Friday, June 12, 2009

Layer 169 Drummers, Biddles, Blears, and the Nuffield Review

The text from my daughter was a call to action. “There's a blues band in the pub tonight. Just started.”

It took me back to the days of yore, the sixties and seventies, when bands played merrily in England, in many a neighbourhood hostelry. Could those happy days be returning?

They really rocked as well. The Louis Jordan number they performed managed to get the two Jamaicans out of their seats and jigging around. They'd asked for reggae, but they got the blues.

I was talking to the drummer during the interval and it turned out he was German and lives in East Germany for most of the year. He said there's a thriving rock and blues scene back there. I felt pretty sad for him, and the band, that their audience at the C_____ was only about 20, most of whom could hardly be called attentive, let alone hard core blues and rock fans. They were just the regulars, mainly, on a regular Thursday night.

The guitarist/vocalist was very good, very bluesy, as was the female Hammond keyboard player, and three different guys, including one of the locals, who took turns to play the bass.

The band finished just before midnight, and were starting to pack up when someone asked the drummer to do a solo. Now I'd noticed that he was a really good drummer, very cool, very jazzy and tight – but it seemed like an odd request. I soon realised, though, as he built up momentum, that he was something really special. He had everyone paying rapt attention as he produced an amazing performance - speeding up, slowing down, louder and softer – with so much rhythm and precision. It took me way back to the heyday of the great drummers like Ginger Baker, Keef Hartley, Jon Hiseman and Aynsley Dunbar – who missed out as Hendrix's drummer to Mitch Mitchell on the flip of a coin - jazz/rock/blues drummers of the highest calibre. Superb.


Strolling home I passed a bar I'd vaguely noticed some weeks ago, in what used to be some kind of corner shop called Biddle Bros. They still have the old sign up outside, and in fact they've called the new place Biddle Bros, which I reckon is really funky. I love the continuity thing. Check it here:

It was half past midnight, but the joint was still jumping. A really quirky band too, all American. A pinstripe-suited male singer/guitarist in a Homburg, three females playing electric upright bass, saxophone and clarinet, and a guy beating on a black guitar case, laid flat on a table, with drumsticks! At one point they had half the audience doing some weird thing that the band were doing – lying down flat on their backs and playing their instruments whilst doing bicycle kicks.

You can't say fairer than that for an unplanned night out.


As in Ashburton the previous week I love the way that live music gets people out of their homes and gathering together for collective enjoyment. When there's a good band playing you can mingle, chat if you want, or just sit or stand and enjoy the music. Dancing makes it even better. It's a real happening thing, in which people can actually take part and add to the occasion with their presence and their participation. I'm more convinced than ever that we'd create a much better world if we just made sure that every single child that's growing up in our society could play at least one musical instrument and perform with it at some level.

There's a bluesman called Will Scott playing at Biddle Bros on Saturday. You can check out his music here:


“A Stupid Thing To Do”

Very well said, Hazel dear, and on TV too! Indeed it was. Wearing your silly little brooch - “Rocking The Boat” - was completely idiotic. It didn't even make sense from your own point of view, let alone NuLabour's. So why do it? Because Hazel's a bear of little brain. Which we knew already. Stupid people tend to do stupid things.

It was stupid to take the piss out of her party leader for looking a twat on YouTube. He had enough abuse to put up with without enduring more from his 'loyal' colleague.

It was stupid in the extreme to resign on the eve of the election. So how did she excuse herself today? “Please Miss – Jacqui and Patricia did it first and nobody said nothin to them, did they? - so why shouldn't I do it as well, and why does everybody pick on me cos it's not FAIR!” 'Cos you're a horrible little twat person who goes around with a silly grin on her silly little face. And you're a silly right-wing camp follower who tried to get away with 'flipping' your various homes and avoiding capital gains tax on your amateur property development at the public's expense. Got it yet?

The people of Salford seem to have got it, since they're not stupid, and look set to boot her out as a candidate at the next election. She should look on the bright side and realise that she'll now have an opportunity to do things she's actually good at. I can't imagine what those things might be, because even working on a supermarket checkout might still annoy people. But I'm sure she'll find something.


The most important story in the news this week was:

How children became customers

This is how The Guardian reported on the Nuffield Review.

The biggest review of 14-19 education in 50 years says corporate values now rule schools. By Warwick Mansell.

Are corporate values now running education? Have schools been taken over by the language of management consultancy? And does this imply an undermining of a central purpose of teaching: to encourage a sense of inquiry and morality in young people?

These are some of the questions raised - and answered in the affirmative - by a new report published today, which is billed as the largest investigation into education and training for 14- to 19-year-olds in England and Wales for 50 years.

The Nuffield 14-19 review, based at Oxford University, has taken six years to compile. Its report, which runs to 230 pages, attacks the "relentless change" in education as often counterproductive.

The government, says the report, has therefore laid down a set of aims that are dominated by the need to develop skills for the economy. This comes across not just in the set of exam results-based performance indicators by which schools are judged, but in the language that is used to describe education policy and its implementation.

The report says that growing central control of education has helped to produce a drive to talk about schooling from a "performance management" perspective, which is borrowed from business.

It says: "The consumer or client replaces the learner. The curriculum is delivered. Aims are spelt out in terms of targets. Audits (based on performance indicators) measure success defined in terms of hitting the targets."

It adds: "As the language of performance and management has advanced, so we have proportionately lost a language of education which recognises the intrinsic value of pursuing certain sorts of question ... of seeking understanding [and] of exploring through literature and the arts what it means to be human."

The report cites the decision by ministers, when they were developing a system of performance management for teachers in the late 1990s, to bring in management consultants Hay-McBer to define what constituted good teaching. Another consultancy, McKinsey and Company, was seen as the authority on effective teaching after producing a report in 2007 looking at outstanding practice around the world.

The assumption behind much of education policy - that performance targets are set for teachers in the form of pupils' test and exam success, and the means by which they reach them are less important - is also borrowed from industry.

Describing the language of targets and delivery as "impoverished", the report ends with a further flourish. "The Orwellian language of 'performance management and control' has come to dominate educational deliberation and planning, namely the language of measurable 'inputs', 'outputs', of 'performance indicators' and 'audits', of 'customers' and 'deliverers', of 'efficiency gains' and 'bottom lines'. Perhaps George Orwell's 1984 should be made the essential reading for all trainee teachers."

The inquiry's starting point was to ask: "What counts as an educated 19-year-old in this day and age?" The answer it comes up with embraces intellectual development, practical capability, community participation and a sense of social justice, self-awareness, and even a perhaps unfashionable suggestion that young people should be imbued with a sense of "moral seriousness". Education, it says, has an essentially "moral purpose": to help young people to develop as human beings.

Richard Pring, professor of educational studies at Oxford and the inquiry's leader, says it is more difficult for these rounded qualities to be developed under the current system. He says: "Once performance management takes over, it does begin to narrow the educational experiences on offer, classically through teaching to the test in the pursuit of performance targets.

"I suppose many newly trained teachers may just take the language of performance management for granted these days. If you go back 20 years, it would be seen as foolish."
The inquiry is not alone in making these criticisms. In February, the Cambridge review of primary education attacked the marginalisation of creativity in schools in favour of literacy and numeracy lessons as "utilitarian and philistine".

Corporate language

And examples of corporate language in education are not difficult to come across. Minutes of meetings of the board of Ofsted, the schools and childcare inspectorate, speak extensively of performance goals and the need to build Ofsted's "brand".

Last week, a speech made by a leading figure in school assessment referred frequently and uncritically to pupils being teachers' "customers".

Ruth Lea, a former head of policy at the Institute of Directors and an adviser to the Arbuthnot Banking Group, says: “Education is not just a matter of turning sausages out of a sausage machine and hitting targets - and that's where it's gone wrong."

• The Nuffield report is available at £19.99 from


This is how the Mail reported it. I never thought I'd be quoting from the Mail.

'Orwellian language' in schools turns pupils into 'customers', finds damning report

Schools using the 'Orwellian language of performance management' are undermining teenagers' education by turning them into 'customers' rather than students, a landmark report says today.
Teachers who are forced to use phrases such as 'performance indicator' and 'curriculum delivery' lack enthusiam for the job, the six-year investigation found.

The Oxford-based Nuffield Review, the most comprehensive study of secondary education in 50 years, said that 'the words we use shape our thinking'.

It notes: 'As the language of performance and management has advanced, so we have proportionately lost a language of education which recognises the intrinsic value of pursuing certain sorts of question ... of seeking understanding [and] of exploring through literature and the arts what it means to be human.'

Teachers are inundated with the language of measurable 'inputs' and 'outputs', 'performance indicators' and 'audits', 'targets', 'customers', 'deliverers', 'efficiency gains' and 'bottom lines', the report continues.

In a damning indictment, the report said that a culture of hitting targets, where 'cuts in resources are euphemistically called 'efficiency gains', has led to 'the consumer or client' replacing 'the learner'.

The report's authors accused the 'micro management' of education by minsters for forcing schools 'to teach to the test' and called for 'a return to an educational language'.

The report also said that hundreds of thousands of youngsters better suited to practical work leave with poor qualifications because their skills go unrecognised.

Woodwork, metalwork and home economics have all but disappeared while geography field-work and science experiments are in decline.

Instead, a culture of testing has brought about a narrow focus on written exams at GCSE and A-level. This has consigned a generation of pupils to an 'impoverished' education.

The study said school attainment remained 'low' despite unprecedented investment in education.
A generation ago, hands-on lessons were 'very much part of the learning experience at school', he said. But the introduction of the national curriculum in 1988 had hastened the 'demise' of practical learning.

'We now have a rather narrow view of success in learning,' he said.

'A great many young people achieve quite a lot in other areas which are equally valid and don't get recognised.'

The review believed that a tradition of learning based on practical engagement has been lost in schools, reflected in the near demise of woodwork, metalwork and home economics, in the decline of field-work in geography, in less experimental approaches to science (caused partly by assessment almost exclusively through written examination), and in the decline of work-based learning and employer-related apprenticeships.

Moral values

Schools should teach moral values to educate pupils for life as well as work.
They should encourage youngsters to take responsibility for themselves, treat others with respect and care for the environment.

Academics on the review team had seen youngsters 'transformed' in schools which promote justice and respect.

The review said teachers should also foster intellectual virtues, encouraging children to be open to evidence, argument and criticism.


This is so bloody wonderful I can't really believe what I've been reading. On the other hand it's fucking heartbreaking to consider not only what's been going on in the name of education, but how the so-called profession allowed it to happen.

There must come a point where the question is asked – and what did YOU do in the great education wars, when the stormtroopers of the Shock Doctrine were allowed to run rampant and sweep away good practice, good people, and proper aims and objectives, and put in place this industrial model of education, this so-called 'standards agenda'?

How many people working in education could honestly say they did or said a thing to combat this vile regime and the neo-conservative hegemony? How many within the system, especially heads, governors, teachers and bureaucrats, were too uncomprehending or too afraid to even raise a peep of protest as good people were hammered, beaten and persecuted into submission or extinction? How many cared enough about the children and what was good for them to even suggest that what happened was bad, mad and totally immoral? How come the unions were so fucking ineffectual and hopeless at fighting it?

There's nothing new here that people who are familiar with schools won't already know, but the report is very well written and well argued, and it's totally damning of what's been happening in this country in the name of education. It's appalling.

What's also appalling is the way in which most schools, most heads, most governors, most teachers and most LA bureaucrats have just gone along with this evil bullshit – out of fear, ignorance, cowardice and stupidity. One day they'll all have to answer the question – and what did you do in the great education wars? Just obey orders?

Here's the interim report from the group, published in 2006:

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