Much nonsense talked over the weekend about parenting, behaviour management, smacking and the like.
We had the Daily Telegraph championing ‘tiger mums’ with our Schools Commissioner for England, Liz Sidwell, saying we need more like them. Former education minister, David Lammy, saying it is ‘easier for middle-class parents to control their children as they could afford to pay for private schools, which have tougher discipline than state schools, as well as activities such as tennis lessons,’ concluding therefore that working class parents need to be able to smack their children. Somewhere along way he implies this would have helped stop the rioting in the summer. Not so sure about that one David.
So, depending on where you lay your violin case, our children either need more private tutoring, extra curricular activities with hot housing or a good smack on the back of the legs, or both. Then we come to schools.
45% of English state secondary schools are already academies or about to convert.
How you view this development will depend upon your politics; your take on the purpose of education and your perception of the ‘challenge’. It may also depend on how much time you’ve actually spent in state schools in recent years. For most, maybe all, of these schools becoming an academy is more of a financial than a philosophical imperative.
However, it seems part of the current government strategy is to suggest that our school system has gone to pot and that the challenge requires drastic and immediate remedial action. The sociologist Basil Bernstein wrote in Class, Codes and Control in 1971 that the way language is used within a particular societal class affects the way people assign significance and meaning to the things about which they are speaking.
Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, has acquired the key educational vocabulary and made it his own. His schools are ‘academies’ or ‘free schools.’ He has moved in on and secured tenancy on words and phrases such as ‘aspiration’, ‘achievement’, ‘opportunity’, traditional values’, ‘meaningful qualifications’, ‘academic rigour’. Dare to argue with him about an alternative and you get these words and phrases barked back at you!
Listen long enough and you too might believe that behaviour is out of control, results are being manipulated by schools offering meaningless qualifications, children are unable to read and write and our status around the world – verified by PISA tables – is plummeting. To question any, or all of this, is to inhabit a dangerous place. To offer any alternative view is now to be anti-academic, anti-achievement and to have low aspirations for the poorest in society. Gove has appointed himself the champion of academic rigour, high achievement and high aspirations at the same time tying this in to his academies strategy. Anyone anti-academy is now seized upon as ipso-facto doing down the poorest sections of our society.
There are few, if any, schools which are ‘out of control’. I’ve been into hundreds. The tiny number, which upon inspection, are deemed unsafe, are immediately put into category. Schools who have students perhaps not best suited to the A Level qualifications which were designed for a post war world in 1952 have tried to find better alternatives – GNVQ, ASDAN, COPE for example – and so help keep their young people in full-time education. Now they are being pilloried for this effort. If the Secretary of State wants our PISA results to improve the answer is simple. Do what many other nations do and teach to the test! Countries like Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore are leaving 1950’s thinking and teaching to the test behind. We seem to be going back there. If we choose to use examples from other nations lets be careful to avoid a form of system tourism where we only look at the more eye catching locations.
It’s an age old strategy: find examples of, and then parody, the worst of what it is you seek to change. In this case lampoon the efforts of some of the poorer state schools, label local authorities as incompetent, lax or interfering, have pseudo consultations with small groups of invited Head Teachers, appoint a Schools Commissioner who only ever talks about academies and free schools, ignore community schools. Do so again and again, talk it up, spin your message and make it look as though there is no alternative. Now provide examples, even if they are cherry-picked, of what might be – KIPP, Charter Schools, Kunskapsskolan – before suggesting that only private ambition and finance can deliver what’s needed. This needs to be challenged.
Here are ten schools from around the world which the Innovation Unit regard as world class and which have been ignored by the Secretary of State and his cadre of advisors.
For my book High Performers: The Secrets of Successful Schools, I visited 20 maintained non-selective schools in England who in their different ways epitomised excellence. All of the schools had a distinct ethos, they were well led, autonomous and brought significant gains to the lives of their children and their communities. At the time of my visit only three were academies.
There are alternative views, alternative answers, alternative approaches. Much of what is excellent in our existing state system goes unrecorded because we choose not to promote excellence in what we already do. Teachers and teacher leaders need to be more vocal! We need to re-locate the language of success back into and around our excellent community schools