Whose Education is it Anyway? A crisis of equality?

Keith Lichman reports on the Reclaiming Education Conference held on 14th November.
Wilkinson and Pickett’s now well-known research showing that income inequality adversely affects every aspect of civil life, whether between countries or within countries, set the stage for a review of the state of education in England at the Reclaiming Education Alliance conference. Key-note speaker, Richard Wilkinson demonstrated a wide range of correlations between high inequality and poor educational outcomes. This underlying theme gave a sharp context to the current crisis that has developed across the board in English education, every aspect of which can be laid at the door of government policy. And in every case, though everybody suffers, it is the children of poorer families who suffer most.

Richard Wilkinson’s presentation can be accessed here: http://www.reclaimingeducation.org.uk/Whose%20Education%20is%20it%20Anyway%20-%20Richard%20Wilkinson.pdf Continue reading

A Generation of Radical Educational Change. But in which direction?

A new book has been published which analyses the radical changes which been made to English education in particular during the last three decades. Unfortunately for the left these changes have been in the opposite direction.A Generation of Radical Change will make uncomfortable reading at the Department for Education. A dozen distinguished practitioners explain and reflect on how they worked to do their best for their schools,teachers and pupils in these years of great change.

They understand the reasons, explained by Lord Baker in his early chapter, for a National Curriculum in 1988, and also the reasons for a more effective national inspection system. Yet their stories accumulate to become a powerful critique of the top-down policies of the last two decades.

Continue reading

A family’s experience of selective education: the divisions and unrealistic expectations placed upon us

A father and daughter have written this piece for us about their experience of life in a selective local authority.

I don’t want to denigrate my teachers in any way, but on a social and emotional level the stress of the selective school system in my area perpetuated unreasonable expectations on young people to fit into stereotypes associated with the “natural orders” within our community. With some small exceptions, demarcation existed between the haves and have-nots who were allotted to either the grammar school or to the secondary modern school at eleven plus exam. I went to both types of school, transferring to the grammar school at 16 years old to study at A-level.

Although I do understand that my teachers at both schools were required to meet government targets, I know selection does not work and cannot understand why segregation is so readily accepted. As children, we were separated from our friends by a faceless system that did not care about our feelings, into schools that our parents believed were either good or bad. Hardly the best start to education. No parent was going to choose the “bad” school.Selective education seemed to mean there had to be more losers than winners. It was in our DNA to compare and contrast students in the “other school.” Students at our secondary modern school were sometimes compared to the grammar school kids with comments like, “you should have known that concept because those at the grammar school know it”.

It was generally accepted that students at the grammar school had access to many more varied and wonderful opportunities, such as expensive trips abroad that were not available to students at our secondary modern school. Outings from our school appeared to be heavily subsidised, I guess due to higher numbers of low-income students. But our experiences were not lower quality, far from it, our teachers went the extra mile to ensure they added value and joy.

Home-school transport was always an issue; students from our schools were segregated on the double-decker buses. Any damage to the buses was usually attributed to my peers, “to those at that other school”, and not to students from the grammar school. Consultations about bad behaviour echoed this fact; they were conducted at our school but not at the grammar school. Some of the bus drivers disliked us so much that they joked with teachers from the grammar school about us being from that other school. It appeared that they were expecting us to misbehave.The selective mindset of them and us was endemic within our community: “No matter what, some will never be academic”, “they come from troubled families” and “they are hard to reach, chaotic.” A particular zero-hours employer even expressed his preference for grammar school children.

With regards to post -16 education, I had high expectations for myself. The problem was my secondary modern school had no sixth form, and with minimal careers advice, learning pathways were difficult to predict with any sense of security. It was highly unlikely my parents could have afforded bus fares to a college so far away that it meant getting up at 5am.

Anyway, I achieved very good GCSEs – a big thank you to my teachers – and I now have first-hand experience of what it was like transferring to grammar school that provided the nearest sixth form setting for A-levels. Not everybody was as fortunate as me. Some had to get up at 5am to travel on the early morning bus to college and withdrew from their studies after just a few months.

A friend of mine had to study at an adult education college with middle-aged men. I am not ageist or sexist, but for goodness sake they deserved to be among young people their own age, didn’t they? After at short time my friend dropped out of college and doesn’t do much these days. I think the experience of some of my friends has taken its toll. They too wanted to go to a local sixth form, to a grammar school, but they didn’t get the grades.

This is why I chose to tell my story, for my friend. It’s not just about education; it’s about protecting the wellbeing of young people. It doesn’t feel fair that I gained the opportunities I dreamt of while my friend got none.The effects of selection at 11 years old continue for years to come in ways that don’t seem to be acknowledged.

Following on from my daughter’s experience

My daughter’s experience with the 11+ affected me quite badly. Having attended a 1970s secondary modern school within the same county, which provided an awful experience of learning by rote with no means for self-expression, I had vowed to help my daughter to do better. Not only that, her mum had been very ill and I had taken over the role of primary caregiver – so no apologies in advance to my critics for being protective.

I hadn’t paid much attention to the structure of education, so at the time of my daughter’s transfer to secondary school I couldn’t understand why her primary school years, in a comprehensive all-ability setting, were soon to be transformed by a quiz at 11 years old into a make-or-break situation labelled as parental choice. Of course most parents opted for the grammar school as a way out of local poverty. The posh kids went to the grammar school, so what was good enough for them was good enough for my daughter.

My daughter failed the 11+, but it was the way in which she received the news that left me feeling debased as a parent. It was as though she had not been regarded with the esteem of her peers and that she was now consigned to the secondary modern that was one of the worst performing schools in the country. I felt at that point that my own school experience was contagious. I now realise that I hadn’t caused this misery, that the very same ideology that had divided us in the 70s was still very much prevalent.

I know from bitter experience of not being given a voice in these matters that traditionalists on both sides of the political fence are committed to defending grammar schools out of their own narrow experiences, but I won’t have it said that parents like me don’t have any expectations for our children’s learning.

Education and Inequality – a key theme of the Reclaiming Education Conference on 14th November

Richard Wilkinson, co-author of the Spirit Level will be developing the ideas in this blog at the Reclaiming Education Conference on 14th November in London. Book for this conference at http://www.reclaimingeducation.org.uk/

In terms of life expectancy, mental health, the educational performance of school children, child wellbeing, levels of violence, social mobility, drug abuse, teenage births and imprisonment, people in countries with bigger income differences between rich and poor do worse. Although greater inequality has its most severe effects on the least well off, even well educated people with good jobs do less well in countries with bigger income differences.

Children’s educational performance is strongly influenced by their home back ground. Compared to children in more equal countries, average standards of child wellbeing are lower across a wide range of measures among children in more unequal countries. Greater inequality adds to the stresses of family life and damages family relationships. As a result it affects children’s early cognitive development, even before they are old enough to start school.

When at school children in more unequal countries experience much more bullying, and data for the 50 states of the USA shows that children in states with bigger income differences between rich and poor are much more likely to drop out of high school. International assessments show that children in more unequal countries have lower overall scores in maths and literacy tests. They also show that the differences in levels of achievement between children from richer and poorer backgrounds, tends to be larger in more unequal societies.

Psychological experiments show that when children are made more aware of social status differences, the performance of children from poorer backgrounds drops substantially.

Lastly, social mobility is lower in more unequal countries: social status becomes more important and it becomes harder to move up the social ladder.

Research is gradually revealing the reasons for these patterns. As well as showing the basic data, this lecture will also suggest the social processes behind them.

For a full report on education and inequality, see: K Pickett, L Vanderbloemen, Mind the Gap: Tackling Social and Educational Inequality. York: Cambridge Primary Review Trust. 2015.
Download from: http://cprtrust.org.uk/research/equity-and-disadvantage/

Big education campaign events in November

November is a busy month for everyone interested in building resistance to the massively damaging education policies of this government. As well as the Caroline Benn Memorial Lecture, there are two major events, both of which will  provide valuable opportunities to debate the current state of education and options for the future.

Where events can be booked in advance, please do reserve your place – if only to calm the nerves of the event organisers!

These events are:

Reclaiming Education’s Annual Conference on Saturday 14th November at the NUT building, Hamilton House Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9BD beginning at 10.30. Richard Wilkinson, joint author of the acclaimed book “The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone” will introduce the conference’s key theme – how inequality undermines education. He will be followed by speakers and debate on all aspects of the current education scene including early years, inclusion, schools, further education and local authorities.

Online booking is now available at http://www.ticketsource.co.uk/date/181569. Tickets cost £27.50 (£30.00 on the door).

Reclaiming Education is an alliance of education campaigns in which SEA plays an active part. You can find out more about Reclaiming Education and the conference at http://www.reclaimingeducation.org.uk/

Comprehensive Future’s annual conference and AGM is on Saturday 21st November. It’s at the Abbey Community Centre, 34 Great Smith Street, SW1P 3BU and costs £10 including lunch.

The aim of this conference is to bring together those across the country who share concerns about selection at 11 and the growing problem of unfair school admissions and want to do something about it. In the light of the decision on the Kent Grammar School extension. this issue is more important than ever.

Book on line at https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/date/185434


President NUT 1988-9; Secretary SEA 2002-7

Malcolm was first and foremost a committed teacher, dedicated to children and ensuring that each and everyone of them should have a full and stimulating education. He first appeared at a meeting of the newly formed Brent NUT in 1965 to discuss comprehensive education. Derek Tutchell, then Secretary of the Association records the event:

“The meeting was conducted rather soberly with general agreement that comprehensive education was desirable when a young, previously unknown teacher from Wembley stood up and made an electrifying speech about the iniquities of the 11+ – how it blighted children’s lives and there was urgent need for immediate action. The debate really took off at that point and we all realised we had someone very unusual in our Association.” Continue reading

Labour’s Lucy Powell: we will fight any Tory revival of selective schools

Lucy Powell, the Shadow Education Secretary

Lucy Powell, the Shadow Education Secretary

Shadow education secretary says pending decision in Kent could open floodgates, and accuses Tories of ‘complete lack of new thinking

The Conservatives will drag England’s schools into the past by reviving grammar schools, demoralising teachers and cutting resources, according to the new shadow education secretary.

Lucy Powell, who took over the education role last week following Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory, said Labour would fiercely contest any move by the government to allow the revival of selective schools. A decision on the proposed expansion of a Kent grammar school is expected soon. Continue reading