Six months in… education

Michael Harris /   June 29, 2015 at 8:34 PM 1,105 views

It’s six months since we launched this version of Guerilla Policy. Here’s a selection of some of our favourite posts we’ve published in education. Thanks to all those contributors we’ve published so far. One thing is certain: frontline education bloggers love talking about Michael Gove (perhaps ‘love’ isn’t quite the right word). In April, Andrew Old (despite being one of Gove’s favourite bloggers) explained ‘Why I’m against performance-related pay’, including because: “It’s insulting. Seriously. I really want my students to learn. That’s my motivation. Giving me a cash prize when that happens would actually make me feel like it was an added extra, like doing a lunch duty or private tuition, not the reason I joined the profession in the first place. Being paid for what you do out of love (here I refer to the extra effort to make sure students do well, not the whole job) can only diminish it. If a teacher lacks the motivation to do the job then they are better off leaving the profession than having money thrown at them until they reacquire it.” Also in April, Tricia Kelleher responded to Michael Gove’s characterisation of his critics as ‘The Blob’: “As someone who has worked in schools for nearly 30 years I am struggling to reconcile Gove’s world view with my experience. As Principal of an independent school, I can hardly be described as a Marxist or indeed a card carrying member of The Blob. Yet I share the concern of fellow educators about the direction Gove is determined to take us. His talk about standards and rigour is all sound and fury. Standards and rigour are not antithetical to an education which values higher order thinking.” In February, Michael Merrick offered a different critique of the #cultofGove, in reference to the proposed History curriculum: “For the political commentators convinced Gove is storming the Guardianista fortress, be sure that Gove, in this sense, is a fully signed up member of the metroliberal club. For him, the narrative of progress is precisely what leads him toward a ‘backwoodsmen‘ analysis of opposition to the forces of progress. And indeed, like his metroliberal comrades, he buys firmly into All Must Have Prizes philosophy, whilst taking a decidedly Guardianista approach to personal responsibility. In other words, for all his good ideas, Gove is not who his cult devotees think he is. And History is not what he thinks it is.” One of the familiar debating points has been around expectations that we have of students and whether they are sufficiently high. In April, Tessa Matthews at Tabula Rasa wondered whether ‘Do we really have high expectations of our students? Or is it just talk?’: “…low expectations are so entrenched in the system that even the curriculum we teach perpetuates poor standards. The rhetoric of high expectations continues to chime throughout the halls of my school and I wonder once again: is it just talk? The philosophy that underpins the curriculum is steeped in low expectations. The English Language non-fiction exam is a prime example of how good intentions can result in a substandard education for our students,… However, I am beginning to think that the entire curriculum is plagued with the very same philosophy that has sucked the soul out of English lessons.” Tessa argued that the root of the problem is the notion that the curriculum ought to be relevant to young people’s lives and ought to be engaging for young people: “Children should be inspired and pushed in school. The prioritisation of engagement and relevance above all else is a low expectation of our students. They do not need to be educated about things they already know; this presumption is both patronising and insulting. They need to be given the opportunity to learn about life beyond their own back yard and to be inspired by the best ideas that culture has given us. Our students deserve a rigorous and enriching curriculum. Despite having the best of intentions, the focus on relevance and engagement does little to help our students to break free from the shackles of socioeconomic disadvantage. It’s about time that we give children some credit and start to take them more seriously. We must expect more.” In November however Pedagoggles criticised ‘Schools as exam factories’ and put the blame on policymakers and lobbyists who want schools to be more ‘businesslike’: “It is because schools have been forced by politicians into a market model that they have been nudged into this situation anyway. It is because they are made accountable in order to become consumer-choices. It is because children’s success in life is judged only in a quantitative rather than a qualitative manner. It is because schools that don’t comply find themselves in the process of forced academisation and find themselves stripped of their autonomy.” Ofsted and school accountability have been the focus of many posts. In April, Tom Sherrington at headguruteacher set out his vision for ‘Accountability we can trust’. Tom set out the problem succinctly: “I’m convinced that our existing accountability framework is preventing schools from improving at the pace that they could be or in the way that they should be. OfSTED and Performance Tables dominate the thinking of too many Heads and teachers to a degree that is unhealthy, unnecessary and counterproductive.” In place of the current approach, Tom proposed three ideas: the longitudinal evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning; attainment and progress measures in context (as opposed to focusing on single metrics); and a three-year school effectiveness report. Similarly, Tessa Matthews lamented the ‘extremely dangerous’ power of Ofsted over failing schools: “Because [school leadership teams] nationwide fear the potential consequences of disobeying Ofsted, schools are becoming trapped in a box-ticking prison world, where tried and tested teaching methods are feared. Ofsted inspectors can effectively say whatever they like, and schools must do it.” November saw much debate over the GCSE English marking ‘fiasco’. TheEdu dicator pointed to the pressure put on teachers, while Teaching Science blamed the “exam boards’ and Ofqual’s failure to discreetly fix the results the way they intended to.” In February however Andrew Old offered some final thoughts on the GCSE fiasco by arguing that it representing a legitimate regrading against grade inflation. In April, Joe Kirby blogging at Pragmatic Education wondered ‘Why isn’t our education system working?’ Joe suggested we might need to avoid getting distracted by the debates that Michael Gove seems to relish in starting: “One of the things that has most surprised me since starting as a trainee teacher is the sheer number of misleading diversions, which seem to distract us from what matters most: improving teaching and learning in schools and classrooms. Here are some examples of those debates that create more heat than insight: whether to implement performance-related pay; whether to impose longer school days and shorter school holidays; agonising about who’s in or out of the national curriculum in history; pursuing 21st century skills rather than 19th century facts; abolishing or establishing more grammar schools; soothsaying about whether tablets will transform textbooks; arguing over whether the autonomy enjoyed by academies or free schools is sufficient or extravagant. All these are seemingly plausible, but ultimately irrelevant questions for improving education.” Let us know which other education bloggers we should be posting. Get in touch with us at: [email protected]

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