Gove stands up to the ‘Blob’

There are so many problems with Michael Gove’s recent article in the Daily Mail that I am not sure where to start.  I am also not sure whether I have the inclination to engage with something that I consider to be diatribe.  But here goes:

After opening with an invocation of Cyril Connolly, Gove appeals to fear:

“Because there are millions of talented young people being denied the opportunity to succeed as they deserve. Far too many are having their potential thwarted by a new set of Enemies Of Promise.”

Gove is trying to claim that he is concerned about the educational prospects of our young people.  Perhaps he is only concerned about those who he deems as talented, and therefore deserving of success?  Nevertheless, he is concerned about them.  Yet, Daily Mail readers should be warned, there are people out there, these  ‘Enemies Of Promise’ who threaten to stand in the way of these opportunities to success.

So, who are these ‘Enemies Of Promise’? They are:

“a set of politically motivated individuals”

These individuals do not agree with Gove, therefore they are enemies, and, moreover they are politically motivated, and worst of all, they are ‘Marxist’.  Helpfully, the Daily Mail has included a picture of the bearded man himself.  Presumably, in describing his enemies as “politically motivated,  Gove is suggesting that he is not similarly motivated.  This is clearly nonsense.

Gove goes on to outline what he believes is evidence of the poor standards of education in our schools with this rhetological fallacy:

“Survey after survey has revealed disturbing historical ignorance”

His appeal to authority conveniently fails to identify which surveys uncovered this ignorance.

These poor educational standards, according to Gove are concentrated in our most disadvantaged communities, such as East Durham. (you may remember that this is a place where Gove claims to be able smell defeat).  Given this observation of differences in educational achievement, Marxists may point out that in capitalism there are winners and losers, and that within this system lies the explanation for differential education attainment.  However, Marxists are the subject of this attack, so anything they have to say is subject to further opprobrium in the remainder of the article.

Of course capitalism is not to blame! Gove much prefers to point the finger at the ‘Enemies Of Promise’. One hundred of these apparent enemies are signatories to a letter in The Independent in which they warn of the potential dangers of Gove’s new National Curriculum  (which explains why Gove doesn’t like them).  Some of these enemies, according to Gove, inhabit a “Red Planet” (they are Marxists after all!).  This, according to Gove is proven by their research interests:

“One of the letter’s principal signatories claims to write ‘from a classical Marxist perspective’, another studies ‘how masculinities and femininities operate as communities of practice’, a third makes their life work an ‘intergenerational ethnography of the intersection of class, place, education and school resistance’.”

This is nothing more than an ignorant attack on the social sciences, and one which, presumably Gove hopes the readers of his derision will agree with.

Gove then goes on to describe ‘enemies’ as a ‘Blob’ consisting of “ultra-militants in the unions who are threatening strikes”. This choice of language purposefully ignores the reality that unions are made up of their members, in this case teachers who have collectively chosen to withdraw their labour in summer of strike action.

In short, a fine example of Govian ad hominem reasoning.  No wonder the ATL (Association of Teachers and Lecturers) has recorded no confidence in him.

Caught in the Education Act

Caught in the Act is a one day conference organised by a network of campaign groups and organisations concerned about the future of education, including the Anti Academies Alliance, Campaign for State Education, Comprehensive Future, the journal FORUM, Information for School and College Governors (ISCG), and the Socialist Educational Association

The Conference in centred on the imminent Education Act, and has the tagline Tackling Michael Gove’s Education Revolution.  Though, at present, the revolution is not so much an Act as a Bill which is shortly to go to the committee stage in the House of Lords.

An impressive list of speakers will lead workshops on the implications of the new legislation.  These include:

Clyde Chitty and Melissa Benn on A Divided Education System

David Wolfe, specialist in education law from Matrix Chambers on Implications of the new Education Act.

Prof. Stephen Ball, an all round expert on the sociology of education on Privatisation.

Martin Johnson, the Deputy General Secretary of the teachers’ union,  Association for Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) on Edubusiness.

Sam Ellis, funding specialist from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) on Paying the Price

Christine Blower, the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) on The International Scene

Dr. Patrick Roach, the Deputy General Secretary of the teachers’ union NASUWT who will discuss What Next?

The conference will be held between 10am and 3.30pm on  Saturday 19th November,  at the University of London Union, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HY.

More details, and information on booking can be found on the CASE website.

Burston Inspires

Over the years I have encountered a number of teachers, ex-teachers, and educationalists (some of whom would describe themselves as ‘radical’) who have never heard of the Burston Strke School, let alone the annual rally, where, their colleagues, representatives of their union march their banners along the route where children marched in defense of their profession.

A typical conversation about my visit to Burston, might go something like this:

“I went to the Burston Strike School Rally”

“Oh really, whats that?”

“Well, its where the longest strike in history took place, the pupils of Burston, near Diss went on strike in protest over the unjust sacking of their teachers by the village squirearchy, a strike school was built on the village green, the school continued for 25 years”

“Thats interesting, I’ve never heard of it”

Marching the Candlestick at Burston

I wonder what sense of the history, (and thus, what sense of the present) of their own professional identity these individuals have.

How much do they know about who controls teaching and education, continues to do so, and the consequences of this?

Knowledge about the history of the struggles of the teaching profession may help today’s educators understand that contemporary debates and struggles over who controls education, what ideologies those in control invoke, the purposes for which children are schooled, and professional autonomy are not radically different from the battles fought in Burston by Tom and Kitty Higdon a century ago.

What awareness do they have of teachers’ collective power?

Tom and Kitty Higdon appeared powerless in the face of spurious allegations which led to them being sacked. However, when supported by children, parents and the labour movement, the fragile powers of those who had the Higdons sacked was exposed and thus diminished. They were able to continue teaching the children whom the Burston squirearchy had sought to control.

Apart from the events of Burston, perhaps if today’s teachers were aware of the Lowestoft school strikes in 1923 they might believe in the strength and possibilities of collective unionised power. They may also be more able to make sense of contemporary threats to their profession, particularly Free Schools and Academies schools which have no requirement to follow the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document.

What must they think about the curriculum, and pedagogy?

Without a sense of history, teachers are at risk of believing that being a radical teacher involves adopting more progressive practices than their predecessors or colleagues. If they desire to adopt more child centred, libertarian approaches, teachers can turn to, for example, Montessori, Steiner, or Froebel. However, they could turn to their own history of teacher radicalism in order to find alternative approaches (Teddy O’Neill for example).  What is taught, how it is taught, and the extent to which pupils are encouraged to exercise their agency is shaped by the social, political, and economic context of the time.  In other words, there is an alternative, but we don’t have to wait for, or rely upon an expert to develop a new education system.  We could look to our own history to find that an alternative is already there.

If you are visiting the Diss area, you will find no heritage signs pointing visitors to the Burston Strike School, which is strange, given that it is a part of our heritage.

Burston Strike School Rally 2010

This year’s Burston Strike School Rally will take place on Sunday 5th September.

It will feature the following speakers:

  • Tony Benn
  • Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary
  • Len McCluskey, UNITE assistant general secretary

And music from:

  • RED FLAGS
  • Diss School Brass Band

And

Session chairs will include: Teresa Mackay, UNITE regional organiser for women, race and equalities and  Peter Medhurst (retired TGWU regional industrial organiser)

An annual rally is held each September in the Norfolk village of Burston to remember the Strike School.  This school represented the ‘longest strike in history’ when pupils from Burston school went on strike to protest at the sacking of their teachers; Tom and Kitty Higdon.

Tom and Kitty had arrived at the school, finding it unfit for purpose.  The school building was cold and damp,and Higdons set about putting this right.  Kitty lit the schoolroom’s fire to dry the childrens’ wet clothes.  This was, apparently an act of defiance, resulting in criticism from the school management – she had not asked permission first!

Tom and Kitty were also socialists, committed, through education, to encouraging children to imagine possibilities they never imagined they might have.  They were popular with children and local parents, and they saw attendance at the school increase.  This, in turn meant that Tom and Kitty were less popular with local landowners – they saw the importance of child labour more than education.

And so, in short, they were sacked.  The pupils though, were not having this, and went on strike, effectively creating a new school.

Continue reading “Burston Strike School Rally 2010”

The Tory Boy and Chris Keates

The Tory Boy describes itself as a “new conservative blog”.  Yesterday, it published this post about Michael Gove and the plans to transform schools into academies. 

Apart from suggesting that no-one has noticed that academies, with their generous  funding might ‘suck’ teachers away from other schools, it devotes its 3rd paragraph  to comments made by Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT.

As you won’t be able to read the detail on the image, here is an extract of the relevant section:

Chris Keates who is the general secretary of the teaching union NASUWT, expressed his disapproval towards this new policy saying the policy was disappointing. He also said that this policy fails to improve the existing education quality as the term ‘academy’ does not mean the school associated with the term offers excellent quality of education. He made his point on basis of statistics which clearly proved that existing academies were no better in their performances when compared to ordinary schools.”

Oh, dear.  I think The Tory Boy needs to learn a little more about the general secretary of one of Britain’s main teaching unions, perhaps clicking here might help.  Gender politics was never one of the conservative’s strong points.

Pupil Voice or Educational X Factor?

The NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers) held its annual conference recently.  One of the issues they discussed was the role of pupils in the recruitment of teaching staff.  The union is so concerned about this issue that delegates voted to support a ballot for industrial action where the abuse of ‘pupil voice’ or ‘student voice’ is identified.  This doesn’t actually mean that NASUWT members will be on the picket line next term, but that they may ballot members on whether to take industrial action where it identifies an abuse of ‘student voice’. 

Giving pupils a voice in their education is officially endorsed by current UK education policy.  However, this is not a new idea. Humanist approaches to education have long promoted the child as an active learner.  While it cannot be claimed that the UK education system is an example of a humanist  ideal of education, the use of ‘pupil voice’, encouraged by the DCSF has its roots in humanist approaches.

‘Pupil Voice’ can, at one end of the spectrum mean enabling pupils to express their views on education, and at the other, it can refer to pupils having some input into decisions made about their education, including the recruitment of teachers.

It is this later form of ‘pupil voice’ which the NASUWT has expressed concern about.   The Guardian reported that children were asking ‘frivolous’ questions, such as “if you could be on Britain’s Got Talent, what would your talent be?”.  This may be frivolous, but it perhaps reflects the influence of popular culture in young people’s lives, which they then apply to decision making about teachers. 

The Independent also reported on the concerns of the NASUWT, highlighting the union’s fears that pupil voice has the potential to “disempower and deprofessionalise teachers”.

These concerns over ‘pupil voice’ have also been studied by researchers.  Some of the concerns of the NASUWT were found in a study carried out by Bragg (2009)[1] who found that teachers’ professional identities could be challenged by ‘pupil voice’.  However, ‘pupil voice’ is enshrined in policy.  The most obvious manifestation of this are School Councils.  Under the 2002 Education Act every school in England  is encouraged to have a School Council (the Government has the power to enforce their existence, but prefers to encourage), in Wales, School Councils are compulsory.  Wider social policies also important, for example the 1989 Children’s Act which  requires young people to be consulted on matters which affect them.  The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK has ratified also requires young people to be consulted. 

This does not mean, however that pupils should have the power to hire and fire.  There is a legal requirement for children to be consulted, and in schools this could mean pupils being involved in the recruitment process.  However, it is the governing body which has the final say.  This is how it should be, as these adults are responsible for making decisions about the management of the school and ensuring the well-being of their pupils.  And, it needs to be highlighted, the NASUWT is not opposed to ‘pupil voice’ but is opposed to it being used instead of adult decision making.  Pupils can be consulted, their feelings expressed, but, responsibility rests with adults.

It is not just pupils who draw on popular culture to frame their approach to recruiting teachers. Last year, Ambler Primary School in Islington ran an advert for a Deputy Head Teacher, they were looking for  “Someone who has the X-Factor and is a Superstar!”


[1] Bragg, Sara(2007) ”But I listen to children anyway!’—teacher perspectives on pupil voice’, Educational Action Research, 15: 4, 505 — 518