A look back at Education 2010 – Part 1

The title of this post is not exciting, but hopefully it explains what follows.

It is almost the end of the year, and a time to review all things educational, while ‘looking forward’ to changes in educational policy and provision that will start to unravel over the next few months. I’ll start with Waterloo Road. Like it or not, it is a popular representation of contemporary schooling, granted it is not accurate, but it does represent a reality, and as such, we can predict that Waterloo Road, will have to start responding to the Schools White Paper very soon.

In Waterloo Road, the televisual representation of Britain’s comprehensive schools, Karen Fisher took over as the new Head.

Her deputy, Christopher Mead wakes up at the start of the first episode, the morning after having sexual intercourse with one of his pupils, Jess Fisher.  A criminal record and ruined career awaited, and, while the narrative invited us to be sympathetic towards him, maybe we should question his judgement.  He obviously had not learned his lesson from the previous series about inappropriate relationships with pupils (remember Vicki MacDonald).  Granted, when he embarked on this particular relationship (relationship as in a one night encounter) he didn’t know she was a pupil, but she was clearly of an age that she could be one of his pupils.  He might have avoided the stress if he had got to know his new girlfriend a little better before sleeping with her.  With a big question mark over his sexual politics, Christopher Mead’s career was on the line when the truth was finally revealed to the Head, and mother of  Jess Fisher,  the sixth former in question, but, as a good teacher he remains in post, his contribution as a positive male role model assured for the next series.

The troubled family life of the new Head began to unravel from the very first episode.  In the second episode we witnessed her son Harry experiencing eating distress.  Eventually this was revealed to his family, via the taunts of a fellow pupil, Finn Sharkey.  His mother could have directed him to BEAT’s  Rough Guide for Young Men though, as there was no reference to the eating disorder charity, it was unlikely she did so, and, predictably, by the end of the series he appeared to free from bulimia.

Waterloo Road returns in the Spring, just in time for it to be feeling the pinch of efficiency savings and educational reform.  It will have a much reduced curriculum, concentrating on the essential academic subjects with pupils recalling the essential dates in history, well from a British perspective at least.   The teachers will have greater powers to discipline pupils.  In any case discipline will improve at Waterloo Road, following a crackdown on the flexible interpretation of its uniform.  By the next series, pupils will be dressed in regulation blazers and ties,  and the school will be freed from Local Education Authority control.  Standards will rise, pupils on free school meals will be accepted for Oxbridge, and the future of Waterloo Road, as the preferred school of choice amongst Rochdale’s most aspirational parents will be assured.   It will be a triumph of a neo-liberal education ideology.

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“There’s nothing wrong with Borchester Green”

So says Jill Archer in BBC Radio 4’s The Archers. It comes in response to the extra tuition her grandchildren, twins Freddie and Lily Pargetter are receiving in an attempt to ensure they pass the entrance exam to the Cathedral School in Felpersham.  They currently attend the local state primary school in Loxley Barrett.

Nigel Pargetter, the twins’ father, being almost aristocratic and owning a country estate, always intended for his children to go to his old boarding school Clavisborne. Not quite as posh, more middle class, their mother, Elizabeth Pargetter (née Archer), was, at first, keen to allow them to follow in the Pargetter tradition.  In the summer she began expressing her doubts about boarding school, and so the Pargetters began exploring the possibility of the Cathedral School.  The twins’ cousin, Daniel Hebden Lloyd already attends this school.  His father, Alistair Lloyd wasn’t too happy about this, but conceded, partly because Daniel’s grandparents (the parents of his late biological father) stumped up the fees.

The Pargetters are self-excluding (Whitty, 2001)[1] themselves from state education, following an age-old tradition of the upper classes.  They still intend to self-exclude even though they have taken the decision to have the children attend a school close by.  Borchester Green has never been on their radar.

What is wrong with Borchester Green?

The short answer is, nothing.

Interestingly,  Borchester Green is likely to be seen as a ‘safe choice’ for many middle-class parents who cannot afford the fees for private education.  Granted, Borcetshire, Borchester Green, Ambridge, and The Archers are fictional, but it is reasonable to assume that this rural community has a large middle class population who have colonised the state education provision (ibid).  If they were to attend Borchester Green Freddie and Lily are at an advantage, they come from a wealthy, upper middle class family.  Social class remains the greatest predictor of education success.

Surely though, they would  do better at private school?

Not necessarily, private schools are not homogenous, they don’t all offer the same standard of education (whatever that might be).  In any case, why assume the quality of teaching is any better at a private school?  Importantly, private schools don’t equate to the long-established public schools such as Eton and Harrow for the boys, and Roedean for girls.  Here, social networks are likely to be as significant as academic credentials for a successful future life.  I’m not sure that the Cathedral School in Felpersham is quite in the same league.  Additionally, despite their obvious poshness, I’m not sure that the Pargetters are in the same elite social networks as those families who have sent their offspring to Eton and Harrow for generations.

The Pargetters could do no worse than save their money.  Jill Archer is right, the Pargetters have little to fear from Borchester Green.  It is almost as if she had read the recent report from the Sutton Trust which found that students from comprehensive schools outperformed at degree level, those students who went to either Independent or Grammar School.

However, someone should inform the Pargetters that they may have missed the deadline date for applying for a place at secondary school.

Continue reading ““There’s nothing wrong with Borchester Green””

Where is citizenship education?

Citizenship is currently part of the National Curriculum.  Since 2002 it has been a statutory part of the secondary curriculum (Key Stages 3 and 4), and is non statutory at Key Stages 1 and 2.  For how much longer is uncertain.

This week, I was alerted via Involver, the social enterprise which helps young people to ‘do’ democracy in schools, about a campaign to safeguard citizenship in schools. Involver, along with other education and citizenship organisations are urging MPs to support the Rt Hon David Blunkett MP’s Early Day Motion (EDM 1142).

The EDM calls for the Government to secure citizenship education.

Why the concern?

As has been discussed here, the Schools White Paper, published recently, outlines plans for “a radical reform programme for the schools system”. This involves slimming down the National Curriculum, and, with it, a greater emphasis on academic subjects.  Citizenship does get a mention, briefly, in the foreword, which states:

“It is only through reforming education that we can allow every child the chance to take their full and equal share in citizenship, shaping their own destiny, and becoming masters of their own fate.”

That is the only mention of citizenship.  With the rhetoric of the Big Society, citizenship should, by rights, be at the centre of a proposed new education system.  In the foreword the White Paper claims that reforming schools will allow children to play a full part in citizenship, but there is no real explanation of how this will be achieved.  It appears that citizenship follows, automatically, as a result of the radical reform of schools proposed in the White Paper.

So, citizenship can be argued to be at the centre of  these school reforms.  We need though, to be careful about what this means.  For example, we have heard about plans to improve the prestige and esteem of teachers ( see my previous post) by increasing their powers regarding discipline.  This move may reflect an authoritarian ideology which renders the child inferior to the teacher, as well as voiceless and powerless.  It may not, but without any explicit consideration of how citizenship will be promoted in schools, and with the slimming down of the statutory curriculum, citizenship, as a National Curriculum subject is under threat.

Michael Gove introduces the Schools White Paper

The Department for Education has appropriated a range of technologies to get its message across, following on from the previous Labour administration, the Department for Education has a YouTube site.  Its visual appearance is somewhat more sombre than that of it’s predecessor, the DCSF. Perhaps this indicates a greater emphasis on substance, rather than style. Or, perhaps, that is what we are supposed to think.

With the launch of the Schools White Paper, comes Michael Gove appearing on video introducing it. You can watch the video here.  It leaves you in no doubt as to what the key themes of the Schools White Paper are.

The White Paper is, as Gove tells us, called The Importance of Teaching

Firstly, this refers to the quality of teachers.   The Government is committed to raising the prestige of teachers.  That sounds unproblematic, on the face of it.   Note, however, the emphasis on the quality of teachers, not teaching. The White Paper invites us to believe that improvements in schools will be as a result of good quality teachers.   Presumably that implies that good quality teachers practice good quality teaching.  But this is not merely a semantic point. Good quality teachers will be identified through their degree classification.  Graduates will require at least a 2:2  in order to receive government funding for initial teacher training.  This might not appear to be a bad thing, after all, we want teachers who know their subject and can demonstrate this at degree level.  However, it does suggest that the qualities that are required to become a good teacher, exist, and are fixed before initial teacher training takes place.  In reality, given the popularity of many PGCE programmes, this level of selection is likely to have being taking place for some time. However, as a result of these proposals, providers of post-graduate teacher training programmes will now no longer be able to provide a place to a potentially excellent teacher who has less than a 2:2.

Secondly, there is the power that is to be given to teachers.    Again, this sounds unproblematic.  Teachers will be able “to take control of the learning that goes on” and will be given “new powers to take control of order and discipline in the classroom”.  If teachers are important, this sounds reasonable, let them get on with teaching, and, while they are at it they can get on with disciplining children.  How very generous of the Government to give teachers power.   So, let us problematise this. Can power be ‘given’ to teachers in this sense?  I doubt it.  Unless the Government genuinely sees that it has nothing to do with education, and will disband the DfE, and never again propose education policies,  it still has power, and it can just as easily take back this so called power that it is giving teachers. 

Alongside this new power, is freedom.  As the webpage for the Schools White Paper states, schools are to be  “freed from the constraints of central Government direction“.  The Schools White Paper, presumably, should not be seen as an example of  that “central Government direction”.   

So, there it is, teachers have power, and schools have freedoms, and, there is no “central Government direction”.  Except that “central Government” is pressing for the teaching of synthetic phonics, and the introduction of the English Baccalaureate.  Testing remains, with a new “age six reading check”  to be introduced, inspections remain, and minimum “floor standards” will be imposed on schools. The curriculum is to be reformed, with a focus on “essential knowledge”.  We can accept that teachers have new powers, and schools have freedoms, however, they have these as long as they implement this Government’s policy

Schools White Paper ‘word cloud’

Late last month saw the publication of the Schools White Paper.  This is the Government document which sets out plans for “a radical reform programme for the schools system”.  This sounds very grand, and exciting.  Who would not want to make our schools better?  You can expect more from me on this later.

In the meantime, by way of a gentle easing back into Education and Society, and by way of an introduction to the Schools White Paper let me share with you the Schools White Paper ‘word cloud’.

I doubt that this visual representation is a substantial alternative to reading the White Paper itself, yet, it is significant.  As it says on the Department’s web page:  “The larger the word, the more heavily it features”.

Therefore we could conclude a number of things from this image.  Clearly schools is the largest word.  For some, this is likely to be reassuring as it highlights the policy focus on the importance of schools.  We all want our children to go to good schools, and, in many ways popular discourse equates schools with education.  Note however, that education, is not as large as schools, and therefore, presumably does not feature as heavily in the White Paper.

Note the other ‘large’ words that stand out: teachers, pupils, and, importantly, improvement.

There you have it, a Schools White Paper which puts schools at its core, in which  teachers and pupils are seen as central, with the underlying aim of improvement.  It is there in black and white, or, more precisely shades of blue.  Who could argue with those sentiments?



Missing?

I am somewhat alarmed to see I haven’t posted in a while.  This may be due to several reasons:

  • There has been no developments or news in education, at least none worth discussing
  • I am no longer interested in education
  • The issues that have long concerned sociologists of education have been rectified by the educational policies proposed by the current UK Government

None of the above apply. If you have paid any attention to the news in recent months, you may be aware of significant developments in education, not least the organisation of schools, the training of teachers, and student funding.  My interest has not waned either.  Far more prosaic reasons have got in the way of this blog.