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.

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”

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 2011

I’m a Potter fan.

Who can fail to admire a school child who, in the face of injustice, stands up to people, older, and more powerful than herself, for what she believes in?  In the face of opposition, bullying, and threats, Potter and her peers got what they demanded, bringing about change for fellow pupils, and the children of Burston.

Violet Potter – a Burston Striker

Violet Potter was a pupil at Burston, in Norfolk when, in 1914 she helped organise a strike in protest over the sacking of teachers, Tom and Kitty Higdon.  A previous post from last year gives a little more detail of the story.

It was the 1st April 1914 when Tom and Kitty Higdon were handing over the keys to the village school that a group of school pupils began marching around the village chanting “We want our teachers back”.

This was no April Fool’s Joke. The children got their teachers back in what became the ‘Burston Stike School’.  It was a strike which continued for 25 years, and remains the longest strike in history.

The strike was not an easy thing for the children or their families to support.  The Higdon’s were in conflict with the Church, local landowners and employers. The very livelihoods of families could be at stake for supporting the strike school.  So, when you are facing injustice, or intransigent stupidity from those who seemingly have more power than you, and you are scared, or being bullied, just remember those school children.

This coming weekend, on Sunday 4th September, an annual rally will take place in Burston, Norfolk.  The rally will kick of at 11.00 on Church Green.  This year, the union Unite organises the rally, which will feature speeches by Diana Holland from Unite, Kelvin Hopkins MP, NHS worker Dave Carr, and student activist Mary Robinson. Entertainment will be provided by poet John Hegley, with music from Red Flags, as well as Robb Johnson & The Irregulars.

Unite the Union’s website has more information on the rally, including directions.

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.

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”

Free Schools, the Norfolk Model

The current government is keen to adopt free schools, citing parental choice, and freedom from the LEA.  On this site has been a number of posts critically assessing this development. However, maybe the left, in their oppostion to free schools is missing some potential with these proposed schools. They could look to their own history.

There is an example of an English school, established with support of pupils, and parents,  which was sponsored by numerous organisations, and was free from the control of the local council.  It sounds every inch a free school, it was open to local children, it did not charge fees, and parental choice was a key feature.   However, it wasn’t funded by central government, so, in this sense it is distinct from proposed free schools.

The school was established in April 1914, and was located in the Norfolk village of Burston, near Diss.  In, perhaps an early example of pupil voice, pupils from the local council school marched on the village green to protest at the dismissal of their teachers, Tom and Kitty Higdon.  At first, the school was located on the village green until donations came in from trade unions and co-operative movements to build the ‘Burston Strike School’.  The building is still standing today, though the school closed in 1939.  Every year, during the first weekend in September there is a rally in Burston. If you do visit the school look out for one of the foundation stones, indicating sponsorship from Tolstoi.  This is a romantic idea, but, it might be wise to check up on the history of this supposed sponsor before accepting the this sponsorship stone as evidence of the great man’s support of the school.

It is fair to say that this is not the type of school envisaged under the free schools model.     Continue reading “Free Schools, the Norfolk Model”

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.