Friday, April 16, 2010

Layer 283 . . . Debating Leaders, Headteachers, Seldon, Factory Schools and Education

The Debate

As I was saying yesterday, the Tories are surely starting to realise they're in big trouble. Not only did Nick Clegg emerge the clear winner in last night's TV debate - Cameron did very badly, though not quite as badly as Brown. Even so, the differential between Cameron and Brown was pretty miniscule. Far from coming third, Clegg trounced the other two. He wasn't that great, in my opinion, but he clearly had a lot of appeal for viewers who'd never previously taken notice of him.

Front page of the Guardian -

Leaders' debate: Nick Clegg seizes his moment in the TV spotlight

Lib Dem leader makes powerful pitch as he depicts his party as a significant change from Labour and the Conservatives

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, stole the first televised leaders' debate in British political history by offering himself up as the fresh and honest alternative to two tired old parties in an electrifying, fast-moving, 90-minute primetime broadcast.

Clegg's revelatory performance, acknowledged by Labour, has the potential to change the political landscape, even if David Cameron, with the most to lose last night, will be relieved that in some of the instant reaction polls he came second, ahead of the prime minister.

Clegg, in effect introduced to the nation for the first time, said: "Don't let them tell you that the only choice is between two old parties that have been playing pass the parcel with your government for 65 years now making the same old promises, breaking the same old promises."

The charge reprised his opening claim when he pointed to the other two leaders, saying: "Now, they are going to tell you tonight that the only choice you have is between the two old parties who've been taking it in turns to run things for years."

In the first substantial poll conducted after the debate, Populus for the Times found Clegg the overwhelming winner with 61% and Cameron and Brown trailing on 22% and 17% respectively.

Clegg's stand-out moment for me was when he said,

"I think creativity's important in the classroom, and freedom for teachers and headteachers. What's also important is smaller class sizes. We should bring down class sizes in Primary schools to 20, and in Secondary schools 16."

Why the fuck couldn't Labour have said this back in '97? What's even worse is - they're not even saying it NOW! Anyone who thinks we'll never become a more enlightened society until all our children are properly educated in schools where there's academic freedom and freedom to innovate and balance the curriculum, must surely support this. Anyone who cares about our children being unhappy in their factory schools where "standards" are supposedly being "driven up" through more and more teaching to the tests, must surely support this. Anyone who cares about our children having proper opportunities to develop all of their intelligences in a balanced way must surely support this.

On the other hand, Cameron's worst moment was when he stupidly tried to justify upgrading Trident at a cost of hundreds of squillions by saying we need it to face up to the Iranians . . . and the Chinese! Heaven help us all - three nuclear-armed submarines against the Yellow Peril! What a moron! Who said China is a potential enemy of Britain? What a moron! How reliant is this country on Chinese trade, manufacturing and investment? What a moron! So Cameron thinks that one day we might need to nuke China?

On this evidence, the only yellow peril Cameron needs to be concerned about is Clegg and the Lib Dems.

This is from the Daily Telegraph! -

The leaders' debate could be the beginning of the end for David Cameron

by Mary Riddell

Though he stayed calm, Mr Cameron’s face seemed to register a growing horror. The Tory nighmare had been that he might lose out by appearing a master of presentation. If only.

 Nick Clegg did not exactly pirate the Cameron playbook. Instead he produced a more novel and convincing version. You could see from Mr Cameron’s eyes that he knew he had been out-Daved, both on image and policy. Mr Clegg’s line on Trident and his emphasis on stopping children becoming career criminals both belonged in the no-go terrain where ordinary politicians dare not stray.

Yesterday Mr Cameron looked ordinary.

The Lib Dems are celebrating today. Their polling is telling them that, even before the debate, they were making headway against the Tories in the South-west. Now they have their hopes set on the cathedral towns and beltway marginals where they could oust Labour. Much as Gordon Brown might cast lovesick glances towards a LibLab deal, Mr Clegg is going to play hard (and maybe improssible) to get.

But a relatively small shift towards the Lib Dems will help Labour anyway. And, should there be a hung Parliament, it seems unlikely, if not unthinkable, that Mr Clegg would ever do a deal with Mr Cameron.  Much as a handful of Lib Dem MPs would like it, policy differences and the LibDem party membership would almost certainly forbid such an accord.

No wonder Lord Mandelson and Alan Johnson were smiling . Brown got  it on substance and Clegg on style. This, they hope, could signify a match made in heaven. We shall see. There are many potential slips between now and polling day, but the Tories’ unsealed deal may have started to unravel.

Under this piece there's the usual Torygraph nutter postings:

Too many things against Cameron. He is a PR spin merchant. He thinks he is a Tory when the whole country knows he is some bastardised cross between a liberal and a Marxist and his policies seem to have been cobbled together from reading a Russian manual on how to run a co-operative. The real shame about the debate is that it does not allow us to glimpse the idea that there are other viable alternatives such as UKIP or BNP.

“Clegg’s Triumph is Tories’ Worst Nightmare.”
No Mary, waking up next to you would be.


An interesting letter in the Guardian this week:

A shared vision for education

As headteachers, we were very concerned at the flight from consensus in the last stages of the education bill last week (Report, 8 April) and the blocking of a number of guarantees for children, including the right to one-to-one tuition. We see these guarantees as the culmination of unprecedented investment in schools over recent years. It is clear now that only the present government is committed to guaranteeing ringfenced and increased investment in all our schools.

The alternative proposals are not about steady investment in the whole system but the threat of across-the-board cuts coupled with boutique experiments borrowed as a result of naive educational tourism. These experiments will involve taking millions of pounds from existing schools to create artificial surplus places. There is absolutely no research consensus around the achievements of Swedish "free schools" or American charter schools. A few flatpack free schools will not reform a national system.

The educational landscape presently evolving is already a powerful force for change. It is led by a group of professionals who collaborate for the good of children, who have a shared vision for the whole system and think beyond the boundaries of their own schools. So please, no return to year zero.


This is something I'd meant to comment on a couple of weeks ago.

State schools accused of turning pupils into 'well-drilled automatons'

Public school head calls for a 'holistic education' to create more well-rounded pupils

The state system is guilty of producing "factory schools" turning out young people "incapable of living full and autonomous lives", the headmaster of a leading public school claims today.

Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington college and Tony Blair's biographer, says too many students cannot think independently about their subjects, lack personal skills, and are "little more than well-drilled automatons" after an education that lacks intellectual depth and rigour.

He calls for all state schools to be given the opportunity for genuine independence, with legal freedom to make a profit, select pupils as they wish, and choose their own curriculum and exam system.

The school day should be longer so pupils can benefit from the kind of "holistic education", encompassing extensive programmes of sport, culture, and leadership training on offer in public schools.

"Too many state schools have become factories," Seldon writes in a pamphlet, An End To Factory Schools, for the Centre for Policy Studies. "Reluctant students are processed through a system closely controlled and monitored by the state … The new world does not need container-loads of young men and women whose knowledge is narrowly academic and subject-specific which they can regurgitate in splendid isolation in exams."

An unprecedented increase in education spending under Labour has failed to produce better schools, Seldon says. He argues that the "choking" influence of centralised oversight holds them back.

Many of the same problems are found in universities, he says. "There, too, individual students are obliged to meet the requirements of a pedestrian exam monolith, creative teaching is sacrificed to instruction and transmitting the right or approved answers, and students have an increasingly narrow quality of all-round education as higher education increasingly loses sight of its mission to educate the whole student."

Seldon makes 20 recommendations to ensure the return of "delight, gratitude and stimulus" in schools which have become too large, de-personalised and exam-focused. His changes include more active learning, with regular experiments making a return to science classrooms.

Schools should be free to set their own disciplinary regimes, with zero tolerance of bad behaviour; the exam system should be restructured to end the "stranglehold" of A-levels and GCSEs in England and Wales, which is failing pupils.

"By the early 21st century, the factory school model was all but complete," his potted history of state education says. "Children arrived at nursery school at three or four and left school at the age of 16 or 18. The production line for children in school consisted of lessons punctuated by bells, which resulted in classes trooping off to different parts of the factory, from which they eventually emerged 11 or more years later with exam passes as the validation of their personal and school career.

"The factory was owned and operated under the strict top-down instructions of government, who decreed everything that went on. It is the apogee of Fordism gone mad."

." Not all schools are bad, Seldon adds. They are full of remarkable teachers and hard-working students who sometimes achieve "extraordinary results on slender resources".


The Common Entrance automatons

Wellington College's head knocks state 'factory schools', yet his entrance exams see children being drilled as early as year four

by Francis Gilbert

Anthony Seldon is one of the most powerful figures in education today, so when he provides 20 recommendations for improving schools we should all take note. Given his ideological closeness with the Conservatives, he might be in government shortly, with his guidelines becoming the law.

In his latest pamphlet, An End to Factory Schools, he characterises our state schools as "factory schools", turning out students who are "incapable of living full and autonomous lives". He is particularly condemning of the sorts of pupils the current exam system produces, saying: "The new world does not need container-loads of young men and women whose knowledge is narrowly academic and subject-specific which they can regurgitate in splendid isolation in exams."

I find this point particularly ironic since he is the headteacher of Wellington College, a highly selective, fee-paying school that requires its prospective pupils to take a battery of tests before even entering. These exams include the Common Entrance, a succession of highly specious tests that have scarcely changed in decades. To gain good marks in the Common Entrance, most pupils are drilled within inches of their lives by their "prep" schools.

I withdrew my eight-year-old son from his prep school and put him in the local state primary precisely because I didn't want him turned into a Common Entrance automaton: the school he was at was already drilling the poor children in year four to take a test they would sit at 13 years of age! Since he's been at the local, inner-city primary, he's really flourished precisely because the teachers don't treat the children like robots. And yet, Seldon pretends to be someone who nurtures the happiness of his pupils. If he did, he would end Wellington's entrance exams immediately.

But he won't – because he believes in schools being allowed to select their pupils. Any teacher knows that school selection leads to a chronic "exam factory" mentality. I've taught for 20 years in the state sector and never seen pupils treated as poorly in this regard as they are in the private sector. The reason why the private sector gets great results is not because of the quality of teaching – which is often dismally poor – but because they ruthlessly cream off the best kids and teach relentlessly to the test. It is true that this attitude has seeped into the state sector in recent years, but it's not nearly as bad in state schools as in fee-paying ones.

Seldon wants a "free-school" system such as the one promoted by the Tories, where parents are given a voucher that is equivalent to the value of their child's education and would be able to spend it where they want. Private companies would be able to set up schools in the same way as shops – a free market for schools. These schools would be funded by the taxpayer but not accountable to the taxpayer because private companies, not locally elected people, would dominate the governing bodies.

Such a system would mean well-connected self-publicists such as Seldon will profit hugely, contracting their dubious services to the state – Wellington College has already "sponsored" an academy. Contrary to what Seldon says, the evidence from the US suggests that these privately run schools provide a significantly worse education than their state-run counterparts. Above all, the evidence suggests that all schools should be accountable to the taxpayer, otherwise unaccountable private companies, organisations and individuals profit while children's education suffers.

Seldon's big idea is that "trust" should enter our society again: that we should trust our public workers more. It's hard to disagree with this obvious sentiment, but the central problem is that it's very hard to trust much of what Seldon says. I certainly don't.

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