Are 6-8 million British adults illiterate? Are schools to blame?

Janet Downs's picture
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Headlines in the Sun and Mail trumpeted that one in five adults struggled to read or write, so Channel 4 FactCheck and FullFact checked out their claims that 8 million British adults were illiterate.

So what did FactCheck and FullFact discover?

1 The articles originated from a report published by the World Literacy Foundation (WLF) which was based on an International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) done in 1996.

2 The 8 million figure used by WLF had its source in an article published by an entrant to a writing competition held by BBC Northampton in 2005. This had also cited IALS.

3 IALS had found that 21.8% of Brits struggled with literacy (one in five). However, these were not functionally illiterate but at the lower end of the statistical bell curve.

4 WLF were heavily promoting the World Literacy Summit in April 2012 in Oxford. This comprised more entrepreneurial figures than academics. Registration fees were £1,345. Few leading British academics were attending.

5 The latest “Skills for Life” survey published by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) estimated there were 5.1 million adults (aged 16-65) below Level 1 in Literacy. Dr Jan Eldred, chair of the UK Literacy Working Group, said these people, who comprised 14.9% of the adult population in England, were not necessarily illiterate – they were at the lower end of the skills curve and many would have a learning disability like dyslexia. It was wrong to say that Britain was in the middle of an educational crisis.

FactCheck concluded that it would be fairer to say “More than 15 years ago, 21 per cent of a small sample of people were found to be at the lower end of the scale of literacy, according to a questionable piece of research”.

Rhetoric about the “scandal” of literacy rates in Britain regularly fills the papers. The recent Riots Report suggested fining schools where children didn’t meet “age-appropriate” reading standards. It is essential, therefore, that there is an agreed definition of functional illiteracy to prevent politicians and the media, either deliberately or through ignorance, from inflating the figures for poor literacy and implying that anything below a GCSE grade C is a sign of being unable to read or write sufficiently to cope with everyday life.

POSTSCRIPT

The Sun’s article was accompanied by a picture of a young woman reading a book (the article was not on Page 3). The book was “The Cities of Seleukid Syria” by John D Grainger, “the first detailed study of the foundation, history, government, growth and decline of the cities founded in Syria by Seleukos I in 301BC shortly after the time of Alexander the Great.” If this academic tome is a sign of literacy, how long will it be before Mr Gove lists Grainger as essential reading in Key Stage 2?

 
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Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 16/04/2012 - 08:47

No doubt the tabloid newspapers over-simplify and sensationalize this topic - they over-simplify and sensationalize everything. But there is a real problem with poor literacy in our society, as every employer sees daily. And there are wider, somewhat complex, ramifications - note the high proportion of young men in prison with literacy problems.

I see no point in denying there is a problem. It sometimes seems that's what you are trying to do, Janet.

This apparent determination to remain in denial - about a whole range of problems in ours schools - has become a distinguishing feature of this site.
By chance, I stumbled across this characterization of LSN on the website of an English teacher who teaches in a challenging school:

The Local Schools Network is a group of privileged middle class people trying to persuade other privileged middle class people that state comprehensives are a good place to send your kids. Any argument; any claim; any ideology; any lie, is considered acceptable as a tactic to persuade. It is simply a philosophical dispute within the middle classes about principles. Like much of the London-based, middle class left, they simply do not comprehend that there is a world beyond their social class. In their world a bad local school means extra money on private tuition or the embarrassment of abandoning your ideology; in the world beyond it can mean a guarantee of continuing poverty. In their world a good local comprehensive is a chance to save money and retain the right to be self-righteous at dinner parties; in the world beyond it means a route out of poverty. In their world it is a matter of high principle to put on a brave face and deny the manifest failures of our broken education system; in the world beyond it means writing off working class kids as basically not suited to the kind of education middle class people want for their own kids.

http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/

Fair, or unfair?

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 16/04/2012 - 10:16

Oh, Ricky, you've made my day again. It's so funny when posters use generalised comments from un-referenced sources as "evidence". And it doesn't matter if the comment comes from a supposedly teacher of English teaching is a supposedly challenging school - if the comments are not backed up by evidence or are merely anecdotal they are of little use (except to raise a laugh).

I particularly love the piece about "any ideology, any lie, is considered acceptable". As much of what is written on LSN is linked to reputable evidence and reports based on research it's difficult to understand where the lies come from.

"It's simply a philosophical dispute". No it's more serious than that. I'll quote Aristophanes again:

“As you battle in words and in thoughts of the mind,
Let us see which is better and which lags behind;
We’re concerned in this contest for Socrates’ sake;
For the future of Learning, no less, is at stake.”

(The Clouds. Lines 953-956)

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 16/04/2012 - 10:42

Is OldAndrew a real person? I don't mean is he actually called Andrew Old or is he a human being I mean does the way he posts have a wider agenda he doesn't reveal?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 16/04/2012 - 10:51

Janet,

I'm not sure what you mean by "unreferenced" in this particular context. I provided a link to the original.

Nor do I see why you casually dismiss the observations Mr Old draws from his day to day experience in the class room as "merely anecdotal", as if he has been in some way negligent by failing to ensure that his lessons are part of some randomized, crossover, placebo-controlled trial.

"Evidence" is also a word that should be used with care when discussing LSN.

The only substantial piece of research/analysis work I've seen here was Henry's manipulation of selected figures that purported to show that community schools were just as good as academies. That would have been laughed out of the park anywhere where scientific method was rigorously applied because he chose to compare only low-performing schools, close to the floor level. You can bet that a community school in such a situation is one that is attended by the full panoply of LA school improvement partners, and the extra funding that goes therewith, and is consequently very far from being typical or representative.

All Henry's "evidence" really showed was that schools with a gun held to their heads tend to improve, whatever sector they are in.

But returning to the point - Andrew Old eloquently expresses the puzzlement of people like me coming to this site. The question is a simple one: why are you so keen to pretend that everything is fine and dandy in maintained schools, when it manifestly is not?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 16/04/2012 - 10:57

Henry learned the art of the analysis of figures relating to the economics of Education in E.G. West's department Ricky.

"The question is a simple one: why are you so keen to pretend that everything is fine and dandy in maintained schools, when it manifestly is not?"
It's not about pretending. It's precisely the opposite. It's about engaging with it and working with it as it is - positives, negatives and smelly bits, using strategies which have been show to work to create improvements.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 16/04/2012 - 11:29

Ricky - sorry if my clumsy grammar confused you. I meant that the source to which you linked and from which you cut-and-pasted the quote contained contained not one shred of evidence. It was just a list of assumptions.

I, too, have worked as a teacher but I do not use my experience as evidence (I could be making it up to "prove" a point - I don't expect readers to take my word for it). If I used my experiences at all then it would be for illustration purposes only. Andrew Old has commented on LSN in the past but rarely supplies links to evidence.

And it does not follow, Ricky, than in exploding the myths propagated by the Government and its supporters about the dire state of the whole of the English state education system that "everything is fine and dandy". It isn't - the number of heads that wish to leave the profession, concerns about the distorting effect of league tables, worries about whether what is offered in schools is mere teaching to the test, ignoring global evidence that the best-performing school systems tend to be the most equitable and so on are proof that everything isn't "fine and dandy".

FullFact checked Henry's figures and found that Henry had been "even-handed" and commented on the "depth" of his analysis. If you have evidence that his figures "would have been laughed out of the park" please supply it with a link so that readers can judge the evidence for themselves.

Also could you please provide evidence for your sentence which begins, "I bet..."

Sorry, Ricky, but "I bet" isn't good enough. Your contention may, or may not, true but such a statement needs to be evidence-based to be credible.

http://fullfact.org/articles/academies_schools_improvements_class-6845

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 16/04/2012 - 12:24

Sorry I should explain that comment shouldn't I?

OldAndrew has a tendency to run off into these aggressive attacks on groups of people who are intelligent, credible and happy to engage in intelligent dialogue rather than talking to them. That's not something teachers who command the respect of their peers do in general.

The other think that way he built up his credibility in the opinion section of the TES forum. I guess you have to have watched the dynamics on there closely over time to understand that comment.

Gemma's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 07:57

Ricky

Have a look at this wonderful, funny post

http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/10-reasons-why-i-sh...

The comments are a hoot too.


Janet is using 1 and 3 as reasons not to tidy.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 16/04/2012 - 11:23

Henry learned the art of the analysis of figures relating to the economics of Education in E.G. West’s department Ricky.

And where did he learn the art of spinning them, Big Flame, Socialist Unity, IMG?

(see Toby Young's "Left-Wing Nutters go Bonkers" here: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tobyyoung/100078659/leftwing-nutters-g...)

As you know, exposure to E.G. West's ideas take people in all sorts of different directions. For every one that cleaves to the path of righteousness taking him to the Adam Smith Institute, Cato, or the IoD; there's another who goes off the rails.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 16/04/2012 - 11:49

Oh for goodness' sake Ricky you don't think Toby Young is a relevant or credible commentator on education do you?
Perhaps this discussion would help you get some perspective:
http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/02/west-london-free-school-se...
You need to look in particular at the part which starts with my comment of 23/02/12 at 10:52 pm which you should read carefully.

Play the ball no the the man with respect to Henry Ricky or you will look ignorant. Here are some basic guidelines for how to post well in online discussion:
http://cyberrhetoricbyrebeccahanson.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/mozilla-festi...

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 16/04/2012 - 11:51

I replied to you Ricky but it has links in so its awaiting moderation. They're pretty good here so hopefully it wont be long before you can read it.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 16/04/2012 - 11:57

Janet

The FullFact report rather supports my case - that Henry has shown that poorly performing community schools improve at about the same rate (sometimes faster) than poorly performing academies. But that is a long way short of how the figures were spun to suggest that overall academies do worse.

Back on topic: you list a number of things that you admit are not fine and dandy in maintained schools, such as concerns about the distorting effect of league tables. Are you saying we should all worry about these things and not about poor literacy, poor numeracy, failure to obtain 5 good grades etc?

Now that almost 50% of secondaries are academies, perhaps we will soon see comparisons made between community schools and academies that are not, by definition, outriders.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 16/04/2012 - 20:00

"Are you saying we should all worry about these things and not about poor literacy, poor numeracy, failure to obtain 5 good grades etc?"

It depends who 'we' are. Teachers should be worrying about these things for their students. Parents should be worrying about them for their children. People with relevant expertise should market their expertise. Government should make a decision as to the level of funding which can be offered to address these issues and the above parties should get on with addressing them as best as they can.

Should others sit round worrying about them all the time? No. They should worry about their areas of concern and more serious things. It tends to be counterproductive when people worry about complex things they don't understand because they tend to intervene in ways which have unpleasant knock on effects they don't predict because they don't know what they're doing.

There are so many better things to do in this world than to worry about things you don't understand. Here's a suggestion: Instead of worrying listen to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLf76_zOL2M
and if you liked that go and buy the album. :-)

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 08:15

Thank you, Gemma, for pointing out the "wonderful, funny post" from teachingbattleground. I am pleased that I am using points 1 and 3 in my quest for evidence.

First: my distrust of anecdotal evidence. One measure of the usefulness of evidence is its reliability. Anecdotal evidence is untrustworthy especially on the internet. The blogger may be using an assumed identity (ie saying s/he's a professional when s/he isn't). S/he may be making things up. It would be unsafe to take the anecdote at face value. The Times on Saturday* recognised this in an article on Ofsted - it recognised there had been much anecdotal evidence about the "tricks" used by schools but there was little firm evidence to support this.

Secondly, referring to properly-conducted research. In the search for evidence it's essential to use the most reliable. That means consulting reports, usually academic, from respected institutions such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the National Audit Office, the Institute of Fiscal Studies, university academics especially those in education departments and so on.

Such a "hoot", isn't it, to ignore reliable evidence and put uncritical trust in anecdotes?

*behind a paywall

Gemma's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 08:36

Janet

Have you ever mentioned any research that shows there's any mess whatsoever?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 12:28

Here's another of those really odd 'vendetta type posts'
http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2007/04/15/mixed-ability-teach...
This one really aggressively attacks mixed ability teaching but putting it in a bizarre category where it doesn't belong.

Mixed ability teaching is difficult and highly skilled but it is a very powerful tool for teaching and learning when it's done well. Few would choose to do it for more than specific parts of secondary education but nobody I've ever met it in teaching would attack it in anything like the way it's attacked here.

Reading it I could imagine that if this blog had been written by a teacher it must be by one who had, perhaps, only worked in areas or schools where it had been done badly or as a substitute for real teaching when there were not specialist teachers (which has happened). So if this blog is written by a teacher it is written by a teacher with very limited experience and a propensity to attack other teachers. I go to conferences and consultations attended by enthusiastic teachers and people who are the elected and promoted representatives of other groups of teachers and I simply never meet people with this narrowness of experience combined with the aggression displayed in this blog.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 16/04/2012 - 09:16

Andrew Old in action again? He's not so convincing on properly moderated forums.

One think to clarify is that for privileged you should read 'educated and experienced' rather than rich.

"Any argument; any claim; any ideology; any lie, is considered acceptable as a tactic to persuade."
To persuade about what? I'm not trying to persuade anyone of anything apart from the need for policy to be fit for purpose in reality. I don't hold to ideology and I never intentionally lie. If I make a mistake I'm happier for having that pointed out and getting the opportunity to explore the point in question and improve my understanding and I would rather that happened than my mistake was missed.

"Like much of the London-based, middle class left"
I'm a Cumbrian Libdem. I know Henry was in the economics department at Newcastle.

They simply do not comprehend that there is a world beyond their social class.
I'm middle class by education, I grew up on the front line in Newcastle, I went to Cambridge, My dad is middle class, my mum was working class (mum was illiterate and dad grew up an home for fatherless boys) and my step-mum is upper class.

"In their world a bad local school means extra money on private tuition or the embarrassment of abandoning your ideology; in the world beyond it can mean a guarantee of continuing poverty."
I went to a bad local school as a child and as an adult I've taught in them.

"In their world a good local comprehensive is a chance to save money and retain the right to be self-righteous at dinner parties; in the world beyond it means a route out of poverty."
I can't remember the last time I went to a dinner party. It must have been years ago. We occasionally manage to have people round to Sunday lunch provided they don't mind children climbing all over them and shouting through the meal. A good local comp is what we've got in our area. Here's what they did to cheer up the mood at a year 11 leavers assembly after they had dealt full on with the recent death of a student: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jVygiqsF8g and this shows the essence of why it is such a good school and why, 20 years after he left, my ex-husband who went there was one of a group of four friends who turned up from across the country to support their old school friend at his dad's funeral after his sudden death.

"In their world it is a matter of high principle to put on a brave face and deny the manifest failures of our broken education system; in the world beyond it means writing off working class kids as basically not suited to the kind of education middle class people want for their own kids."

They are they the ones who command my personal respect through their relentless dedication, intelligent comments and analysis and their desire to understand issues. When I tell Melissa I disagree with her that grammar schools should be shut down we have an intelligent discussion about why we disagree that generates deeper insight. They are the ones who are campaigning to stop people breaking our education system.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 16/04/2012 - 09:32

When I tell Melissa I disagree with her that grammar schools should be shut down we have an intelligent discussion about why we disagree ....

An almost comically narrow range of outlooks and assumptions, then? Equivalent to listening to two reactionary old buffers debating the relative merits of the birch and the cane.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 16/04/2012 - 09:42

Melissa's beliefs come from her worries about the lack of analysis we are doing on the consequences of one school on another and her worries are justified and I share them. But I try to warn her that they should not be overblown into becoming ideologies of their own and I find she listens.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 16/04/2012 - 09:56

Do feel free to contradict me on that if you like Melissa - you would know better than I do! :-)

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 16/04/2012 - 09:37

Watching that video brings back a lot of memories - especially of the school hall where I first heard Michael Gove speak when he was a hack who was disliked and commanded no respect from most people I knew. His single minded philosophy of 'society will be better if we punish the bad people more' shone through the rhetoric so clearly that evening I was really sad when he decided to enter politics.

What convoluted chain of events took him from there to being in charge of education simply beggars belief? How could anyone, anywhere, think him remotely suitable for education?

But on a more positive side it was in the same hall that Jordanian students gave an assembly to British students about life in Jordan and took questions in the pilot project for the British Council international school linking project and it was in that hall, 8 years later, that I watched my son do a concert celebrating African Culture which he had studied in exceptional contemporary detail due to his school's direct link with their sister school in Ghana through the British Council program which is now well established.

Leonard James's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 06:09

Ricky,

I have been a critic of the LSN and tend to agree with Andrew Old's observations of the British Education system. A few weeks ago I repeated Henry's analysis of academy results and came to similar conclusions. Perhaps you would care to take a look and explain what your exact problem is? http://educationalopinion.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/academy-evidence-review...

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 07:23

Leonard - I look forward to hearing Ricky's comments on your conclusion about Henry's analysis which Ricky thinks would be "laughed out of the park" if subjected to scientific rigour.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 12:50

My exact problem is that it is fundamentally misconceived.

The analysis that you and Henry have done does nothing except address what is anyway a straw man argument: the Government's supposed belief that a school will be better simply and solely because of its academy status. It also takes a set of academies set up under the last Labour government (for particular reasons, in particular areas), compares them with superficially similar schools (FSM) in other areas and circumstances and claims that Gove's policy is not founded on good evidence.

There are various points to unpack here. Gove's policy of encouraging schools to convert to academies is based on a number of factors. One of them is worldwide evidence that greater autonomy is a good thing. He has all the well-founded evidence he needs for that. It is also founded on evidence of a transformation effect in certain circumstances.

Turning to what kind of analysis would be more useful than yours and Henry's:

It would be good to know:

1. If academies perform significantly better than the maintained schools they replaced.

2. If academy chains have been able to effect significant improvements in schools which the LA had tried but failed to improve over many years.

A concrete example can be found in Portsmouth. For the purposes of the 2011 performance tables, Portsmouth had only one sponsored academy. On the headline figures, this school, Charter Academy, was outperformed by every community school in the borough, bar two. At first glance, therefore, the situation in Portsmouth would seem to confirm the claim that maintained schools do better than academies.

However, once you look at the history of the school and whether there has been a transformation effect, it all looks rather different.

The Charter Academy's predecessor school had long been identified as a problem school. In the 1990s, it was notorious as one (perhaps "the") worst secondary school in England. It went in and out of special measures in the early 2000s. In 2006, its headline GCSE result was 3%. In 2008, it was 8%. That was the state of affairs after fifteen years of LA attempts to improve it.

In 2009, the school became an academy. In 2011, its results were up to 39%. Still lower than most maintained schools in the borough, but a heck of an improvement on what had gone before. So, the answer to Q1 was: Yes, it performed much better than the school it replaced. And to Q2. - Yes, an academy chain was able to effect a turnaround that the LA had not been able to achieve, despite their best efforts over a considerable period.

Just down the road from Charter is another community school, Miltoncross. Despite having lower FSM, its results are worse even than Charter's. Not only that, its performance has been declining over recent years. It badly needs a transformation.

In deciding whether to issue an academy order, which considerations would weigh more heavily with you - the evidence of your analysis, or the lesson of what Charter has been able to achieve just down the road?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 13:55

"One of them is worldwide evidence that greater autonomy is a good thing. He has all the well-founded evidence he needs for that. It is also founded on evidence of a transformation effect in certain circumstances."

The theory of the economics of education explicitly warns against trying to apply infrastructures which work in specific circumstances to complete systems of education.
Here's a nice easy-to-read introductory text Ricky:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Education-State-Study-Political-Economy/dp/08659...

All the evidence points to the theories of the fundamental efficiency points of the economics of education still holding. It needs local oversight and planning.

If Gove does indeed have any evidence that freedom from local oversight and planning is in effective or efficient in a complete system of education I'd love to hear what on earth it is. I don't suppose you've got any idea have you?

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 14:52

Ricky - you are correct that international evidence (link below) shows that autonomy is a "good thing". The same international evidence found that UK schools were among only four countries in 2009 that allowed schools considerable freedom over resource allocation, subjects and qualifications offered. Note - that was 2009, before the Coalition came to power arguing that schools could only have freedom if they opted out of local authority "control".

http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/17/43/48910490.pdf

Your concrete example in Portsmouth - you correctly quoted that only 8% of pupils at Charter Academy's predecessor school gained the GCSE benchmark in 2008. In 2009, this rose to 22%. The school opened as an ARK academy in the September 2009. Nevertheless, a rise from 22% to 39% is good although the 2011 cohort would have spent the majority of their secondary school life in the predecessor school. It is, therefore, difficult to decide how much of the rise in results was due to ARK or to improvements, if any, in the predecessor school.

You compare Charter Academy's rising results with the falling results at Miltoncross. At Miltoncross the average GCSE entry per pupil was 8.2, while at Charter the average GCSE entry was 4.4. It would seem, therefore, that Charter's superior results were based on more vocational examinations. That is not to detract from the school's achievement however. It would help if school performance tables separated GCSEs and vocational examinations completely - assigning an equivalence to these examinations does neither qualification a favour.

In 2011 Ofsted judged Miltoncross to be satisfactory and improving with a "well-designed curriculum" and "extensive, high quality enrichment activities". If Ofsted is to be believed, Miltoncross does not yet need a "transformation".

Leonard James's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 23:03

"The analysis that you and Henry have done does nothing except address what is anyway a straw man argument: the Government’s supposed belief that a school will be better simply and solely because of its academy status. It also takes a set of academies set up under the last Labour government (for particular reasons, in particular areas), compares them with superficially similar schools (FSM) in other areas and circumstances and claims that Gove’s policy is not founded on good evidence."

Are you claiming that the government don't believe schools would be better if they converted to academy status? Why on earth would they be pushing academy conversion if they didn't believe this?

"There are various points to unpack here. Gove’s policy of encouraging schools to convert to academies is based on a number of factors. One of them is worldwide evidence that greater autonomy is a good thing. He has all the well-founded evidence he needs for that. It is also founded on evidence of a transformation effect in certain circumstances."

Surely the evidence referred to here, like many large scale educational research projects, involves the comparison of 'superficially similar schools' in 'other areas and circumstances' - do you have a problem with this sort of research or not?

"Turning to what kind of analysis would be more useful than yours and Henry’s:
It would be good to know:
1. If academies perform significantly better than the maintained schools they replaced."

2. If academy chains have been able to effect significant improvements in schools which the LA had tried but failed to improve over many years."

I'd be more interested in a comparison between the improvements made using different types of school system. An academy system that turns out to be better than the LA system isn't necessarily that good.


"A concrete example can be found in Portsmouth."

Earlier on you were dismissing research that compared data from hundreds of schools yet here the success of one school seems to be sufficient proof of the merits of the academy conversion. The only reason I can think of that explains this is that you are particularly interested in school improvement rates rather over headline performance 'now' and you are dismissing any analysis that doesn't address your particular interest as bad research. This is a shame as I mentioned some limits of my analysis and even addressed school improvement in the conclusion to my work.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 15:26

"autonomy" as in appropriate professional freedom is, of course, is a good thing. It's just quite a complicated thing to make happen and is not simply or reliably positively related to abolishing LAs of Free Schools. Why would it be?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 16:08

Janet

Miltoncross don't share your perennially rose-tinted view. An academy order has been signed. I think they're going with E-Act.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 06:49

"Gove frequently cites Mossbourne as an example (7) but this is unreasonable as there are also exceptionally poor academies and exceptionally good examples of other types of school (see error bars on Fig 1-8)."

I think Mossbourne should be discounted completely because it has staffing and resourcing levels unheard of in the state sector.
(http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/04/what-sort-of-academy-now/)

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 07:10

Ricky (16/4/12 11.47 above - no reply button) - re distorting effect of league tables. The OECD warned that the excessive emphasis on raw exam data in England risks grade inflation, teaching to the test, "gaming" (ie cheating) and neglecting important non-cognitive.* It does not follow that repeating this warning that we need not worry about poor literacy.

However, as this thread is meant to show, illiteracy levels in the UK are misreported. This is either through ignorance of what functional illiteracy actually is or through deliberate distortion for political propaganda. Mr Gove, for example, links illiteracy and innumeracy with the inability to get 5 GCSEs C or above including Maths and English (see Q11 of uncorrected evidence to Select Committee link below). I would like Mr Gove or any of his supporters to tell me how an exam grade (GCSE C) which was a sign of above-average ability 25 years ago is now regarded as the threshold for literacy/numeracy.

As for the comparison between secondary converter academies and non-academies - it's important to remember that the ability to convert was only offered to secondary schools deemed good or outstanding. Many grammar schools have converted. A comparison between these previously good/outstanding schools and the rest would reveal little about the benefits or otherwise of academy conversion.

PricewaterhouseCooper pointed out as long ago as 2008 that when schools improve they use similar methods which have nothing to do with whether a school was an academy or not. Perhaps the previous and present governments could spend more time finding what these methods are rather than pushing the misleading dogma that "academies work".


http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmeduc/uc1786...

*OECD Economic Survey UK 2011 - not available freely on internet but details about how to obtain a copy are here:

http://www.oecd.org/document/38/0,3746,en_2649_34569_47283558_1_1_1_1,00...

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 09:03

Gemma (8.36 am - no reply button). What mess would that be, Gemma? The mess that is caused by an undue emphasis on raw results in England which is distorting education (OECD)? Yes, I've mentioned that. What about the demoralisation of heads caused by constant negativity from the Government, media and Ofsted? Yes, I've posted about that with links? The mess caused by deliberate misrepresentation of evidence, or ignoring it altogether? Yes, I've covered these, again with links. The mess caused by a promotion of "freedom" which actually ties schools in chains? Yes, done that (with links).

Perhaps, Gemma, if you trawl through my posts and comments you will find quite a few links to evidence. And that's evidence provided by reliable sources not opinions plucked from the blogosphere.

Gemma's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 09:15

So if Gove just went away, if the Daily Mail stopped printing scare stories, all would be completely and utterly rosy. There is no mess, not a single problem at all.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 11:19

Gemma - it would enhance the debate about education if Mr Gove really looked at the evidence as he claims to do instead of picking just those bits he wants. It would also be advantageous if the media reported on education more responsibly. And it isn't just the Mail, although it's a step in the right direction that you realise that the Mail prints "scare stories".

I have never said there isn't a "single problem" (I list several of them in the post which you answered.) However, the "problem" is not always what the Government and its supporters claim it is hence the numerous posts which link to evidence showing the Government and others are being misleading.

Perhaps you could supply reliable evidence that shows that English state education is in a total and utter mess. Of course, you would need to define what the "mess" is. It's rather a vague term isnt' it? And by reliable evidence I mean reports underpinned by research undertaken by reputable bodies. I don't mean someone's opinion self-published on a blog which is backed up with no evidence at all.

Gemma's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 11:42

Janet - The problems you list are with emphasis, the government, the media.

You won't admit there's any problem whatsoever with our education system.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 13:03

Gemma - define the "mess" as you see it then provide the evidence.

And much of the problem is with the Government - a narrow vision about what education really is (warnings about this have been made by the OECD - how the emphasis on exam results is resulting in a narrowing of education*); a misplaced belief in market forces (OECD again - evidence about the link between user choice and educational outcomes is inconclusive); rubbishing the professionals to the extent that a large number of head teachers are considering leaving the profession; rubbishing young people describing large numbers of them as "feral" or an "underclass"; downgrading GCSE C so it is no longer a sign of above-average ability but a qualification which all must pass...

These are just some of the real problems that I will "admit" to. Instead of telling me what I will or will not do, please define the "mess" as requested and back it up with evidence.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 13:12

Can I just point out that there are absolutely massive problems with our educational system like:
1. The whole infrastructure is now completely incoherent
2. We have a population spike about to enter primary school and we don't have the places for them.
3. Ofsted rushing around behaving in a way which is clearly illegal
4. We still focus too much on very narrow targets.

There are also lots of smaller problems.

Gemma's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 12:51

Rebecca Hanson says:
17/04/12 at 12:28 pm

Thanks I hadn't seen that one. Great post - especially liked the comments, pretty much exclusively from teachers.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 13:08

What makes you think they're teachers Gemma? Some of them are the regular posters on TES opinion.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 13:37

That's a good question, Rebecca. Readers rarely know the credentials of anyone who blogs or posts comments so we can't judge their reliability. Neither do we know if they are who or what they claim to be. That's why it's important for posters to link to reliable evidence - and not just to opinions spouted on a blog. Readers can then engage with the evidence rather than just take someone's word for it. Unfortunately, it's easier for some commentators to point to a blog which supports their own views rather than the more time-consuming task of reading actual research.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 13:49

Hmm - looking down the comments Andrew flips from appearing not to have wide experience at all to quoting in this kind of way:

"From what I have seen Petty distorts Hattie’s results ridiculously"
by teachingbattleground October 4, 2011 at 10:32 pm
"I notice this blog was quoted to the House of Commons Education Committee by Tom Burkard here:"

I find it unsettling. There are a few of these characters floating around who don't make sense to me at all. Vince Ulam on TES would be another as would Peter Grey on NCETM. They quote research and government fluently (but in a very unbalanced way that does not seem to move despite evidence presented) but don't seem to have every been part of any of the kinds of networks I know so well in education or to have wide experience in teaching.

Hello Gemma - nice to see somebody's been heeding the advice I gave Ben Harrow over on the other thread yesterday. Welcome to the Local Schools Network forum.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 17/04/2012 - 15:32

Rebecca - Tom Burkard cited the teachingbattleground blog as "evidence" to support his criticisms of mixed ability teaching . Surely someone giving evidence to a select committee could find something more substantial to uphold his criticism than a blog? An academic report about mixed-ability teaching, perhaps, based on methodical research? No - all he could offer was a blog. He could have cited the OECD, except the OECD found that the best-performing schools systems tend not to segregate children according to ability or at the very least to delay setting. Or perhaps he could have read DfE thoughts on mixed ability teaching: "the study tentatively suggests that children of all levels of attainment do better when taught in mixed ability classes" and "In secondary schools, Students' experiences of ability grouping similarly suggests that setting in mathematics has a negative effect on both attainment and motivation, with the exception of slightly improved attainment for top set pupils."

But, no, he chose a blog. Perhaps it's because the blog upheld his views but the academic research didn't. There's a lot of this around. "Never mind the evidence, feel the blog."

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmeduc/516/51...

http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/toolsandinitiatives/tripsresearchdig...

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 18/04/2012 - 07:15

Ricky - many secondary schools have become academies and these are mostly converter ones. In the recent Schools Network/Reform research the main reason for conversion was a perception that there would be extra money. There is a link to the report in the post below. Perhaps you could go through it and find how far "transformation" was a factor in their conversion.

And there is, of course, no evidence that academy status will improve a school. Some academies have improved, some have not. And where they have improved it is likely that they used the same methods as improving non-academy schools as PricewaterhouseCoopers discovered as long ago as 2008 (see FAQs above).

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/03/we-did-it-for-the-money-su...

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 18/04/2012 - 08:42

Janet


Having read the select committee report you cited (thank you), I can't help feeling that you are being a tad severe on poor old Burkard. He doesn't so much quote Teachingbattleground as evidence as simply quote it as a pithy expression of the case.

On the wider question of evidence, I'd be interested in what you make of this. (Sorry, it's a blog again, but one that generally uses very well referenced arguments. The blogger is a Teach First ambassador.).

http://thewingtoheaven.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/different-types-of-evide...

It is certainly true that education academics are way behind in many areas. Every week I meet teachers who still peddle the auditory/visual/kinesthetic learning style claptrap, despite it having been totally discredited by cognitive scientist a dozen or more years ago.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 18/04/2012 - 09:05

Ricky!!! Tom Burkard uses that blog to dismiss authors like Professor Jo Boaler who've spent 20 years researching, developing and evidence basing their work. Doesn't that strike you as being even just a tiny bit dubious?

"It is certainly true that education academics are way behind in many areas."
Well here's my blog: http://mathseducationandallthat.blogspot.co.uk/
Which part of it is behind the time?
If you'd like to chat to many of the best international academics in education I will offer you here an invitation to join a discussion forum I run where plenty of them hang out. It's called Math, Math Education, Math Culture on linkedin.com (in the top right hand seach box on linkedin change the 'people' setting to 'groups' and start to type Math - it will appear). Just set yourself up an account as Ricky Tarr - no info. no photo needed and I will authorise you to join so you can read and participate in discussions yourself.

It think that blogs not bad for a young teacher. If you join Math, Math Ed. Math Culture you can chat directly to characters like Art DeVito who are regular posters there.
Here's Art on this theme:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncroiEy8LXk&feature=BFa&list=PL460F4E5F8E...

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 18/04/2012 - 12:44

Ricky - your blogger, Ms Christodolou, Teach First 2007, seems to share my suspicion of anecdotal evidence. She told the Guardian, “Conversations I've had in the pub with other teachers suggest that this book [Birbalsingh, K, "To Miss With Love", review below] has a wider truth. But of course, this sort of evidence is only anecdotal. The Ofsted statistics say that bad behaviour is confined to a small minority of state schools and that standards have never been higher. In short, I have no idea whether this book is representative of the state sector.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/feb/27/state-school-comprehensi...

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/03/snuffy-to-the-rescue-not-q...

PAUL ROSS's picture
Fri, 22/05/2015 - 14:48

Dear all

I know I have come to the party late but I have a vestibe interest being one of the one in 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 that has a problem with lilitiracy. I'm now 52 and started writing at 41. Compleatly iliterite at the age of 21, "Not functioning iliterate, but fully". Is there anywere that can give a true number of the broblem as 8 million would be over egging the pubbing some what but I believe no one can say there is no pubbing.

As 8 million is to high I would sagest that 2 million is to low. if you agree then The Office of National Statistics estimated that in July 2010 Birmingham's population had reached 1,036,900. I feel that rounding up every man woman and child in Birmingham and marching them all into the see to make a point of the scale of the problem whould not be recommended.

So, has any new stubys into the numbers that can be corobrated been undertaken.

One of my thougths from my blog you may or not find interesting.
http://www.dyslexicthoughtsinwords.com/blog/?p=1303

Kind regards
Paul Ross
http://www.dyslexicthoughtsinwords.com/

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