Where Is The logic?

Davis Lewis's picture
 26
First of all, even though I find Tory politics abhorrent I do agree with Michael Gove's E-Bac initiative. I do believe that all children should be studying Maths, English, Sciences, a foreign language, History and Geography right up to the end of compulsory education.

The Tories pathological hatred of local government and trade unions has however been allowed to take root in education.

The free school and academy experiment is an exercise in social engineering and corruption. I say corruption because headteachers have been bribed with huge salaries to forgo any professional judgements on their parts. For example they have gone along with league table driven curriculum for many years when they should have stood up to the government of the day and stated that they would not go along with the policy. Also, how many headteachers really believed that GCSE ICT or PE was four times as difficult as Physics, Chemistry or French? I am sure they know this not to be the case yet they went along with the ICT-4 GCSE equivalent.

I have seen my daughter spending hours and hours on ICT coursework to achieve those 4 GCSE grades yet she still knows nothing about programming. With the introduction of the E-Bac agenda ICT has now disappeared from the timetable.My issues with the academies and free schools include their lack of transparency and the governments playing up to headteachers egos. I am also disturbed with amount of public money which is going to shareholders and directors of private companies.

If private companies want to be involved they should invest their own money.
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Shane Rae's picture
Tue, 13/09/2011 - 12:22

I spent a few years a Head of ICT at a secondary school/6th form college and I can assure you, Heads have no idea what is on the syllabus- to be able to form any opinion on it. Or any other subject apart from perhaps Literacy and Numeracy.

Quite timely there is a Westminister Education Forum Event being held today and many of the comments I have noticed on Twitter seem to echo your frustration-that 'IT or ICT' continues to be too broad a subject to be useful to modern students. Check out what they're saying using the Twitter hashtag #WEdFEvents

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 13/09/2011 - 12:26

David - I agree that pupils should study Maths, English, History AND Geography, Science and a Modern Foreign Language up to age 16. However, I disagree with Mr Gove's insistance that pupils should take GCSEs in these subjects and achieve A*-C grades in all of them. Mr Gove's vision has little to do with education and more to do with grading schools on the base of their EBacc scores. And Mr Gove is also too narrow about what he considers to be essential subjects. Why only one humanity, and where is RE? Where are the arts subjects? Design and technology? Computer literacy and IT?

Davis Lewis's picture
Tue, 13/09/2011 - 14:42

Every child should leave school being numerate, literate, having an understanding of science, being functional in a second language and have a knowledge and understanding of this country's history and geography. Doing these subjects does not obviate students doing ICT, music, art, PE and D and T. Our European neighbours do not allow their students to drop these subjects before they are sixteen and if they do these subjects up until 16 then why should they not take GSCE's in these subjects. Schools should not be graded in league table terms, unfortunately our school curriculum is dictated by league tables and its making children the sacrificial lambs in that they are encouraged to pursue the subjects which will enhance the schools league table standings.
In terms of Computer literacy and IT, in light of the recent comments made my Mr Scmidt of Google I think we need to take a hard look at what is being delivered as ICT. As Mr Schmidt children seem to be spending their time learning how to use computer packages, which to my mind is not ICT. Let's face it most children are more computer literate than their teachers. I would certainly like to see every school offer computer studies along with computer programming and some basic software engineering. A lot of money has been invested in computer hardware in our schools and I do not think we are getting a great return on this.
Just going back to the E-bcc discussion, I am a hard-left voter who does not have a mainstream party to vote for but what I find interesting is that there are so many headteachers who are against the E-bacc curriculum yet they themselves have school qualifications in these subjects and I can bet that their own children will be doing these elitist subjects. If everyone did these subjects then they would not be elitist. For instance, MFL is dying out in non-selective state schools yet practically all students in independent schools study a modern foreign language. They do not get a choice. The state education systems obsession with choice allows children to opt out of what is good for them. Not many 14 year old can make a good choice about best to eat much less which subjects to pursue. Its ironic that if you pay for your education there is little scope for dropping subjects yet in the state sector our children can drop the subjects they do not like. Once again this does not happen in the rest of Europe. So no, I do not have much time for Gove, much of what he says make no sense but on this I do agree, all children should do these subjects up 16 and this does not mean they cannot do other subjects as well.

Henry Stewart's picture
Tue, 13/09/2011 - 23:37

"Every child should leave school being numerate, literate, having an understanding of science, being functional in a second language and have a knowledge and understanding of this country’s history and geography."

Why? Why dictate what students do, whether it is a strength or not of theirs?

This does restrict music, art etc. After taking Maths, 2 English, 2 Science, a language, History and Geography (you have gone beyond Mr Gove, who only asks for one of these) that is 8 GCSE options used up. Many students only take 8 or 9.

I find it very odd that we want to decide on students' behalf what they should learn. Why should a student that is talented in art, music, drama, photography be made to continue a language even if they have no aptitude for it. (And remember one of the largest sectors of our economy for employment is the creative sector.)

Let's keep the required subjects to a minimum (I would make it just English and Maths) and allow each student to take the GCSEs that play to their strengths.

Davis Lewis's picture
Wed, 14/09/2011 - 08:15

In terms of dictating what children should do, let's take your argument to its logical conclusion, children who wish to opt out of Maths, English and Science let them opt out. For children who wish to have Big Macs for lunch every day let them do so. Our economy is actually a European economy if not a world economy and our children are competing against people from all over the world for university places and jobs/careers.

How can we be developing citizens who have no understanding of the history of their own country's history - which in turn will result in them having little understanding of the present. How can we say we are citizens of our country if we do not know Shropshire from Yorkshire of know the difference between Newcastle on Tyne and Newcastle under Lyme. Not that any of us are citizens in a monarchy but that is another argument for another day.

I do think it is very disengenious to say that you find it odd ' want we want to decide on what they should learn', once again who determines the syllabus, the timetable, the examinations - are you saying that this should also be decided by children. Are you saying that if children want trigonometry, Shakespeare or grammar removed from their learning, we should do so. Many children do not want to learn such things

I take your point that 8 compulsory GCSE's may be too many.

Yes, I agree children should be able to pursue their talents but that does not mean as adults and as professionals we should abdicate our responsibility to use our experience to provide guidance and leadership as well as honesty.

Very good teachers can turn weaknesses into strengths. We all know that very often when children say they dislike the subject it is the teacher or the standard of teaching that is the issue.

In the real world starting at collegethen university and the world of work we sometimes have to struggle with subjects and tasks which are not necessarily our strengths. For instance at University everyone has to research methods and there will be modules one has to pass whether they like it or not - that is the real world. We are selling children a falsehood if we give them the message that they only have to do the things they like.

Finally, what is aptitude? How comes a Polish plumber or builder or a Lituanian shopkeeper can speak fluent English? Is this down to aptitude?

That word aptitude is a dangerous word.

botzarelli's picture
Tue, 13/09/2011 - 15:01

"I have seen my daughter spending hours and hours on ICT coursework to achieve those 4 GCSE grades yet she still knows nothing about programming."

Parents also have some responsibility to advise their children about which subjects to take and to ask their children's teachers what is involved in those subjects.

If Free Schools and Academies are bad ideas because of perceived "corruption" of head teachers to game the system to achieve the highest league table placings, why does this not apply equally to head teachers at traditional comprehensive schools who are also encouraged to improve their league table positions? Encouraging students to take the EBacc combination of GCSEs as a core might have the effect of making schools that do so fall down the league tables due to the apparently greater difficulty/lack of "relevance" of those subjects. How does incentivising taking a set of subjects that Mr Lewis approves of which might harm league table ranking equate to corruption in the cause of league table positioning?

The principal target would seem to be league tables rather than different types of schools. So, fine, let's get rid of league tables and then discuss what is best.

Head teachers don't appear from nowhere. The vast majority will have entered the teaching profession and spent their entire professional lives working in the comprehensive sector. They will have done so in the large part 15, 20 or more years ago when it would have been even less true to say that anyone entered the profession due to being motivated by money than it is now. Why does Mr Lewis think that such people, now that they are on very good money indeed (typically £70k+ for the average secondary school head, a lot more in larger London schools) will suddenly transform into easily corruptible dupes who put the education of children low down their list of professional priorities.

This is a very confused article.

Davis Lewis's picture
Tue, 13/09/2011 - 17:03

Botzarelli, first of all thanks for responding to my confused article and responding with such clarity.

Parents also have some responsibility to advise their children about which subjects to take and to ask their children’s teachers what is involved in those subjects.

I do not recall saying that parents do not have this responsibility however parents and their children should be able to trust the professionals - unfortunately this is not always the case and children are given poor information. For example children are told that media studies will get them into the media yet very few of the media figures have a degree or even a GCSE in Media Studies.

I have noticed that the higher achieving schools in the shire authorities have always done the E-bacc subjects so there is no perceived risk for them. Those schools where they have five per cent doing a GCSE in modern foreign language, they are the ones who are hopping mad about the e-bacc.

If league tables are dictating the curriculum that is corruption because the school is not delivering what is best for the children but what is best for the school. The headteacher's career stands or falls by league table standings and Ofsted inpections. I am stating the obvious here.

As to new headships, you say that they do not appear from nowhere - funnily enough it seems they do these days. Many of these vacancies are advertised at six figure salaries and they seem to be attracting people with as little as five years experience. I have seen a few cases of this and then I do wonder about the motives of teachers who want headships without putting in the hard yards.

I also think you have misread me about free schools, academies and corruption. The corruption in these schools is nothing to do with league tables, I am not aware of free schools being represented in school league tables and in my expereince most academies results do not show up on league tables especially if the results are poor. The lack of transparency of these schools will lend itself to corrupt practices like any other opaque organisation - people behind closed doors generally engage in shady practices. For example it will be interesting to see how contracts in say, legal services, insurance, building maintenance etc. for these schools are awarded. as things stand nobody will know how these contracts will be awarded.

Just a few thoughts of mine.

I am putting up some questions for discussions, I beleive there are some things happening which ought to be questioned rather than just accepted as gospel. We have a system and a way of doing things which in my mind ought to be questioned.

botzarelli's picture
Wed, 14/09/2011 - 13:14

Thanks for taking the time to respond (I think your other article is clearer).

There appears to be a shortage of applicants for a lot of headships so it is not such a surprise if some of the more challenging jobs are being taken by those with less teaching experience than in the past. The money on offer doesn't seem to be a big motivating factor in getting "traditional" heads (ie ones who have worked up through the different levels of school teaching and management) but I suspect that some of the less experienced teachers who do go for the jobs might have a relevant first career that would fit them for the management of the school as an organisation provided they had "enough" teaching experience.

I think the procurement issue you raise is an interesting one - Free/Academy schools which receive the majority (even a bare 51%) of their funding from the State will be bound by the same EU public procurement rules as ordinary state schools (although the smaller size of contracts for supply to a single school will mean that this will apply less often). One of the potential problems with procurement is that central procurement can lead to higher costs and lower flexibility and the exclusion of small local businesses. Centralised procurement exercises tend to load a lot of costs onto bidders as well as a lot of requirements which are more "nice to have" than going towards what an individual school may value in its supplier.

Clearly it would not be good if such schools ended up being a vehicle for providing work to underqualified and expensive cronies. However, I'm less pessimistic about the motivations of heads and governors on the whole and don't think this will be the norm.

As for league tables, I'm not sure they are a particularly good information tool for parents but may be a useful management tool for schools and education authorities. If they are to be maintained at public cost and as an obligation for ordinary schools to collect, maintain and transmit data, this should be justified purely on the basis of the value that they provide to school managers and education authorities. Informal tables could be collated privately on the basis of market demand for such statistics. The tables don't give the whole picture and the answer is not to ramp up the level of data collection and analysis but to accept that seeking an objective measure is a futile task. No-one knows whether Eton is a better school than Westminster - there is no objective measure that would lead to a reliable answer.

Henry Stewart's picture
Wed, 14/09/2011 - 20:51

First, i'm not sure you learn the difference between the two Newcastles in Geography GCSE - or even that it is a particularly useful piece of knowledge. I'm not saying our children should learn no history or geography - they spend 3 years at primary learning it.

Polish plumbers learn English because they have a need for it. English students learn few languages because they have little need to. I did a GCSE in Spanish and do enjoy the chance to practice it on holiday. But despite doing business across 8 countries, I have never spoken a foreign language for work.

The English Bacc is an obsession that every student should learn what students learnt 50 years ago. It is a nonsense. Yes, let our children compete in the world economy for jobs but actually Art and Graphics are probably more use here than History or French. Let those who are suited to it learn the skills to be the next Jonathan Ive (the designer responsible for Apple's products).

Nigel Ford's picture
Thu, 15/09/2011 - 08:51

Broadly agree with you Henry although I think Science should be compulsory.

I thought it was quite radical and sensible for Labour to allow the dropping of a foreign language at 14 because there are many bright students who struggle with languages and their time is taken up learning something which could be used more constructively elsewhere. It's not as if it usually serves any practical purpose even if the pupils gain good GCSE grades as I know with my own kids.

Davis Lewis's picture
Thu, 15/09/2011 - 10:58

Its funny that the grammar schools and the private schools haven't dropped mfl.
I think its more about the inherent laziness of the British to other cultures and languages, we do not really like to put ourselves out learn about others or learn from others.

Labours decision re; MFL has ensured that languages is the preserve of the elite, but maybe that is how we like it in Britain

Its worth noting that the Russel Group universities are gradually insisting on a GCSE language as an entry requirement. This why the plebs will always be kept in their places, excluded from the top professions, excluded from political power, excluded from the top universities.Let's face it, does quadratice and simultaneous equations serve any practical purpose, how about aspects of RE, how about distillation? I only did French for a short time and I do find it useful when I travel to France on the Eurostar, I just wish I had been able to become more proficient speaker of the language.

Finally, ask Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Clarence Seedorf and those managers and players who have plied their trades across Europeif being multi-lingual does not serve any practical purpose.

Davis Lewis's picture
Thu, 15/09/2011 - 10:58

Its funny that the grammar schools and the private schools haven't dropped mfl.
I think its more about the inherent laziness of the British to other cultures and languages, we do not really like to put ourselves out learn about others or learn from others.

Labours decision re; MFL has ensured that languages is the preserve of the elite, but maybe that is how we like it in Britain

Its worth noting that the Russel Group universities are gradually insisting on a GCSE language as an entry requirement. This why the plebs will always be kept in their places, excluded from the top professions, excluded from political power, excluded from the top universities.Let's face it, does quadratice and simultaneous equations serve any practical purpose, how about aspects of RE, how about distillation? I only did French for a short time and I do find it useful when I travel to France on the Eurostar, I just wish I had been able to become more proficient speaker of the language.

Finally, ask Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Clarence Seedorf and those managers and players who have plied their trades across Europe if being multi-lingual does not serve any practical purpose.

Davis Lewis's picture
Thu, 15/09/2011 - 11:29

Mark Zuckerberg, the inventor of Facebook did useless subjects like ancient Greek, Cantonese, French, Hebrew and Latin. I think we need to think beyond doing a subject for its usefulness and start valuing knowledge and skills for their own sake. This thing of if its not practical its useless is short sighted. How does a sixteen year old know what is going to be useful for him or her as thirty year old or a forty year old. We have absoluely no idea what the world will be like in thirty years from now in terms of employment and technology. What we do know is that there will still be people of diffrent nationalities speaking a variety of languages travelling across the world for leisure and work. That will not change.
Going back to Labour policies again, Estelle Morris and Ed Balls are two of the most visionless and misguided Education Secretaries this country has had and I say this as a socialist with absolutely no time for Tory ideology.

Henry Stewart's picture
Fri, 16/09/2011 - 10:48

Yes, learning is a great thing and I'm a big believer in it. But I'm not so keen on forced learning. Mark Zuckerberg chose those subjects himself and probably got a hell of a lot out of them. Steve Jobs famously attributes the Japanese calligraphy class he attended - instead of his actual course - while at university with the focus on design that led to Apple's greatness.

But nobody would have forced him to do that subject. I agree that we cannot know which subjects people will find most useful. But I believe the best people to decide what to learn, with good guidance, is the student themselves.

And, as to the earlier comment, yes we should make sure students leave school literate and numerate. But I have no idea why we insist all students learn trigonometry (vital for engineers, mathematicians, physicists, architects but no use for most of us). Have you ever used it?

Davis Lewis's picture
Fri, 16/09/2011 - 16:08

Henry, I am not sure what is meant by forced learning. To take your argument to its logical conclusion education should be made optional as we do know there is a body of young people who view school as a waste of time. Unfortunately young people do not always know what is best for them and as responsible adults it is our duty to guide not force them to exercise good and sound judgement in respect of the life changing decisons they make.

I am not sure whether Mark Zuckerberg chose those esoteric subjects but I am amzed at the number of school professionals who have made derisory comments about subjects such as Ancient Hebrew and the Classics. The point I was making about Zuckerberg's subject choices here is that our current approach to subject choices is all about getting a job. We need to get our young people to appreciaite that this is not the only reason for studying a subject.
In repect of options at Year nine which i think is too soon - I always hear young people talking about what they want to opt out of rather than opting in.

Henry Stewart's picture
Sat, 17/09/2011 - 16:56

David, let me try and explain why i so totally disagree with you. When my eldest was in Year 7 I read a piece in TES from a private school head emphasising their traditional approach, focusing on traditional subjects, long-established writers and classic art. I thought "thank god my child goes to a creative local school". She had been studying Michael Craig-Martin in art, the impact of Nelson Mandela in humanities, and had already made a film that had been shown at the NFT (though she also did study Shakespeare and similar classic works). I was pleased she was being prepared for the modern world, not the world of the 1950s.

Six years on her colleagues have gone in many different directions. Some have taken an academic route and are off to study medicine, maths, history etc. But several have focused on subjects like art and photography and are heading to do a foundation course at arts college. A couple are off to pursue music careers, making a mark with their bands (one recent school graduate had a number 1 hit). One already has a successful career in film. One young man that I knew at primary school, and was fairly disturbed, didn't get his Maths GCSE but has done well in IT and Graphics and is well set for a job in computers. A couple have focused on the physical and will be studying sports at university.

For Michael Gove it seems, only the academic ones are successful. The rest have failed his e-bacc test. Would you rate them as failures?

For me they demonstrate the success of a school that is creative and based in the modern world. They have been able to pursue the areas they are motivated by and strong in and left able to populate the wide range of jobs that now exist, not just the narrow.

It may be the case that myself, yourself and Michael Gove all did well at the traditional subjects but that is no reason to impose it on all students. Let us escape the narrow-minded straight-jackets of one set of subjects and let school be truly relevant to the modern world and to the needs of all students, not just the 5% set for elite universities.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Sun, 18/09/2011 - 16:22

I found this a very interesting discussion (to which I arrive late as usual) but here are some stray thoughts. First, David its not true that most heads (or ex-heads) have the equivalent of the English Bacc. I don't. I was able to drop science completely after the third yearn and did! At the ACSL conference this year delegates were wearing lapel badges procliaming they didn't have it. Of course children should have a firm grounding in history and geography but, assuming you think GCSE is essential to provide this grounding, the Bacc doesn't insist on both anyway. And you could make an equally valid
argument for other areas of knowledge, as Henry has noted.

I share your concern about the ignorance of the young but wasn't it ever thus? My generation are duly shocked when 12% of children think Churchill is a talking dog but how many kids when I was at school knew much about Lloyd George and he was alive (just) in my lifetime which doesn't apply to today's children and WSC.

I couldn't tell you when I learnt there was another Newcastle, apart fromthe one which kept getting to the cup final when I was at primary school ,but I know for certain than no one told me at school. And that applies to loads of those bits of 'essential knowledge' the ignorance of which amongst the young shock newspaper columnists so frequently.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Sun, 18/09/2011 - 16:24

Freudian slip - year not yearn - nothing to do with teenage crushes!

Davis Lewis's picture
Sun, 18/09/2011 - 16:52

Adrian, I appreciaite your reasoned views albeit we may not necessarily be in total agreement but you have given me cause to pause for thought in some respects. I agrees for instance that we do not gain all of our geographical knowledge from our teachers.
In respect of the headteachers who may or may not have the e-bacc, I am only basing thise on my very unrepresentative sample of a the few headteachers.
At a recent meeting of school leaders, one person in berating the e-bacc well I haven't got these e-bacc subjects, how many of you have got them, every headteachers to a man and woman raised their hand - sheepishly in some cases.

I know. It would be interesting to know what proportion of our headteachers have these subjects.

In respect of validating the grounding in these subjects, if someone is sttudying this in year 11 then why not allow them to sit the GCSE. There could also be a school leavers certificate which would validate that a student has studied subjects up to and maybe beyond GCSE level. For example 'Jackie' or 'Jack' may have passed 8 GCSE but the certificate would list the subjects studied plus other extra -curricula activities such as volunteering, expedition and sporting.

I am also concerned that children may be given the wrong information re subject choices and therefore find themselves excluded from the career or university of their choice.
The admission repartment at Cambridge University gave a presentation a couple of years ago and they advised that a student with three A levels in a language(one or more), a humanity(one or more) with the good grades will have a better than even chance of getting into a Russell group university. To do a science related degree we all know that its Maths and the sciences. The overarching message was not to specialise to soon.

The other sad truth is that there is a hierarchy of subjects and we should be aware of this. I not saying it is right but we must not be in denial.

Henry Stewart's picture
Sun, 18/09/2011 - 17:20

David, it has been an interesting debate and its made me think a lot. I do agree on the importance of giving good advice to students who want to got to Russell Group universities, and making sure they do the right subjects.

But even those are not yet insisting on the e-bacc. And its important not to divert the curriculum for 100% of students to the needs of the 5-10% who will got to the Russell Group.

JimC's picture
Sun, 18/09/2011 - 18:53

"I share your concern about the ignorance of the young but wasn’t it ever thus? My generation are duly shocked when 12% of children think Churchill is a talking dog but how many kids when I was at school knew much about Lloyd George and he was alive (just) in my lifetime which doesn’t apply to today’s children and WSC."

I don't think you can excuse large scale ignorance amoungst modern children because children were ignorant in the past.

Davis Lewis's picture
Sun, 18/09/2011 - 19:24

UCL as of next year will not be considering applicants without a GCSE MFL. I am sure others will follow. I think if you do look at the the students at the Russell Group universities the majority are from the indpendent sector and I would hazard a guess that the e-bacc subjects feature in their GCSE's. It is important that working class students are given the right information for example GCSE or A level law will not enhance one's prospects for qualifying as a lawyer and media studies is not a requisite for working in that industry but many youngsters are given this misinformation and students have a great degree of trust in their teachers advice, often more than that of their parents.

Henry Stewart's picture
Sun, 18/09/2011 - 20:13

Completely agree on need for good advice and it may indeed be case that schools with less experience of top universities are less strong on that advice.

But again would say that the pt on UCL and languages may mean students (working class or middle class) heading for Russell Gp should take language but again no reason for all students to do so. A good local school should meet needs of all students.

By the way, not true that majority of Russell Group students are form independent sector. Even at Oxbridge state schools are in majority, around 58%, though not as high is the proportion getting 3 As (70%) - which should be the minimum level.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Mon, 19/09/2011 - 09:29

Jim. I'm not excusing anything. But you know as well as I do that the usual narrative today is one of decline, of a worsening situation over time.

Davis Lewis's picture
Mon, 19/09/2011 - 11:02

Jim/Adrian, the 'ignorance of the young' has an added irony in that our young are living and playing in an 'information rich' environment. There seems to be less curiosity to 'discover' new experiences and information - or maybe it is just me being a grumpy old man.

Davis Lewis's picture
Mon, 19/09/2011 - 11:32

What is beyond doubt is that students from independent schools are disproprtionately represented in the Oxbridge and Russel Group universities. The reference to state educated students should be mindful that many of these indeed a disproportionate number will have come from 'grammar' schools and comprehensives in leafy, expensive areas schools which would not be labelled as the 'bog standard' type. These schools effectively select by post code. In light of this we should not delude ourselves that Oxbridge and the Russell group universities are becoming more reflective of our society, state schools come in all sorts of manifesations and sadly some are almost as exclusive as the independent schools. I can think of one not too far from me which definitely does not want the local 'riff raff' attending their school. I attended a 'community' meeting sometime back and for a moment or two I thought I was in Naziesque environment, it was very intimidating.

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