School Swap – The Class Divide

School Swap, ITV’s quasi-documentary series concluded last night. Described as an ‘unique experiment’ (it was neither) the series saw pupils from a private and a state school swap places.  In the first episode three pupils from the private Warminster School in Wiltshire travel to Derby to spend a week attending lessons at The Bemrose School.  In the second episode three pupils from Bemrose spent a week boarding at Warminster.  The swap is designed to highlight the contrasts between the two types of schools and despite ITV claiming it to be ‘unique’ is actually a well rehearsed TV format (for example in the 1980’s the BBC’s Forty Minutes broadcast the feature Changing Places which saw pupils from Rugby School exchanging places with Ruffwood, a comprehensive in Kirkby near Liverpool) and one that endures, along with social class and educational inequalities.

By highlighting the apparent success of the private sector there was an implication that the state sector is deficient in comparison.  This framing of the problem of the ‘educational divide’ serves to set up the private sector as offering solutions to the challenges faced by  state schools, and in so doing diverts attention from the pervasive problems of an unequal society.  Analysis of the assumptions and ideas presented were thin on the ground.  For example, the identification of ‘white working class boys’ as underachieving is a gross oversimplification which is supported in some discourses by the conflation of ‘Free School Meals’ with ‘working class’. It also diverts attention from the underachievement of pupils from Black backgrounds.  In the interviews with the Bemrose pupils at Warminster a positive attitude to the school dress code was considered to be a worthy moral position, but this position can be problematised as being an example of how pupils are socialised into conformity or belonging to the group (a good start would be to read some Durkheim or Bowles and Gintis).

While the series was sub-titled The Class Divide, there was little analysis of the ways in which social class might shape educational experiences and outcomes, and this was revealed in some of the problematic statements from both headteachers, which one would have expected to have been challenged in a documentary. From the Head teacher of Warminster there was a denial that contacts helped to improve the life chances of its students, which is to ignore the powerful influences of different forms of social capital for educational outcomes and life chances.  From the headteacher of the Bemrose School there was an expression of the belief that “education is the key to unlocking the inequalities in society”, yet education systems have a social purpose, are shaped by the society in which they exist and thus may serve to reproduce social inequality, rather than challenge it.  At the end of the series we learn that Brett from Bemrose has been offered a funded place at Warminster, but there was no explanation of why Brett was singled out for the offer. Twitter users responded by offering congratulations.  If he chooses to accept, Brett may well benefit, but benevolent scholarships are not the answer to inequalities in education.

This was documentary lite.  It is more interesting to see how the debate is framed than for anything it reveals about social class and educational inequalities and solutions to this injustice.  Please, read some Bourdieu, some Durkheim, Ball…

Advertisements

“Class war: how education must change”

Last month I visited the University of York to hear Lord Adonis give his thoughts on the future of education. It was also an opportunity for him to promote his recent book ‘Education, Education, Education: Reforming England’s Schools’.

Adonis declared his belief in the state as the supreme manifestation of society, that the state should seek to bring about change, for the better. To reform the English education system Adonis focuses on the following key areas.

  • Good governance

Comparing governance in the private sector with that of the state, Adonis expressed his belief that governance of state schools has been traditionally weak, particularly in deprived areas where the parent body is not strong.  The private sector, in contrast, Adonis believes has traditionally benefitted from good, strong governing bodies.  Can we look to the private sector for solutions while maintaining a strong state?

  • Good teachers

Unsurprisingly Adonis argued that teachers have to be the best. Increased competition is, apparently what is needed to ensure our teachers are the best. Adonis highlighted the ratios of applicant to teacher training places in Finland, South Korea and Singapore, and compared these with the much lower figures of England.  We need, he argued, greater selection for teacher training places, with far more applicants per place.  Presumably, he doesn’t mind an increase in disappointed  applicants.

Another, related idea is his call for fewer Universities offering teacher training programmes (another model borrowed from Singapore?), with only the ‘best’ Universities being allowed to provide such programmes.

  • Good curriculum

Looking at the practice in some of the more elite private schools, Adonis recommended more subject specific teaching from the age of seven.

Beyond aged sixteen Adonis argued the UK has the ‘narrowest curriculum in the Western world’, supporting the IB he looks, again to Singapore and calls for students to take a greater range of subjects over the course of their schooling. For those who are less academic, he proposed the idea of a Tech Bacc with requirements to study literacy, numeracy and work experience.

  • Good destinations

There needs to be good destinations for all, not just those that are academic. Highlighting a need for more apprenticeships, he argued that the Government should lead on providing apprenticeships.  See his blog post: Wanted – An apprentice scheme for Whitehall.

While claiming half our comprehensive schools failed, Adonis continued to refer to the need to ensure we have “all ability schools”, which,  surely means, comprehensive.

Although inequalities were mentioned on several occasions, I was not convinced that the ‘Class Wars’ in the title of his talk referred more to social class wars than it did to classroom wars. Education reform was presented as a means to social mobility and less inequality, yet previous education reforms have done little to make ours a more equal society.

There were some interesting suggestions that are hard to disagree with (raising the status of teaching for instance – though what this actually means is more complex) and some that I am not convinced of.  Whether any of his suggestions will come to fruition and, if they do, whether they will truly reform education as Adonis hope is another question.   Without tackling inequality I envisage a future generation of University of York students  listening to a speech about the failure of Adonis’ “all ability schools”.

Teachers these days, they don’t know they’re born

Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted is in the news this week after a speech at Brighton College’s Education Conference in which he claimed today’s teachers do not know what stress is.

Wilshaw knows what stress is.  He measures it by his father’s experiences:

“Let me tell you about stress. Stress is what my father felt, who struggled to find a job in the Fifties and Sixties and who often had to work long hours in three different jobs and at weekends to support a growing family.

So, in emphasising his ordinary roots, Wilshaw reveals a belief in a hierarchy of stress.  A stress hierarchy is an appealing concept, particularly to those who want to trivialise the stressful experiences of others.  Stress is however, relative, and dependent on a context.  I wonder if  Wilshaw’s father’s generation were told by their elders that as they had not experienced the horrors of the Great War, they could not possibly know the meaning of stress.

Wilshaw concedes that his father does not have a monopoly on stress, as he himself has experienced it:

“Stress is what I was under when I started as a head in 1985 in the context of widespread industrial action. Teachers walking out of class at a moment’s notice, doing lunch duty on my own every day for three years because of colleagues who worked to rule…”

So Wilshaw does recognise that stress is relative.  However, his understanding of the context in which stress can occur is clearly limited.  The “context of widespread industrial action” can only be understood with reference to the context in which this “industrial action” was taking place[1].

Wilshaw claims his stress was caused because colleagues did what they were contractually obliged to do, and, unlike him, no more.  This does not fit with his claim of “[t]eachers walking out of class at a moment’s notice”.  If those teachers were not contractually obliged to cover lunch ‘duties’ any reasonably intelligent head teacher would be able to envisage the possibility of no cover.

Of course, what Wilshaw is highlighting in this anecdote is goodwill, hence his call for teachers to “roll up their sleeves and get on with improving their schools, even in the most difficult circumstances”.  Yes, the pupil premium may be plugging school budgets, buildings are not being repaired, and school transport budgets may be slashed, but this is the twenty-first century, so lets make do and mend!    Wilshaw felt able to say all this at Brighton College, this says something about his tolerance for injustice.

It is worth reading his speech in full from the Ofsted website.

Continue reading “Teachers these days, they don’t know they’re born”

School of Rock

The first film under the spotlight on this term’s Film and Education is School of Rock (2003) directed by Richard Linklater.

https://i0.wp.com/ia.media-imdb.com/images/M/MV5BMjEwOTMzNjYzMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjczMTQyMQ@@._V1._SY317_.jpg

Through the liminal zone of the classroom at Horace Green Preparatory School Dewey Finn, in a desperate attempt to pay his share of the rent, impersonates a substitute teacher. Rejecting the expected curriculum and pedagogy he sets out to transform his class into a winning rock band, and while his deceit is exposed, Dewey is redeemed and his teaching style is vindicated as the class secure their place in the Battle of the Bands.

School of Rock adopts a formulaic narrative which sees the equilibrium broken for all characters, and ends with the establishment of a new, and more fulfilling one.  The representations of schooling, teachers, teaching and learning reflect ongoing debates around the purpose and nature of education.  Dewey literally rips up the system of rewards and demerits, grants recess and abandons the syllabus.  While initially this reflects his antipathy towards his feigned role (having described teaching as babysitting), on recognising musical talent in his pupils, this is soon channelled into a child centred pedagogy.  We see the children engaging enthusiastically on a rock band project, collaborating with Dewey to conceal the reality of their new school experience from the stern Principal Mullins.  Yet, while the narrative predictably sets teacher centred learning against child centred learning, Dewey, the child centred protagonist is not averse to drawing on authoritarian approaches himself, while the pupils have to pledge allegiance to the band, they also have to pledge their allegiance to his creativity.

The pretence cannot last of course, and Dewey’s true identity is revealed after he fails to convince assembled parents that he has taught the required syllabus, or that rock is a suitable subject for study.  We learn early on in the film that education is a market place; parents spend $15, 000 a year for a place at Horace Green Prep. They expect results and not the anti-establishment, creative expressions of a rock band.  Just as it seems that the forces of progressivism have been quashed, the pupils organise themselves to rescue Dewey from returning to his former self,  defying authority to play at the Battle of the Bands.  They don’t win of course, at least not the battle itself.  After all, they have abandoned grades, but they have won something much more significant as a new equilibrium is established with Principal Mullins and parents convinced of a more liberal education, at least in the discreet context of Dewey’s after school rock project.

Speed (2010: 101) highlights the “anti-intellectualism” inherent in this film, seen firstly in Dewey Finn’s rejection of the school system, the knowledge taught and teaching styles.  Secondly, we see this “anti-intellectualism” endorsed through the popularity of Dewey and the apparent success of his approach to teaching.

Fun to watch, School of Rock explores the tensions between competing educational ideologies and resolves them, safely.

Continue reading “School of Rock”

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.

Glaswegian Waterloo Road

Waterloo Road, the fictional Rochdale comprehensive school is relocating north of the border and setting up a new school in Glasgow.

According to the Independent, the BBC is reported as saying that the second half of series 7, to be aired later this year will end with “a dramatic and explosive storyline which will see a number of teachers and pupils setting up a new independent school in Scotland”.

It may be redundant for this blog to point out the fantasy of this proposed storyline. Waterloo Road represents reality, though it is clearly not reality, and thus there has always been a need to suspend belief while consuming this drama.  The BBC went on to explain how the impending move provides an opportunity for “new stories”. This then, is an auspicious moment to speculate on the storylines that will be narrated in a Scottish Waterloo Road.

  • Will it be a Glaswegian free school?  (granted, this would be complete fantasy)
  • Will there be a position in the English department for Grantly Budgen?
  • What will become of Janeece, and will there be a school crèche in which she can enroll Cheryl?
  • What will the name of the new school be?

Good Schools Show

I was interested to receive a communication advertising the forthcoming Archant Good Schools Show to be held at Olympia next month The interest arose, not from a wish to attend, but from an examination of the discourse used in an attempt to encourage me to secure a place.

Firstly, the subject line of the communication:

Private Schools open their doors to the Public

This is an interesting use of an antonym as a synonym.  It suggests that, private schools, despite their nomenclature, are, in fact public, and thus open to all.  While, historically, there is some accuracy to this description, private schools are in no sense public.  For example, those who own and run private schools are not accountable to most members of the public, but to shareholders or customers.   State schools, on the other hand, do remain accountable to the public.  Granted, that accountability may not always be apparent, exercised as it is through local and national democracy, but ultimately, state schools are accountable in a way that private schools are not.

This subject line also serves to suggest that this event is an opportunity.  Normally private, and thus exclusive, private schools are opening their doors and welcoming in the public.  They are not, of course, opening their doors to the public, those doors are firmly closed to those members of the public who cannot afford such schooling.

The communication goes on to describe how the event will feature:

50 of the countries finest Independent Schools 

Notice here the change from private to independent suggesting, unsurprisingly, independence. However, this is a misnomer.  In one sense, independent is accurate, in that private schools are apart from the state system, and thus not bound by state rules and regulations.  In other words they are free from the constraints that state schools experience. This sense of independence appears attractive, and, no doubt these private schools will use this meaning to appeal to customers.  The flip side of this is, of course, that independent schools are not accountable. The other, related sense of independence is that of freedom and a lack of conformity.  However, while private schools may emphasise their supposed freedom, libertarian schools are unlikely to be advertising their wares at Olympia.

Once at the show, visitors may choose to listen to guest speakers, which include:

Eton’s straight talking headmaster (Tony Little) explaining why he believes no parent should think independent school education is out of their reach

The straight talking from the head teacher of one of the country’s leading public (sic) schools is designed to add weight to the notion that private education is accessible to all.  So long as they can afford to pay for it, that is.

The show will also feature a:

Good Schools Award Ceremony hosted by Tom Parker-Bowles who will bestow his very own Royal Seal of approval to the lucky winners.

This suggests a competition, that good schools will be identified and justly rewarded at this event.  Information on the criteria for entry and for the winning of an award would clarify  the value of these awards, however given the nature of the event, it is likely to be a competition amongst the schools featuring themselves in the show.  To add to the prestige of the occasion there is Eton educated Tom Parker-Bowles, who, incidentally, is not Royalty.

Towards the end of the communication I am urged to pre-register as:

Availability is limited

This is the crux, the very point of elite, private schools.

Ruairi is too bright for Loxley Barratt

Borsetshire must have more than its fair share of private schools and privately educated pupils if The Archers are anything to go by.  We know this because school choice, once again, features in the storyline.

Ruairi Donovan has been through a lot in his short life.  He is the son of Brian Aldridge from his extra-marital affair with the lately departed Siobhan Hathaway/Donovan.  She died from cancer, in 2007.  Upon her death, Brian’s long-suffering, but immensely strong wife, Jennifer agreed to take him on. Bewildered, little Ruairi  arrived at Home Farm. The decision about his schooling then, was that, if possible he should attend, the local primary,  Loxley Barratt.  It would be too traumatic to be packed off to boarding school so soon after loosing his mother and being transported to Ambridge.  They had missed the application for school places, and, as the fictional school at Loxley Barratt was fully subscribed, they had an anxious wait over that summer to see if a place became available.  They were in luck. Ruairi has settled.

Fast forward nearly four years, such fears have evaporated, and now boarding is being seriously considered for this eight year old.  So, in other words, Brian and Jennifer are perusing the education market place.

They appear to have an abstract notion that private is better than state.  They are not so much dissatisfied with Loxley Barratt as convinced that it is not good enough for Ruairi, referring to some unsubstantiated claim that his teacher wouldn’t expect him to complete all his homework.  Brian and Jennifer are articulate, why don’t they exercise their cultural capital by speaking to Ruairi’s teacher to find out what this story is really about?

Educational expertise is not wholly trusted by Brian and Jennifer.  Instead they are engaging in a class based process of school choice.   Brian did remark that it is an increasingly competitive world out there; he wants Ruairi to have the edge.  In other words, he wants to ensure, understandably, the reproduction of his social class advantage.

It could be argued that they are engaged in a process of matching Ruairi to the most appropriate school (Ball, 2011). Firstly, this can be seen in their  decision to go private on the basis that Ruairi is bright, and therefore, presumably too clever for the state sector.  Secondly, we heard their rejection of private day schools on the grounds of the amount of traveling involved, which, Jennifer in particular felt would be too much for young Ruairi.  Lastly, boarding school was felt to be appropriate for Ruairi because of the activities on offer, he would surely enjoy these, and to deny him these opportunities as a day pupil wouldn’t be fair.  So, it is in Ruairi’s best interests to board, he has been matched to this type of school.

Jennifer has also been consulting the grapevine (Ball and Vincent, 1998), to help with the decision making. Thus far, this has involved phoning Elizabeth Pargetter as to her opinions about local boarding schools.   Ball and Vincent describe the kind of information that Elizabeth might be able to offer as hot knowledge.  Elizabeth might be able to describe her feel for a school, with this helpful to the Brian and Jennifer, supplementing the cold of official knowledge they have already obtained from the schools’ websites and Ofsted reports.

The rationales presented by Brian and Jennifer suggest that there is no alternative for Ruairi.  He must be educated privately, and, no doubt he will be. Of course, there is an alternative, but this is ignored in Jennifer and Brian’s thought processes. Their decision making is presented as normal, natural, what all parents go through, not the class based process that it is.

When the time  comes for secondary school choice to be made, they could utilise the grapevine to seek out the hot knowledge of Jill Archer.  She would advise them, as she did her own daughter, that: There’s nothing wrong with Borchester Green.

Continue reading “Ruairi is too bright for Loxley Barratt”

Flatpack Schools for the Future

Last month, Sebastian James’ Review of Education Capital  was published. James, and his team reviewed the previous Labour Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme (BSF), which had the  “quixotic aim of rebuilding or refurbishing every secondary school in England by 2020” (2011: 12).  That judgement about BSF indicates the new policy discourse on school buildings.

BSF was felt to be too ambitious, quixotically so, thus, it comes as no surprise that, especially in an age of austerity, it is recommended that school building programmes need to be less ambitious.  One of the key recommendations arising from the review is that of standardisation:

“New buildings should be based on a clear set of standardised drawings and specifications that will incorporate the latest thinking on educational requirements and the bulk of regulatory needs.” (2011: 6)

Thus, the notion of Flat Pack Schools has been raised by the Guardian. The Review itself comes close to using the phrase ‘flatpack’ when it envisages that  “…off-site construction will be possible for some standard elements from plant rooms up to specialist classrooms”  before later going on to describe the  “modular build and the manufacture of standardised components off-site”  (ibid: 54)

The discourse of the Review justifies the flatpack option; BSF wasted time and money during the planning, and procurement stages. Times are hard, standardisation is cheaper. This sounds somewhat plausible.  More schools can be rebuilt or refurbished this way than under BSF (Or, alternatively the Conservatives build more schools than Labour).  It is reminiscent of the 1951 Conservative Government’s council housing policy, which saw changes in both the quantity and quality of new council houses [1].

Another rationale for standardising the school estate, according to the Review is the problematic involvement of head teachers and pupils in the design process.  The design of some schools might have reflected the pedagogical approach of a particular head, who would move on, presumably lumbering his or her successor with a building which was at odds with their pedagogical approach.  Similarly, pupils who were involved in the design process of their new school might never get the opportunity to experience the completed project, as they would leave school before the new building was ready. In one sense it sounds a reasonable reason for denying such users a voice.  Why should teachers and pupils design a school that, at best they will get to use, at best, only briefly?  At the same time,  it is a curious rationale.   Do teachers and pupils not have valuable experiences which can benefit future generations of users of those same buildings?  Should user consultation be stopped for every other project, building or otherwise?

Standardisation, the preferred solution to messy teacher and pupil involvement, thus denies these people a voice, but also gives control to the Government.  It is their pedagogical model that is to be imposed on new school buildings. Politicians will spend little time using these school buildings, which, apparently is a rationale for denying other users of school buildings a say in their design.

This discourse is at odds with the wider educational discourse of the current Government.  Last year Michael Gove proudly boasted:

“Teachers, not politicians, know best how to run schools”

Does the “greater freedom” promised, not apply to the design of buildings that these teachers will teach in?

This policy dismissal of pupils’ views on the design of their school buildings coincidentally comes at the same time as  The School I’d Like run by the Guardian.  School design, as well as other aspects of the curriculum featured among the young people’s recommendations.  There are some suggestions, which many teachers, parents and politicians would not want to see in schools,  like chocolate fountains, but, fundamentally children know what makes a good, comfortable school in which they are happy to learn.

The Private sector (or Public Schools) take a different approach, viewing their architectural resources as important assets which appeal to prospective parents.   Read Fiona Millar’s post on the Truth About Our Schools website.  She asks why, if school buildings have no transformational effect, Eton College is so keen to celebrate its resources in this regard.

Continue reading “Flatpack Schools for the Future”

State Educated Royalty?

News coverage of a big event held in London last Friday has not yet abated.  With discussions surrounding the significance of the event for the future of the monarchy, it was interesting to read Francis Gilbert’s suggestion on the Local Schools Network for the education of any future Royal offspring.  He gives four reasons why William and Kate should send any children they might have to a state school.  Should they follow his advice, it could well signal a new phase for the monarchy, though, I doubt they will seriously consider Gilbert’s suggestion.