Educating Greater Manchester (1)

The Educating series of fly on the wall accounts of everyday school life returned this week with Educating Greater Manchester filmed at Harrop Fold School in Salford. The series has become formulaic, with each weekly episode featuring a different aspect of school life. This week attention was focused on the ethnic diversity of the pupil population and the various responses to this diversity.  If the Educating series is a documentary, it is not investigative, and rarely involves a critical exploration the context in which events in the school occur.  Instead it appears to be more concerned with the emotive and providing entertainment.  Nevertheless, the school exists and the events do occur in such a context.

Focused on telling the story of Rani, a year 7 pupil from Syria, this week’s episode revealed the existence of racism in the school, though this word was rarely used, by the teachers.   Instead, various phrases to diffuse the potential harm the racist incidents might cause included:

You don’t mean it though, do you?

It was a joke

It was thoughtless more than malicious

Whilst there was a recognition that such incidents were unacceptable and needed tackling, the reluctance to label such incidents as ‘racist’ (see Pearce, 2014) might be seen as evidence of a tolerance for everyday racist discourses (Grigg, K. and Manderson, 2015; Miller, 2015).

Personal stories were also developed through direct to camera interviews.  At times these felt overly intrusive, such as when Marud, another pupil from Syria was asked about his father:

Do you think he’s alive?

As this episode progressed, so did Rani’s friendship with fellow Year 7 pupil, Jack.  Rani also transitioned from the SEND class where he was placed to help him develop his English language skills, to mainstream classes.  The transition was celebrated with a ‘graduation’, reflecting the effort of the individual involved. Whilst the move from this group might be positive for Rani, the existence of a celebration to mark a moving away from the SEND class is somewhat problematic.  What about those pupils for whom a move to mainstream classes may not be appropriate?

Finally, in a scene where we shouldn’t laugh, but probably did, we see Rani taking the lead in exercising their artistic tendencies on the dirt of a white van.  Rani writes ‘Fock’ and is followed by other boys drawing ever increasingly graphic phalluses.  How everyone laughed, including the head teacher.  He asks the assembled miscreants:

 What are they going to be thinking of the blue blazer?

Emphasising the importance of the group identity, he reminds us scholars of education that we need to re-read Durkheim (1973) from time to time.

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National Curriculum Assessments – Key Stage 2

Today, the Department for Education published data on National Curriculum Assessments at Key Stage 2.  The data from these has  shown a drop in the number of schools falling below government targets.  As such, the DfE was was able to claim its “new tougher floor targets” had proved successful with the following statement:

“Higher floor standards driving up performance”

The logic being that higher targets will lead to higher standards.  At the same time as celebrating the success of England’s primary schools the Department for Education highlights those Local Authorities where relatively high proportions of schools have fewer than 60% of pupils achieving the expected level 4 at Key Stage 2. These schools face being converted into academies as part of the current government’s plan to transform ‘weak’ schools.   The optimistic rationale is that the “expertise and strong leadership” of an academy sponsor  gives pupils “the best chance of a first-class education”.   At this point it is worth reading Henry Stewart’s post for the Local Schools Network which provides some interesting counter analysis for such a claim, based on the data released today.

We also need to consider which pupils are doing better, and which pupils are not achieving expected levels:

  • Chinese pupils are most likely to achieve level 4 at Key Stage 2 in English and Maths
  • Children who are entitled to Free School Meals (FSM) are less likely than their peers to achieve level 4 or above at Key Stage 2
  • The size of this gap differs according to gender and ethnicity, with the gap between white and black boys on FSM and the national average of particular concern

Therefore, improvement is not uniform. The persistent differences in attainment between socio-economic groups suggests the ability of individual schools to transcend these inequalities is limited.  Can primary academies really do any better?

More pupils on free school meals

A Statistical First Release (SFR), produced by National Statistics was published this week by the new Department for Education.  It provides statistical information on schools and pupils and their characteristics, including numbers of  pupils, class sizes, pupils with SEN, with English as an Additional Language, Ethnicity, and the numbers eligible for free school meals.

The statistics in this SFR are derived from a Census of all maintained schools in England, taken in January this year.  In terms of free school meals, the figures show that 1.2 million children are eligible, an increase of approximately 83,000 since 2009.

In primary schools, 18.5 % of pupils are known to be eligible for free school meals, compared with 17.1% in 2009.  In secondary schools, 15.4% are known to be eligible, compared with 14.5% last year.

This year’s rise in eligibility follows on from last year’s rise, and, is likely to be a symptom of the current economic climate.  However, for primary schools, at least, it is difficult to make direct comparisons with the 2009 figures because of a free school meals pilot operating in the following LEAs:

  • Durham
  • Newham
  • Wolverhampton

In these authorities, extended or universal free school meals are being provided to pupils in maintained primary schools.  This immediately changes the eligibility criteria: more, and in some cases, all primary school pupils are eligible.  A similar scheme is planned to start in parts of Cumbria, later this year.

The pilot figures are, however likely to explain only a proportion of the increase in eligibility.  Income inequality and child poverty are important factors. With cuts in public services expected, these children will suffer the most.

The release of these figures has not received much media attention amidst coverage of the post-election coalition formation and abolition of the DCSF.  The Independent reports on the figures, and a virtually identical article can be found in the Telegraph.  Meanwhile the Daily Express chose to focus on the issue of English as an Additional Language, and in doing so managed to conflate English as an Additional Language with not being able to speak English properly. The two are not the same.  It is true that free school meal data was not the only information reported in this SFR.  However, the relative neglect of free school meals, and the decision by some sections of the press to, inaccurately report on figures of non native English speakers  is worrying. The press is setting the agenda, focusing on ethnicity, fueling fears over immigration, while ignoring the important issue of child poverty.

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Department for Education

The Department for Education was formed on the 12th May.  It replaces the Department for Children’s’ Schools and Families (DCSF). 

The new website has been launched here.  At present it looks like the kind of website you find yourself on when you have typed in an incorrect address or an unregistered domain. The familiar rainbow logo has gone, along with the links to the DCSF YouTube site. 

This will all change.  For the time being, there is a photo of a multi-ethnic, mixed gender group of happy, smiling, primary school children (educated under a Labour Government), which is probably designed to reassure us that this new Government has all our children’s educational interests at heart.  The links to school performance tables remain, indicating that league tables are definitely here to stay.

The name change is likely to be significant too.  The keyword is education, which was  missing from the name of the previous department:  the Department for Children Schools and Families. 

By only including education in the government department’s title the new administration is signalling that this is what this new department is about, and, it may appeal to traditionalists.  However, the DCSF recognised that education is a part of a wider social context which impacts on the development of children, and so the name of this department reflected a political will to co-ordinate policies which impacted on the lives of young people, and their families. It was a recognition that policies aimed at improving educational standards, particularly of those who traditionally did not achieve their best cannot be isolated in schools.  The DCSF was designed to help achieve the aims of Every Child Matters  (the link and the information on here is likely to disappear, soon)Additionally, by placing children and families alongside schools, the last Labour Government was also responding to criticism that services for children, young people, and their families were not sufficiently co-ordinated.  For example, Lord Laming’s report into the death of Victoria Climbié. 

Still, according to an article in Children & Young People Now, Michael Gove promises “an exciting journey ahead”. 

Michael Gove, Schools, discipline, standards, and ties

Michael Gove is the new Minister for Schools.

What can we expect?  Well, he is keen on returning to traditional values in education.  This is a popularist term, but is rather vague, suggesting that anything in the past, specifically the Victorian age is good. Unfortunately many social ills were popular in the past, such as high infant mortality, child prostitution, the absence of a welfare state, no minimum wage, and so on.

Gove does get more specific.   School ties help raise standards (oh, and blazers).

Wearing a tie has brought Catherine Tate's Lauren educational success

Yes, he really does believe this.  In this article in the Daily Mail he is reported as saying:

“It is no coincidence that many of the best-performing state schools have proper school uniforms”

The conservatives carried out this ‘research’, looking at GCSE results and school uniform, and so claim this as evidence.  Their research findings did not, however isolate the key item of school uniform as some of the most successful schools did not have blazers. 

Most sociological research on educational attainment has left out school uniforms as a predictor of attainment, instead they have highlighted social class, ethnicity, and gender.  Inequalities in educational attainment are persistent,  even existing in traditional times,  however, maybe ties are indeed the solution.  I doubt it, however.

Gove also wants to restore discipline by using ex-soldiers in schools. However it is not sure whether these soldiers will need to have a minimum degree classification of a 2:2 before they are allowed to become teachers. The Conservatives have promised to raise the standard of teacher training by limiting entry to only those who achieve a minimum 2:2 degree.

GCSE attainment by pupil characteristics

Today the DCSF published statistics on GCSE attainment by pupil characteristics for 2008-09. It breaks down GCSE results according to gender, ethnicity, free school meal (FSM) entitlement, special educational needs (SEN) and English as a first language.

In summary it shows that girls are outperforming boys though the gap between them is narrowing. The figures show that Chinese pupils continue to outperform pupils from other ethnic backgrounds.

The figures also reveal that deprivation continues to shape educational attainment, with pupils who receive free school meals far less likely to achieve 5 or more A*-C grades at GCSE than their peers who do not receive free school meals.  However the gap between the two has shrunk on previous years, albeit by 0.6% .

However, as today’s Guardian announces a new gap has emerged, between rural poor pupils and better off pupils from urban areas.  The funding formula may be partly responsible, providing extra resources to schools in urban areas on the basis of deprivation, allowing these schools to provide one to one tuition and study sessions in school holidays.

The Statistical First Release which summarises the figures is available from the DCSF.