Conference: 'Picking up the pieces' November 17th

Adrian Elliott's picture
On Saturday, I attended the 'Picking up the Pieces' conference in London on the future education after the present government. The speakers were Peter Mortimore, Peter Downes, David Wolf, Stephen Twigg and Sir Tim Brighouse.

Here are some random and personal thoughts on the day - in no particular order of significance.

Whilst, inevitably , I did not agree with everything which was said I was struck by the way in which all the speakers approached their topics with wit and good humour and avoided the kind of personal abuse we have heard so much from Michael Gove and those who support him. No comments of the type about 'stalinists' and trotskyiites let alone the bonkers comparisons with Andreas Brevik or President Assad which have appeared on this website.

I was also impressed by the emphasis speakers placed on the need for education policies in the future to be founded on evidence. Naturally, that begs the question of whose evidence and will it be used selectively. But at least they seemed serious about getting a body of independently reviewed research on which to base future policy rather than rushing around cherry picking policies (even parts of polices) here and there like some latter day Mr.Toad, so characteristic of the present government.

If I needed any convincing (which I didn't) I was left certain that the lack of accountability of academies will become a huge issue before the next election as will the shambles we are getting into over planning for future school provision , referred to in another thread by Jess. And this wasn't simply based on what I heard from the floor but during discussions with conference attenders from opposite ends of the country.

Finally, I sense the government is going to find increasing resistance from headteachers. This is not just based on this conference but there are a lot of straws in the wind - the comments by Geoff Barton at the TES festival the same day and the new heads group discussed on this site recently to name two. Heads are enraged and bemused by the sheer illogicality of policies like having a national curriculum which only applies to half the secondary schools in the country. Why on earth will the heads and governors of the other half not cherry pick the bits they want like academies -particularly those from good or outstanding schools which have nothing to fear from Ofsted.

So a good day, all in all, which I suspect sent quite a few people home in a much more optimistic frame of mind than they had arrived in.
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Adrian Elliott's picture
Tue, 20/11/2012 - 14:54

A further point worth mentioning. Tim Brighouse said he thought it was a under-reported scandal that £600 million was now going from school budgets annually to pay for public exams. And £70 million of that was profit to the companies concerned - quite a lot going to private shareholders.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 20/11/2012 - 15:17

Adrian - the point about the high cost of entering pupils for a battery of external tests throughout their school lives was highlighted by Ted Wragg in 2003. And it's not just the cost of entering pupils for public exams like GCSE and A levels - it's all the administration, publishing costs etc that surround the phonics screening test, the Key Stage 1 tests and so on. Not to mention the time wasted on these activities which don't tell teachers anything they don't already know.

And don't forget the cost to parents who buy Key Stage publications, pay for private tuition... and the additional stress on children... Our children are the most tested in the world. It's costly and it's madness.

Melissa Benn's picture
Wed, 21/11/2012 - 07:29

Thanks Adrian for that glimpse/summary of key arguments at the conference. Do you/does anyone know if the speeches made are available to read anywhere? Particularly interested in Tim Brighouse point on £600 million and the points made about the lack of accountability of academies.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/11/2012 - 08:35

Melissa – the only feedback so far seems to be in blogs but I expect there’ll be a lot in TES which co-hosted the event. Tom Bennett’s blog describes the opening conversation between Gove and Aaronovitch noting Gove’s “calm and careful” refutation of his interviewer’s points (but note Bennett’s warning about the ‘but’).

“It had the effect of making the discussion seem enormously consensual, and gave Gove the air of a man who was absorbing the interviewer into his own argument. All you have to do is leave out the word 'but.'”

This is, of course, one of the ways in which Gove engages with his audience: calm, apparently so reasonable, erudite, flattering (he even said how much he had admired some parts of British Communism in the fifties – Aaronovitch’s father being a Communist) when addressing teachers, but spits out fighting talk (Trots, “enemies of promise”) when speaking to Tories, right-wing think thanks and so on.

But being charming doesn’t mean that the charmer is right. This website has numerable examples of Gove’s misrepresentation – even the UK stats watchdog has condemned Gove’s use of PISA figures to show UK “plummeting” down league tables.

PS Bennett’s predicted that Poland is now the new Finland (Gove’s just returned from a visit). Where will the man end up next?

Footnote: added 8.51am 22 November. In my reply to Melissa I was referring to the London Festival of Education, not "Picking up the Pieces" - sorry for any confusion (I've only just cleared my head).

Adrian Elliott's picture
Wed, 21/11/2012 - 10:56

I think the speeches are going to appear on the CASE website (may be there already, I haven't checked).

One point worth making is that I didn't feel selection came across as a major priority for most speakers.

Stephen Twigg did have warm words for Margaret Tulloch but little more and Tim Brighouse was surprisingly muted on the issue. He said that he didn't feel it had been a big issue for him in Birmingham as the B/ham grammar schools drew their children from right across the West Midlands so the effect was diluted though he did say he would feel differently in Kent (or perhaps Lincolnshire or Buckinghamshire etc etc?)
He also said he thought it would be an issue that could consume an enormous amount of time and energy for a future government . I thought Peter Mortimore also had it quite far down his list of what was wrong with English education .

Comprehensive Future's argument about the total number of children across the country who are effected by selection ( even if they don't take the 11+) has not been accepted even by those who might normally sympathise with its arguments.

Richard Hatcher's picture
Thu, 22/11/2012 - 08:07

Yes it was a good conference, particularly the speeches by Peter Mortimore, David Wolf and Peter Downes. Academies are of course completely unaccountable to their local communities, which it is why it is so disappointing that Tim Brighouse is a prominent supporter of schools converting in Oxfordshire, including Cheney school in Oxford where parents are campaigning against the school becoming an academy and Brighouse is a governor and advocating it.

It was good that a number of organisations had come together to organise the conference - CASE, SEA, Comprehensive Future, supported by the Anti-Academies. Alliance. Surely the next step is to move from a one-off event to setting up a permanent broad alliance, drawing in everyone from those organisations, from local campaigns and from the school unions - a National Campaign for Education - so we can speak and campaign with one voice as we move towards the next election?

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