Teacher Recruitment AND Retention

At present the government’s entire focus on teacher quality is on recuiting ‘higher calibre’ graduates and in trying to improve professional development through Teaching Schools.  The first is happening through specialised bursaries, the introduction of the Schools Direct programme and a reconsideration of entry requirements for PGCEs. The latter (Schools Direct) is happening in some places, but still not many.
But, is England’s issue that we can’t recruit enough high-quality graduates into teaching or is it that we can’t retain them?
Over years of promoting the top graduates recruited and placed by non-profit organisiation TeachFirst I’ve increasingly heard Heads say: “They were excellent, I’d have one again in a heartbeat, but they always leave.”
Some have argued that TeachFirst’s allegedly high turnover rate is a problem, and demonstrates the organisation isn’t working. Actually, the figures for getting from starting the programme to achieving QTS are higher than PGCEs (many fewer drop out) and the 4 year rate is roughly equal.
The bigger issue is that most people who enter teaching leave within seven years. Those who stay longer than seven years tend to stay forever. Both sides of this equation have implications, including: Who leaves in that first seven years? The lowest quality teachers? The highest?, and Why is it that most people who do seven plus years stay forever? Are they caught by a teaching bug and in love with the profession? Or do they feel stuck there? (And what does that do to the quality of their teaching?)
Many researchers have pointed out before that when looking at teacher quality it is vital to look at recruitment, development AND retention. Without organising the latter you are in the situation of continuing to fill up the bath because you forgot to put the plug in!

My Problem with Critical Race Theory (or CFT, or CQT, or any other iteration)

The problem with too many critical race theorists is that they are the equivalent of Statler & Waldorf – the muppets who sit up in the balcony criticising.
As someone who spends a fair amount of time criticising on blog posts at LKMCo.org and on here I’m in dangerous peril of needing to remove an enormous plank from my eye before continuing this argument. But hear me out: The aim of an academic is to add to the academic literature; they are endowed with graduate assistants, and opportunities to present and discuss, they have access to some of the most incredible datasets and almost any book they could ever want.  In this case I agree with the critical theorists that you have a responsibility to talk about difficult issues of inequality – gender, race, sexuality – but you also have a responsibility to (a) base it on some evidence, and (b) get down from the balcony and *show us* how you want research to change.
Having spent the afternoon ploughing through some required reading I found some amazing examples of productive, interesting articles where researchers had invested time into working with communities, collecting evidence from them, thoroughly analysing it and presenting useful information. A recent example of a critical paper was where a research worked with different communities on the meaning of a ‘good local school’. The researcher asked different groups of parents who were latino, black and white – all of whom live in the same area and say they value their ‘community – but who actually all had very different ideas of what ‘a community’ is.  This research not only gave voice to the ideas of under-represented parent groups, but it does so in a clear way, with maximum regard to the participants and in ensuring new insights are shared clearly.
On the other hand several articles have been little more than invectives towards all of human kind – denouncing on the one hand anyone who treats someone of a different race in an unequal fashion but then on the other hand aggressively demarcating ‘blackness’ and ‘whiteness’ and saying that differences are inevitable, and everywhere, and will be there for all time.  Maybe that dichotomy is true; and perhaps both ideas can co-exist; but I don’t see why I am reading about it in the pages of a journal article. If you want to rant, write an op-ed, or a blog, or a book.  If there’s no evidence to review how is this journal being peer-reviewed?!  It certainly isn’t on clarity of language, or consistency of ideas, or support for argument from other sources. Some of the articles are no more than a whine.
Advocacy on the part of academics is absolutely right. Simply by being a researcher you do not have to divest yourself of opinions or political activism. But it’s about figuring out when it is appropriate to share those opinions, and when it’s not.  If you find something useful in your research and you’ve written it up clearly in an evidence-based manner, then feel free to take those findings and go preach on Oprah or make a Kony-esque rally video for all I care. But we must be careful that we don’t allow ourselves to get into the notion that academia can be an arena for new research findings but it could also be a modern-day Athenian Agora where people stand around and debate about power. This latter part belong in politics, not the academy, unless you are bringing new evidence. Being an academic does not provide you with some magical power that says your moaning is special and needs to be listened to. Instead, if you have found out information – in the role of academia – then your job is to pass on that information.  If you wish to go do politics; off you pop; but don’t be doing it under the banner of being ‘academic’.  There is an important – I would even argue *crucial* – difference between the two and we must not allow them to lapse helplessly into one another. If we do, I somewhat fear that all too soon ‘being an academic’ would simply mean being a muppet in a balcony.

Why Being Wealthy Doesn't Mean You Automatically Have More Aspirations Or More Life Choices

One of the things guaranteed to annoy me is when people assume that poor children all have low aspirations, and that ‘choice’ is something only preserved for the ‘middle and upper class’ children.  Life just isn’t that simple.
Reviewing more works from Dora Russell – one of Bertrand Russell’s wives and founder of a 1920s ‘progressive’ school – I came across this sobering quote:

“Moreover, she knew that even for children at a school like Beacon Hill, the possibilities for freedom were limited precisely because they were privileged children. The child of an architect, for example, would encounter barriers if he wanted to be a carpenter” (from Deborah Gorham’s wonderful paper – “Dora & Bertrand Russell and Beacon Hill School)

In some cases this won’t be true; some wealthier families will use their social networks and monetary capital to enable their child to take an ‘alternative’ path – maybe becoming an artist, or DJ, or as mentioned in the article: a carpenter.  Limits on choice are not the preserve of the poor though. For each time I’ve heard a poorer parent say they don’t think their child needs to go to university I’ve also heard a wealthier one say that their child must go, even if they really really don’t want to.  In fact, I’d say, that second situation is more common.
When I was young my dad would say there was no point having a big house because you can only rest your head on one pillow.  I’d point out that at least in the big house you’d have a choice about which pillow to lay your head on. However, if someone you love (& whose values you want to emulate) tells you only one type of pillow is acceptable, then that big house – no matter how large or great its array of choices might be – becomes absolutely, even tragically, superfluous.  Education should provide us with as many spaces as possible where we can rest our heads; anything less, and we’re selling our children short.

Advice for Potential UK Fulbright Applicants

I’ve had a few emails from people thinking of applying to the Postgraduate Fulbright Scholarship currently sponsoring my PhD here at the University of Missouri. I can’t recommend the organisation enough and would strongly encourage people to check it out and apply if you are even remotely interested in studying in America.
A few people have also asked for advice on the application process so I thought I would put here the sort of information I have passed on to them so others can also see it. But first, a warning: the system is changing quite dramatically this year. Whereas I applied for Fulbright and then they helped organise my applications to the US universities, from Sept 2012 new applicants will simultaneously apply for Fulbright *and* to US universities – i.e. you will have to independently do both sets of applications on your own.
Secondly, this advice is just my personal experience & ideas. I don’t have any particular insight into the application process, I’m not sitting on any interview panels, but these are things that helped me write my application, and they made the interview and going-away process somewhat less gruelling.  

  • Know why you want to go to the US – There are many reasons why people will want to study in the US; it could be to do with research opportunities, an extra-curricular opportunity you can’t get here, or an experience you wish to have that’s different to what UK universities offer. Just be ready to explain what it is.
  • Be clear on the benefit your scholarly activities will have for the UK – One condition of a Fulbright scholarship is the ‘2-year home rule’ meaning you must come back to the UK for a minimum two years after your programme ends before you can get another long-term visa for the US.  It is therefore worth being clear about what you will bring back to the UK, after all if Fulbright have invested in you they are expecting to see something good come from it in the future!
  • Show that you have ambassadorial qualities – An excellent explanation of this is given by Alistair Heffernan of the current Fulbright cohort.  All Fulbrighters I have met (from all across the world) exude a personality of curiosity, excitement and some form of ‘leadership’ whether scholarly or in another field (e.g. entrepreneurial). This personality has generally led to people taking part in several experiences: leading marathons, starting businesses, making inventions, solving health problems, etc. How you demonstrate this in your application and interview is down to you but it does seem to be a common factor and something you need to consider carefully. If you don’t feel you currently have enough evidence of these qualities I would consider giving yourself an extra year to apply.  Which neatly leads me to the next point…..
  • Give yourself time to complete the applications properly – The old Fulbright process was approximately 16 months long from application to leaving for the States. The new process looks shorter but given that you are now responsible for doing your US applications too you must start planning EARLY. This is particularly important if your move will involve a significant other, giving notice in your own job, etc.  I would recommend starting thinking about the application process at least six months before the application deadlines in the Autumn.  Some people will think this ludicrous and if you’re 21, straight out of uni with no responsibilities and you like to do everything last minute, then that’s fine. For everyone else – take six months at least and if there’s not enough time seriously consider waiting another year before you apply. This will give you time to shortlist appropriate universities, get your references and transcripts together, create statements for your applications, etc. It will also help the most annoying part of the process, the GRE.
  • Start revising for the GRE now  – GRE exams are required for entry onto most courses (and *all* courses in the field of Education).  They’re a bit like an English & Maths GCSE which doesn’t sound too difficult except it’s probably a while since you took those GCSEs and Americans do both differently. The Maths was particularly bizarre as they used square roots in calculations in a way I was *never* taught at school. So start revising pronto.  The Barons book is reasonably expensive but it’s useful and you can also download free online materials from the GRE website.
  • Book the GRE well in advance – Not only must you revise for the GRE but you must take it at an approved centre, it is four hours long and there is limited availability on weekends.  For someone – like me – who worked full-time in a job, and couldn’t easily take time off, the only slot I could get was four days from when I first looked. In the whole 8-week window I had left open that was the only weekend date I could get.  Don’t leave yourself with only 4 days revision time; book early.
  • Think very very carefully about where you want to be located.  If you can, visit in advance.  When applying for universities it can be easy to become excited by celebrity professors or research opportunities. As academic geeks this is natural and to be expected. But if your dream tutor works at a university in the middle of the desert are you prepared to deal with 100+ degrees for 4 months of the year?  If they are in a rural area and you hanker for the city lights, how will you cope?  And if your answer to both these is that you will go for one of the safe options – a nice Eastern city like Boston or New York – bear in mind that everyone else has had the same idea so the rental prices are often sky-high.  New York may be awesome fun, but can you afford it on what may be a reasonably limited scholarship?  If you’re doing a 1-year Masters then paying $1,200 a month for a Manhattan studio might be reasonable. If (like me) you’re staying for up to five years then a $600 massive house in a rural town is probably more do-able.
  • Think about your partner – Married partners are allowed to take their spouse, though there are some restrictions on work authorization in the few first months.  Cohabiting partners can also be brought over but the work regulations are even tougher in this case.  If the person you are with does not want to come out to the States be aware that you (the Fulbrighter) are only allowed out for a set number of days each year, and they will only be allowed 90 days visitation per year so you may need to think carefully about the way that will work. Many people who start the Fulbright application process don’t have partners and then by a year later, when they are leaving, they do. Just keep this advice in mind in order to avoid heartbreak
  • Finally, DO IT. So far I have found the whole Fulbright experience thrilling. The orientation day in London, moving out here, meeting Fulbrighters from across the world through the local Fulbright organizations; everything.  If you are curious and want to learn from another culture and some of the most incredible researchers, this is definitely one of the best ways to do it.

If you still have any questions feel free to write in the comments below or contact me using the details in the “About Me” page.  NOW GO APPLY!
My move to America has been made possible by the help and generosity of the US-UK Fulbright Commission, to whom I am extremely grateful. This is not an official US Department of State blog. The views and information presented here are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Programme or the US Department of State
Related Posts:
Meditating in Missouri
Surprises in the States

Review of "Progressive School" Movement – Summerhill, Malting House & Beacon Hill

One of my first projects here at the University of Missouri is reviewing historical documents of the ‘Progressive School’ movement, particularly the ‘famous’ schools of the 1920s advocated by celebrities (or people who went on to become celebrities). The intial review of documents includes correspondence, minutes, prospectuses and applications for Malting House (Susan Isaacs Jacobs, Summerhill (AS Neill) and Beacon Hill (Bertrand & Dora Russell).

The most extensive collection so far is the amazing online archive of Dora Russell’s work.  Though only married to Bertrand Russell for a short time she kept the name ‘Dora Russell’ throughout her life and enjoyed an incredible career in writing and political activism after Beacon Hill closed.

The question that interests me is this: Given that all three opened to great fanfare, with similarly passionate, intelligent leaders and middle class pupils, why did two of them fail so quickly? And how did Summerhill, perhaps the most unlikely of all, survive until the present day?

I’m interested in this question because the current focus on new schools talks as if opening a new building, with new leaders and good intentions is inevitably going to bring a lasting and positive change.  Sometimes this is true; but almost as often, it is not. Are there warning signs?  Are there patterns that can tell us which new schools are going to achieve well? Because if there aren’t then a policy based entirely on opening new schools could be nothing more than a blind stab at educational improvement.

As AS Neill says in this letter to Russell after the school folded:”Oceans of new ‘progressive’ schools (are) mostly compromises”.  Never forget that new schools always become old ones eventually.


Letter from AS Neill to Dora Russell available in the International Institute of Social History archives: http://search.iisg.nl/search/search?action=transform&xsl=home-results.xsl&lang=en


How to make the Ofsted "Learner View" useful to everyone

The BBC are reporting today that FE college students are being given the chance to rate their college online with the information going straight to Ofsted.  Naturally, the colleges are a little concerned that this leaves them open to unfair criticism whereas Ofsted think it will give them a ‘better picture’ of what’s going on.
Forgive my being old-fashioned but surely it’s good manners to speak with any person letting you down before marching to their superiors?  This feels like  an extension of a growing culture in education where people ‘cc’ senior management immediately and so breed a culture of resentment and mistrust.
But – more importantly – why aren’t Ofsted using the “Learner’s Views” as a way to improve college service. It would be easy to do. Learners could place their complaint on the websites and this would be shared immediately with the college thereby allowing them a chance to respond before publication. If Ofsted give a deadline for reply, send the reply to the learner, and then if the learner still feels the issue was not adequately addressed the views can be published along with the response (if received) from the college. Most colleges (and schools) would want to keep their noses clean meaning this is the perfect opportunity for learners to get their voice heard and to have something done about it; rather than have colleges will write off the views as being from “that mad kid on floor three” and then failing to do anything constructive to change the situation given that the view has been published/used-by-Ofsted anyway.
It has long been true that there needs to be a stronger ‘complaints’ policy instituted in education whereby people can raise concerns and gain a response in a robust, centralised way (similar to EBay’s resolution centre) and this could have been a great way to do it.  Let’s hope Ofsted see the potential and change their ways.

Ofqual: We will publish all correspondence. We have nothing to hide. …(Really?)

On 11th September 2012, during the Education Select Committee meeting convened to take evidence from key players in the GCSE English ‘Fiasco’, three members of Ofqual were present and accounted for their role in the situation.
During discussion Glenys Stacey, Ofqual’s CEO, was directly asked by Pat Glass MP:

Pat Glass MP: We accept that there is no phone call between you and the Secretary of State, but if, as a Committee, we decide to extend this Inquiry—and I think we should—would you be prepared to publish copies of  correspondence, emails, text messages and  phone callsbetween your staff who are involved in this and senior staff at the DfE who are involved in this and special advisers, ministers’ spads?
Glenys Stacey: Absolutely; we have nothing to hide

However, an FOI request by Antony Carpen asked for correspondence from October 2011 onwards regarding the English GCSE boundaries and specifically asked that: “Correspondence should include but not be restricted to letters, emails, notes of phone calls and minutes of meetings”.
What Antony Carpen received was this: A document providing *some* emails between the DfE and Ofqual but only on the day of the results release. And, though they are interesting (not least because the DfE had to ask some reasonably naive questions in the midst of this crisis), they do not provide the information asked for by Mr. Carpen.  It is tricky to understand why this information is missing. The legal explanation beforehand explains why names have been redacted, especially in the case of junior members of Ofqual and the difficult nature of the case. This is absolutely reasonable and fair. What is not clear is why more information has not been included, specifically notes of meetings and phone calls and of events leading up to the publication of results.
Glenys Stacey clearly said all documents were publishable because there was “nothing to hide”.  If they are not now released, one can only wonder what that means for the validity of her statement.

Education Cannot Just Be A Deficit Model

In 1873, the first ever Kindergarten opened in St. Louis, Missouri. It was going to solve all the problems of poverty.  Sound familiar?
Leader of local schools, William Torrey Harris, had decided that the best way to civilise ‘slum children’ and ensure they did not follow corruption was to get them into school early. He said:

“The child who passes his years in the misery of the crowded tenement house or alley, becomes early familiar with all manner of corruption and immorality.”

This view is commonly present even among our own education policies.  Far too often I hear MPs – on both sides of the house – saying that school is going to solve all of the evils of poverty and that ‘civilisation’ of the poor is all that is needed.
What’s most extraordinary is how similar this sounds to the kind of logic that was applied to the civilisation of immigrants in Britain’s ‘newer nations.  In both the US and Australia baording schools were created for native children. In these boarding schools they were taught ‘correct English’ and the required morals and manners of the day.  Some will argue that in doing so it enabled them to flourish in a society that had changed immeasurably and wasn’t about to turn back; others might call it cultural and linguistic genocide.
Perhaps neither view of our history is correct but what it does show is the way education is too often used to correct an assumed deficit. Too many political leaders exhibit Pymgalion fantasies, believing that they are going to ‘bring to life’ the poor-but-bright children who are simply waiting to be saved and made into a modern-day Eliza Doolittle. Unfortunately, they all too often forget that other story of a person who tried to create an idol in their own image.  The story is that of The Modern Prometheus, though you may know it by a different name!                            

What is the English Baccalaureate? (Or EBacc, for short)

The “English Baccalaureate” is (currently) a set of subjects that, if taken at GCSE, add up to you getting the ‘EBacc’.  So far the EBacc exists as an idea rather than as a certificate, but plans are afoot to ensure that any student who achieves a C grade or above in all of the required subjects also gets an EBacc certificate to prove their status.
Which subjects count?
In total you must achieve a C grade or above in the following five GCSEs or iGCSEs

  • English or English Language
  • Maths
  • Science (you need two grades, so either: core plus additional, double award, or two of the single sciences)
  • A Modern or Ancient Language
  • History or Geography

If you get an AS-level in one of these subjects instead of a GCSE, this can be substituted in and act as a GCSE for the purpose of achieving the EBacc.  Some alternative certificates are occasionally allowed; further guidance is available on the DfE Website.
What is the benefit of the EBacc?
The main proclaimed benefit is that it keeps the widest number of options open.  To study these subjects at A-Level you would usually be expected to have taken them at GCSE, and they are the A-Levels that arguably allow you to study the widest number of subjects at university (though this is debatable). Currently no universities require the EBacc for entry to their courses and though many say they have no plans to change this, in education one can never be too certain that the goal posts won’t move quickly.
EBacc vs. IB Middle Years
A number of schools are questioning the value of the English Baccalaureate over the International Baccaleaureate – a qualification with a much broader spectrum of subjects and which is highly regarded across the world. The IB is considered rigorous but also adept at providing a wider skills base as students are involved in health and social education, community projects and learn about technology.  These are notably absent from the English Baccalaureate, although students do still have other GCSE options open to them if they wish to supplement the core.
Offering a more ‘exotic’ qualification has sometimes been difficult for schools as they struggle to find trained teachers, and textbooks/resources can be more expensive however I have heard almost entirely positive things from the parents of students who have studied for the IB.  Students tend to find both the IBacc and the EBacc difficult, so their ‘like’ of the subject is often dependent on how much they appreciate having their brain challenged!
What about EBCs?
Recently the government announced that subjects in the English Baccalaureate are going to be made ‘more rigorous’. This involves getting rid of modular exams and coursework, and adding more content. To reflect the fact that the subjects in the EBacc are more rigorous than GCSEs they will be renamed to ‘EBCs’, that is English Baccalaureate Certificates. However, do not confuse the EBCs with the overall EBacc.  EBCs are single subjects that you will sit in the five EBacc subjects. If you pass them all THEN you will get an EBacc Certificate.
Frankly, it’s currently a little complicated. Hopefully as plans progress they will make the names less confusing.

Why More 'A's Don't Necessarily Devalue the Currency

When people point to the greater number of students now getting ‘top grades’ in their exams and then they say this shows how Britain has ‘dumbed-down’ I am urged to remind them of the statistics on literacy. For example, the rate of literacy for Black females in the United States went from 30% to 70% in just forty years. Reading didn’t get easier; access to education was what changed in that time and hence, more people became better at reading. Similarly, a rise in people doing better in a test does not necessarily mean an unwarranted grade inflation, it can mean quite simply that more people know more things because we are teaching better.
The naysayers then say:  “But if everyone gets As then the whole purpose is devalued”. Well, only if you see the purpose of those exams as being about sifting people apart from one another.  Was reading suddenly devalued because twice as many people could do it?  No. Reading is a good thing in and of itself regardless of how many others do it. If one day 30% of people get an A on a reading test and four decades later 70% of people are getting that A, that is a good day for society. More people know how to read and have more flexibility with their future.
More people getting As is neither a sure-fire sign that standards have dropped nor that the A has become meaningless. If you wish to argue that more As is a bad thing, you need to do better than this.