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Friday, November 21, 2014

Research on impact of Grammar Schools seems to have missed the point

I am going to duck the argument about the value and place of Grammar Schools in our school system because I know that it has foaming-at-the-mouth adherents to both sides of the debate.  But I was interested to come across this piece in the Independent today which suggested that they were no better for pupils than a comprehensive.

I have so far failed to find the actual research on which the article is based because the journalist has not been kind enough to link to her sources so I don't know if this is politically motivated and am prepared to be corrected or correct myself when I find it.

"The researchers concluded that the apparent success of grammar schools was due to selective school pupils coming from more advantaged social backgrounds and having higher academic attainment at age 11."
Rather than casting aspersions on the value of Grammar School education doesn't this actually restate that it is primary education which matters most in affecting the life chances of children...?

One of these days government might wake up to this and start funding primary schools commensurately rather than continuing to pander to the secondary lobby.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Over the weekend I contemplated whether writing a short blog about last week's election would be wise.  I am no psephologist and thus quite likely to misunderstand or misinterpret what has just happened.

But two things overruled that thought:
  1. My original purpose for blogging which was experimental and reflective and  
  2. My visceral depression that the UK could be so stupid as to vote in droves for UKIP!
I cannot comfort myself with the thought that this is just a protest vote... a finger in the eye of the established parties.  I too have a sense of disenfranchisement.  None of the leaders of the major parties comes across as having anything other than the most fragile of principles that evaporate at the first whiff of power.

Now don't get me wrong.  I am not completely naive.  Politics has always been about the pursuit of power.  You aim to say something that hits the middle ground between what you think people want to hear and what you think they'll believe from you.  Hence after crises parties at the extreme tend to prosper as they are seen as either:

A: Offering an easily digested but false explanation for the problem 
B: An alternative to the sorry lot that created the problem

But the week after Prince Charles allegedly compared Putin to Hitler, it is quite easy to see the echoes nearer to home of the decline of the Weimar republic, the end of the Romanovs or the collapse of the Ancien Regime.  For Jews and the Treaty of Versailles in the 1930s read Romanians and the Treaty of Lisbon now.

Neither Blair nor Brown nor Cameron/Clegg were responsible for the collapse of the financial markets and the subsequent depression.  Nor were any of them responsible for the unparalleled period of growth and prosperity that preceded it.  Politicians spend entire careers trying to take credit for things they had no hand in and denying any responsibility for the things they actually did.  So there is no point in punishing them and self-harming ourselves on a pan European level by electing UKIP, Le Front National or Neo Nazis.

This is the trouble with complexity.  It is complex.  Although I am embarrassed by the percentage of people who voted for UKIP across the UK, I am rather proud of London where they only managed single digits.  As UKIP's spokesperson Suzanne Evans said on the Today programme the other day, 

"We do have a more media savvy, well educated population in London and they are more likely to have read some of the negative press that there has been about us and I think that they'd be more likely to believe it"  Source Huffington Post
That really does bear re-reading.  Their own spokesperson is basically calling UKIP voters ignorant, credulous fools.  But that doesn't matter because these same voters are unlikely to read newspapers much less listen to the Today programme.   

But the main parties cannot call these voters idiots... it's not a good way to woo them back.

If we want to prevent history from repeating itself we must learn from it.  I don't care if you vote Tory, Labour, Lib-Dem, SNP, Plaid, Green even the Late Lord Sutch would be worth a protest vote.  Just don't vote for the dangerous but charming simpletons who think blaming foreigners and homosexuals for all our problems will actually make anything better.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Errant nonsense.... probably

One of the frustrating things about working in state funded education is not always being able to say what one thinks.  It is not that there is a shortage of people in the sector who will...  It's just that education is a complex arena and the people who pay for our assumptions, mistakes, prejudices and general ignorance are our children.

And that is not particularly fair...

But I couldn't let this one go without a mini-rant...  Today on the BBC website there was a piece under the title,

"OECD 'debunks myth' that poor will fail at school"

which presented the following argument:

1. The poorest 10% of children in Shanghai perform as well in the PISA tests as the richest 20% of children in Europe and America

2. Therefore poverty does not impact educational performance

The article makes this assertion alongside a quote from Andrea Schleicher (who is the global head of the PISA tests) that this data:

"debunks the myth that poverty is destiny"

I wish there were a font with which I could politely express hair-standing-on-end-incredulity at the crassness of this... But there isn't.

Equally I don't know how the story got onto the BBC site, or who gave them the press release with this half-digested argument...

Just because the most disadvantaged children in Shanghai do as well as the most fortunate in the West does not say anything about the impact of poverty on education or debunk any myths.  It simply says that disadvantaged kids in Shanghai do better at the PISA test than their disadvantaged counterparts in the West.  It doesn't say why they do better in the test.  It doesn't say whether their performance is because of or despite their education system.  It doesn't say whether PISA is any reliable indicator of the quality of an education system.

There is a straw man being created here...

What is being aimed at, I think, is the assumption that those in less fortunate family circumstances are 'more likely' to fail.  To debunk this you would need data from an education system where the poor did as well or better than (depending on how you chose to define progress or achievement) their more fortunate counterparts in the same system.

Poor children in Shanghai did better than poor children in the West.  But I'll bet that rich children in Shanghai did better than poor children in Shanghai... as they do, on average, in the west and everywhere else.  The art is in knowing this to be true and still aspiring to greatness on behalf of the less fortunate rather than simply settling for good enough.

There is absolutely nothing wrong in raising expectations of children.  But if we aspire to raise the quality of education debate then:

Say what you mean and mean what you say!