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

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.

“Psychosis causes people to perceive things differently from those around them…Delusions (are) where a person believes things that, when examined rationally, are obviously untrue.”
NHS website

I met a teacher today who began her infant school teaching career in 1986. Of course by 1988 she was faced with a new national curriculum and the other key developments of the time (Literacy and Numeracy hours in primary schools/Ofsted). She summed up her disgust with these developments in a single image: she told me her Year 1 class had to lose its dressing-up-box. Her decision to leave teaching was accompanied by a simultaneous decision to ‘home school’ her own two children. Today both children are at university.

To her these developments were not the continuation of a wishy-washy progressive conspiracy but more like the end of anything like a set of ‘progressive’ ideals. Before we go any further let’s define what is meant by ‘progressive’ by combining two authors’ attempts to list the key features. Firstly we have a list from John Shotton’s history of education and schooling from 1890 to1990, ‘No Master High or Low’ (1993):

1. Mixed ability, flexible, vertical groupings working together and/or individually in an open plan classroom under a team of teachers.

2. The day is integrated, the curriculum problem – or concept – based.

3. A wide range of resources is drawn upon (audio, visual equipment etc but also the local community in various ways)

4. The teaching and learning is child-centred, based on the pupil’s interests, needs and skills

5. The teacher is a guide and supporter in the child’s pursuit of learning.

6. Academic learning is balanced by social and emotional learning emphasising creativity and self-expression

7. Decisions in the school are made by all those involved in it

Note that the teacher I met today explained to me that the teaching she did when she began her career was based upon the interests of the children in her class (see no.4 above)

Now let’s look at a very recent post from http://edsacredprofane.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/an-antidote-to-neo-traditionalism-towards-the-new-progressive/ written by a teacher working in vocational further education:

1. Progressive education is a social science.

2. Progressive education is essentially critical; it gives primacy to independent thinking based on knowledge and not knowledge itself.

3. Progressive practitioners are collaborative and outward-looking.

4. Progressive education is evidence-formed, not evidence-based; research data should be grounded in practise.

5. Cognition is not based upon memory, it’s holistic; both social and emotional

6. Knowledge is constructed not transmitted.

7. Practitioners use collaborative pedagogic tools.

8. Pedagogical approaches are used dependent on context not on dogmatic assumptions.

9. Behaviour is negotiated but ultimately based on the premise that everyone, at whatever level they are currently at,  can work and achieve

Given the content of these two lists it’s hard to imagine anyone celebrating a victory for the ‘progressives’ with the introduction of the national curriculum, the literacy and numeracy hours and a new inspectorate introduced very much to police this brave new world in a punitive, as opposed to supportive, manner. Nonetheless there are those who argue that we are still working, in 2014 in England, very much within a damagingly ‘progressive’ system. I am thinking in particular here of Robert Peal and his writing for the ‘think tank’ Civitas. When the Black Papers were published in the late 1960s they represented a legitimate response to real changes happening in education across the board from primary schools to universities. Progressive ideas were relatively new to the mainstream and it was natural that they would be questioned by those with more entrenched views about what education should look like. Serious historians of education, who are not writing for ‘think tanks’ with particular agendas, recognise that by the late 1970s the progressive approaches outlined above were under attack and that a decade later things swung firmly away from these  ideals, for better or worse.

It seems odd then that anyone should be suggesting the current English education system is weighed down with unhelpful, outdated progressive ideals. Odd, that is, until one considers the origins and purpose of Civitas: as a branch of the Institute of Economic Affairs it represents an anti-statist and pro-market position. The NUT, in a recent article detailing the features and implications of the marketisation – or corporatisation – of education states “…to achieve the necessary market conditions, the monopoly of state provision had to be broken.” Crucially the market virtue of competition is introduced at all levels: standardised tests that are publicly announced to create a ‘quasi-market’ of competitive, atomised schools; performance-related-pay, again an anti-collaborative idea; constant measurement and assessment (see this article about ‘rampant testing’ in America http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/10/us/states-listen-as-parents-give-rampant-testing-an-f.html?hpw&rref=education&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region&region=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well&_r=0 or if you prefer look into the proposed new tests for 4/5 year olds in England) emphasising competitive values for staff and students alike.

These are the preferred characteristics of a marketised system, they have nothing to do with what is best from a teacher’s or learner’s point of view, these are market ideals. No notable educational philosopher has ever argued for these features in an educational setting. In order to promote and pursue this ideal the reality of what teachers do and how teachers approach their work must be distorted and presented in crude ‘black and white’ terms in order to present a ‘debate’ where people must take sides. Thus we have the recently published ‘Progressively Worse’ (written by Robert Peal and published by Civitas) not only simplifying the picture into one of either traditional or progressive but exaggerating the case wildly to make a false point about the dangers of progressivism in 2014. This is to ignore the reality that all teachers, in all subjects, at all levels mix the two approaches. This is, after all, 2014. Take for example this handout that I was given two days ago during some staff training. It’s not very revelatory, except perhaps to Robert Peal. It simply shows how a lesson (in this case a science lesson) might be more teacher-oriented, or more student/pupil oriented. The decision as to where any lesson might be on this spectrum is based on many factors, not least the discretion of the teacher:

Click on the picture to enlarge it.

Teacher or Learner directed

Robert Peal is a Cambridge-educated historian who must be well aware of the biased work he is producing. Presumably if another organisation paid him more he could write a paper entitled ‘Progressively Better’. As the ‘debate’ keeps being re-hashed for cynical and self-serving reasons we have teachers and children buffeted about by politicians who regard the output of organisations like Civitas as relevant and valuable, while disregarding important internationally respected research (e.g. the OECD’s latest report that states ‘school choice and competition are not related to improved performance’).

It’s important that teachers, above all, understand the ‘why’ of this debate. It’s not about what’s best for children, or educational philosophy or thorny issues of implementation, it’s about money and it’s about private interests taking over public interests. That’s why books like ‘Progressively Worse’ have been written: to cause people to believe things that, when examined rationally, are obviously untrue.

Let’s Privatise The Air

Diane Ravitch has written the foreword to a new book by Anthony Cody entitled The Educator and the Oligarch. He is a teacher who has tried to explain to Bill Gates why his ideas are wrong. Here is a link to what she wrote:

http://dianeravitch.net/2014/10/08/read-anthony-codys-new-book-the-educator-and-the-oligarch/

Is it really so radical to want educators to have a meaningful influence in the education debate?

If you’re pressed for time here is a single quote that captures the essence of what we’re talking about here:

“With his blog as his platform, Anthony Cody trained his sights on the Gates Foundation. While others feared to criticize the richest foundation in the United States, Cody regularly devoted blogs to questioning its ideas and programs. He questioned its focus on standardized testing. He questioned its belief that teachers should be judged by the test scores of their students. He questioned its support for organizations that are anti-union and anti-teacher. He questioned its decision to create new organizations of young teachers to act as a fifth column within teachers’ unions, ready to testify in legislative hearings against the interests of teachers and unions.”

Examinations: A Poor Diet

I like what the ‘Colourstrings’ organisation have to say about exams. We can all learn from the philosophy expressed here. In the current climate of exam anxiety it takes guts to look at learning in this way. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

IMG_20140910_172939

An Astonishing Diamond

{to read this post just click on the title above; there is a glitch in the text below that makes it unreadable}

There comes a point when something begins to feel a bit different, a tipping point I suppose. I’ve recently been in touch with the Slow Education website and in the emailed response W.E.Deming was mentioned, the same W.E.Deming that Maurice Holt quotes in his recent article about the sorry state of US/UK education: to try to improve process by studying outcomes he says “…is like driving by looking in the rear-view mirror.” W.E. Deming’s book ‘The New Economics’ (2000) is a guide to business management. In it he recognises that competition within an institution, be that a business or a school, can be destructive. Cooperation is promoted as the positive alternative. One way to do away with unhelpful competition is to abolish ‘performance reviews’ at work and grades/levels at school. Before you ask: no, I haven’t read the book! But that shouldn’t distract us from the fact that ‘Performance Related Pay’ is now a reality for England’s school teachers. This reveals to the world that we have an education system overseen by non-educationalists who don’t value a collegiate workplace for teachers; want to encourage competition within schools (as well as between!); do not know their own history (‘Payment-by-Results’ was abandoned in England over one hundred years ago because it leads to teaching to the test, a narrow curriculum and fiddling the data) and are inspired by – Deming would argue outdated – business practices rather than anything like an educational philosophy.

I haven’t read The New Economics but I have read two books recently both entitled ‘Together’, one by Henry Hemming (2011) and the other by Richard Sennett (2012). Both these books are about cooperation. Like W.E.Deming these authors take issue with the distorted view of Darwin that claims his theories of evolution are proof of the supremacy of the anti-collective, individualistic life. Hemming’s book suggests that associations and clubs have seen a massive resurgence in the last ten or twenty years; in studying this phenomenon he not only asks why but also draws attention to the precise nature of any association or club: in describing such a community he states “…it is not an identity that you can foist on an unsuspecting set of individuals.” (p.226) If this is true how can teachers in England really recognise themselves as a community of professionals? After all, their identity is very much ‘foisted’ upon them by a damaging treadmill of short-termist political leaders. Ordinary Voices, an organisation promoting new approaches to education management, describes the short-term vision of these politicians as “…sometimes creating instability and uncertainty in the system.” This is putting it very politely indeed!

As Richard Sennett says in his book “When reform is conducted top-down, what goes missing is equality.” (p.50) Ordinary Voices turns this quote on its head because it aims to build “…a broader consensus for what kind of service we want to provide…” The bottom of their homepage states simply “More voices of ordinary people want to be heard in the education debate.” This isn’t the promotion of a particular type of educational uniformity by a combination of global business interests, Think Tanks and politicians (for evidence of this see nearly every other post in this blog). This isn’t the promotion of any particular educational agenda, it is simply a call for a more participatory democracy. Sennett describes how the internet has enabled people to share their interests and come together with greater ease and in greater numbers than ever before. An organisation like Ordinary Voices is a community in the modern sense of the word, not bound by place and faith but by common interest or cause. Robert Nisbet (1913 – 96) describes any association like this as “…the greatest single barrier to the conversion of democracy from its liberal form to its totalitarian form.”

“A club is a community engaged in the task of educating itself.” J.M.Brew ‘Informal Education: Adventures and Reflections’ 1946

When does the tipping point occur? Is it when the community grows to a certain size? Is it when the task of educating is obsolete because the truths are self-evident? Is it when the contents of that education crystallise into something like an astonishing diamond that can no longer be ignored?

Pretty Obvious

1. Why did Gove only celebrate academies and free schools? Because he was busy aping the Americans turning a public service into a private one. In 1969 the first black paper was written attacking comprehensive schooling on principle; its authors were disgusted by the post-war egalitarianism that had begun to creep into society and positively horrified by the student protests (US and UK) that were an indication of what might happen if entire populations were properly educated. In an executive/representative democracy such as ours there was no expectation that Gove would listen to parents or teachers/schools. In a more participatory democracy he would have had to listen to the real needs of ordinary people. But he is detached from anything so tiresome as this and he is closely tied to numerous large-scale corporate interests (not least Rupert Murdoch who has more than a passing interest in the money that can be siphoned out of public pockets into his own via national education systems). Given the absolute faith in privatisation, the lack of interest in these matters amongst the general population, the Conservative anti-statist stance that is clear from the 1969 Black Paper onwards and the soft-headed, press-release-publishing UK media it’s hardly surprising that Gove/Morgan/whoever’s next make no real effort to disguise what they are doing. There’s no need to bother! That’s why Gove only celebrated academies and free schools, because they are the fruits of his efforts. It seems a naive question to me. – See more at: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/08/why-did-gove-only-celebrate-academies-and-free-schools/#sthash.7cwvHQ25.dpuf

2. Rachel Aviv’s New Yorker article that is commented on by Maurice Holt, Emeritus Professor of Education, University of Colorado who notes that “…it will strike a familiar chord with teachers in England, since the current government is totally in thrall to the doctrine that the quality of education can be determined by assessing outcomes.” My response to Holt’s post, again on the Local Schools Network is here: It’s great to see an American professor writing on this site. It’s pretty obvious that aping the American model has nothing to do with improving education for all; it is a market-led rather than education-led model. What a shame that the average parent or pair of parents will not come to this fairly straightforward and uncontroversial understanding with ease because of the UK media’s unwillingness to spell it out. The Local Schools Network does valuable work in keeping me sane but I’m not convinced its voice is loud enough to help influence the national debate. The American system right now is a horror story and we are heading towards just such a system with little in the way of a proper debate.
Is this what flourishing democracies feel like?
Here is a link to Rachel Aviv’s piece in the New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/07/21/wrong-answer – See more at: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/08/another-lesson-from-america/#sthash.zTzK4RWL.dpuf

The Local Schools Network

Below is my response to an article written by Francis Gilbert (one of the founders of the Local Schools Network) entitled ‘What is Good Teaching and How Can We Encourage It?’ The piece begins with Gilbert explaining that he’s just been on Newsnight. He goes on to say that the majority of the discussion on Newsnight was about whether performance-related-pay (PRP) will improve teaching standards. I decided to comment on PRP:

On the subject of ‘performance related pay’: it is one of a number of key characteristics of a marketised system because it introduces ‘flexible’ pay, that is it leads to a weakening of terms and conditions for those actually doing the hardest work: teachers. It lends itself to a more ‘hire and fire’ approach; it appeals not to a teachers’ mind-set, expecting to work in a supportive and collegiate environment, but rather to a managerial mind-set more used to thinking about the bottom-line (i.e. treating a school like a profit-making business).
Interestingly PRP was implemented in the 19th century (then known as ‘payment-by-results’). This was more as a result of ignorance than our current politician’s cynical desire to turn over a democratically accountable public service to private business interests. It was subsequently abandoned. Why? Because it led to ‘teaching-to-the-test’, a narrow curriculum and fiddling with results; this is what it will lead to in the 21st century as well. Teachers back then – almost all them women – successfully unshackling themselves from ‘payment-by-results’ was a big step in the right direction for people’s education in this country; it was also an early step towards the professionalization of teaching.
It’s understandable that politicians assume PRP is a good move because these careerist politicians are themselves incentivised by big money interests (think of all those ‘revolving doors’ between Westminster and the banking/corporate world, a classic example in our case would be Gove and Murdoch): doing everything they can to sell off our publicly owned and managed schooling system.
The question ‘What is good teaching and how can we encourage it?’ is, of course, a perennial one. There is masses of research out there to answer this question but it is not what underpins our current system (a good example: the ignoring of the Cambridge Primary Review). This is because it is not what drives policy.
It’s heart-breaking to see our more social model of education being sold off like this. If it’s true that our education system produces politicians who can’t see beyond their own greed and a generation of teachers who know practically nothing about the real motivations of these same politicians (the marketisation of education is well documented and understood at an academic level; you only need to look to the US to see where we are headed) we must question it in its entirety.

I was glad to have responses from Francis Gilbert and also my hero Janet Downs, a proper journalist.

The whole post can be found here: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/07/what-is-good-teaching-and-how-can-we-encourage-it/

On the subject of ‘performance related pay’: it is one of a number of key characteristics of a marketised system because it introduces ‘flexible’ pay, that is it leads to a weakening of terms and conditions for those actually doing the hardest work: teachers. It lends itself to a more ‘hire and fire’ approach; it appeals not to a teachers’ mind-set, expecting to work in a supportive and collegiate environment, but rather to a managerial mind-set more used to thinking about the bottom-line (i.e. treating a school like a profit-making business).
Interestingly PRP was implemented in the 19th century (then known as ‘payment-by-results’). This was more as a result of ignorance than our current politician’s cynical desire to turn over a democratically accountable public service to private business interests. It was subsequently abandoned. Why? Because it led to ‘teaching-to-the-test’, a narrow curriculum and fiddling with results; this is what it will lead to in the 21st century as well. Teachers back then – almost all them women – successfully unshackling themselves from ‘payment-by-results’ was a big step in the right direction for people’s education in this country; it was also an early step towards the professionalization of teaching.
It’s understandable that politicians assume PRP is a good move because these careerist politicians are themselves incentivised by big money interests (think of all those ‘revolving doors’ between Westminster and the banking/corporate world, a classic example in our case would be Gove and Murdoch): doing everything they can to sell off our publicly owned and managed schooling system.
The question ‘What is good teaching and how can we encourage it?’ is, of course, a perennial one. There is masses of research out there to answer this question but it is not what underpins our current system (a good example: the ignoring of the Cambridge Primary Review). This is because it is not what drives policy.
It’s heart-breaking to see our more social model of education being sold off like this. If it’s true that our education system produces politicians who can’t see beyond their own greed and a generation of teachers who know practically nothing about the real motivations of these same politicians (all is well documented and understood at an academic level) we must question it in its entirety. – See more at: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/07/what-is-good-teaching-and-how-can-we-encourage-it/#sthash.fJL3JPf4.dpuf
On the subject of ‘performance related pay’: it is one of a number of key characteristics of a marketised system because it introduces ‘flexible’ pay, that is it leads to a weakening of terms and conditions for those actually doing the hardest work: teachers. It lends itself to a more ‘hire and fire’ approach; it appeals not to a teachers’ mind-set, expecting to work in a supportive and collegiate environment, but rather to a managerial mind-set more used to thinking about the bottom-line (i.e. treating a school like a profit-making business).
Interestingly PRP was implemented in the 19th century (then known as ‘payment-by-results’). This was more as a result of ignorance than our current politician’s cynical desire to turn over a democratically accountable public service to private business interests. It was subsequently abandoned. Why? Because it led to ‘teaching-to-the-test’, a narrow curriculum and fiddling with results; this is what it will lead to in the 21st century as well. Teachers back then – almost all them women – successfully unshackling themselves from ‘payment-by-results’ was a big step in the right direction for people’s education in this country; it was also an early step towards the professionalization of teaching.
It’s understandable that politicians assume PRP is a good move because these careerist politicians are themselves incentivised by big money interests (think of all those ‘revolving doors’ between Westminster and the banking/corporate world, a classic example in our case would be Gove and Murdoch): doing everything they can to sell off our publicly owned and managed schooling system.
The question ‘What is good teaching and how can we encourage it?’ is, of course, a perennial one. There is masses of research out there to answer this question but it is not what underpins our current system (a good example: the ignoring of the Cambridge Primary Review). This is because it is not what drives policy.
It’s heart-breaking to see our more social model of education being sold off like this. If it’s true that our education system produces politicians who can’t see beyond their own greed and a generation of teachers who know practically nothing about the real motivations of these same politicians (all is well documented and understood at an academic level) we must question it in its entirety. – See more at: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/07/what-is-good-teaching-and-how-can-we-encourage-it/#sthash.fJL3JPf4.dpuf