This list is ‘in progress’ I will update it if I see any more equally stupid comments. Feel free to send me a tweet @miss_mcinerney if you ever see any.
Every year I watch Conservative Conference and every year I find myself shouting at the telly in a vain attempt of educating rich people about how poverty actually works, and not because I ever lived in deep poverty but because I lived around it for a good amount of my life and I bothered to pay attention. I wish politicians would do the same. [NB: Obviously some rich people do understand. Unfortunately they just don’t seem to do a good job of passing the message to the ones in power]
A List of Things Rich People Never Understand:
All these people on benefits can pay for Sky – OR you have a fake Sky card (yes, they exist) or you do what one member of a nearby street did and have one person in the road collect subs off everyone and then you run a wire through the houses that connects each person’s box. OR, you think to yourself “I can’t afford hardly anything in terms of leisure – it costs a tenner to go the cinema, and DVDs are expensive, so I’ll get Sky and that will keep all the members of my family happy for about £1.50 a day”
People on benefits choose to be unemployed – What, all of them? Most of them? And if so, if people on benefits really enjoy making this choice, why will that change if you take the benefits away? Some rich people say: “Then they’d have no choice but to work”. Except, that’s not true. Instead of working I could choose to burgle people’s houses and sell their stuff at Cash Convertors. I could choose to nick razors, meat and coffee from the local shop and sell it in the pub. I could choose to squat, I could choose to forfeit all my bills and spend years avoiding going to court before eventually saying that I will pay everything back at £2 a week and then start the process all over again. I could start a loan sharking business, I could take cash-in-hand jobs, I could sell drugs. Rich people never seem to understand that if you take away benefits you don’t take away all choice, you take away one choice, the most decent choice, and in doing so the choices that open up are almost always far more damaging to society than having people be on benefits.
All these people on benefits are walking around in fancy designer clothes – Okay wealthy-people-wearing-real-Ralph-Lauren, listen up. There are five ways this happens: (1) The designer gear is fake – quite likely, (2) The designer gear was acquired from ‘the back of a lorry or a pub’ – medium likely, (3) The clothing was bought by a parent who gave up eating for a week in order that their child wouldn’t be the only one in the local area laughed at for not wearing designer clothes -happens more than you think, (4) They were bought before the person lost their job or bought with the money they got in redundancy – again, happens more than you think, (5) They are real and were bought at full price while on benefits – true about 5% of the time.
My dad/grandad/long-lost-uncle-bob toiled against the odds to make the person I am today, and these people on benefits should do that too – Good for you. Most people’s parents toiled to make them the person they are today but maybe they just didn’t get so rich. Having worked as McDonald’s counter staff and as a management consultant for a top 4 firm I can tell you which one was harder work and which one made me richer. Note: they weren’t the same job. Furthermore, your statement actually shows that there are circumstances beyond the individual which matter. You say that your success is down to your parents? Great. What if your parents had been crack-dealing abusers and so you spent the first twenty years of your life protecting your younger siblings from them while also trying to frighten the bailifs away from your door? Do you think during all of that you would have been excelling at your GCSEs? Would you have been developing a congenial attitude to being told what to do by a boss? Because I’m thinking that if I was in that situation I’d have been learning how to fight every last person in authority who, as far as I could see, was just another person in a long line of adults letting me down. Yes, some people overcome these circumstances. Yes, more support should be available for people who have gone through so much they can’t easily get a job, and no, I’m not suggesting that someone’s childhood is a reason to be on benefits. But this sort of “my dad did” argument is not a reason for people not to be on benefits either. It’s a story, not a policy.
How come all these people on benefits have a flat screen TV? Because Brighthouse only has flatscreens. And if you don’t know what Brighthouse is, google it.
Right, that’s it, if you see any more daft comments, do let me know.
It is fashionable in education at present for teacher to beat ourselves up for not using ‘enough’ evidence in our practice. When we get bored of that, its then fashionable to beat up educational researchers for not creating ‘usable-enough’ research. And when we get bored of that it’s really really fashionable to say that the government needs to start using research properly without saying at all where the government should get it from or why, once they had it, teachers might pay any attention it anyway.
The reason we (teachers) like to do this is because we think that medicine works this way. Apparently there is a Body of Knowledge from which all doctors draw The Truth and that is how they heal people. It teaching just had The Truth, then everything would be dandy.
But, sad to say, it isn’t like that in medicine. Not really.
First, there is often lengthy debate about what should happen when a certain set of symptoms present themselves, or when a particular institutional issue keeps rearing its head (e.g. bed-blocking or MRSA infections). And then, even if a solution is agreed on in the research, it simply isn’t true that doctors and nurses keep engaged with this latest research and instantly implement it into practice. Some might, but many don’t.
An interesting-if-lengthy paper on this very matter is called “The Nonspread of Inventions” and looks at just this matter. Often the inventions that stick are not merely a matter of evidence but of a series of circumstances coming together in the right way. Sometimes it is a strong ethos, it matches a government policy, it suits someone wanting a promotion, etc. but rarely does it come just down to the evidence.
Unfortunately that leaves us with a rather depressing conclusion that most research doesn’t make much difference, even if correct. Its implementation will ultimately be down to a series of factors that contribute as much to luck as they do to effort – though one must always stay alive to the possibility that we can get better at making those factors come about now that we know what they are. Furthermore, the upside is that it means that we teachers can stop beating ourselves up – if even the doctors can’t solve this then what chance do we have?! – and, to their great relief, I’m pretty certain we can leave the academy and the politicians alone on this particular point too.
I note the Daily Mail has led on the story of the new National Curriculum with a triumphant gloat that Churchill is back on the agenda.
I am also chuffed that Churchill is back, but not for the same reasons as the Daily Mail. If the National Curriculum is really as ‘forward looking’ as is suggested in the article then I can only assume that this means we are no longer just going to get a picture of Churchill as the glorious war-time leader who looks like this:
But maybe we will also get to see representations of his mental illness, like this:
After all, Churchill was not ashamed of his bipolar disorder which he wrote and spoke about with reasonable regularity, and nor should he be. Furthermore many historians have now argued that it contributed a great deal to both his greatness and – at times – his moments of awfulness. And I hope those moments of awfulness are also included in this new ‘history of Britain’. For if children are to be ‘taught of Churchill’ it should be done wholly and properly. So let us hope that alongside the triumph of WWII they are also taught of Churchill’s part in the Gallipoli Campaign, his disasterous turn as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his views on workers during the General Strike, and then also that he went on to win a Nobel Prize for Literature – demonstrating that leading armies is not the only way to be famous or successful.
If these aspects of his character are not given equal credence, and we allow the National Curriculum to uncritically idolise someone with such a complex potted history – & who could teach so much that will overturn misperceptions of mental illness – then the new National Curriculum is being no less neglectful than the last. It is rare that I agree with the Daily Mail, but on this one we are united, just as long as their picture of Winston Churchill is in agreement with mine.
I recently put in a Freedom of Information Request for the distribution of marks in the 2012 GCSE English Controlled Assessments. I did this because I read the @deevybee blog on the Phonics Test data with some interest and wondered if the GCSE English marks had shown a similar pattern.
Unfortunately Ofqual have turned down the request. Their reason is shown in a letter here (and below)
The main reason seems to be that they have the information as part of the Ofqual investigation into the GCSE English fiasco and therefore cannot currently release the information. There also appears to be an undercurrent of ‘it wouldn’t be in the public interest’..
I have written back asking them if the information will be disclosable once the investigation is complete.
UPDATE: 16/10/12 Ofqual have said that once the English GCSE Investigation is complete and the report is published then I can discuss with the statisticians the possibility of releasing controlled assessment information. They also said the Ofqual report is due to be released before the end of October. My bet is on a half-term release date.
Both the West Coast Mainline fiasco and the issues with Ofqual have got me thinking about public expectations on government Ministers and ordinary MPs to deal with an ever-increasing level of complexity across a range of sectors. I have worked both as a member of a train bid team and as a school teacher, and both things are fiendishly complicated even though they involve services that we regularly interact with. In fact, I wonder sometimes if the mindless way we use transport and schools is one of the reasons why people expect it to be easy to understand when the brutal reality is that many of your taken-for-granted assumptions about the way those sectors should work are often quite wrong.
One big concern is that as we move toward a system where governments outsource the provision of services to outside agencies there actually becomes a greater responsibility on government for scrutinising (a) who will be the right person to run the service, and (b) are they doing a good enough job of it. On the one hand this should be easy because the people involved in the commissioning are now at arms length from the service and so should more easily be able to see what is going on in a dispassionate manner. But on the other hand, if Ministers are parachuting in and out of departments along with their special advisors and civil servants fastly streaming around in order to get to an executive position, then it can mean that expertise are vitally missing in order that scrutiny can be adequately carried out.
At present tender/franchise situations work like this:
The government writes a ‘tender’ (a document saying what it wants in a service) for a train service and then all the train operating companies hand in their best offer. Arguably, this is the same situation for Free Schools (although there’s no official tender writing) and it’s what will probably happen with new exam boards.
But the big red circle shows the main problem: Who decides whose bid is the best? And how do they decide? In the case of exam boards, for example – who will make that call? Will it be the Minister? What if they’ve just arrived and don’t really understand anything about their topic? (You can tut at that remark, but I would argue that Justine Greening never really understood much about trains – as was apparent in several questions she answered on tv – and in the amount of time she was in the position it is small wonder) . The view seems to be that, technically, civil servants are making these decisions and then they are signed off by Ministers. However even that appears to be problematic. How do they know what is the best one? Do they have to take advice of people within the profession? Unions? Technical bodies? Is this advice open to the public once the decision has been made so that it can be scrutinised?
And even if we assume that hero civil servants do understand bids fully there is still a problem: They are not the ones doing the scrutiny. You see, the next stage in this process is that once the service is given over, MPs on select committees generally try and scrutinise the goings-on. Where something goes wrong (as in the case of the exam boards) the Select Committee are supposed to get to the bottom of what is going on. But unfortunately, and to put it bluntly, most MPs are not very good at this part.
So now we have this problem:
The Select Committee that spoke with Ofqual on the GCSE Fiasco spent most of their time trying to get their head around the basic day-to-days of a service and didn’t really ask the hard questions that would hold the service to account. Members on both sides, whose primary job is as an MP, found that they were supposed to understand the inner-workings of something that we all think is simple (schools) but actually has incredibly complex parts to it. This then means that we have parts of public service fundamentally breaking down and disappointing people but without there being clear and transparent mechanisms for people getting to the bottom of the matter.
At one time this might have been okay. The whole of Parliament was a sort of mist through which only the political and media elites could peer and if things were a little difficult it didn’t much matter. But as Parliament TV, and access to internet records, are meaning that more and more people are able to see what is happening there has to be a ‘clearing up’ of all this mist so that the processes are more clear and that the electorate can clearly judge if things are being run competently and in a manner that they believe to be suitable.
This means that certain aspects of Parliament have to change, particularly the Select Committee system. One of the suggestions I have made before is around review boards. That blog specifically suggests a Curriculum Review board for education but I think there may be something in a more specific use of experts, perhaps using a list system, or drawing more systematically on the expertise of the House of Lords. Indeed, I think if such review boards became the basis of appointment to the House of Lords it would be a reform of the system that would help make it more useful to the electorate without the requirement for Lords elections.
Unfortunately this is not a sexy issue nor is it one that the public readily understand. I doubt if changes like this would make more than a 5 minute slot on Daily Politics, however they could have a meaningful impact for political debate and its legitimacy in the future. I also genuinely believe it would help to lessen the number and impact of political fiascoes appearing due to problems around franchising, and without this change I can only imagine that their numbers will grow given the tendency in government (on both sides of the house) to move towards the government as a commissioner and chief scrutineer of public services rather than the government being the lead provider.
I am a big fan of useful and practical. But I was reminded today of Simon Blackburn’s fabulous defence of university philosophy departments written in the Times Higher Ed magazine in 2009. He’s completely and utterly right in all that he says, not least that if anyone thinks research might not be ‘worth’ it then perhaps they should consider that the bank bailout of 2008 could have run the Arts & Humanities Council for 10,000 years.
You can read the full thing here: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=408854
But my favourite line is right near the end when he says this:
“As to access, from the academic point of view the sole barrier to participation is the hurdle of being sufficiently educated and competent to have profited from understanding and controlling the central categories of thought. From the social and financial point of view, the barriers include deprivation at an early age, insufficiently stimulating schooling and entrenched inequalities giving few people the confidence ever to become both curious and articulate.”
One of the things I tried most hard with in my own teaching was bringing about the confidence to be curious and articulate. It’s so easy for it to get knocked out of any child – rich or poor – and though it takes a long time to shove it back in, most often it can be done as long as you have the time and the energy required.
Here’s a blog I wrote about David Cameron back in 2005. I still stand by what I wrote at the time (and I still love that I called him “the bloke”!)
David Cameron: I Told You So….
I agree, David Cameron is clearly the best person to lead the Conservative party if what the party want is to be elected. The fact that I agree with this is weird as (a) it means that I empathise with Conservative voters and (b) it means that I think the Conservatives have a chance at winning an election – a terrifying thought.
However, I can’t say I’m surprised by him becoming leader. Back in, ooh, about February time Cameron wrote an outstanding article for the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1436833,00.html
It was obvious at this point that he was a force to be reckoned with. Indeed, it was so obvious that I leapt from the dining table and made my partner read the article. His usual disdain for any Tory shone through, but even he had to admit that the guy had a point. And that’s precisely where he is dangerous. In 1994 when Tony Blair stood up as leader, no matter how much people had previously hated the party they thought to themselves “Why yes, you are a bunch of crazy lefty trade unionist loons – but by George, the man has a point!”
Furthermore, Cameron didn’t just write this one article. Oh no. Do a quick search on the bloke and you’ll see that he’s written many articles, book reviews, speeches, etc that have been printed in the Guardian this year. That’s right. The Guardian. He’s practically in bed with the ‘woolly thinker’ voter that Labour has so heavily relied on. And it seems that I’m the only one who has been noticing this until now.
Cameron is a dangerous, dangerous man if you sit on the left side of the house. Conservatives, however, should get up and rejoice. But for me, the only surprise is that anyone be surprised about him at all.
NB: If you’re looking for an explanation of what the EBacc actually *is* try my other post explaining it here. If you want to know about university EBacc requirements, read on
In a word ‘Yes’. There is no university that currently requires you to have passed, or even studied, all the subjects in the English Baccalaureate in order to get onto their courses. Most universities expect to see a C or above in English and Maths, and commonly there is some preference of A-Level subjects they want you to have studied (e.g. History A-Level if you are going on to do History, or Maths for Engineering) though even then there are regular exceptions [one of my favourite stories is of the current Fulbright scholar who did Mathematical Physics at university having studied neither Maths nor Physics at A-Level].
The subjects in the EBacc are the ones most often required by universities (though – as far as I know – no-one is asking specifically for all 5) and they are the ones that many admissions tutors prefer to see. However, the most important place to go for information is the universities own admissions website. You can find this by googling the university name plus “admissions”, or by using ucas.com. Go to the page for the subject you are looking to enter for to see if there is anything specific to your course.
A note on MFL at UCL: It is not the case that you must have a modern foreign language to study at UCL. Their website clearly states that you must have English and Maths GCSE C grade or above (this is the case for most university courses), but that they will not disadvantage anyone who did not study foreign languages at school. If you do not have a C grade or above in MFL they will require you to take a half-credit course at university (as part of your regular tuition – there’s no extra cost) so that you can develop your language skills further.
Hence: do not panic if you do not have all EBacc subjects. Worry if you do not have maths or English GCSE. Look carefully at A-Level requirements, but otherwise – as far as the EBacc is concerned – you have nothing more to think about.
In Charles Payne’s book So Much Reform, So Little Change he tells the story of a stranger arriving into a school. The stranger gathers all the staff together, stands on a chair and holds above them a giant pot of gold. He says: “This gold is yours, I bring it as a gift.” First, there is silence. Then the complaining begins: Why has he brought the gold? What must they do in return? Is the school next door getting a bigger pot of gold? And anyway, what good will the gold do in a school like this?
At first I laughed when I read this. Then I cringed. I worry I’ve become one of those teachers.
Recently my writing has been a little negative and it’s a shame, because it doesn’t really reflect how I feel about education. My Pollyana-esque worldviews about school have been fairly unshakeable so far in life but the recent build-up of really important really problematic things has been difficult to overcome: The Ofqual scandals, a lack of joined-up thinking on Free Schools & academies, messy curriculum reforms, cuts in funding. Eugh. It all starts to get so much. When you teach in a school these things really drag you down. It’s a tough enough job when the expectations on you are clear but when you’re suddenly inundated with confused ideas at every level – admissions, curriculum, assessment – the cognitive load becomes unbearable. Though I stopped teaching a few months ago my sympathy still lies with those dealing with the changes and hence every thing I’ve written since has become a not-so-sexy fifty-shades of incredibly dark grey.
BUT, among the darkness, there are also bits of light and I really really don’t want to overlook them. So seeing as it’s Friday, and it’s my blog, I thought I’d look to the good things I’ve noticed this week
Today, for example, I was thrilled to read about the launch of Josh Macalister’s report recommending ‘Frontline’ a TeachFirst-esque programme for social work. Not only is Josh a fantastic teacher, but this is something he has cared about from the first time I met him during his teacher training. He has worked tirelessly sharing his idea, applying for funds to develop it into a proposition (all while still working as a full-time teacher). A second group riding high this week are The Brilliant Club, run by Si Coyle and Jonny Sobczyk, who have launched their second year of this great program. TBC places PhD students in school working with highly able students to develop their writing and group tutorial skills. This not only inspires and informs the students, but also provides important teaching skills to the PhDs too.
But even the smaller things of this week have made me smile. For example, yesterday on Twitter I called out Toby Young over the writing of an article when I said he wrote it to annoy people. He subsequently tweeted saying he actually wrote it to get advertising for a new Headteacher and in return he’s doing some free work for the Guardian (no link; he tweets behind closed doors). Some have argued he is unfairly getting free advertising but personally I think it’s a fair and sensible trade; after all, anyone who writes on Teacher Network is essentially advertising something (even if it’s just their idea). And while I maintain that his tone in the article is somewhat inciteful I was genuinely pleased he took the time to explain. Sure, the reply is a few sentences, I’m not suggesting it makes him the epitome of a perfect person, but it’s a nod to honest exchange and it made me smile.
In fact, Toby Young’s little tweet managed to remind me that part of the reason for all the current darkness is that we work in a field where it is possible to have different views on what we do and, if we choose to take part in proper debate – if we listen and try to understand both sides – there is potential for things to be better in the future. Our job isn’t already solved – no-one has created a machine that can most perfectly create student learning – and while that is still open to debate, our job is still innovative and exciting and cool. And by ‘proper debate’ I don’t just mean that everyone agrees with our own views (as nice as it would be if that would happen); it also doesn’t mean that @samfr is going to scamper off and implement our every word as some people think he should; what it does mean is that we engage with one another and ask questions, and we take to task people with different viewpoints and listen when they do it to us. So when Toby says he has another reason for his article; I try really hard to believe him. This morning when I was pulled up – quite correctly – by @geogphil over my use of evidence in a blog about geography in the EBacc I listened and challenged him back and listened so more, and even though I’m not going to change my post (or my feelings on Geography) I probably will be more careful in future in the way I present my argument.
So this is a little shout-out to the people that I am sometimes harsh on – the Gove’s and Glenys Stacey’s – who nevertheless push me to think harder and work towards designing an education system that is better than the one before; and also a thank-you to those who challenge *my* worldviews and who I hope I am less harsh to – like @oldandrewuk, @samfr, @jamespdcroft, @danielcrem, @leedonaghy and many many others. Because, as Abraham Maslow rightly once said: “We may be up against a stone wall but we don’t have to bloody our heads against it unless we choose to” and like the teachers in the story above, we can either choose to see the stranger with a pot of gold as a suspicious threat or simply as a man with a pot of gold. Make your choice wisely; and enjoy your weekend.