every school in England has captured the headlines following the White Paper announced – by the Chancellor in the budget speech – without warning less than a year after the Election and the Academies and Adoption bill. Whatever the reasons for the highly political propsals and their associated and equally dogmatic proposals to destroy university teacher training and remove parent governors from schools, not to mention the final elimination of local democratic scrutiny, the most stunning piece of an increasingly Orwellian politics is the idea of forced freedom. Some of the implications are spelt out here by one of our most successful Secondary Heads. Trevor Fisher.

Forced Academisation – A view from the Head’s Study

Geoff Barton

The new educational medicine

A bit like matron prising our reluctant mouths open and forcing cough mixture down our throats, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan is inflicting academisation on every school in England. Freedom, it seems, is being inflicted upon all of us. That’s right. The oxymoron of the day is ‘forced freedom’. The news is a sign of just how tarnished a policy has become, the way in which threadbare pragmatism has replaced the semblance of policy-making.

In the early days – the glimmering Govean dawn – becoming an academy was dangled just out of reach, a prize for the chosen ones. It was intended for outstanding schools, using that most cynical of incentives: do this and Ofsted will leave you alone.

When lots of headteachers reacted as if the academy offer was akin to one of those scam Nigerian emails promising unexpected fortunes, academisation had to be reconceptualised. So it become a punishment for schools in special measures, a darkly threatened consequence for schools deemed to be coasting, and part of the armoury of an increasingly swaggering Ofsted.

Until now, that is, when it’s no longer a treat, an incentive, a perk or a bribe. It’s apparently the new bog-standard, the final breaking up of England’s collective school system, and a final wilful boot into the notion of democratically elected councils taking responsibilities for the institutions where most parents choose to educate their children. Where once academisation was the dish of the gods now it’s to be force-fed to all of us.

Nicky Morgan had the chance to explain all this in person. In March the Education Secretary spoke at the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders. I wonder why she didn’t step up to the podium in that cavernous Birmingham Hilton, look delegates in the eye, and proudly tell us of her plan? If universal academisation was the vision we’ve all been holding our breath for, why did she not add it to her brief ASCL speech and then pause for delegates to whoop their joyful thanks?

Or was it that at the time the idea wasn’t yet hatched? Or is it not actually the Secretary of State’s idea but one foisted on her? Is this a last-minute money-saving wheeze by the Chancellor, or a way for certain ideologues to put a definitive boot into local authorities? Or is it perhaps an act of craven marketisation of our education system?

Some relevant recent history

And there is more to this than meets the eye. Back in August 2012 the GCSE English fiasco was raging. Teachers across England and Wales were dismayed at last-minute changes to grade boundaries that left many grade C students with Ds.

One afternoon in September I received an unexpected phone call from one of the big beasts of a large new academy chain. This was no mere headteacher, you understand. He was a Chief Executive Officer. He explained to me that many of the schools in his burgeoning multi-academy trust were situated in disadvantaged areas – where students in many schools were hit especially hard by changes to English grades.

My unexpected caller wanted to talk to me about the scale of the problem, about the number of other schools that had seen their results dip. He then darkly revealed that he had been told that if he wanted to see his chain of academies continue to grow, then he’d better not be seen to criticise the Government. He wouldn’t tell me who was applying the pressure. Thus a man not known for holding back opinions on any matter was being warned to be compliant. He duly kept shtum.

But at the end of our conversation he said something that has stuck with me. He asked whether at our comprehensive school we had considered becoming an academy, and thought about ‘taking over other schools’. ‘No,’ I said. ‘I’m not really interested in that stuff’. He told me to think seriously about it because – and these were his words – ‘the back office savings were massive’. I had no ideas what ‘back office savings’ meant. Part of me wondered whether it was some vaguely obscene euphemism.

But subsequently we’ve all seen that the criticism of profligate spending by local councils and their armies of advisers is looking increasingly unconvincing. Instead we see even smallish multi-academy trusts with chief executives earning more – sometimes much more – than the Prime Minister. We see chains employing small armies of pinstriped executives who talk of standards but rarely set foot in a classroom to teach a lesson they have themselves prepared or to give back books they have themselves marked. That money for those salaries comes from somewhere. They must be some savings – from some back office.

So forgive me if I don’t drape bunting from the school buildings. I’ve said before that I hope to be the last person in England dragged kicking and screaming to be an academy head.

As I watch 1400 or so students arrive at school beyond my office window, I reflect that this morning I couldn’t be prouder to be teacher and headteacher of a local comprehensive school. This place has been around since 1550. It has seen changes, initiatives and politicians come and go.

I’m proud to serve a wonderful local community, as part of a hard-working local authority. It’s what I and most of our parents thought schools were designed to do.

Geoff Barton is head teacher at King Edward VI school, a 14-19 comprehensive in Suffolk, columnist for the TES and a Foundation Fellow of the English Association. An earlier version of this was published in the TES of March 16th 2016

C8 Teacher shortages – Questions in the Lords

C8 Questions in the House of Lords – teacher supply

The report of the National Audit Commission issued on 10th February supports the claim that the Government has missed its training targets for 4 years. DfE responded – on the BBC News Website 10th February’ – that “more people are entering the teaching profession than leaving it, there are more teachers overall and the number of teachers per pupil has not suffered”. States ‘biggest threat to teacher recruitment is that the teaching unions and others… talk down teaching as a profession”. The issue of whether there are teacher shortages is becoming controversial though the facts should be beyond dispute – Please see Appendix A.

The NAO reported on training only. Retention and the overall state of the profession remain obscure. On the claim more teachers than ever, role of foreign teachers need explanation and how long they stay this being a key element in supply. Have English schools become a ‘revolving door’? The TES in January both reported that Spanish teachers are a large minority of new recruits and that English speaking teachers from abroad leave as soon as they can. Also reported Troops into Teachers is under recruiting and that the pay freeze is affecting supply via pay cuts.

Lord Phil Hunt of Kings Heath asked the questions. Key element of the answer noted in each case. The full content of the answers can be found via http://members.wqa.parliament.uk

5465 To ask HMG what assessment they have made of whether the Schools Direct programme is ensuring a sufficient supply of teachers for schools in England.

A. “we recruited over a thousand more secondary teachers than the previous year, and we exceeded our target for primary teachers” (Million strong Universities reacted re Schools Direct)

5464 To ask HMG what is their assessment of the number of hours a week worked by (1) teachers and (2) School leaders (answer refers to workload survey published 6 2 16)

A. “on 6th February we published the response to our Workload Challenge…”

5463 To ask HMG what assessment they have made of current teacher morale in the teaching profession.

A. Quotes TALIS (Teaching and Learning International Survey), the School workforce census showing one year retention 90%, Five year retention 72% (2009-14), 60% retention after ten years . Cites support for Independent College of Teaching.

5462 To ask HMG what strategy they have in place to increase the retention of teachers in the profession.

A Quotes retention figures, key quote “remained stable for over a decade and the turnover rate in teaching is lower than for the economy as a whole”.

5461 to ask HMG what assessment they have made, broken down by region and subject, of the current levels of qualified teachers.

A “The information requested is not available.”

5460 to ask HMG how many teachers have left the profession within five years of qualifying in each year since 2009

A “72% were still in service in a state funded school in England five years after qualification. The Rate of retention five years after qualifying has remained broadly stable since 1996”.

5382 to ask HMG what assessment they have made of how many schools in England are using unqualified staff to teach lessons.

The information requested is not available”.

5381 to ask HMG how many schools in England are using non-specialist teachers to cover teaching vacancies (no information available. Q might be better- supply teachers)

A. “the Department does not hold this information”.

5380 to ask HMG how many (a) teachers and (b) Personal, Social and Social Education teachers currently practising in schools in England have QTS.

A. 96%…. as at November 2014 have QTS. …teachers teaching PSHE, 96% were recorded as having Qualified Teacher Status”,

It has been suggested the discrepancy in teacher retention rates may be due to different dates of entry, but this would require specific investigation as this factor appears marginal. Assessing the gap between the critical comments of the teaching profession and independent sources such as NAO needs a focussed inquiry as a credibility gap has opened after government denials.

Appendix A – is England running out of teachers? Issues involving retention.

The publication of the NAO report is a grim moment in English education, made worse by the government position that there is no crisis and problems are caused by critics. Presumably the claim is that the spend of £700m pa (NAO) on recruitment is high due to the need to counter critics,. The government claims that overall numbers are at an all time high, and that the problem is merely local or confined to particular subjects. NAO confirms physics is a key long term problem subject.

The big issue is that recruitment is not merely driven by demand for teachers (eg rising birthrate) but also teachers leaving. The government denies there is a problem, save for workload (5465) and behaviour. Stress, excessive targets, OFSTED and pay are not regarded as problems by government. More widely key underpinning data cited by ministers appear flawed. The democratic issue coming on the agenda is that the data supplied by the ministry itself needs scrutiny. Who shall guard the guardians?

Specific problems of data involve claims that one year, five year and ten year retention are satisfactory, and more curiously 5460 and 5462 that retention is not only good but figures have remained stable and the turnover figures are ‘lower than for the economy as a whole” (5462). It is generally believed that the turnover is related to the economy, more stable in a recession, less stable when teachers have a choice of jobs. How then can these statements be justified? Particularly when the pay level is being suppressed and the TES reported 5 2 16 that low pay is making teaching uncompetitive with other jobs – which is the expected pattern.

Particular regions and subjects face challenges and it is reported that this may affect even London, which is the most successful region in England. Patterns of shortages cannot be assessed due to lack of data (5461 and 5382). The NAO and HMCI report difficulties in poorer areas.

Ebacc will intensify all the problems if the government carries out its manifesto policy. Shortages in Ebacc subjects notably Physics is already reported. If Ebacc is imposed it must be expected that staff on non-EBacc subjects will be removed to deploy resources to Ebacc subjects. Maths teachers are reported already to be paid increasing sums. Unions currently appear unaware of the threats to the jobs of non Ebacc teachers, and non-Ebacc subects with the exception of the Arts appear unaware of the dangers of disappearing from the curriculum – including two of the STEM subjects.

TREVOR FISHER 13th February 2016

 

G2 grammar schools & educational apartheid

G2 – Grammar schools and Educational Apartheid

The fiftieth anniversary of Anthony Crosland’s Circular 10/65, in which the Labour minister decreed Local Authorities should plan for comprehensive education, passed by un-noticed. Yet it was not, as often thought, the end of the Grammar Schools. Indeed, by allowing a local option the way was left open for continuation of state funded grammar schools in Tory Local Authorities, and some grammar went independent as Grant Maintained status became an insecure option. This article looks at what has happened in one Local Authority area – Lincolnshire – and should be read alongside Margaret Morris’s assessment of the history of post 1944 education in the Theory section.

Educational Apartheid in Lincolnshire: selective education as a catalyst for driving inequalities.

It is a popular misconception that secondary modern schools went away. In Lincolnshire we retained this type of secondary school designed for the majority of students – those not in the so-called top 25% ability-range of the 11-plus. To confuse matters still further, most secondary modern schools are now academies, some offer A-levels while others don’t; grammar schools offer A-levels but are selective. Lincolnshire does not have a comprehensive education system due to the sporadic nature of its school structures. Secondary modern schools and grammar schools maintain the 11-plus status quo, while academies complicate matters further.


Sadly, comprehensive schools of the 1950s and 1960s never reached South Lincolnshire. I went to a “red brick” secondary modern school in Louth while my better-off counterparts attended the local grammar school, the history and traditions of which go back to at least 1548, supported by the Church and local guilds. On leaving school in 1976 I was conscious that university wasn’t an option. None of my peers left school to go to university because we didn’t have a sixth form, which meant there were limited opportunities to combine O-Levels with CSEs and no opportunity to do A-levels. There were, and, still are, inequalities within Louth that are symptomatic of selective education dividing social class. There are still demarcations across housing and income as to which schools serve particular parts of town.

Inequality has become so embedded into our culture that no one speaks out. Each year children are divided into sheep and goats at 11-plus for transition into secondary schools and we turn the other cheek. Grammar school supporters try to justify their system so we are faced with unfounded comments, such as “there’s no difference between schools selecting students and setting within schools”. In my opinion, having one’s own children rejected by this system seems like child abuse – it is totalising and brutal. Children’s friendships are torn apart. Rejection at 11-plus hurts everyone around the child. It damages community cohesion.

My observations are based on my own experiences, those of my children, their friends, parents and grandparents. I am also speaking out for those teachers whom I know are oppressed by the system.

Local context

In 2001 I moved to the coastal part of Lincolnshire within the district of East Lindsey, to a seaside town in-between Skegness and Mablethorpe. Our area suffers from 40% child povertyi iiand multiple inequalities that are exacerbated by selective education.

In 2013, in a TES article called, Waiting for a Sea Changeiii Emma Hadley, executive principal of an academy group in Skegness, estimated that about 30% of students at a primary academy lived in caravans. She explained that the seasonality of employment means that at Skegness Academy (an all-ability school with a sixth form) about half of students in year 11 joined the school after year 7 and 45% were eligible for the pupil premium.

School wars or a “Coastal Challenge?”

In his rebuttal of the evidence from the Sutton Trust, that showed grammar schools take far fewer children in receipt of free school meals than other state schoolsiv, Robert McCartney QC, chairperson of The National Grammar Schools Association (NGSA) said:

Many, many parents from deprived areas, including what is generally called the dependency classes, are essentially not particularly interested in any form of academic education.

It would be ridiculous to say that parents are not interested in education or that schools cannot make up for some surrounding poverty and inequality, but it would be equally crass to give schools the target of overcoming the link between social background and educational achievement and then punish them for failing. In my experience of my own children’s education, schools can and do make a difference, but they can only do so within the limits that political parties are prepared to invest in deprived areas. The language of “low-ability”, “chaotic”, “lacking resilience to accept disappointment” from those who should know better has offset scrutiny and responsibility for every child to be educated free from coercion and stress so that the powers that be can protect the remnants of an outdated education system that supports one child to the detriment of several others under the rhetoric of “parent choice”. The point is that the structure of selective education limits achievement and social integration. Even if parents are aspirational, unless children pass the 11-plus grammar schools don’t want them, which is ironic considering the pressure on school places is likely to move to secondary schools.

In light of Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, approving a Kent grammar school’s expansion, Ian Widdows, founder of The National Association of Secondary Modern Schools (NASM) in Schools Week defends the successes of secondary modern schoolsv. However, the point is secondary modern schools are for “failures” and are seen as such. It is common parlance – fail the 11-plus, go to a secondary modern. Meanwhile, the elephant in the room for “coasting schools” (those rated as inadequate) is growing up poor affects child development, being best prepared to learnvi, and from deduction having the knowledge to pass 11-plus tests, getting good SATs and achieving benchmark GCSEsvii. For me, the obvious solution is to end the 11-plus and establish local school partnerships to work at the heart of local culture.

Back to reality; the effects of child poverty, the 11-plus and lack of investment in our area have not been addressed. The secondary modern school in Mablethorpe has suffered and 60% of parents have chosen not to send their children to that school, which is now earmarked for closureviii. I think school closure might become more commonplace if grammar schools are permitted to become academy sponsors in Multi-academy Trusts and then seek to break away from weaker schools such as in Mablethorpe, which is in a federation with Louth. I strongly feel that if grammar schools are to become sponsors in Multi-academy Trusts that they should be willing to work much more locally to save weaker schools from closure and to prevent children being bussed for miles – we could call this “The Coastal Challenge”.

Post-16 education also presents a problem on the Lincolnshire coast. Grammar schools provide some of the nearest sixth forms for A-levels but if a pupil fails to get good GCSEs, given our isolated location, they are likely to face a considerable journey and costs to get to a college that might not provide suitable courses.

Cuts to the local authority’s budget are likely to be exacerbated by selection. Transport is provided to schools within two Designated Transport Areas, one with free, non-means-tested, transport to grammar schools, the other with concessionary transport to non-selective schools, which is means-tested. To qualify for transport schools must be further than approximately 3 miles from home. But if your child fails the 11-plus and your catchment school happens to be coasting and you have to send them elsewhere you will have to pay, even if the better alternative school is located next to the nearest grammar school.

At post-16 better-off students leave grammar school if they don’t get the grades but can afford to drive to college. Meanwhile in light of the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance, poorer students have to make do with concessions colleges are still able to offer.

In summary, the notion of educational apartheid should not be understated. I think that middle class professionals whose children fail at 11-plus should make common cause with working class and unemployed parents who also have their children fail.

Alan Gurbutt, parent, former school governor (SEN) and member of Comprehensive Future’s steering group, 2015

i ‘Stark Child Poverty Figures in Mablethorpe and Sutton on Sea Are Revealed’, 2013, http://www.louthleader.co.uk/news/local/stark-child-poverty-figures-in-mablethorpe-and-sutton-on-sea-are-revealed-1-4833216, accessed 17 December 2015.

ii ‘Lincoln, Boston and Skegness Named as Most Deprived Areas in the Country’, Lincolnshire Echo, http://www.lincolnshireecho.co.uk/Lincoln-Boston-Skegness-named-deprived-areas/story-28011239-detail/story.html, 2015, accessed 17 December 2015.

iii I. Barker, ‘Waiting for a Sea Change’, TES, 29 March 2013, https://www.tes.com/article.aspx?storycode=6326724, accessed 18 December 2015.

iv S. Malik, ‘Free School Meal Pupils Outnumbered 4:1 by Privately Educated at Grammars’, The Guardian, 8 November 2013, sec. Education, http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/nov/08/grammar-schools-admit-more-privately-educated-children, accessed 17 December 2015.

v ‘Secondary Moderns Must Have a Voice, Too | Schools Week’, http://schoolsweek.co.uk/secondary-moderns-must-have-a-voice-too/, accessed 17 December 2015.

vi B. Whitener, ‘Income Levels Affect the Structure of a Child’s Brain, NIH-Funded Study Shows’, (23 April 2015).

vii ‘Narrowing the Gap in Deprived Areas of Lincolnshire’, (2010), http://archive.c4eo.org.uk/narrowingthegap/files/ntg_lincolnshire.pdf, accessed 18 December 2015.

viii ‘Consultation | Monks’ Dyke Tennyson College’, https://www.mdtc.co/consultation/, accessed 17 December 2015.

C8 – Academies a failed experiment

The Failed Academy Project.

With a second Academies Bill being driven through parliament, the end of November 2015 sees dogma running riot at Westminster. Although Labour still fails to see that the Academy-Free School Movement has failed badly, that is the reality. Bringing Academy schools in all their guises under Local Authority control which is the current policy is contradictory, since the essence of the programme is to remove them from democratic accountability. And Local Authorities will not survive with their funding cut to the point they have only marginal staffing. But the future is still uncertain. The present poses a more substantial question – why given that Nick Gibb has admitted as Schools Minister that there is no reason to think Academy schools perform better than maintained schools – and evidence they perform worse – why in the Westminster bubble is the reality not understood, despite the reality that Naomi Fearon underlines in this article? TF

Academies and Free Schools – A failed experiment in education

Naomi Fearon

At the end of Autumn 2015, there are over four thousand academies in England. Originally introduced by New Labour back in 2000 in order to support failing schools in socially deprived areas, academies have long since remained a controversial topic. Touted by governments as the miraculous magic answer to improving standards and loathed quite rightly by teaching unions opposed to their undemocratic nature and the neo-liberal free market approach they are constructed around. ‘Academies equals success’ has been the long repeated mantra for many years now, you would be forgiven for thinking that this is the only approach to education and LEA controlled state schools have been an all-round epic failure, yet statistically does this add up?

Well in a word, no. A report by the cross party education select committee earlier on this year showed that there was no evidence so far that academies raised standards for either disadvantaged pupils or overall. In addition to this, the Local Schools Network data showed that a primary school rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted is 12 times more likely to remain ‘inadequate’ at its next inspection if it becomes a sponsored academy than if it had remained a maintained school. Secondary-sponsored academies are four times as likely to remain inadequate when next inspected. Even Nick Gibb, Minister of State for Schools, conceded in September of this year that: “This government does not believe that all academies and free schools are necessarily better than maintained schools.” *

* Reported in Schools Week: Speech to the Ed Research conference, September 5th 2015

On top of the damning statistical evidence, the education select committee also recognised the serious lack of transparency, conflicts of interest with regards governance as well as inadequate oversight. A prime example of this being the Durand Academy Trust (DAT) which runs the Durand Academy in London as well as a boarding school in West Sussex. Not only was it served its final notice to improve from the Education Funding Agency (EFA), which is responsible for funding and monitoring academies but the linked Durand Education Trust (DET) is currently being investigated by the Charities Commission over what it describes as ‘lack of separation’ between the two charities as well as concerns over the lack of oversight of its investment assets. If this wasn’t scandalous enough, earlier on this year it was discovered that the academy’s Headteacher Sir Greg Martin ran a dating agency registered as the school’s address.

Free schools, the hideous turbo-charged offspring of academies with a penchant for employing unqualified teachers fare little better, The Anti-Academies Alliance April 2015 briefing noted that Ofsted has inspected 76 free schools and rated 30% as ‘Requiring Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’. Ofsted’s 2013/14 Annual Report on Schools said:“Free schools succeed or fail for broadly the same reasons as all other types of school”. In other words: free schools are no more likely to be outstanding or inadequate than other schools.

It is also worth noting that it is the decision of the Secretary of State to open a free school, not the LEA, with very little regard given to community views even when impact assessments have shown they may be detrimental to local schools. According to evidence provided to the Education Select Committee, “35% of the first four waves of free schools were in districts with no forecast need and that 52% were in districts with either no forecast need or only moderate need”. In other words a fair few free schools have been opened in areas where there is no shortage of school places at the expense of the taxpayer. It is difficult to mention free schools without noting some of the scandals they have been involved in, with one of the most notable being The Durham Free School.

The Durham Free School, which was set up in 2012, and founded upon Christian principles was closed earlier this year when it was found to be ‘inadequate’ in all areas of its Ofsted report. Originally lauded by Michael Gove upon its opening it was found by inspectors to be inadequate as a result of bullying, religious bigotry and financial mismanagement. In addition to the less than glowing statistics and media scandals, one criminally ignored aspect of the academies model for education is their attitude towards equality. The 2014 TUC report ‘Education Not for Sale’ found that while attitudes towards equality is a concern for all schools, academies were particularly prone to ignoring their Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED). A 2013 study by Race on the Agenda (ROTA) commissioned by the teaching union NASUWT found that less than a quarter of them referred to their PSED duties, with an even lower figure for free schools. The TUC report also found that a number of cases whereby Free Schools had rejected the admission of disabled pupils and claimed their funding agreements exempted them from the appeal procedure. Furthermore, fewer than a quarter of free schools seem to know about the 2010 Equalities Act, and their duty to promote equality for women, black, LGBT and disabled pupils and staff.

All this paints a less than idyllic picture for the academies and free schools programme. The newly appointed shadow education secretary Lucy Powell stated in an interview with the Times Educational Supplement that handing control of schools back to local, democratically-elected officials would be at the “heart” of future Labour policy. Jeremy Corbyn’s position on academies has always been clear having been a staunch opponent to them since their introduction. Jeremy in his own words has stated, “Why was it believed the ability to run a business, to sell cars or carpets might make you best-placed to run a school?” Quite right Jeremy, quite right.

C7 – A head looks at Shanghai

Geoff Barton is a state school head whose comprehensive has links with Shanghai, and has visited recently. His views are an insight into a world often held up uncritically as better in every way than English schooling. TF

I don’t watch a lot of television but when I do it’s never – I mean never – programmes about education. An adolescence of Grange Hill taught me that lesson.

So I haven’t seen Waterloo Road. I haven’t seen Educating Essex or Yorkshire or Cardiff. I haven’t seen Chinese School.

But I have worked in education for thirty years and, in the past ten, been to several actual Chinese schools. Our Suffolk comprehensive has a longstanding partnership with the Yangjing-Juyan Experimental School, a highly successful junior high school in Shanghai.

As everyone knows, Shanghai is one of the top performing education principalities in the world – especially in Mathematics.

Suffolk, on the other hand, isn’t top-performing. Yet teachers and officials from Shanghai join the annual visit of Shanghai students to our school and warmly welcome our thirty or so students and staff when they make the return visit each autumn term.

Their interest is in something they believe they lack in their schools – creativity, a sense of independence in their students and a spirit of inquiry. They feel their teaching is mechanical and undifferentiated.

That’s why the Shanghai education authority continues to send so many students to us – as well as to schools in Australia and the USA.

And what we see during our return visits is that culture trumps teaching quality. The lessons we see are often textbook-led, focused heavily on closed teacher questions, short student answers, all conducted in an atmosphere of congenial, not oppressive, discipline.

But our strong view – after taking some of our Maths teachers to watch the teaching – is that it’s not what happens in the classroom that makes the real impact on Shanghai students’ performance. It’s what happens at home.

Because we see students who go home and do at least three hours of work each evening, who often attend private lessons on other days, and who know from from their parents that that they as students should aim to achieve more highly than their parents. They owe it to their family; they owe it to Shanghai.

In other words, expectations, aspiration and culture play a very significant part in shaping the motivation of the students. They ensure that there is no poor behaviour. They help to create a work ethic which, whilst impressive, also has an underbelly. We see the stress levels of students, the anxiety of parents, the exhaustion of teachers.

None of this is to belittle or decry the schooling we see in Shanghai. We are learning much from their relentless ambition. But it is a reminder for us to beware of the lure of international envy and its associated assumptions that if only we did over here what they do over there, then we’d be as successful.

Education is rarely that simple – except, perhaps, when depicted on television.

Geoff Barton is headteacher at King Edward VI School, a 14-19 comprehensive upper school in Bury St Edmunds.

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