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Politicians Competing To Be The Most Clueless About Education

March 20, 2015

Today it was announced that the government will fund the “Claim Your College” coalition of vested interests and their scheme to create a professional body for teachers that’s actually open to “anyone with an interest in education”.

Either the government hasn’t read the proposals, or simply does not care what they are funding as long as they can say something about education during the election campaign. They are promising to make “significant funding available to the ‘claim your college’ consortium – a coalition of leading organisations in the education sector – to support them in their endeavour to establish an independent college of teaching, which will be owned and led by the teaching profession” [my italics]Where this ownership is meant to come from given who is setting this group up and who is allowed to join it is beyond me. But now they seem likely to have something like £12 million of public money to play with. Worse there is the suggestion that:

It is expected that the new college of teaching might take on greater responsibility for areas such as professional standards and continuous professional development, should it so wish, thus moving stewardship of the profession out of the hands of the government and to the profession.

So that’s not just money, but also power over our professional development, in the hands of a body that has no mandate from the profession, only one from vested interests including (as I pointed out here) at least one private company selling professional development training.

Now, this sort of thoughtless spending of public money would be challenged by a competent opposition spokesman. In fact, in any other sector, it probably would be. Could you imagine Andy Burnham standing by if the government proposed giving power over doctors to an organisation set up by pharmaceutical companies? But in the Bizarro World that is education, the opposition seem as dead set on this quango as the government. In a speech today Tristram Hunt implied that the College of Teaching, rather than being a product of vested interests holding meetings on weekdays, lobbying for public money, was a grass roots product of social media:

…we need an element of trust. To reject an affliction which seems to bedevil Westminster culture. I call it the cult of the big reformer. A sort of alpha male compulsion to see public policy through the prism of your ‘reforming legacy’.

But you only have to see how social media has sent a shockwave through the teaching profession and its conversation about a new College of Teaching, to see how profoundly out of date this attitude really is.

… the days of education by diktat must come to an end. More than ever before change in education must come from the bottom-up. Through decentralisation. Through devolving power.

Yes, that’s right. He thinks that chucking money at vested interests to regulate, sorry, to assume stewardship of the teaching profession is decentralisation. If he’d actually read the conversations on social media about the College Of Teaching, he’d know how few of those involved are actually teaching now and how little say those of us in the classroom have had.

That said, Tristram Hunt was probably focused on trying to deliver the worst speech on education from a British politician I have ever read. In what seemed to be an attempt to give an aneurysm to anybody trying to play Bullshit Bingo, he managed some outstandingly cliché-soaked passages of which the following extract gives a flavour:

But I don’t think anybody here would argue with me if I suggested we have only just begun to scratch the surface of what we could achieve. 3D printing; Augmented reality; Coding; Robotics; Big data; Interactive textbooks; Adaptive learning software; The technology is truly remarkable. So whilst I know it has been prematurely prophesied many times before, I do believe this is finally the moment when technology changes the way teachers carry out their craft. We will see schools where every lesson can be simultaneously tailored to the needs of each individual pupil; schools where data about the effectiveness of different pedagogies can be shared with teachers in real time; and schools where software has liberated teachers from the yoke of marking exercise books.

However, the needs of the economy will dictate a rebalancing of what we teach as well as how we teach it. After all, a creative age demands more creativity. A digital economy demands advanced digital skills such as coding and big data analytics; And a world class STEM sector demands we finally consign our deeply engrained cultural snobbery towards technical education to the dustbin of history. But as Andreas Schleicher of the OECD has argued – our schools system must also“prepare young people for jobs that have not yet been created, technologies that have not yet been invented and problems that we don’t yet know will arise.”

Between government ministers unable to tell the difference between the teaching profession and the CPD industry, and an opposition spokesman sounding like Shift Happens, this is a grim day for the politics of education. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me, but I don’t remember even Ed Balls being this hopeless, and the Gove era is a much-missed golden age compared with this shambles.

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Labour Teachers – Under New Management

March 15, 2015

I’m already managing to spend half my life reading blogs and interacting with bloggers, but I recently volunteered to take on something else. The following is from the Labour Teachers website:

Last year, when we decided that we wished to step down as editors of Labour Teachers, we were keen that the site should continue: as a discussion space for Labour-supporting teachers (and those who want to talk to them) that operated without policy motions and activist-centred conferences, we believed and continue to believe the site has something to offer to the process of debating education within the Labour Party and amongst teachers. In an age in which social media has become increasingly important in the wider political discussion of schools policy, Labour Teachers retains significant potential to build support for Labour amongst educators as well as challenging and shaping the consensus on education within the party.

For that reason, we are delighted to say that prominent education blogger Old Andrew has agreed to take on the mantle of Editor of Labour Teachers. Andrew has a long pedigree in education blogging: his Scenes From The Battleground is required reading for anyone interested in the education debate, from the Secretary of State on down. He is a powerful and passionate advocate for traditional ideas of teaching in education, but has always made clear his commitment is drawn from his own left-wing beliefs. As a member of the Labour Party and the NUT, Andrew is well-placed to share and examine ideas for education emanating from the labour movement.

But more than just sharing his own ideas, Andrew has shown a consistent commitment to amplifying the voice of other teachers on social media (including many with whom he has crossed Tweeted swords) via the Education Echo Chamber blog (and it’s even more comprehensive “Uncut” sibling) and his creation and curation of the most definitive lists of UK education bloggers available. Andrew has also written for Schools Week, highlighting excellent education blogging. As we have always been, Andrew is committed to offering a platform to the diversity of views on education, and under his editorship, Labour Teachers will continue to seek out differing perspectives from the chalkface amongst Labour supporters.

We will both continue to be involved with Labour Teachers, writing and helping out in other ways, but as we approach what may be a defining election for Labour, now is an excellent time for a new editor to take charge.

Andrew’s combination of firm Labour values, well-considered policy positions and desire for intense but open debate makes him the ideal person to take Labour Teachers forward, and we both wish him well.

John Blake & John Taylor
Editors of Labour Teachers 2011-2015 

I’ll give more details on the Labour Teachers website as soon as I get a moment, but my plan is to organise regular blogging, at least a couple of posts a week, on the Labour Teachers blog from the start of April. However, first I need to recruit a range of teacher bloggers who are either Labour Party members or Labour supporters. I’m not planning to push an editorial line, I want a range of views and lots of debate. Anything on policy, Labour or being a teacher is fine. If you are interested, please email me using the “Contact Me” details on the sidebar of this blog or on Twitter @oldandrewuk. Happy to hear from both experienced bloggers (who are Labour members) wanting a regular slot (every month or every two months) and from new bloggers, or people who are Labour supporters, wanting to write something on a one-off basis.

Thanks to John & John for the work they’ve done and for giving me this opportunity.

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The College Of Not-Actually-Teaching

March 14, 2015

An article in the Independent yesterday reported that:

Mr Laws [the schools minister] said funding for a Royal College of Teaching would be announced before the election, to put teaching on an equal footing with professions such as law and medicine. “This has the potential to finally give the teaching profession the recognition, respect and high status it deserves,” he said.

It has always been a likely prospect that clueless, but publicity-hungry, politicians would be making announcements about this in the run up to the election, although there is some irony that that plans to subsidise the education establishment were announced in an article claiming that Michael Gove still had lots of influence over education policy.

I’ve argued repeatedly against the latest plans for a College of Teaching, largely on the basis that they are plans for a body that non-teachers can join which would, nevertheless, seek to speak for or even regulate, the profession. The latest plans seem to have been built around the idea that any group currently involved in CPD, including trade unions and at least one private company, should be involved in the initial structure, and that any recognition of current practising teachers should be put off for at least 4 years and only apply to some subsection of teachers approved by those setting the organisation up.

There are several reasons such an organisation cannot be trusted to spend money intended for the professional development of teachers.

1) The College of Teaching needs to be free to argue for, and organise, changes in how professional development for teachers is provided even if that does not fit the agenda of those already involved in the CPD industry. That cannot happen if the organisation is full of appointees of current vested interests. The involvement of SSAT, a private company providing CPD, is particularly suspect. Imagine if a pharmaceutical company had set up the Royal Society of Medicine. This is not an independent body.

2) The College of Teaching needs to be able to speak for those actually teaching in schools and colleges. It is that lack of power and a voice from the frontline that has deprofessionalised us. If the membership is dominated by educationalists, consultants and non-teaching headteachers it will do the exact opposite of what it is meant to do. It will reinforce our powerlessness.

3) The model of professional development being put forward is one that, I believe, many teachers will object to. It is currently being suggested that teachers be assessed and classified as associates, chartered members, or fellows. This is the old model, where teachers were considered experts depending on where their game playing had got them, i.e their position as managers, ASTs, or even as “outstanding/good/requires improvement/inadequate” teachers based on their latest appraisal. This is not what teacher expertise looks like. We should be recognised for our different types of expertise in different areas, not ranked. The only teachers who would join an organisation dedicated to saying that one teacher is a better teacher than another, are those who think they are better than their peers, or who are chasing promotions or other opportunities to teach less. It will have no appeal to those who actually just want to get better at teaching. And this problem would have been utterly obvious if the movement to set up a College Of Teaching had been teacher-led, not led by vested interests.

Of course, without public subsidy or a means to coerce teachers to join, this organisation will get nowhere in its present form. But if politicians are looking for the appearance of supporting teachers without any of the substance, they are going to throw money at this. So let’s be ready to say loudly and publicly that money paid to the proposed College Of Teaching is money spent undermining, not supporting, the teaching profession. Let politicians know they will face difficult questions if they throw public money at this proposed quango and then claim they are doing something for teachers.

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Introducing… The Echo Chamber Uncut

March 11, 2015

If you follow me on Twitter you may have already seen it, but this will be an introduction for many readers. I have set up a new website, Echo Chamber Uncut. This is a companion site to The Echo Chamber where my team of volunteers and I have been blogging links to the best blogposts we could find.

The Uncut site is different in that it is largely automated (occasionally some blogs that do not have RSS feeds are reblogged manually), and that it is intended to reblog everything from the UK education blogosphere regardless of whether I think it is good or not. This is likely to be substantially more than 100 posts every day, so this is not really a convenient site to follow to read every post. However, you may find it useful for a number of things:

  1. Discovering blog posts you weren’t familiar with. A short time browsing through the posts is likely to give you a chance to find plenty of content you weren’t familiar with. You can also watch out for new posts by following @EchoChamberUncu on Twitter.
  2. Searching for blogs on a particular topic. While it is uncategorised and only has a basic WordPress search, that should be enough to find posts related to any keyword you search for. As it builds up it will be a good way to find out what the denizens of the blogosphere are saying about any given topic, whether that’s an issue in school, a news story or advice about something to do with teaching.
  3. Finding blogs to follow. Browsing the posts should give you a chance to look out for writers you weren’t familiar with and it also has a Blog Roll (which I will update from time to time) listing all the UK education blogs I know of (more than 1200  of them).

So please, take time to have a look.

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The International Language of Edu-Platitudes (Updated)

March 3, 2015

I’ve just skimmed through Successful Futures, the report of the Donaldson “Independent Review” of the Welsh Curriculum. It recommends the following:

The purposes of the curriculum in Wales should be that children and young people develop as:

  • ambitious, capable learners, ready to learn throughout their lives
  • enterprising, creative contributors, ready to play a full part in life and work
  • ethical, informed citizens of Wales and the world
  • healthy, confident individuals, ready to lead fulfilling lives as valued members of society.

There is also a longer breakdown of these ideas, listed under the heading “Purposes of the Curriculum”. 

Welshcurriculumaims

I get the impression that this review is:

  • intended as a fresh response to recent issues with Welsh education;
  • based on extensive consultation;
  • likely to have cost more than a couple of quid to put together.

However, it will look remarkably familiar if you have read a post of mine from June last year, which I will present again, in full, below:


 

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The International Language of Edu-Platitudes

Here’s something to take you back. Here are the aims of the 2007 National Curriculum:

The curriculum should enable all young people to become:
• successful learners who enjoy learning, make progress and achieve
• confident individuals who are able to live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives
• responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown (not that I suggest you read it all):

Screenshot 2014-06-23 at 19.59.00 - Edited

Somebody on Twitter recently pointed out to me that this is not dissimilar to the aims of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence (written in 2004 but officially implemented in 2010). Its purposes were as follows:

Our aspiration for all children and for every young person is that they should be successful learnersconfident individualsresponsible citizens and effective contributors to society and at work.

And in more detail:

CfE

 

And just, in case you thought this sort of thing was only found in the British Isles, here is the Australian version, from the Melbourne Declaration of Educational Goals, made by all Australian education ministers in 2008.

These goals are:
Goal 1: Australian schooling promotes  equity and excellence
Goal 2: All young Australians become:

  • successful learners
  • confident and creative individuals
  • active and informed citizens

And in more detail:

Screenshot 2014-06-23 at 20.13.05 - Edited

Screenshot 2014-06-23 at 20.14.53 - Edited

Screenshot 2014-06-23 at 20.16.27 - Edited

I have commented on the English version before (here and here) but I will summarise the problems here.

  1. There are far too many aims, particularly if you break them down. As a result nobody could ever use it to make decisions. Almost any option would be covered by something. Inevitably, no school could directly implement these principles as written, and it is left open to a multitude of “experts” to interpret them.
  2. Most of the aims fail to reflect that the primary purpose of education is academic. They are about attitudes, opinions and feelings not about learning.
  3. The one academic category, i.e. “successful learners” contains more items about how students should learn and their attitude to learning than about what is learnt.
  4. A lot of this is vacuous or circular jargon. For instance, being “successful” isn’t an aim, you can only succeed if you already have an aim.

None of these problems seem to have stopped the cut and paste merchants. None of it seems to have offended the politicians. None of it seems to have been seen as contentious by the educational establishment. In the Scottish case I read here that:

…CfE (in respect of those core principles) retains all-party support in parliament. Furthermore, our research, and my recent professional interactions with teachers suggest that the teaching profession remains largely in support of those same core principles.

It’s a shame if that’s how people feel in any education system. It’s a loss of confidence in the ability to identify and directly teach what is worth knowing. But, of course, these are all from the progressive tradition in education. There is an alternative. Here, by way of contrast, are the aims of our new National Curriculum (yes, this is the entire section):

3.1 The national curriculum provides pupils with an introduction to the essential knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said; and helps engender an appreciation of human
creativity and achievement.

3.2 The national curriculum is just one element in the education of every child. There is time and space in the school day and in each week, term and year to range beyond the national curriculum specifications. The national curriculum provides an outline of
core knowledge around which teachers can develop exciting and stimulating lessons to promote the development of pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills as part of the wider school curriculum.

Not perfect, but a direct endorsement of the academic purpose of education. In my view, it is official permission to teach.


 

To be fair to the Welsh government, there is some new stuff about knowledge in their curriculum aims which suggests some attention has been paid to how the debate has moved on, but their “independent review” clearly was not independent enough. The same stuff has been recycled yet again, and I doubt any of the cut-and-paste merchants were working for free.

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A Couple of Items of Interest

March 2, 2015

Two things you should probably be aware of:

1) Blogger Of The Year

The TES awards now have an award for “Blogger Of The Year”. The voting is all done by a panel of judges, so don’t worry, I’m not begging for support. Any practising teacher who blogs (please remember this, don’t waste time nominating those who are who not eligible) could be nominated and I’m trying to ensure that all the best blogs are put forward for consideration. Fortunately, you can nominate yourself, and I’m led to believe this won’t count against you. However, there is a real risk that some great blogs could be missed, so please, please help with nominating. The deadline is tomorrow at midnight, Sunday 8th March, so time is short.

For starters, I think that there are a number of people who are write really great blogs who are far too modest to realise how great they are. They are probably not even thinking about getting themselves nominated. So, if you can nominate any of the following, or talk them into nominating themselves, please do so and let everyone know in the comments below once they are nominated (or if you have already nominated them):

I’m also told that, because those nominating have to give their name and school, it is difficult for anonymous bloggers to sort out their nominations. Therefore, please consider nominating:

Finally, if you write a blog but I haven’t mentioned you above, please don’t take it personally, I have probably just assumed that you can get yourself nominated without my help. If you are having difficulties, please ask for help in the comments below and I’ll see what I can do.

2) Battle Of Ideas Panel discussion.

I’m in this:

 

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How the Education Establishment Supports Inequality

March 1, 2015

It’s often difficult to convince people how low the expectations are for working class kids can be in schools. I have a lot of anecdotes from a lot of schools. So many times I have been told that I cannot expect much from “kids like these”. I have been told that I haven’t understood that a school being slightly above average for the number of students on Free School Meals means I cannot expect students to spend a whole lesson learning. I have been told that kids from a particular area “don’t have parents like yours” and so will not care about how they do in school. More than anything, low standards of behaviour are excused on the basis that being disobedient and disruptive is normal for the working class. They simply don’t know any better. The ability of middle class teachers to paint anywhere with council housing as the ghetto, never ceases to amaze me. The worst possible home environment is assumed, again and again, even in schools where the parents evenings indicate that most parents are actually interested, aspirational and articulate.

Probably the most dangerous version of this caricature, is the idea that this difference between the classes requires a difference in the curriculum. It is accepted that academic subjects are fine for our children, and, incredibly, so is didactic teaching and the expectation that children can control themselves. But working class kids won’t be interested in any of that. If they are going to cooperate they must be given a curriculum that isn’t too full of content; that would just demotivate them. What working class kids is something to motivate them; something which does not assume they are capable of being interested in anything more than what they are already used to. The middle classes can have knowledge of all that is worthwhile; working class kids just need to be motivated by being told about matters that are relevant to their lives. Middle class kids can study poetry and nineteenth century novels; working class kids can study text messaging and reality TV.

The worst examples of this sort of snobbery were probably those during the early days of the free school movement. Activists who were desperate to prove free schools were selective struggled to find anything to indicate this in their admissions policies. So, instead, they looked at the curriculum. The claim was that an academic curriculum would deter working class parents from sending their kids to a school. So we saw arguments like these:

it is not uncommon for free schools to market themselves in various ways as appropriate mainly for abler and more middle class families … eg compulsory Latin, lack of vocational provision, focus exclusively on Russell Group as a destination, expensive uniform, religious tests and so on. [my emphasis]

Education for Everyone blog

Numerous studies have shown that languages are a class and gender thing. Children from lower socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to be encouraged to learn them by their parents, less likely to see the point of them and less likely to have parents at home who can help with their homework. It is a particular problem for boys, whose parents are more likely to encourage them in science than in languages.

…When [founder of the West London Free School, Toby] Young says that all children will have to learn Latin at Key Stage 3 (and either Latin or a modern language after that), he excludes the kids of parents for whom Latin is a frightening prospect. So much for comprehensive entry.

From The New Statesman

What we have is a bun fight for the middle-class aspirational children: we have lots of glossy prospectuses and PR in order to recruit the children that are most likely to do well.

“And I don’t buy this idea that admission is open to all. The minute you put Latin on the curriculum for the first few years or put pupils in stripey blazers, you will only recruit one kind of child, regardless of how many times you say your school is for everybody.”

Headteacher quoted in the Guardian

I had hoped that people were a bit more circumspect about their low expectations for working class kids these days. But just this week I was amazed to see the following gem on the ASCL website, reacting to the discrepancies in access to academic subjects across the country:

it seems to me that there’s a big assumption behind the gloomy tone of his comments and indeed of the BBC coverage; that the government’s prescription for improving social mobility was right after all. As far as I can see, the ‘MorGovian’ way to get more pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds into Russell Group universities is to ensure that all such pupils study ‘academic’ subjects – an EBacc compatible Key Stage 4 curriculum, for example – and that they aren’t incentivised to study ‘vocational’ subjects, as was the case under Labour.

I would have thought a better way of improving social mobility would be to ensure pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds get the best possible results from a curriculum that motivates and inspires them, whether that be ‘academic’ or ‘vocational’. The trick is to get the curriculum right for each individual. After all, success breeds success; youngsters are surely far more likely to want to keep on with this education thing if they’re doing well at it. Staying on in education (taking respected, high-value qualifications, I should add) is surely the best bet for ensuring long-term success in the labour market.

In fact, I can’t help wondering if the whole question of advantage and disadvantage is a big red herring here. Doesn’t aptitude matter more than social background? Shouldn’t we be more interested in guiding youngsters into the various curricular paths according to where their interests and prior attainment suggest they are most likely to succeed? Okay, a disproportionate number of disadvantaged pupils may have fallen behind by Year 9, but surely such students need intervention and support rather than a curriculum pathway which risks even further demotivation.

This was written by a headteacher on the blog of an organisation representing headteachers across the country. If headteachers are willing to argue in public that students from deprived backgrounds need a curriculum based around motivation rather than academic achievement, what chance do they have? The education establishment still firmly believe that what is appropriate for their children is far too demotivating for other people’s children.

 

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