Tuesday 29 October 2013

A story to celebrate about schools and libraries

I was sent this today:

" For three years Carterton Community College was an Oxfordshire secondary school with no library after a previous headteacher had closed it down in order to use the room as an engineering suite for 15 students.

Our current headteacher, Niall McWilliams, was appalled by the situation that he inherited and wanted to restore our lost library. But it takes longer to rebuild than to destroy so it wasn’t until September 2011 that we were able, with the support of our school governors, to start the restoration project. I moved from my role as Head of English in order to manage the new library project.

We were almost starting from scratch with an empty room. Although we were able to bring old fiction books out of storage, no records had survived – and much of the non-fiction had been thrown out. We had to have new shelving installed, and buy furniture, IT equipment, and new books. Our colour scheme is grey for the shelving and tables (students wanted something quite grown-up and smart) with splashes of lime green, purple and orange in the seating (they didn’t want primary colours). Visitors’ comments have been enthusiastic, calling the new space ‘stimulating, welcoming, funky and cool’! In September 2012 the new library was officially opened by Sir Tim Brighouse.

Carterton Community College library should never have closed and we know that there are at least three lost years to make up. We are still trying to build up our book stock and are grateful for donations received from individuals and local organisations. The restoration project was long, sometimes difficult, sometimes exciting - and a surprisingly emotional process. So we were absolutely thrilled to win the School Library Design Award 2013! This would never have happened without a headteacher who strongly believes that a library is ‘the heart of the school’.

We continue to post updates about our progress on Twitter @cartertoncc_lib and there is a photo gallery of the library on our school website: http://www.cartertoncc.oxon.sch.uk/page/default.asp?title=Home&pid=1
Rosemary Stables
Library Manager "

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Open Letter to Tristram Hunt on Reading. Do it!

Dear Tristram Hunt

You may or may not be aware but your predecessors in your position on the Labour Front Bench have considered and rejected submissions from various people concerning the idea of 'reading for pleasure'.

I suspect that you may not read any further because the phrase 'pleasure' can surely have very little to do with education - or if it does - it surely can not help the Labour Party win more votes. I have already picked up the vibe from your Front Bench of people trying to outdo the Tories on benefits and immigration and you too have already given signs of agreeing with flagship Tory ideas even as it becomes apparent that these are unravelling.

But I'll get back to Reading for Pleasure. An assumption grew up over the last twenty years or so that a) education was failing most - or at least far too many - children b) the best way to remedy this was by imposing more testing, more education reduced to heavily directed small tasks and some kind of 'return' (real or imagined) to the good old days. Labour bought into this bigtime with such crazy adventures as the National Literacy Strategy, a micro-managed journey to boredom and diminishing returns which was abandoned without any kind of intellectual analysis about why it was misconceived and had wasted many millions.

The Tories cynically used the resistance to this misconceived policy by coming into power talking of 'freeing' up schools and teachers to do what they do best which is teach, and you guys looked foolish and wrong-footed. Suddenly the Tories looked (for half a moment) as if they were going to release the talents and professionalism of teachers to play a major part in devising curricula, assessment and teaching methods.

Not so. It was just a hoax. Instead they have marketised education, setting schools against schools, teachers against teachers, pupils against pupils in a race to find customers, positions on leagues tables, and the best places on pre-determined exam curves. This has been policed (as if this wasn't policing enough) with new and toughened up high stakes, government testing from 6 to 16, embedding failure, failure, failure into the system - thereby obliging the employers by providing low wage fodder for the low wage economy that this austerity regime has accelerated.

Within this, education in relation to that highly reductive concept 'literacy' has been modelled by Michael Gove in two ways: in his public statements he produces watery eyed grandeur with references to Shakespeare and Dryden and on the other imposes dull, trivial testing which demands rote learning, meaningless lists of words, exercises in 'retrieval and inference' thereby leaving outside the classroom door the powers of interpretation, reflection and invention expressed by every child and student from  pre-school through to university. In fact, it is through pupils' powers of reflection, interpretation and invention that 'literacy' has meaning. What's more there is plenty of evidence to suggest that when pupils have the opportunity to read in depth, read widely and talk about what they're reading, most of the so-called 'skills' of literacy embed themselves in pupils' minds and consciousness. Conversely, there is no evidence to suggest that the apparatus of phonics, cloze procedures, retrieval exercises, spelling lists, grammar lessons prior to the age of 11, punctuation exercises help children understand language and literature nor enable them to produce coherent continuous prose, drama and poetry.

You will find plenty of research to show that the core activity that should take place within schools is 'reading for pleasure'. As one example I'll refer you to Mariah Evans et al and their research from the University of Nevada but this has been reproduced in different ways and reaffirmed by PIRLS, PISA and many others, It is clear that active readers, who read widely and often, self-select their reading are people who can access and benefit from education much more easily than those who don't.

It's not a mystery why this should be. Reading widely and often asks of young people to browse amongst differing kinds of written material. This involves scanning passages of writing, selecting what is important, processes which ask of young people to absorb the structure of language, the structures of continuous prose with its methods of subordinating, listing, logical argument, metaphor, illusion, illustration and so on. It connects meaning with purpose, meaning with pleasure, meaning with choice, meaning with existential need. The alternatives trumpeted by the Literacy Strategy and Michael Gove involve hours of tedium, dictated work programmes and small meaningless tasks.

When I was Children's Laureate I was asked to come and see Ed Balls (Sec of State for Education) and the Schools Minister, Jim Knight along with Jim Rose who had been hailed as the literacy guru until - as is constantly the case in your line of work - he was junked because he didn't quite fit the political bill for that particular moment. I showed Ed and Jim the research. I put them in touch with the Literacy Trust, the Reading Agency, and Booktrust. I met with the literature officers of Ofsted and then when the Tories came in I went in to see Nick Gibb to talk about 'reading for pleasure' .

For half a second, I was lulled into thinking that when Ofsted produced their 'Moving Forward' document in 2011 and saw that it included a 'recommendation' that 'reading for enjoyment' should in effect be on the curriculum or, as they put it, be school policy for every school, I detected movement.

Needless to say, the Tories did nothing more than wave in that direction, start some kind of  reading competition and instead put into place a piece of policy that has no evidence to support it, the 'SPaG test' which occupies even more time on the curriculum on tasks that won't produce what it claims to do namely produce better writing. That too was only a recommendation on the Bew Report, nailed on to the end of a Report that was supposed to be about Assessment and Accountability - not a report that looked systematically at what works in literacy and language teaching. So much for rigour.

So, Tristram, you have a great opportunity to show and expose all this. You can show the bookloads of research which show the efficacy of encouraging school-led policies on creating 'reading for pleasure' schools - not as a bolt-on to curricula that are killing interpretation, reflection and invention - but as a core curriculum,  You have an Ofsted document to back you up. You have research from Mariah Evans et al, along with the work of such people as Professor Stephen Krashen, and many documents from UKLA as evidence. You even have somewhere in the archives the documents from the late lamented 'Language in the National Curriculum Project' to guide you. In many university departments from Exeter, Canterbury, the London Institute of Education, King's College, Goldsmiths and many others you have academics who have worked with children and teachers looking at what really works in literacy education. You have the work of projects initiated by the Reading Agency, the Literacy Trust and Booktrust and Rotherham's Inspire project - which can show you what daily, reading for pleasure does for children, education and the wider communities.

You would have many allies from these places who can help you handle with those from the opposite side who might squeal about something or other but they don't have reason or right on their side on this matter. We have thousands of hours of research and analysis. All they have are memories of prep school and homilies based on Puritan ideas of spare the rod, spoil the child - or Gradgrind equivalents.

Reading for pleasure, reading for enjoyment - take your pick. I put up some suggestions on this blog but also at www.readingrevolution.co.uk as to how this can take place. The NUT produced a splendid booklet in collaboration with great reading champion and author, Alan Gibbons. There are documents galore for the Reading Agency and the Literacy Trust, UKLA and others. You could at a stroke, create a new generation of readers and interpreters for whom education really was a door to a new world. You could revitalise the library service by wedding schools to libraries and vice versa - Nick Gibb and Ed Vaizey said they would look into that. Maybe they got tired looking. You could seize the time, Tristram. Do it.

All you have to do is announce that you will take up Ofsted's recommendation: every school should develop a policy on reading for enjoyment. And let's begin a national conversation on how best to implement that everywhere. All the time.

Monday 21 October 2013

PS to grammar talk

17. One of the consequences of the preceding 16 points on the previous blog is that we (me too) all get drawn into thinking that 'real' or 'best' writing is in standard or 'correct' English. Yet, every day and night we encounter examples of moving, exciting, challenging, funny writing which is not written in this way - whether that's in drama, film, TV, song, poetry, comedy, comic strips and so on. It is an untruth to talk as if there is only one form of 'effective' English when clearly every day we are entertained by non-standard forms.

So, rather than pretending this huge body of writing and language is irrelevant and/or wrong, perhaps - in the context of talking about grammar - we should be investigating it.

Grammar talk - the latest chapter

Anyone listening to BBC Radio 4 World at One today would have heard an argument between two people talking about 'grammar', one the author of Gwynne's grammar books and the other, Harry Ritchie who has just written a book about grammar.

The argument which keeps doing the rounds is a) that there is a 'correct grammar' b) this must be taught (and always was in the old days) c) teaching this grammar enables poor people to succeed.

1. All language, dialects and languages have grammar. That's because grammar is the means by which words are strung together in meaningful chunks. It's like an invisible scaffold or skeleton.

2. Individual words in random lists are not totally meaningless but nearly so. In fact, when we are confronted by lists of words randomly spread out in front of us, we can't stop ourselves trying to find links between them. Some of these links will be the grammar inside us.

3. We learn grammar as we learn how to speak. No one teaches us grammar as such when we are under five. We learn how to make the strings: 'Me go,' a two year old says making the core structure of English (and many other languages) 'subject verb'. So we learn and know grammar as we learn to speak. This carries us through for the rest of our lives.

4. For thousands of years linguists and grammarians have analysed the parts and processes of speech and writing, noting patterns and differences.

5. At various times in history, some grammarians have thought that this job of analysis was also about determining correctness. They invented the idea that this involves 'rules' and that people who don't abide by these rules are wrong or incorrect.

6. Socially and historically, this was entirely to do with behaviour and etiquette: 'correct' grammar was a set of lessons which had to be learned in order to have and to keep a certain social status. In truth, this was mostly about the new middle classes seeking power against the entrenched power of the aristocracy. Some traces of this social cargo carried by 'correct grammar' can be found today.

7. Meanwhile, 'the people' have gone on using and changing the language they speak and write. To take a visible example. In English people didn’t always say and write: ‘Do you like apples?’ They said the equivalent of ‘Like you apples?’ This change was not made by grammarians or linguists.

8. This means that we need a description ( a ‘model’) of language which includes this fundamental aspect of language ie that it changes. People who only talk of ‘correct grammar’ have no model for how change happens in language. In fact, their model has precisely the opposite model: namely that language doesn’t change - which is wrong. It does.

9. People with power over any country or society will tend to develop a form of language which expresses the laws, the language in the courts, the language of high commerce (not shopkeeping) most of which will probably overlap with whatever is the established religion in that society. It’s this ‘prestige’ form of the language which is or develops into the ‘standard’ or ‘correct language’. It follows from this that the grammarians who think that this standard or correct language is the best, also say that this language or dialect has correct grammar and all other forms are not correct.

10. In its usual use, ‘correct English’ is in reality the English of ‘continuous and formal prose’.  I have argued that this particular prestige dialect is not a matter of being ‘correct’. It is a matter of being what it is: prestige, continuous and formal.

11. As David Crystal has pointed out in great detail and drawing on the flexibility of ‘Fowler’ - the Oxford University Press classic English usage text - within this apparently inflexible ‘standard English’ are many variations and alternatives in grammar, spelling and punctuation. These are the ‘acceptable’ alternatives which can be found in the variations between broadsheet newspapers, different publishing houses, different formal written language use across formal printed material - eg ‘different from’ and ‘different to’, ‘bored with’ and ‘bored by’ ‘tried to leave’ and ‘try and leave’ and so on and so on.

12. However, beyond these debates about ‘acceptability’, exponents of standard English and general linguists will identify uses of language that they say are ‘incorrect’. These are by their definition, any usage that doesn’t come within their definition of ‘correct’. The problem with this is that it is a catch-all that includes many different kinds of divergence or difference from ‘standard English’ or ‘correct English. So, lumped in together are regional usages that have been around for hundreds of years eg in regional usages in Yorkshire, Northumberland, London etc; usages by people from different parts of the English-speaking world - Jamaica, Australia, South Africa etc; usages from people learning English; usages from children learning how to write...and so on. In other words, the reasons why these very different kinds of users of English diverge from standard are themselves are different! In education, we have to decide whether we ignore the reasons why people don’t do exactly what is being asked of them, whether we incorporate these reasons into how we teach.

13. All talk of ‘correct English’ or ‘standard English’ is intertwined with issues of education ie how do you teach people to write standard English? First of all, a claim is often made that in the past ‘everyone’ used to be able to do it, and the reason why they were able to do it is because they were taught ‘grammar’ (ie the grammar of standard English) so that by the time ‘we’ were nine, we knew all the rules. (This is what Gwynne said on today’s World at One). Both these statements are absolute untruths.
A) Many people failed the tests and hurdles given to them in the 1940s and 1950s. As a result many people received no more than 9 years schooling (aged 5-14).
B) In state primary schools we were taught the ‘parts of speech’ but we weren’t taught ‘grammar’. This was taught to those of us who went to grammar school - a small minority of the total number of school pupils.

The importance of getting this picture of the past right is that a good deal of talk about standard English, ‘correct English’, grammar and rules is that it is fixed into the ‘narrative of decline’ ie that things were good in the 40s and 50s but then it has all slowly got worse since then. This is then used as the justification for insisting that a) there are rules b) the rules aren’t being obeyed, c) the rules must be obeyed, d) the fact that they aren’t being obeyed explains in part the narrative of ‘broken Britain’ along with eg crime, drug-taking, the presence of the ‘underclass’ and so on.

I think this is a classic case of blaming the victim. I believe that our economic system creates poverty and to blame the poor for being poor through eg their ‘bad’ use of English is to mask and disguise the real causes of poverty and inequality. In fact, the main determinant of school failure is itself the poverty and inequality caused by the economic system not people’s non-use of standard English.

14. In education, teachers, parents and pupils have to consider when is the best time to learn how to write standard English, how to teach and learn it, how to assess the learning of it.  At present, I believe that we have the worst of all possible worlds: it is being taught along the lines of the way it is being tested ie in short exercises which involve ‘examples’ ie writing taken out of the contexts in which they are used (ie in ‘real writing’), out of the context of children’s own writing; it being taught (at first) to children who are too young to understand the concepts behind the ‘rules’ that are being taught; it is being taught (at first) to children without relating it to other languages;  it is being tested by ‘high stakes’ national tests which are not about helping all to achieve but are more about selecting and segregating pupils as they pass through the system.

15. These grammar tests (and the kinds of teaching that they create) have been introduced by lying about the past, ignoring the evidence that shows the worth - or not - of teaching grammar to children right from 8 and 9 years old; ignoring the evidence that shows which methods are better than others, which age of children/students are best able to understand, learn and use the knowledge of grammar.

16. There is now a fundamental divergence between those who believe that the writing of standard of English can be best achieved through repeated exercises and testing from as  young as possible, and those who believe that you can do some of that  - most efficiently when students are older than 11 - but that this must be embedded in as much reading of standard English in enjoyable and interesting books as possible (‘reading for pleasure’) and in as much writing for purpose and pleasure as possible. Furthermore, one of the important and useful ways in which you can teach standard English is to compare and contrast it with non-standard uses - not cited as inferior examples but as examples of ‘how people speak’ or ‘how people have spoken’ or ‘how some people write’. So, rather than pretending that there is one perfect, correct system and everything else is not so good, and/or wrong, it approaches language as part of human behaviour. In these circumstances, this kind of teaching can observe extraordinary and successful usages of language which are non-standard.  This requires investigation and discussion.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Idiocy: DfE rules on how you will use letters to emphasize

According to Shane Thatcher (facebook friend) the DfE have told headteachers that in the Yr 6 SPaG test (spelling, punctuation and grammar) , candidates will be penalised for using capital letters for emphasis. This is the lunacy of linking 'high-stakes testing' (ie central government testing) with matters concerning the use of language.

The high-stakes testing demands false over-simplified, non-negotiated, right/wrong answers to things that need discussion and debate and looking at 'variants' and how variants arose and go on arising.

SWP: untruth about me from Callinicos and Kimber

SWP saga continues.

People and groups within the SWP are producing documents and counter-documents. In some of these, some people are referring to or quoting me. This is because I wrote an 'Open Letter' here on this blog and replied to Nick Grant and John Rose, also here. Alex Callinicos and Charlie Kimber have chosen to make partial replies to these within documents addressed to the membership of the SWP. I note that they have chosen not to reply directly to me - and this is of course their absolute right - but in so doing their replies are highly partial and, as I have observed, do that old trick of dismissing the content of what I'm saying because, they deem, I'm coming from the wrong place a) because I'm not a 'leninist' and b) I'm not a member of the SWP.

Frankly, that's a crap way to argue. As I've said, one of the things that anyone in politics has to take on board is that sometimes people coming from that 'wrong' place say right things. That means we have to engage with what people actually say or write and not simply leave it that they are coming from this wrong place, therefore their argument must be wrong.

However, in their latest document, Alex and Charlie deal with the following passage that I wrote in a reply to Nick Grant. Here's what I wrote:

"You raise all the old objections about police and an apparent sympathy with the wishes of the accuser that the case be heard by the SWP. I repeat, in case you haven't read it: the procedure to have followed was

1. Suspend the accused on full pay with no prejudice, ask him to withdraw from all party activity including organisations he was actively involved in like LMHR and UAF.

2. Offer the accuser(s) help. If they wanted it, they could have it. If they didn't want it, they didn't have to have it.

3. You could have said clearly to the accuser that the SWP is not the appropriate forum for considering a matter like this. This is not only or simply because it is defined by the state as 'criminal'. It is actually for humane reasons that the procedures that you could or would put in place to 'hear' this case would be (and were) totally inappropriate. The SWP didn't do better than what people do in workplaces. It did worse.

4. Then the organisation could have waited. It is not possible to know what might have taken place next and I'm not making any presumptions about guilt or innocence, true or false accusations here. What you and I could do, though, is draw up a flow chart of possible outcomes, all of which seem to me to be better than what has actually taken place! For example, the parties concerned might have chosen to go to mediation - yes - with people known and respected by both parties. Perhaps either or both parties might have chosen to go to people known and respected by both for 'help'. Perhaps either or both would enjoy having a private confidential space in which to say how or why they were in the situation they were in. This may or may not have resolved the issue. I'm not someone who thinks the talking cure solves everything but who knows, on this occasion it might have helped. What do you think?" "

Alex and Charlie respond to that passage with this:

"Michael Rosen has canvassed from outside the SWP an alternative approach- namely that we acknowledge that we are incapable of dealing with cases as complex and open to dispute as those involving accusations of sexual misconduct and in future support anyone making such an accusation in going to the police."

Someone tell me otherwise, but I can't see anywhere in my writing (above) which entitles Alex and Charlie to make this statement. I mentioned the police purely in order to make the suggestion that whoever set up and ran the procedures in question had in mind that the SWP's system of justice was superior to that of the police. In fact, as we now know it wasn't. But let's leave that to one side.

My list of suggestions (by no means original) do not involve a suggestion from me saying that the SWP should 'support' someone 'going to the police'. In case Alex and Charlie don't follow what I was suggesting it involves offering support and advice until such time an accuser takes a path of action, whilst pointing out that the SWP is not an organisation or forum equipped with what it ever it takes to solve such matters. I then went on to suggest - perhaps foolhardily - outcomes that might follow from such a procedure - none of which, in the passage above, involve mentioning the police. I left that matter open. It would be quite possible for an organisation like the SWP to offer help and support up until the moment when accuser or accused chose to go to the police ie not offer support to someone taking the matter to the police!

For Alex and Charlie to make this statement about me at best is 'jumping to conclusions' or 'not reading what I wrote'. At worst it is wrong, a misrepresentation or an untruth.

Sunday 13 October 2013

Tristram Hunt - what he could have said.

What are we to make of Tristram Hunt's announcement about Free Schools?

1. First and foremost it reveals that Labour are not going to disrupt or challenge the outrageous concentration of powers that the Secretary of State for Education now has at his or her disposal. What is even more incredible is that the mighty collective of our free press and democratically elected politicians seem paralysed and unable to investigate, dissect and challenge this. With Labour's collaboration with this dangerous situation, we are in democracy deficit here.

In an ideal world, Tristram Hunt's first pronouncement would have made clear that his totalitarian situation cannot prevail. Education is too complex, too dependent on the active, intellectual labour of so many people that bossing them from an office in Westminster is absurd and immoral.

2. Hunt is a historian. There is a history of 'free' or 'locally run' schools in this country and elsewhere. Some of it is within the private sector - so let's leave that to one side. Another tradition is firmly within the locally controlled sector - a system of control that is much more preferable to the diktat of one officer of state from his or her desk in Westminster. One of these traditions can be found in the 'Village Colleges' set-up in Cambridgeshire as pioneered by Henry Morris. The reason why this is so little known outside of Cambridgeshire is because by their very existence they challenge the centralised control of education. In New York City, a group of parents and teachers set up the Manhattan New School WITHIN the district set-up. There are other examples all over the world. Hunt could and should have drawn the attention of the country to these and outflanked Gove and his totalitarian powers which in effect mean: 'I approve, I control, I open or close any school I like'.

3. Hunt knows his Putney debates from the English Civil War. He knows of the debates within the British Army in the last months of World War 2. He might even know of the wonderful Language in the National Curriculum seminars, conferences and reports (20 million quid thrown away in the early 1990s.) He could and should have announced that the first move he would make (and it could start now) would be to put in motion Putney Debates on education, wide-ranging conferences, seminars, 'action-research' by teachers in conjunction with researchers, to investigate and report on 'What is learning?' 'Literacy', 'Numeracy' etc etc.

4. Hunt could have given an outline of all the participants in education and said that before he moved he would find ways in which he could bring together representatives of these - ie the pupils, teachers, school workers, researchers, local authority providers, civil servants. His fiefdom is not enormous ie England. He could have done this regionally and set up 'commissions of study' and he would have found thousands of people willing to contribute as a prelude to Labour winning power.

5. I suspect that the only people Hunt spoke to prior to announcing these Gove-lite proposals are people at the top of the Labour Party. I suspect that some of these are unelected 'strategy' experts who reckon that they are cunning beyond compare who can divine the way the wind is blowing before it's blown.

Friday 11 October 2013

Some preliminary thoughts and questions re the OECD 'literacy' data.

These questions are not intended to be conclusions. They are in some respects a call for more information and more enquiry.

1. What kinds of literacy did they test? (There are very many different ways of describing and assessing literacy. For example: did it weight comprehension as equal to eg spelling? Or indeed how were the different aspects weighted?)

2. Is the comparison between countries based on averages? Do they compare high scorers with high scorers with low? If not what do comparisons of averages really tell you? Assuming that the literacy testing has some validity, if the comparison is with averages for a whole country, this is not helpful or useful. Perhaps of slightly more use would be to know how different education systems succeed (or not) with their 'best' literacy performers and with their least successful performers. However, whether this kind of testing will reveal why they perform differently or what an education system might do about it, is another matter.

3. In comparing young with old does anyone think that this is a comparison between educational inputs? Because it isn't. It's a comparison between input and input-PLUS-life experience. Decline cannot be proven with this set of stats. So, testing older adults with younger adults has introduced another variable into the comparison and so is not valid in itself.

This then has repercussions in comparing countries for the obvious reason that older adults' life experiences have been very different from country to country. For example, if the older people had a high proportion of illiterates then clearly, a younger generation exposed for the first time in that country to literacy would make that country look as if it was advancing more quickly than a country where there were much fewer older illiterates. Other factors affecting this input into the adult cohort would be immigration of non-native speakers, a sample skewed towards those who had 'literate' employment ie where they could improve their literacy levels as they worked, and so on.

4. How comparable are international literacy tests? Are they really like for like? One immediate problem would be, say, with spelling - if that's what was tested. Languages which have very regular spelling systems with the same letters (graphemes) always matching up to the same phonemes present different problems from those that are not regular.

5. How statistically significant are the differences between the countries? This is the old league-table problem. Consider a football league. Manchester United are first, Manchester City are second. If the difference between them is 12 points, this tells us that Man U are, in effect, four wins better than Man City. If the difference between them is 1 point, then Man City could overtake Man U if Man U were to lose and Man City were to win. If the differences between countries in the league tables is small, it is insignificant and politicians should really say next to nothing about it. As I understand it, the differences are very small - they are 'statistically insignificant'. I'm prepared to stand corrected on this.

6. Does this data point to anything in terms of method re literacy teaching? Or is it just data to agitate for competition via the narrative of decline? This is crucial. I notice that some observers made a great deal of the fact that Japan appears to have done well and Japan does a lot of rote learning, large classes and home cramming. (Whether this suits high and low scorers alike, is not clear!) However, Finland did overall just as well. So, why aren't the papers rushing to Finland to find out what their secret is? Answer: it doesn't fit the reactionary pedagogy favoured by this government.

7. What use to educationists is global competition talk? Is education about recruitment for capitalism's requirements to compete? Is that the defining purpose of education now? Even so, are literacy and numeracy tests the sole basis on which national education should be compared?

8.Is there an agenda here about masking the disastrous performances of European capitalists by blaming education? It wasn't bad spelling that caused the banking crash.

Sunday 6 October 2013

The SWP and the crisis: one thought.

Following up on the circulation of Alex Callinicos and Charlie Kimber's article on the crisis in the SWP:


I would like to cite one sentence:

"After a serious investigation the DC concluded that rape had not occurred and that other allegations of sexual misconduct were not proven, and recommended that no disciplinary action be taken against the member involved."

a) the notion that a Disputes Committee of a political organisation is a suitable or appropriate group of people to carry out an 'investigation' of this kind is, to my mind, deluded.

b) the fact that this episode is described with language such as 'serious' and that matters were 'not proven' is itself deluded.

What I am saying here is not original or new. One way to ignore this repeated criticism is to pick on apparent or supposed 'political' errors of those, like me, who make this criticism. This is precisely what Alex and Charlie do later in the article. Whether this is knowing and cynical, is not clear.

One of the bitter pills of experience is to discover that people who are on the 'wrong' side can sometimes make 'correct' or accurate criticisms (and vice versa, of course).

Friday 4 October 2013

Mother Father Cable Street

You Connie Ruby Isakofsky
From Globe Road in Bethnal Green
You Harold Rosen
From Nelson street, Whitechapel
You Connie with your mother and father
From Romania and Poland
You Harold with your family from Poland

You Connie
You Harold
your families working in the rag trade
Hats, caps, jackets and gowns
Hats, caps, jackets and gowns

You both saw Hitler on the Pathe News
You both saw Hitler Blaming the Jews
You both collected for Spain, 
collecting for Spain
When Franco came

When round the tenements,
the whisper came
Mosley wants to march
Here, through the East End

So what should it be?
To Trafalgar Square to support Spain:
No pasaran?

Or to Gardiners Corner to support Whitechapel
They shall not pass.

Round the tenements
The whisper came
Fight here in Whitechapel
The whisper came:
Winning here 
We  support 
Spain there.

These are the streets where we live
These are the streets where we go to school
These are the streets where we work

They shall not pass.

You Connie
You Harold
Went to Gardiner’s Corner
You went to Cable Street
You piled chairs on the barricades
The mounted police charged you
A stranger took you indoors 
To escape a beating
And thousands
Hundreds of thousands came here
Fighting Mosley
Supporting Spain
Thinking of Germany

Mosley did not pass.

You Connie
You Harold
Said, today the bombs on Guernica in Spain
Tomorrow the bombs on London here.
And you were bombed
the same planes, the same bombs
landing in the same streets
where you had said
they shall not pass
And the bodies
piled up across the world
Million after million after million after million
You Connie, your cousins in Poland
Taken to camps
Wiped out
You Harold, your uncles and aunts in France and Poland
Taken to camps
Wiped out.

But you Connie, my mother
You Harold, my father
You survived
You lived
We were born
We grew 

You mother
You father
told us these things
I write these things
And today,
I tell you these things
We remember here together
Thanks to you
And we say:
They shall not pass.