Down on the School Farm

A couple of weeks ago, Education and Society discussed the eventful farm trip featured on the  BBC school drama series, Waterloo Road. Pigs were prominent characters in that episode.

This week, the Guardian featured a more successful approach to incorporating pigs into the curriculum.  Oathall Community College in West Sussex has its own farm.  Here, pigs (and other animals) are reared for slaughter, their meat is sold, and pupils learn about the food cycle. Presumably, pupils at Oathall don’t have the sentimentality towards piglets that Sambuca Kelly, in Waterloo Road displayed. 

The farm at Oathall started in 1940, as part of the Dig for Victory campaign during World War II.  Today, the focus of the school’s farm appears to be more on raising livestock and producing meat, than digging and growing.  However, with the farm the school is able to offer courses in agriculture, as well as using the farm to support the whole curriculum.  The pupils at the school carry out work on the farm, not just on school days but at week-ends and in the holidays. 

Perhaps Waterloo Road pupils could visit.


Peppa Pig isn’t shouting out for a Sure Start

Peppa Pig, the animated porcine was at the centre of one General Election story this week. 

The company which licenses Peppa Pig had been due, along with the Pig to attend the launch of the Labour Party’s manifesto for families.  But, Peppa, did not attend, withdrawing her attendance, and support at the last minute.  In a statement, the company said:

Peppa Pig is a well-known fan of Sure Start children’s centres but, in the interests of avoiding any controversy or misunderstanding, we have agreed she should not attend.”

It is the equivalent of saying that Peppa Pig is above politics, and wishes to remain impartial. 

Except, she isn’t.

Only a few weeks ago, Peppa Pig promoted Sure Start Centres at a ‘Shout Out for a Sure Start’ event.

This campaign asks you to ‘Shout Out for a Sure Start’ if you believe that Sure Start sets up a child for life, that every child deserves a sure start, and, if you believe that an investment in children is an investment in all our futures.  You cannot support these aims and objectives and then claim to remain impartial.

These ‘Shout out for a Sure Start’ statements are political, reflecting political beliefs, ideologies, hopes and aspirations.  Peppa  Pig has been happy to subscribe to these in the recent past, but all of sudden thinks that believing that giving children the best start in life, and  investing in children’s future for the benefit of wider society, might be controversial. 

Sure Start does not exist external to the Labour Party.  Sure Start Centres did not descend magically, overnight, as if from heaven.  They were created by a Labour Government which decided to do something about child poverty.  And their very existence, and that of thousands of the most vulnerable of our children and their families are under threat.

Peppa, you are political, be controversial, and Shout Out for a Sure Start.

Social Class still matters

This is not a revelation, but social class and education is making the news again. 

Earlier this week, a report commissioned by the Sutton Trust, Education Mobility in England reported on the links between the educational levels of parents and the educational outcomes of their children. 

Photograph: Jimmy Sime/Getty Images

 The research findings did show, unsurprisingly, that social class matters.    

As an indicator of social class, John Ermisch and Emilia Del Bono, from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at Essex University, who carried out the research for the Sutton Trust, compared children of parents with a degree to those without.  According to their analysis, in 2006 children with parents who were educated to at least degree level were four times more likely to achieve 5 or more A*-C grades at GCSE than pupils who were not educated to this level.   As both the Guardian and the Independent reported, this gap is worse in England than in other countries, including the USA, Germany, and Australia. 

If you are concerned about the reproduction of social class inequalities through education this is not good news.   It clearly demonstrates the persistent influence of social class, and thus points to the maintainance of social class advantages by the educated middle classes.  

There are other important findings.  The attainment gap widens between the ages of 11 and 14, following transfer to secondary school.  The researchers highlighted the impact of the school, pointing to widening gaps in attainment amongst this age group being shaped by segregated secondary school admissions.  

If you read further down the reports in both the Guardian and the  Independent you will find some glimmer of hope.  The researchers did find some improvements, in that, for 11 and 16 year olds, the advantage of having a degree educated parent had diminished.  For the 11 year olds at least, they have been educated entirely under a Labour Government, and the report does suggest that education investments over the last decade may have contributed to a narrowing of the gap. They point to other research which indicated a widening gap in the early 1990’s. 

As a means of addressing this gap, the report recommends “more balanced intakes”  (p. 4)  into secondary schools. At present, intakes are not balanced. Phrases in popular discourses, such as ‘selection by mortgage’ indicate the ability of middle class parents to secure a place at their preferred school.  

Are the Conservative’s ‘free schools’ a solution?  In short, no.  They would further reproduce social inequalities.  An answer is to overhaul the secondary school admissions process.  But that would mean tampering with the concept of ‘parental choice’, even though this actually refers to the ability of middle class parents to maintain their class position through the education system. 

Continue reading “Social Class still matters”

The Conservatives and not so free ‘Free Schools’

‘Free Schools’ are being promoted by the Conservative Party as a solution to apparent falling educational standards, and parental dissatisfaction with local schools.  The Conservatives are basing their proposals on a Swedish model. There, groups of parents, charities, or companies can set up schools, and, with state funding, run them.  This model is attractive to the Conservatives because it appears to give power to (some) parents, and, simultaneously frees up the school from Local Education Authority Control.  Government has limited power and control over such schools, freeing up those who set up the school to run it in the way they feel fit.  It sounds an appealing prospect. 

However, ‘free schools’ are a contentious issue.

In theory, a group of parents could set up a school and run it. This is how the Daily Mail presented David Cameron pledge to a parents’ group in West Yorkshire. However, it is unlikely that a parents’ group would actually run a school.  More likely is that a private profit making company would run a school.  They may be contracted by a parents’ or community group, but this doesn’t mean that power is devolved to the community.  Who really holds the power?  Would parents actually be handing power to these private, unaccountable companies?  A further issue to consider is the role of private companies in the provision of education.  Michael Gove, the shadow schools’ secretary certainly sees a role for the private sector.  These companies would be encouraged to run schools for profit.  In other words, public money would go into the pockets of these profit making companies.  This seems odd, given the  Conservatives statements about needing to cut public spending, and target it where it is most needed.  Maybe, what they mean is that public spending will be diverted to the private sector.

The impact on other schools, and on pupils also needs considering.  The theory is, with ‘free schools’ there is greater choice, and that this improves standards.  So, schools have to be ‘good’ schools in order to attract consumers (parents and their children), and the money follows pupils.  ‘Bad’ schools are identified by their unpopularity and will be gradually forced out of the market, they need to be ‘good’ to stay in the market.  But, of course the reality is somewhat different, with ‘free schools’ attracting middle class pupils (as evidence suggests they have done in Sweden) poorer children are left at the ‘state’ schools, which will see their funding cut.  Yes, there is a premium for children from deprived areas, but it is doubtful that this would be attractive enough to a profit making company.  Why would they want to risk their profits by spending money education kids from poor homes. 

The conservatives claim that their education proposals will provide the kind of good quality education system that is currently only available to the ‘well off’.  Yet, their proposals threaten to further social inequalities in education, allowing ‘sink’ schools to sink further, denying the most vulnerable a good education.

And the promise of raised standards.  The evidence from Sweden, and the evidence from Charter Schools in the USA suggest otherwise.  The standards are often no better than in ‘public’ (state) schools, and, are sometimes worse.

Charley Junior’s Schooldays

This short film, Charley Junior’s Schooldays was made by John Halas and Joy Batchelor as a public information film in 1949.  It shows the story of Charley Junior, who, while he is not yet born, is keen to learn about the schools he will attend in the future.  The film is over 60 years old, and so, is clearly not news.  However it is a useful insight into the post war optimism surrounding the welfare state for anyone interested in the history of education in England and Wales.   The film can be seen as a response to the 1944, or ‘Butler Act’. It was this Act which introduced compulsory secondary education up to the age of 15, (the intention was to increase the school leaving age to 16).  The film describes the process of the 11+ exam determining whether a child went to a Grammar, Secondary Modern, or Technical School, though some LEAs chose not to follow this route.

It was, as this film suggests, much more than that.  While Butler, the Minister responsible for the Act was a Conservative, and the Act passed in 1944 prior to the Labour landslide victory of 1945, the Labour Government developed the provisions of the Act as part of its wider collectivist and comprehensive agenda of social welfare.

There are clear references to education being important to socialisation, Charley Junior is told that, for the first few years of his life, his parents will teach him everything he needs to know about the world.  This could have come straight from Emile Durkheim or Talcott Parsons!

The ‘tripartite’ system tends to dominate accounts of the 1944 Act (though the Act never legislated for this system), but here we can see that other educational provision was considered important.  Charley Junior is shown his nursery school and his junior school.  These schools didn’t just drop from the sky. As the film explains all this provisions required the training of teachers  (70, 000 new teachers needed to be trained to meet the needs of post war welfare reforms), the building of schools and supplies of equipment.  Another 600, 000 school places needed to be created, partly due to the raising of the school-leaving age, but also because of the increased birth rate following the end of the war.

The role of government is highlighted too. The Ministry of Education was shown to be of extreme importance, it wasn’t there just to make sure children were taught certain subjects, but it was there to ensure that children had access to health and social care, and that they were provided with a healthy meal.  Regulation and ‘bureaucracy’ were there for a reason.   As I’ve said in a previous post, when you deregulate, you get Turkey Twizzlers on school’s dinner menus.

There are some interesting gender stereotypes shown, with the girls in the Secondary Modern School ironing!  The tripartite (in reality, a bipartite) system presented as natural in this film soon became problematic. Despite these, the film presents a feeling of optimism, that, through collectivity, children will be well educated, that schools will take care of, and nurtue children, and, importantly, that children will have a better start in life than their parents did. In short, it is radical.

Waterloo Road and the elusive exclusive Russell Group

At Waterloo Road, Kim, the Head of Pastoral Care, and Chris, the Deputy Head are making things up as they go along.  The  hitherto existing evidence supports this claim, and this week, further evidence of their ad hoc application of educational initiatives was put before the audience.

This week, Chris happened to set up a scheme to help one student, Ros, get into Oxbridge.  Other students,  may get to University, if they applied themselves, he asserted, but stood no chance of getting to one of the ‘really academic Universities’. 

What he meant, was, that this scheme was designed to help students get into one of the Russell Group of UK Universities.  Though, as ‘Russell Group’ is not frequently found in popular discourses, he couldn’t really say this in a popular TV drama. Inevitably, at Waterloo Road, some pupils felt disgruntled at being excluded from this scheme.  In particular, Michaela White, felt she had been unfairly labelled as ‘thick’, and campaigned for equal opportunities. The result, a selection interview revealed that Ros McCain had a very clear idea about her future, and the role of University in achieving this.  Michaela, on the other hand, was less sure, she knew what she didn’t want to do. 

This episode was, of course, full of sociological concepts.  There are, as Chris Mead stated ‘hundreds of Universities’.  Probably there is one which would take Michaela White, if she wanted to go.  But, some, it appears are better than others, or, as Mr Mead put it, there are some Universities which are really academic.  And, this is true.  While more young people now go to University in this country than have ever done, with Widening Participation a policy which many Universities pursue, attracting ‘non traditional students’, there remains inequality between High Education Institutions. 

At Waterloo Road, this stark reality was highlighted.  There were, for example, a number of references to social class and Higher Education.  The stratification of Universities reproduces social class and wealth inequalities.  In other words, your social class is likely to shape, not only whether you go to University, but also which University you go to.  Chris Mead said that he wanted Ros to have the opportunities that pupils at a private school would take for granted, so was clearly aware of this social class inequality.  Here, are clear references to Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and cultural capital.  Ros may be able to get the grades to get into a top University, but, as Mr Mead observed, she lacks the confidence.  Mead went further in describing her as a genuinely bright working-class kid.  So, while she isn’t surrounded by the right people who could help her get to Oxbridge, she deserving of the school’ help.  It is doubtful however, that a few months of tutoring by kindly teachers at Waterloo Road will supply Ros with the cultural capital that other, more advantaged pupils will possess. 

Chris Mead was less sympathetic to Michaela White.  Presumably, while she is working class, she is not genuinely ‘bright’.  In the end, she decided that University wasn’t for her.  Some sociologists have described this type of attitude as a form of classed identity where individuals reject the prospect of University, because it appears alien to working class experience.   Pupils like Michaela then, make choices about their future, and decide not to go to University, with this contributing to social class inequalities in higher education.  Mr Mead, however, appeared not to be familiar with the work of Louise Archer (et al) and preferred to label Michaela as a trouble maker. 

Elsewhere in the school, reality was suspended.  Aidan, a pupil we had never met before, was intent on maintaining his supplies of doughnuts and sausage rolls, and, Rachel Mason was holding an interview for a chef and health eating co-ordinator.  All part of her job, however, she appeared to be conducting the interviews alone, and the morning of the interviews was the first that staff knew about this new post. Did they all miss the advert?  Was not the Head of Pastoral Care invited to the shortlisting?  In the end she offered the job to a Mr Fleet, who, had missed his interview, having being trapped in Ruby’s cookery class. Which, raises more questions about the recruitment process. Continue reading “Waterloo Road and the elusive exclusive Russell Group”

Animal Farm at Waterloo Road

This week, Ruby and Steph took a group of pupils to a farm.  The catchment area of Waterloo Road apparently having been extended somewhat, beyond the deprived post industrial landscape of Rochdale’s least popular secondary school. 

There was little evidence of a risk assessment, either by the school, or, indeed, the farm.  It is doubtful that the trip location, the Moran’s farm, would have qualified for a ‘quality badge‘ indicating that it was providing a good learning experience outside of the classroom.

During the trip, one set of pupils disappeared to drink alcohol and, in their drunken frolics, a barrel of chemicals spilt onto Josh, necessitating a trip to the local Accident and Emergency department.   Meanwhile, a couple of girls engaged in some animal liberation, and let some piglets out of their pen,  smuggling one, unnoticed onto the bus and back to the school, naming it ‘Albert’.  Albert made a bid for freedom and ran round the school corridors, only to be returned to the farmer.   Sambuca Kelly, the animal liberator, had, clearly not grasped the harsh reality of farming and the food cycle, despite studying food technology.  However, she was relieved to be informed that ‘Albert’, who, it turned out, was a girl, would be saved from slaughter (for the time being at least) and would be used for breeding, so that other little piglets could, instead be sent to the abattoir. 

Waterloo Road, an everyday story of country folk

The rather dilapidated state of the farm was due to Mr Moran struggling to keep things in order following the death of his father.  Ruby immediately assumed the role of grief counsellor, and drew on a rather problematic model of bereavement, suggesting that Mr Moran finish grieving and that he ‘let go’, as you do. 

Chaos was also unfolding back at the school. Kim and Chris had, in a week, set up a mentoring scheme.  This had been prompted by the previous week’s custody battle.  As Head of Pastoral Care, Kim appears to be making things up as she goes along.  Had she never heard of the National Peer Mentoring Programme?  Did Kim and Chris really have time to attend one of their training courses, and manage to train the peer mentors, in the space of a week?  Given the evidence, the disastrous, yet entertaining consequences of their efforts, it would seem not. 

So, as usual, an interesting representation of a comprehensive school, and one which adheres to some popular stereotypes, though, thankfully, Waterloo Road is not a representation of reality.

Comprehensive Schools are not comprehensive

This week, the Sutton Trust published a report: Worlds Apart: social variation among schools.  It reports on the social segregation within schools.  It found that many of the country’s ‘leading Comprehensive schools’ are more socially exclusive and less ethnically diverse than some Grammar schools. 

Many factors contribute to this, such as parental choice, and the selection by the schools themselves.  It is not solely because a Comprehensive School is located in, for example, a middle class neighbourhood.

These findings should be cause for concern. The Guardian picks up on the report and suggests that a ballot to allocate places at secondary school would be fairer.  it certainly would, as it would not enable middle class parents to use their cultural capital, or any other capital to ensure their child was offered a place at their preferred school.

The Daily Mail however, also expresses concern at the report.  Though their claim to be concerned about the social exclusivity of Comprehensives isn’t really credible.  They go on to use the findings of the report to suggest that a solution is an end to Comprehensives and a return to Grammar Schools.  So, in other words they are so concerned with this divisive state in Comprehensive Schools that they want to replace it with more divisiveness.  They still cling to this notion that Grammar Schools enabled social mobility, but only for ‘bright’ working class children.   Again, the evidence for this claim is pretty thin.  One has to question therefore the Daily Mail’s motive in running this story in the way that they did.  The article appears, on the face of it to be concerned with equality, but their enthusiasm for Grammar Schools reveals their real lack of concern.

Also interesting is the claim by the Daily Mail that this report is “groundbreaking”.  This is as good as saying that these findings are something that we were, hitherto, unaware of.

While the results from the Sutton Trust report are interesting, and significant in that they provide new data and add to the debate over school admissions (which have supposedly being tightened), the key fact that middle classes are able to ‘colonise’ some Comprehensive Schools is not  newly discovered. 

Middle class ‘colonisation’ of some Comprehensive Schools has been researched by sociologists and educational researchers for around 20 years.    Following the 1988 Education Act (which, amongst other things enshrined the rights of parents to choose a school for their child) studies have looked at the impact of the ‘educational market place’. 

Researchers have looked at ‘class strategies’ of parents and their behaviour when choosing a school.  The Daily Mail’s headline, for example was Selection by Mortgage, referring to the ability of middle class parents to secure a place at their preferred school by moving there, forcing up house prices, and therefore excluding children from poorer families.  Other reported strategies include attending church to secure a place at a church school.  Middle class parents are also better able to access and interpret a range of official and unofficial information about a school and use this to make an ‘informed’ choice about schools in their area.  And selection by the school itself, again not surprising given that schools will themselves want to maintain their position in the education market place. 

The result is, Comprehensive schools which aren’t comprehensive, and the reproduction of social class inequalities.  The solution is not more Grammar Schools.  The problem is the education market place. Continue reading “Comprehensive Schools are not comprehensive”

Pupils revolt on facebook

The Daily Mail must have loved this story. Pupils from a girls Grammar School in Buckinghamshire used facebook to voice their displeasure  about the appointment of their new head.  The newly appointed head then withdrew from the post, before she actually took the post up.


The pupils had been involved in the selection process,  (a form of ‘pupil voice’) and preferred the acting Head over the one who was actually appointed.    So, according to the Daily Mail, the disgruntled girls starting a bullying campaign on facebook. The appointed Head felt unable to take up the position amidst all this hatred, and the acting Head is still th acting Head.  A case of pupils rejecting authority, it may seem.  What makes it worse is the fact that this is, according to the Daily Mail, sanctioned by the new Labour Government (though readers of the Daily Mail may be more familiar with the phrase ‘Nu Liebour’).  Its political correctness gone mad!

A previous post here referred to the NASUWT’s response to ‘pupil voice’.  The Daily Mail suddenly finds itself on the side of a teaching union, highlighting how its members are concerned over government sanctioned ‘pupil voice’. 

Of course, this post is hardly going accept the Daily Mail’s version of events without question.

The School in question had involved the pupils in the recruitment process.  The use of pupils in this way is encouraged under a wider policy of ‘pupil voice’, though recruitment is not the only way in which ‘pupil voice’ is manifested.

The girls did favour the acting Head, not the eventual successful candidate.  It is the governing body which has ultimate responsibility for making the decision, so it could be a simple case of the pupils preferring one candidate and the governing body preferring another.  In such case disgruntled expressions from pupils, or anyone else are really out of place.  However, it could also be the case that ‘pupil voice’ didn’t really take place.  The Daily Mail glosses over a meeting called by the governing body.  Here, a representative of the staff claimed that the views of staff and pupils had been overlooked in the appointment process.  This is not just a case of disagreeing over the choice of candidate, it is an indication that the process in which pupils are staff and pupils are consulted may not have worked as well as it could.  Also, this does not suggest a ‘crisis of adult authority’, the pupils are not taking over.

Then, there is the successful candidate herself. Mrs Jarrett  decided not to take up the post for personal and professional reasons.  We know no other details.  Is it reasonable to guess that she was scared by a pupil ‘facebook revolt’?  Has she never encountered disgruntled pupils, and dealt with this?  Presumably she has, and, if not, and she has run as fast as she could from these facebooking pupils, then maybe the governing body did make the wrong choice.

There is also facebook itself.  This is really what the Daily Mail is concerned with, though it does seem to be incidental to the case. It is possibly the case that some of the comments made by some pupils were unacceptable. The page has been removed so it is impossible to tell.  In one way, the presence of such comments on such a site is hardly surprising as it provided an unofficial and online context for disgruntled pupils to express their frustration.  However, concern about the process of the appointment was heard, not only in an online space, but in an offline, and official context, namely the special meeting arranged by the governing body. Again, concern was also voiced by staff.

The Daily Mail article can be found here.  It is worth scrolling down to the readers’ comments.  You will find a couple from the pupils, you will be able to spot them, they are reasoned and articulate, and, consequently have downrated by fellow Daily Mail readers.

Teachers fears over technical schools

Last year, Michael Gove, the Conservative Party’s shadow secretary for children, schools and families announced that his party planned to introduce technical schools if they were in power.  These schools, with academy status would provide young people from 14 upwards with a vocational technical education.

Anyone who is aware of the history of the education system in England and Wales will have heard of technical schools.  Under the 1944 Education Act, or the Butler Act, free compulsory secondary education was introduced.  In many areas an 11+ exam determined whether a pupil went to a Grammar, Secondary Modern, or Technical School.  So, Technical Schools are hardly innovative.

While the three types of school were intended to have ‘parity of esteem’, in fact, they didn’t.  The 11+ was designed to select pupils into the most appropriate type of school, whereas, in reality pupils either passed or failed the 11+, with those passing it going to Grammar Schools, while those who failed went to Secondary Modern Schools.  And Technical Schools? Well, there were few of them built, and many closed in the 1950’s.   Not only were many children labelled as ‘failures’,  Grammar and Secondary Modern Schools differed in the social class characteristics of their pupils.  In short, middle class children were more likely to be selected for Grammar Schools, while working class children were likely to go to Secondary Modern Schools.

It is the potential that this class divide may be repeated if new Technical Schools are created that has prompted the NUT (National Union of Teachers) to voice their opposition to the Conservative Party’s proposal.

At their annual conference members of the NUT expressed concern about proposed changes to the curriculum for 14-19 year olds.  They fear selection at 14, claiming that this will force children to make decisions about their careers, and will find it difficult to change their minds.  Their concern is over the separation of vocational and academic education, which, they argue will result in a two tier education system.  There is, of course some justification for this fear, as this is precisely what happened following the 1944 Act.  Delegates also pointed to such a system reinforcing a class divide, again, evidence suggest these fears are justified, possibly more so now, due to changes in social mobility.

But, Michael Gove claims that these schools will be ‘high quality’  and that they will be ‘prestigious’.  Can we believe the Conservatives?  Well, the evidence from history suggests that it is the more academic schools which will be regarded as ‘prestigious’.  But, maybe we should give their plans a chance?  Perhaps those wealthy parents who have already put their children down for schools such as Eton and Harrow, might like to reconsider, and, instead decide to send their children to one of these new ‘Technical Schools’.

While we wait for that day, it might be interesting to see where Michael Gove’s two children end up at 14.