A.O.B.

I thought I’d liven up a last week’s staff meeting with a little bit of citric acid. When asked if there was Any Other Business (AOB) I had this to say:

“The recent NUT meeting that was called to elect a new representative was most fruitful”

[I hold up a lemon]

“This is Betty. She is your new NUT rep. And she says that everything’s just fine. But then…she’s a lemon! The sad news is that by the start of the Summer Term poor Betty will be little more than a puddle of green ooze. This means the school will have no NUT rep at all! By an interesting coincidence the film that our headteacher is encouraging us all to watch on that first day of the Summer term – Waiting for Superman – is very much an anti-union and pro-academy film. It’s a film that gets behind the odious argument that poverty itself is caused by bad teaching. These bad teachers are shunted about from school to school, because they are impossible to sack, says the film in a process known as The Dance of the Lemons”

[I waggle the lemon about a bit to show what a dancing lemon might look like]

“It doesn’t say what happens to bad management. Do they do a dance as well? Perhaps The Dance of the Apricots? We just don’t know. Anyway, please do watch the film and make up your own minds. And speak your mind. Don’t be a lemon…no offense Betty.”

On the subject of the odious argument mentioned above, and for your information dear reader, here are three paragraphs from an article about Pasi Sahlberg’s book ‘Finnish Lessons’ (by Diane Ravitch – 08.03.12 – http://www.nybooks.com):

In recent years, elected officials and policymakers such as former president George W. Bush, former schools chancellor Joel Klein in New York City, former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C., and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have agreed that there should be “no excuses” for schools with low test scores. The “no excuses” reformers maintain that all children can attain academic proficiency without regard to poverty, disability, or other conditions, and that someone must be held accountable if they do not. That someone is invariably their teachers.

Nothing is said about holding accountable the district leadership or the elected officials who determine such crucial issues as funding, class size, and resource allocation. The reformers say that our economy is in jeopardy, not because of growing poverty or income inequality or the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs, but because of bad teachers. These bad teachers must be found out and thrown out. Any laws, regulations, or contracts that protect these pedagogical malefactors must be eliminated so that they can be quickly removed without regard to experience, seniority, or due process.

The belief that schools alone can overcome the effects of poverty may be traced back many decades but its most recent manifestation was a short book published in 2000 by the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., titled No Excuses. In this book, Samuel Casey Carter identified twenty-one high-poverty schools with high test scores. Over the past decade, influential figures in public life have decreed that school reform is the key to fixing poverty. Bill Gates told the National Urban League, “Let’s end the myth that we have to solve poverty before we improve education. I say it’s more the other way around: improving education is the best way to solve poverty.” Gates never explains why a rich and powerful society like our own cannot address both poverty and school improvement at the same time.

Waiting for Superman

Our headteacher has invited us all to watch ‘Waiting for Superman’ at the start of next term. Naturally suspicious I looked up the film on the internet and discovered a piece written by Rick Ayers for the Huffington Post that draws attention to the film’s one-sided promotion of academies (or Charter schools as they are known in the US). You can read this essay here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rick-ayers-/an-inconvenient-superman-_b_716420.html

Essentially the film argues that poor neighbourhoods in our cities are the result of poor teaching. It is teachers that are responsible for the poverty; no mention is made of any wider economic picture. Naturally, Charter schools are the solution, indeed the only solution. In much the same way the recent Academies Commission report, chaired by Christine Gilbert, ‘Unleashing greatness: getting the best from an academised system’ (January, 2013, find it here https://dl.dropbox.com/u/6933673/130109%20-%20Academies%20Commission/Academies_commission_report%20FINAL%20web%20version.pdf) talks excitedly about the new frontiers that are opening up for schools in England as they are cut adrift from local authorities whilst failing to mention the for-profit organisations waiting in the wings that are due to make a killing from these developments. The ‘Year Zero’ mentality is here in full effect as if teachers have never focused on the learning in their classrooms before; as if schools have never collaborated and communicated with each other before. Here are two quotes from the report proving that, despite strongly supporting “the aspirational vision that lies behind the academies programme”, it is a more balanced account than the horrid ‘Waiting for Superman’.

“Many previously poorly performing schools  – that are not academies – in disadvantaged areas have done just as well as those which embarked on the academy route.”

“The recent report from the National Audit Office (2012) highlights that Ofsted has judged almost half of all sponsored academies as inadequate or satisfactory (the latter now defined as ‘requiring improvement’). International evidence of the impact of similar systems continues to present a mixed picture.”

Considering this it is remarkable that the expansion of the academies program under the Coalition government is, as the study points out, “dramatic”, “we are seeing radical change in the English education system” it states. Could it be that the root inspiration for all this academisation is not, after all, what is best for the children? Anyone can talk about ‘improving pupil outcomes’, as the new jargon would have it, but academies do not always achieve this. Ken Loach, being interviewed about his new film ‘The Spirit of ‘45’, pointed out that there is more official talk about ‘community’ now than there was when community itself was a more vivid reality in people’s lives: where evidence is insecure or missing altogether the rhetoric is there to fill a gap.

What then is the real driving force behind the privatisation academisation of our schools?