Education in England: an update

November 2016

“When it comes to K through 12 education (4 – 18 Years old), we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big break-throughs that extend the reach of great teaching.”

Rupert Murdoch, Press Release, November 2010

The opening up of the education market to private providers has reached something of a stand-still or a stand-off in England over the last year. A government White Paper in April 2016 proposed that all schools become academies by 2022. A few weeks later the government abandoned this because of enormous resistance to the idea amongst teachers, parents and local councils. However, there is still plenty of momentum to the ongoing outsourcing and diversifying of state social services e.g. Richard Branson’s ‘Virgin Care’ has been given a seven year £700 million contract for adult social care in Bath and Somerset by the National Health Service; this is the first time a council’s core adult social work services will be directly delivered by a for-profit private firm.

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Traditional vs Progressive: a riposte

There is a school of thought that argues we, in England, have gone way too far down the ‘progressive’ route in education. I’ve looked at this here, here and here. For me the traditional vs progressive debate is a false one because in 2016 neither approach is dominant and the two approaches have much to offer. Certainly individual teachers can be appalled at a woolly approach to, for example, learning verb endings and then blame it on the ‘progressives’ but this doesn’t dig deep enough. We must consider something very obvious indeed here: teaching takes place in many different contexts e.g. a class of teenagers preparing for a French GCSE, a class of six year olds starting a new topic about volcanoes, a small group tutorial at university discussing the romantic poets etc etc. Naturally enough these examples may lead to the teacher choosing a more ‘progressive’ approach or a more ‘traditional’ one.

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The marketisation of mass education in England: a brief history

The following essay is 6000 words long so make yourself a cup of tea!

[This article is an exploration of the forces shaping current educational policy and practise in England in 2015. It is focused on primary schooling (3-11 years old). There is little reference to the UK as a whole because Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all remain more committed to the concept of community-based comprehensive schooling i.e. a less ‘marketised’ model.]

“The economy transforms the world but transforms it only into a world of economy.”
Guy Debord ‘Society of the Spectacle’ 1967
“The most significant outcome in the drive for so-called higher standards in schools is that children are too busy to think.”
John Holt ‘How Children Fail’ 1964
“The educational establishment simply refuses to believe that the pursuit of egalitarianism is over.”
Kenneth Baker (Secretary of State for Education and Science 1986 – 1989) at the Conservative Party Conference 1987

In 1944 the ‘Butler Act’ introduced free secondary education for all. This was later than in most other industrialised countries.

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Standardised Standards

I visited City Hall the other day, the seat of London’s mayor. On entering the building I had to go through an ‘airport-style’ security procedure with an X-ray machine for my bag and a walk-through metal detector. Having done this, overseen by a couple of security guards, I walked into a lecture hall and waited around for a while until a cleaner came in and told me there was nothing on in this room; I then went into a lift that would only take me to three of the ten floors. After a while of this aimless wandering I was lucky enough to meet someone who could help me find the room I needed to be in. The official control systems were in place but there was no receptionist (like at the primary school where I work) so I was lost. This made me think of the English education system where centralised control and measurement have priority over actually helping teachers find their way i.e. develop their practise.

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Positively Progressive

After reading a blog recently asking if there are any ‘traditional’ teachers left working in England (www.thequirkyteacher.wordpress.com*) I decided to ask the author what the difference is between the progressive and traditional approaches to teaching. I was sent a link to a table that outlines the characteristics of both:

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