Bedale’s Bog Standards

Gabriel Chevallier’s Clochmerle is clearly not on the reading list at Bedale High School this term. If it were, the school’s management team may have been able to predict that a new toilet access policy might not have ended well.  Instead, a policy designed to limit ‘free’ access to the toilets to specific time slots prompted a pupil protest, starting in the girls toilets, then spilling out on to the school playing field.   The police were called; they determined, unsurprisingly that it wasn’t a matter for the police.  The school responded by fixed term exclusion of some 38 pupils.

Local news agencies broke the story on Friday 10th March.  The Harrogate Advertiser ran with Police called during student protest at Bedale High SchoolRichmondshire Today went with a  no less  descriptive headline:   Students protest about toilet breaks at Bedale School.  Predictably, the story made it to some of the Nationals, ensuring some unwanted, but warranted publicity for the school.

The protest was a response to recent changes in school rules which included altering the access arrangements to toilet facilities. The toilet access being one of a number of rule changes brought in by the school following a recent Ofsted inspection which concluded the school “requires improvement”.  A statement from the school, issued on the day of the protest, appears to be an attempt to clarify the toilet policy.  The statement also positions the school as reasonable,  reducing the protesting pupils’ actions disrespectful disobedience, thus justifying the school’s actions in excluding the miscreants.  Here is an extract:

“the school has reminded students that toilets are freely accessible during specific periods at lunchtime and break time but that students who need the toilet during lessons, or need access for medical reasons, will always be given access on request. Toilets are therefore accessible at all times.”

However, the wording of this statement, along with reports regarding the prosaic reality of this policy suggest something more problematic.   It appears there are gradations of accessible referred to here.  The school use the term ‘freely accessible’ when referring to the ‘time slots’ allocated for pupils to undertake acts of personal hygiene.   News sources have reported that the toilets are ‘open access’ between 11.05 and 11.25.  The school’s newsletter informs its pupils that the toilets will be open again from 13.10, five minutes before afternoon school starts.  While the assertion that “toilets are therefore accessible at all times” appears to suggest that human rights are being upheld, there is something more going on here involving the control of pupils, their bodies, and expectations of discipline and obedience.   Some reports suggest, that while the toilets may not be locked outside of these hours, pupils have to be escorted to the toilet.  Perhaps, there is a specific job role here?

There are a number of perspectives we can use to make sense of what has occurred .  From a Marxist perspective Bowles and Gintis (1976) suggest that the school functions to socialise children to thinking that hierarchies are normal and natural, and so learn to be obedient and subservient.   Unable to negotiate a resolution the pupils turn to protest, for which they punished and reminded who is in charge, as the school reminds us:

“Unfortunately, a small group of students have attempted to undermine our work to improve the ethos at Bedale High School.”

According to Bowles and Gintis, schooling thus corresponds with the world of work.  We could also look towards Foucault (1991) to consider the ways in which the school timetable operates as a disciplinary mechanism.  Time is used to regulate the body, and the body becomes the target of power.  In short, the school toilet is a site of spatial politics (Millei and Imre, 2016) where children are trained and civilised  (Elias, 1978).

Another problematic aspect of this incident was the report that some pupils could claim access to the toilets at any time, for medical reasons on production of a ‘medical card’.  If true this is a peculiar form of inclusive practice in the sense that it calls out the disabled, or ‘leaky’ body as requiring ‘special’ treatment, a theme that is explored in more detail by Slater et al (2016).  A dose of dis/ability studies and training in non-discriminatory practice might be in order.

Finally, this display of pupil protest is not unique, there are a wealth of examples from the history of pupil protests and strikes, many in response to punitive actions and material conditions in schools and classrooms.  These could have been studied to inform a more  dialogic process and productive resolution.  Teachers, study your own history.

Continue reading “Bedale’s Bog Standards”

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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.

Teachers’ Strike

The discourse of government responses to planned industrial action by public sector workers highlights the inconvenience of that action to the rest of the public.  The Department for Education‘s response to the planned industrial action by the NUT and ATL on the 30th June is a case in point.  A spokesperson said:

“The Government is committed to working openly and constructively with unions to ensure that teachers continue to receive high quality pensions, and that the interests of all professionals are represented fully as pension reform is taken forward.

Lord Hutton has made it clear that there needs to be a balance between a common framework for all schemes and the need for flexibility to take account of specific workforce circumstances, such as those of the teaching workforce.

But we are clear that a strike by teachers will only damage pupils’ learning and inconvenience their busy working parents. The wellbeing and safety of pupils must remain paramount.”

Firstly, teachers are being told that, whatever the outcome of the pension reforms, teachers will be getting a good deal, furthermore they will continue to get a good deal. In other words, teachers are receiving good pensions and will continue to do so.   The message is – teachers should stop complaining. Of course, the unions’ story is different. In short, the reasons why they are proposing to walk out on the 30th is because they have calculated that teachers will have to pay £100 or more extra a month in pension contributions, will have to work longer before being able to retire, and, after this, will receive less in their pensions.

Secondly, the DfE statement highlights the balance that needs to be struck, and thus, they are calling on teachers to compromise, given our economically straightened times, thus calling on teachers, and the rest of the public sector, to share the collective burden. Further, by invoking Lord Hutton the Department is highlighting that it is not so much themselves that are proposing these changes, but it is the recommendations of an independent expert.  This way, the Department is able to counter accusations that changes to public sector pensions might be politically motivated.

It is the third part of the DfE statement which gets to the point.  The damage that striking will do to children, and the inconvenience to hard working parents.  This is a divide and rule tactic, although some of  those busy parents will also be public sector workers facing the same concerns over their futures as teachers.  This final part of the DfE’s response is an emotional plea to teachers in that it implies that teachers will be at fault if children’s education suffers as a result of the strike.  However, this plea also highlights the vital importance of teachers  (if the absence of teachers for one day damages education, then teachers must, by default, be crucial), and therefore, you have to question the priorities of a society which cannot, or will not ensure a decent pension for its most vital employees.

Francis Maude, Minister of the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General has also criticised the proposed industrial action. The Guardian reports him as saying:

“…We very strongly hope that anyone who works in public service will put their own interest and the interest of those they are there to serve ahead of their union leaders.”

which is interesting, suggesting as it does, that the interests of unions are somehow disconnected from their members, and that members of those unions did not vote for industrial action, suggesting that they see their interests as being best expressed by collective action.  Again, Maude is appealing to workers’ sense of moral obligation to those they are there to serve.  In other words, put aside your own concerns and deliver to the public.  But, unless workers have the right to withdraw their labour, they are nothing but serfs, and we live in a feudal age.

‘Outstanding schools’ to become Academies

Following today’s Queen’s Speech, hundreds more secondary schools, as well as primary schools are set to be granted academy status. 

'Outstanding' schools are set to become academies

By becoming academies, schools which have been deemed as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted will be taken out of LEA control and will receive funding direct from central government.  The political discourse which the Conservatives use to justify this move refers to  freedom.  Schools becoming academies will be  free of the constraining  LEA.  Being free from LEA control (which has obviously not be so constraining, given that they are deemed ‘outstanding’ ) academies will have greater freedom over the curriculum, admissions policies (which pupils they do and don’t want) and what they will pay teachers. 

There are several claims made for these new academies, however these claims are not robust.  Consider the following: 

  • Michael Gove, the new education secretary believes these new academies will raise standards, he bases this on the ‘evidence’ from the performance of existing academies (so, one can assume he gives the Labour Government credited for raising standards through academies).
    • Evidence that existing academies have raised standards is not clear, in some cases standards, in terms of GCSE performance fell, while the use of GCSE equivalents may have accounted for the rise in other academies.  See my previous post about Francis Beckett’s book.
    • These new schools are already among the top performing schools, there is a limit to how far they can improve standards, yet high standards are likely to be maintained, not improved.
  • New academies will promote choice
    • For the academies, yes they do.  Freeing schools from the constraints of the LEA means that schools can decide on their own admissions policies, the academies are free to choose which pupils they want, and crucially which pupils they don’t want.  Meanwhile, LEAs still have the responsibility to provide schooling for children in the area, but have fewer schools to choose from.
  • These new academies will promote social justice
    • How?  They are free to choose which pupils they want, and they need to maintain standards in order to maintain their freedom, even with a pupil premium (an incentive for schools to take pupils from deprived backgrounds) academies are unlikely to characterised by a comprehensive intake.
    • They are allowed to choose their own pay rates, this will hardly lead to social justice among teachers.
    • Social justice cannot be achieved where academies are treated more favourably, for example, by receiving more money from Government, while others struggle for funding. 

It is tempting for the current ‘oustanding’ schools to apply for academy status, this includes nearly 2000 primary schools, as well as secondary schools.  At a time when public services are being, which school wouldn’t want to take advantage of more money?

The main teaching unions,  NUT, NASUWT, and ATL oppose these changes.  The NUT and NASUWT have hinted at strike action should these changes go through, understandably they are concerned about their members’ pay and conditions, but more widely because of the implications these proposals have for education. 

Continue reading “‘Outstanding schools’ to become Academies”

Francis Beckett – The Great City Academy Fraud

You expect Beckett to provide a critical analysis of education policy, and this is what he does in The Great City Academy Fraud.  It is a critique of Labour’s Academy programme, examining the reality behind the spin.  While some of the arguments against Acadmies and their performance might be found elsewhere, this is a useful source which tells the stories of some Acadmies, and, it gives us a glimpse of how schools might look in the future with more involvement from businesses.

This book is not new, having being published in 2007.  Since then, of course, there has been a General Election. Labour, who were responsible for City Academies are no longer in power.  However, Beckett’s analysis of City Academies remains an important contribution to debates on school provision, especially so in the context of the Conservatives’ proposed Free Schools.

Academies were introduced by the last Labour Government as a part of their committment to improve educational standards.  Designed to replace ‘failing’ schools, particularly in deprived inner city areas, Academies would be sponsored, by businesses, faith groups, individuals, or charities.  These sponsors were expected to contribute £2 million to the cost of setting up an Academy, estimated at £10 million.  Academies would be outside of the control of LEAs, with running costs payed by the Government.

The book begins by comparing Academies with City Technology Colleges (CTCs).   These were created  by the last Conservative Government in the 1980’s.  They were to be sponsored by and owned by businesses or churches and were to be independent from LEAs.  As they were targeted in deprived urban areas, they were, in particular to be independent from Labour controlled councils.   CTCs were not a success, there was limited interest from any big sponsors, and money was often not forthcoming from those sponsors who did get involved.  In order to prop up the policy, the state then had to fund the CTCs, which had not been the attention.  Additionally, CTCs were more generously funded than other state schools.  The policy was quietly dropped.

At the time, Labour did not support CTCs, promising to take them back into LEA control if they got into power. They did, of course, get into power, in 1997.   However,  in 2000 the Labour Government announced the City Academy programme. 

Beckett sees little distinction between CTCs and Academies.  The mistakes of the CTCs, he claims, were destined to be repeated, the lessons of the failed CTCs not learned.

While Academies were designed to replace ‘failing’ schools, Beckett argues that many schools which were closed, were not, in fact, failing schools, at least by the assessment of Ofsted.  Beckett takes apart the political claims for Academies.  In terms of private sponsorship, only small proportions of the escalating costs of Academies has come from sponsors, and some sponsorship is ‘in kind’, yet the so-called sponsors still own and control the schools while the state continues to fund them.  Then there has been allegations of honours in exchange for so-called sponsorship.  He discusses concerns over the involvement of and motivation of religious organisations.  Unions have been sidelined and timetables changed, with the effect that pupils and teachers don’t get to interact outside the classroom. The buildings too come under scrutiny as not being fit for purpose.  All of this could be overlooked, perhaps, if Academies were shown to work.  Beckett however shows that this has not always been the case, some of the schools they replaced were not failing anyway, and in some Academies attainment has fallen, while others have received damning Ofsted reports.  Where attainment has risen, it is alleged that this is because Acadmies are using GCSE equivalents to ensure they rise in the league tables.  Yet, they have continued to receive generous state funding; if these had been ordinary state comprehensive schools, they would have been closed, and replaced by Academies, according to Beckett.

Beckett’s analysis does have implications for the Conservative’s Free Schools.  These can be started by parents, but in reality are likely to be run by businesses or other organisations.  If they are to be a flagship education policy of the current Government then the pattern from the Academies is likely to be repeated.  They will require generous funding from the Government at the expense of other local state schools.  The businesses, religious organisations or charities which are contracted to run them will have great control over what goes on inside them (not the parents, despite the Conservative promises) yet there will be very little accountability.  The result will be, as Beckett has claimed to have been the case with Acadmies, will be increased educational inequality.

The Great City Academy Fraud is published by Continuum.

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.

Scrapping SATs?

The debate over SATs intensified this week when the Conservatives announced that they would ‘scrap’ primary school SATs for 11 year olds.

At first glance this sounds like dramatic news, and a great victory for those who have long campaigned for the abolition of SATs.  However the announcement does not mean the end of testing.

In their place an incoming Conservative Government would instead introduce testing for pupils in Year 7 (the 1st year of secondary school) which would be assessed by teachers.

So, how has the Government,  teachers and their unions responded to these proposals?

Firstly the new Schools Minister, Vernon Coaker described the proposals as “half-baked”, and a “huge step backwards”. 

Why?

The main argument is that as a result of the SATs being taken in Year 7 this would remove accountability from primary schools.  This means it would not be possible to see how well an individual primary school had performed, this would also mean that parents would not know how well their local school was performing.  Politically this is particularly significant as SATs and League tables were introduced, by a Conservative Government partly to make schools accountable and so that parents could make ‘informed decisions’ when choosing a school for their child.

Continue reading “Scrapping SATs?”