Monday, 7 March 2016

Who or what have all the changes in education been for?

Thoughts on the school run this morning - this is about schools in England:

1. Some of us are 100% committed to state education both as a matter of principle and as the place we choose to work and as the place where our children go to school.

2. Since 1988 there has been a steady shift in how this state education has been run.

3. In broad terms this has been about taking any participation in decision-making about how schools should be run and the nature of the curriculum away from classroom teachers and/or local authorities.

4. As part of this, and in particular over the last few years, there has been a move towards a) a huge increase in high stakes, centrally run testing b) a 'knowledge-based curriculum' and moves against, a) 'subjectivity' on the part of the pupils i.e. interpretation, investigation, discovery, invention, open-ended exploration of materials, language, humanities b) teacher participation in organising the curriculum.

5. Also as part of this has been the reorganisation of schools so that they are run from central government with limited 'autonomy' in the context of test scores, exam results whilst giving free rein to various kinds of enrichments, privatisations, farming outs and the like. 

6. To be clear - the argument in favour of all this has been that it's all fairer and better for the 'disadvantaged'; that people in favour of teacher-participation, and 'subjectivity' have in fact been responsible for holding the disadvantaged back. These people (e.g. me!) have enjoyed what schools offered but got our 'core' knowledge anyway - either at home or from what schools offered while the disadvantaged couldn't figure it out. By breaking the curriculum down into little testable units and then testing them, it's all become fairer, more meritocratic. That's the argument we have to take on. 

7. One way to do this (I think) is to see that the combination of the increase in fact-based work tied into the testing has been simply another way to sort sheep from goats. Ultimately, those from highly literate, fairly leisured households do fine in those tests anyway and our children get the 'subjectivities' outside school anyway. In fact, (I would argue) it's through those activities - extra-curricular clubs, visits to museums, discussion about news, views and above all keeping reading going - that our kids do fine in these more fact-based tests anyway. The 'disadvantaged' haven't been made more advantaged by the fact-based curriculum-test lark anyway. The Tories' so-called equality, fairness agenda is not being realised by this stuff at all. (nb my daughter was quite revealing the other day noting that some of her class comrades seemed to 'know' the history (Post-WW2) stuff from discussion with parents, so they were one jump ahead of those who didn't. )

8. As for the reorganisation of schools into academies and 'academy free schools' (their full title) - hard to see how this is helping the disadvantaged. It seems to help the management of the schools and the managers of the chains through inflated salaries and makes it very easy for mass providers of curricular materials to get in to the system and take over through back-handers and sweetheart deals etc.

9. I should add: the people who've brought in these changes have been much more strategic about it than we have been able to follow. Again and again, we've been put in the position of arguing about this or that tiny bit of the overall scheme - we raise a protest about academies over here, about testing over there, about the SPaG test over here....and so on. In fact, it's one big change with many tentacles.