Tag Archives: colonisation

Educational Excellent: Freedom or Straight Jacket?

Written by Ian Axtell, Subject Leader for Music Education, Secondary Partnership Coordinator, @IanAxtell

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There is some very powerful rhetoric in the Education White Paper: Educational Excellence Everywhere. Who cannot warm to the ideas that educational excellence is for everyone and that schools and teachers should have the freedom to teach in the manner which is most appropriate for their pupils? But, how can you ensure there is excellence for every pupil if teachers and schools have the freedom to teach how they like? The answer in the White Paper is to make sure that teaching and learning can be measured using easily quantifiable outcomes. The processes of teaching and learning, the pedagogy underpinning how we make subjects accessible to pupils, no longer seems to be important as long as pupils can pass the test. Schools and individual teachers will be held accountable for how well their pupils pass these tests, tests that have been devised by the government.

Is this real freedom?

The WScreen shot 2016-04-06 at 11.43.29hite Paper indicates that the focus will be on embedding existing reforms to the accountability measures in education. This might come as a relief to those of us who have been in education for over 30 years where the standards debate has seen a gradual increase in the pace of reform. However, recent reforms have further emphasised accountability measures, linking them to pay and conditions and restricting pupils to the range and scope of subjects with which they can engage. Is this in the interest of teachers and pupils? Schools and teachers will now be held accountable for the number of children who pass academic subjects highlighted in the Ebacc. In effect, the White Paper supports the idea that:

Being academic (focusing on theory) = educational excellence.

It is interesting that the place of theory has been questioned when it comes to teacher education (DfE, 2010) but appears to be the priority when it comes to pupils’ learning. Focusing on academic education addresses the assertion that “knowledge matters” and

“the ability to think demands a basic knowledge of the thing about which one is thinking”(Woodhead in Kitchen, 2014: xi)

but in many tests the focus is on knowledge recall rather than promoting thinking. Knowledge and knowing go beyond recalling facts. Testing facts can provide a limited and even distorted picture of what a person knows and understands. Measuring the recall of facts consigns people to think in a particular ways about particular knowledge suggesting compliance and conformity rather than creativity and individuality (worryingly compliarb5255_Education-SecondaryArtnce and conformity underpin many forms of extremism that exist in our world today). Testing facts looks backwards rather than forwards and ignores the potential for pupils to contribute their own creative thinking. Pupils need access to knowledge but they also need opportunities to share their own personal perspectives, experiences, aptitudes and capabilities related to that knowledge.

We have always had tests and always will. They can provide a helpful snapshot of what a person might know at a particular time in a particular place but there are other forms of summative assessment. The most rewarding teaching experiences I have had are when knowledge is used as a catalyst to promote thinking. It is more difficult to measure thinking but infinitely more engaging for the learner:

“the unexamined life is not worth living for the human being” (Socrates from Plato’s Apology in Hetherington, 2012: 31).

Thinking is: “the highest and perhaps purest activity of which men are capable” (Arendt, 1958: 5).

If pupils are just taught how to pass the test rather than to use knowledge to promote thinking then they become automatons that expect to be told what to do and say. They lose the potential to develop a sense of their own individual identify. The process of acquiring knowledge through thinking is engaging and empowering. When this thinking involves metacognition it can provide the skills and aspiration to acquire further knowledge:

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking” (Dewey, 1916, p.181).

This is real freedom.

References:

  • Arendt, H. (1958) The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education. New York: MacMillan.
  • DfE (2010) The Importance of Teaching: The Schools White Paper 2010. London: Crown Copyright.
  • Hetherington, S. (ed.) (2012) Epistemology: Key Thinkers. London: Continuum.
  • Kitchen W. H. (2014) Authority and the Teacher. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

 

 

Pupil Premium, Academisation and Governance

Written by Dr. Rob Smith, Reader in Education, @R0b5m1th

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Rob spoke on Radio WM during Adrian Goldberg’s show on the 30th March 2016 8am about pupil premium in the light of recent Perry Beeches. BBC WM

The pupil premium policy provides an example of tensions that are at the heart of English education policy at the moment. To start with there are the market structures of competition between different schools. With this marketisation comes a centralised model of governance through data (see for example, Ozga 20
09
). Schools are required to produce data so that their “pData1erformance” in relation to other schools can be compared. As we know, the consequences of this emphasis on performance data include a narrowing of the curriculum consequent on teaching to the test and the gaming of data. The problem with marketisation is that we may expect schools to be run public-mindedly, in the spirit of meeting all students’ needs, with a public service ethic, but the landscape in which they operate forces them to focus their efforts on being a viable financial institution with a staff drilled in the production of favourable performance data.

The academisation of all schools by 2020 is a further consolidation of the same policy of marketisation. The principle underlying this is that competition “is the rising tide that lifts all boats” (Willetts) – in other words the unfounded notion that competition is a like a force of nature that raises standards in every institution. In my view, this is a wildly one-sided view of the impact of marketisation. But it is important to note that academisation facilitates a more direct funding relationship between schools and central government.

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Within this marketised policyscape, the pupil premium policy is a redistributive policy that acknowledges the link between household income and educational attainment (see Lupton and Thomson 2015, here). In other words, the pupil premium policy is designed to address social justice in education. Pupil Premium is an amount of money (around £1000 per student p.a. in secondary) that is paid to schools based on census data they gather about the househoMeasuring1ld income of individual students’ families. The implication is clear: schools with additional financial resources are in a better position to meet the needs of those students and in so doing to address the inequality in attainment that currently seems to exist.

Now here’s the tension:

What happens when a policy that seeks to tackle social injustice is nested within an overall cultural environment of institutional self-interest?

In the last few weeks, we may have been provided with some answers in the Perry Beeches saga.

Perry Beeches was a shining example of the success of Free School and academisation policies. The principle underlying these policies are that academy chains provide a better template for raising student attainment and that local authority governance of schools needs to end. The performance of Perry Beeches 1 and 2 appeared to provide evidence for this claim. It was only with the poor inspection result of Perry Beeches 3 last summer that the success story started to unravel. This was followed in October 2015, by allegations to the Education Funding Agency (EFA) that Perry Beeches the Academy (Perry Beeches 1) “had recorded pupils on the annual census entitled to receive FSM where no entitlement existed” (EFA 2016, 3). This resulted in an investigation and a report.

I think the report speaks for itself. But I think it should also be read in conjunction with the Ofsted report for Perry Beeches 2 that took place in April 2014. In this report the school was deemed outstanding for leadership and management. Pupil premium was mentioned specifically:

“Over half the students are eligible for the pupil premium, which is well above average. This is additional funding for students known to be eligible for free school meals, those in local authority care and any with a parent in the armed services.”

Furthermore, governance was praised in this area:

Governors ensure pupil premium funding is used effectively to provide additional teaching and support staff, for intervention and enrichment support for the students for whom the funding is received.

Since then, the Chief Executive of the Perry Beeches Academy has resigned from his post but intends to continue as a head teacher. The academy chain is to be taken over by another academy chain. The failings of OFSTED to do anything other than affirm the school as a shining example and early adopter of the government’s academisation policy needs to receive greater attention.Measuring2

As for Pupil Premium, the episode provides yet another example of the worrying effects of the colonisation of educational cultures by a market mentality that is championed by the current government. While bowing to the forces of colonisation may secure funds for schools in the short term, this can lead to a distortion of the truth of the kind we are familiar with in commercial culture.

That can not provide a sound foundation on which to construct a world class education system.