There were some interesting letters in Guardian Education this week:
Michael Gove, the shadow schools secretary, told the Conservatives' conference that pupils should wear ties and ex-soldiers should be employed to enforce discipline in schools. This prompted some colourful comments on our website.
I wore a tie and blazer to school and still acted like a petty thug. Not once did I think that I should behave differently because of the way I dressed.
And as for getting the army to teach people how to behave – this guy obviously hasn't been out around Plymouth or Chelmsford on a Saturday night.
As reported in the Guardian recently, "the number of former servicemen in prison or on probation or parole is now more than double the total British deployment in Afghanistan", yet apparently this is the calibre of person we need enforcing discipline in schools.
Last week headteachers suggested Labour initiatives to bin and those to save.
I can tell you straight away what education policies the Tories will cut: Building Schools for the Future; the Primary Capital Programme. The last time the Conservative party was in office it deliberately abandoned maintenance, refurbishment and renewal of the school estate, which left many school buildings structurally unsound and leaking. The reason why so much money has been poured into education under Labour is simply because of the disgraceful lack of investment in schools by the Tories during the 18 years they were in power.…..............................................
Big Tory business
Polly Curtis interviewed the architect of the Swedish schools' voucher system (favoured by the Conservative party), Anders Hultin, who said those running schools should be allowed to make a profit.
Please do not print any more stories about how the Tories' plans for education are insufficiently connected to the requirements of big business (The prophet's motives, 6 October). You are putting satirists out of work.
And talking about the requirements of big business, this story appeared in the Guardian -
Should schools be more like Tesco?....................................................
Teachers are drowning in paperwork – and their pupils are suffering, says the boss of the supermarket giant
Education standards in Britain are "woefully low", leaving employers to pick up the pieces.
That was the stark message from Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive of Tesco, the country's largest employer.
Speaking at a conference yesterday, Leahy said companies like his needed well-educated applicants, but was not getting them.
He blamed excessive bureaucracy: teachers spend too much time on paperwork and not enough in the classroom, he said.
"One thing that government could do is to simplify the structure of our education system. From my perspective there are too many agencies and bodies, often issuing reams of instructions to teachers, who then get distracted from the task at hand: teaching children," he said.
Leahy reckons the education system should learn lessons from how Tesco is run. "We try to keep paperwork to a minimum, instructions simple, structures flat, and – above all – we trust the people on the ground. I am not saying that retail is like education, merely that my experience tells me that when it comes to the number of people you have in the back office, less is more."
Leahy is not the only business leader who thinks he could do education better. Dragon Peter Jones has set up his own academy for young entrepreneurs and is changing the way business skills are taught, keeping the focus as practical as possible.
More information needed on what Sir Terry means by “well educated”, obviously. But he's not wrong to point out the stupidity of too much bureaucracy distracting schools from what they're actually trying to do for kids, and the importance of “trusting people on the ground”.
We also need to know more about what's meant by “changing the way business skills are taught”, but you can't argue with the need to make more of young people's learning “as practical as possible” - ie relevant, meaningful, interesting, engaging, purposeful . . . and away from endless and meaningless preparation for academic exams and tests.
A comment on this on CiF -
"On Monday, the 5th inst., a lecture was delivered by the Rev. J. Whitely, principal of St. Augustine School, Hull, in the National Schoolroom, .... The rev. gentleman went on to show the danger in the present educational policy of our country of cramming rather than opening the intellect of our youth, and concluded with a warm appeal to the young men and women present to become thinkers, and thus general benefactors of their village and nation. The audience was large, and listened throughout with rapt attention, broken only by frequent bursts of applause, which demonstrations were loud and long."
That is a quote from the Hull Packet (a newspaper) published on 16th January 1881 !!!!!!
It was part of a nationwide debate on the national curriculum, cramming for exams and tests, and rigid inspection regime that was blighting mid-Victorian Britain. By 1885, the argument was won, and schools gradually became freer to teach properly, using knowledge gained about the psychological and physical development and needs of children.
Until the Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown governments decided that they knew better, and that a system that failed the country in mid-Victorian times was just what was needed for 21st century Britain.
Now we have many of the central characters - those cheering on the politicians to set back the country more than one hundred years, claiming that it was a "mistake", and perhaps, like the Victorians, we should abandon this huge error in school planning.
British education was good in ensuring that 30% to 55% of all the world's inventions and discoveries were made by its pupils. Now the policy is not one that would yield this, but be factory fodder to compete with Third World countries for the benefit of public-school toffs. It's called globalisation.
Whilst I agree wholeheartedly with much of what Sir Leahy says regarding paperwork, and leaving it to folk on the ground, I wonder if he, or any other director of a major company REALLY wants workers who think creatively?
There was a golden age of British invention during and after the Second World War (first for defence, then for a whole raft of peacetime ventures), accomplished by ordinary/extraordinary people from ordinary walks of life. Sadly, we now have a country where the public-school educated have taken over the reins of power again. And we can all see what a mess they are making of it!
Fiona Millar - A Few Simple Questions
Based on my own experience, I am now principally interested in hearing answers from the politicians to a few simple questions.
How are they going to protect our budgets and investment in our buildings while cutting public spending? How are they going to ensure every school has an excellent head and good teachers who stay and are supported and equipped to sustain school improvement? How are they going to fund the work, especially investment, in the early years and support for parents that counters the disadvantage outside schools that contributes so much to the underachievement within them?
How are they going to balance choice, not just with fair admissions, but with a fair framework for exclusions, special needs and sharing out pupils with behavioural problems?
How are they going to keep schools accountable while getting rid of the perverse incentives to manipulate the intake and the curriculum that are intrinsic in the current league tables?
Most parents want the following: a good local school, well resourced, with a pleasant environment; strong leadership; good teachers; consistent and effective behaviour management; a balanced intake; and a broad curriculum. It is such a simple message that I don't understand why someone doesn't just get up and say it – then concentrate on the detail that will bring it about."A Chicago School is Hoping to Turn Out lots of 'Little Obamas'."
It's 8.30 in the morning and 450 young men in jackets, ties and short back and sides line up looking for all the world like young Barack Obamas. They begin to recite their daily creed. "We are the young men of Urban Prep. We are college bound. We are exceptional – not because we say it, but because we work hard at it. We believe in ourselves. We believe in each other. We believe in Urban Prep."
For 16-year-old Israel Durley, even making it to school each morning is a challenge. "As of last night, we had four more murders around the school area," he says. "When you have the majority of people around you who don't care about their lives and their futures, then it's kind of hard to surpass them because they're always pulling you down."
At Israel's previous high school, his most optimistic goal was to get a job at McDonald's. Now that's all changed. So what's so different about the school, and could we in the UK learn anything from its methods?
Urban Prep emphasises academic rigour, extracurricular involvement and community service. It has a longer school day than most US schools, and tests students every six weeks. The curriculum is designed to be culturally relevant to young urban males. In literature week, teachers pitched their book choices to the students, reading excerpts from young urban writers such as Junot Diaz, whose work reflects the students' own lives.
Each year, students design and implement their own community service projects. "We want to prepare our boys to be the leaders in the communities, to take over the world tomorrow," says the school's vice-president, Evan Lewis. "They need to learn compassion and humanity, and this helps them to do so."
As a charter school, Urban Prep enjoys similar flexibility to Britain's academies. But, unlike in the UK, it makes full use of this autonomy to address the complex needs of its students, from the curriculum and timetable to staff recruitment..................................................................
At the end of the school day, as Israel Durley swaps his jacket and tie for a hoodie and slips back out into the mean streets of Englewood, he's optimistic about his college prospects.
"There's no doubt in my mind, that I'm going, that I'm going to pursue a professional career and that I'm going to succeed in life."
Of course this school still seems to fixated on getting kids to pursue “professional careers”, and there's a way to go to establish the case for vocational education, careers as independent business people, artists, tradespeople, etc, and the possibility of leading a good, worthwhile and productive life as a working class person, but at least the school is focused on social, emotional and spiritual intelligence, and not just "IQ" and exam-passing.