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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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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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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A Market in Children

“…anger is often a reasonable response to an unreasonable world. We should be suspicious when the powerful tell the powerless not to be so angry…to just be reasonable. It is in the interests of the powerful to say such things. Anger can be a weapon in the hands of the powerless; it can broadcast injustice; it can draw crowds; it can motivate us to do what we would otherwise be too afraid or too resigned to do.”
“…we should ask ourselves what might happen if we were angrier about the privatisation of public goods and the erosion of the private sphere; about austerity in an age of massive inequality; about the demise of social security and the rise of corporate subsidy; about cuts to legal aid and the NHS…about zero hours contracts…”
“…anger isn’t justified only when it can be put to some concrete use. Anger is justified when it responds to a moral failing in the world. We often hear about people being blinded by anger but anger at its best is a way of seeing clearly, a form of emotional insight into the moral world.”
‘In Defence of Anger’ by Amia Srinivasan. Radio 4. 27.08.14

Disappointed Idealist

This will be a short blog (by my standards), and it’s a simple cry of rage. It was prompted by two conversations I had recently. The first was with a friend of mine who left state school teaching after twenty years for many of the same reasons which I write about, but was forced by economic necessity back into a private school catering for the children of wealthy foreigners – mostly eastern Europeans. The second was with an ex-colleague I once worked with at the DFE. Although unconnected, both hit on the same theme : how the introduction of “the market” in education has produced awful consequences for our children.

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Perception vs Reality

I wrote the following piece because I was amazed by a book called ‘Progressively Worse’ by Robert Peal (April 2014). It is a revisionist history of education in England, concluding that we live in a country with a dangerously progressive educational agenda. This struck me as very odd. What I’ve written here is regarded as baffling by Andrew Old who wrote the foreword to Peal’s book; his comments are beneath the article along with my response.

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