What is education for and how can school libraries contribute?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Last weekend, I spoke at the School Libraries Group conference in Derby. I was asked to talk about what education is for and how school libraries can contribute towards the aims and purposes of education. If you watch the YouTube video of my talk (above) you'll see that I look at a number of key issues.
First, I examine the different models for education: that of "social control" and that of "emancipation". The social control model has its primary educational purpose the socialisation of children into society. This was clearly at the back of the minds of the Victorians when they established the structure of the education system back in the 1870s: the school system was there to re-enforce the existing class structures. There were the elite "public" schools such as Eton that were deliberately placed at the top of the pile because it was acknowledged that they would educate the "ruling class": the politicians, the judges, clergymen and army officers. Below them came the "second-rate" private schools, followed by the state-funded grammar schools, then religious schools and finally the primary schools for the working classes. The 1944 Education Act changed things a bit but the essential notion of the school system being there to re-inforce the class differences was still there: the school leaving age for the working classes was raised to 14, but most children from poor backgrounds were placed in secondary moderns and left school with no qualifications. The grammar schools offered a slim chance of social advancement for cleverer children from poorer backgrounds, but as the Crowther report into grammar schools shows, overwhelmingly it was children from middle-class backgrounds that went to grammar schools. I argue though that there was a "step change" with the Blair government in 1997 because, however you might criticise their policies, there was a new idea that education was there to "emancipate" children from poorer backgrounds rather than control them. The Coalition government makes similar claims. While you might disagree with Gove's methods, I have no doubt that he is sincere in his belief that his policies will "close the attainment gap" and help poorer children become liberated thinkers.
The second part of my talk looks at the Brazilian philosopher, Paulo Freire, and how his ideas can "emancipate" children. His central idea that we need to start with the learner's life and use that as the "tool" to educate is, for me, a vital and powerful idea. He argued for the teacher to employ "praxis" -- social action -- to inform his or her teaching; the teacher needs to help the learner examine the ways in which his life could be improved through education. A process of “conscientization” happens between learner and teacher whereby both people become aware of the social conditions that need to change and together they both work through educative processes to do this. My talk examines the ways in which a librarian is uniquely placed to employ Freirean principles: they can listen to what children like and dislike, they can consider the community that a school is placed in and bring aspects of that into the library in the form of newspapers, posters, and local people etc. They can find books that help children become liberated in their minds.

Finally, I look at the “post-modern” condition of the librarian. The school/academic library is basically an invention of the “Enlightenment”, created at a time when people believed in the God-like truth of rational thought and knowledge. But of course, we live in “post-modern” times when the certainties of objective knowledge, of the Newtonian universe, have been questioned: we live in an Einsteinian universe of relativity and the “uncertainty principle”. The position of the book is a contentious and uncertain one. I argue in my talk that the librarian needs to embrace post-modernism; to acknowledge that knowledge and books need to be radically contextualised, that rigid categorisation of books can backfire, that mixing and matching books of different genres and types can be a fruitful and productive way of presenting books to children. For example, a librarian could “deconstruct” the notion of gender by having “pink girly” books juxtaposed with feminist books, Grazia magazine placed right next to a feminist magazine and so on.

The Q and A session was interesting; many librarians feel isolated within their schools I think, and very worried about their position in a world of budget cuts. The Heart of the School blog shows this; many senior managers have sought to close down school libraries, or remove the librarian altogether. I attempted to give advice about how to win over senior managers by suggesting that engaging in a positive dialogue was the best way forward by I’m not sure some delegates were that persuaded that SLTs would listen.

This is the PowerPoint the talk was based upon, although there are some slight changes:

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Michele -Lowe's picture
Thu, 10/04/2014 - 12:13

Very much grist to my mill. I am a parent agitating for my kids' school to install a library/learning resource centre.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 10/04/2014 - 12:54

Francis, When you make, what for me are sweeping generalisations, such as "but most children from poor backgrounds were placed in secondary moderns and left school with no qualifications" it immediately raises the question, what is your evidence for this fundamentally damning statement?

Brian's picture
Thu, 10/04/2014 - 14:42

The Crowther report in 1959 showed that only 10% of the children of the poorest section of the population went to grammar school and 33% of those left with no qualification. Almost all pupils who went to secondary moderns left with no qualification until the introduction of CSE's, although form the outset they were generally viewed as inferior to O Levels, even at the higher grades. A friend of mine who went to a secondary modern in the 60's had to spend part of his last two years at a technical school because he was the only pupil in his year taking any O levels and his school couldn't provide the teaching he needed.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 10/04/2014 - 17:51

Considering that Crowther uses data up to 1958/9 and secondary modern schools operated until it the mid 1970s I would suggest the former is an unreliable source, and as such my question to Francis stands.

Brian's picture
Thu, 10/04/2014 - 19:01

I'm not too sure why the date of the Crowther report makes its findings unreliable but here's a Sutton Trust report from November last year, reported in The Guardian.

'Last week the Sutton Trust educational charity released a report about who exactly goes to England's 164 remaining grammar schools. Though the news was not exactly revelatory, the figures were still striking: 2.7% of their pupils are entitled to free school meals (FSMs) as against 17.5% in other state schools.'

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 12/04/2014 - 21:14

Andy - I think the argument about pupils in secondary modern schools taking exams can be reconciled by the variation across LEAs. In Birmingham, 25% of pupils passed the 11 plus. My council estate friends in the local secondary modern did not take external exams and left school at 15. One friend took something called UEI. I don't know what that was. However in the rural LEAs surrounding Birmingham as few as 10% of pupils passed the 11 plus. Their secondary modern schools later had 'stay on' streams that took CSEs, however the curriculum of such schools was often targeted at 'rural children' = lots of sewing and cooking for girls and woodwork for boys.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 11/04/2014 - 03:47

Brian, With respect, my question to Francis has nothing to do with Grammar Schools and their effectiveness or the balance of pupil abilities or social backgrounds. Rather it is focused on his assertion that, "but most children from poor backgrounds were placed in secondary moderns and left school with no qualifications”, which why I have sought the evidence upon which this statement relies.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 11/04/2014 - 08:03

Brian and Andy - grammar schools catered for the top-ability range (roughly the top 20%), therefore most children, disadvantaged or not, went to secondary moderns (although a tiny number went to technical schools - a sort of half-way house between grammars and secondary moderns).

Entry into the grammar schools was 11 success + BUT "socio-economic factors were also important in determining attendance at a grammar school (Steedman, 1983)". In other words, disadvantaged children or those labelled working-class (who may not necessarily have been financially disadvantaged) were less likely to attend grammar school (and when they did many became what Richard Hoggart described as "the uprooted and the anxious" although he was only referring to boys).

Pupils in secondary moderns generally left school at 15 (although many secondary moderns introduced an extra year for those identified as being able to pass GCE O levels then, from 1965, CSEand/or GCE O levels). Pupils who left school at 15, disadvantaged or not, left with no qualifications.

The school leaving age was not raised to 16 until 1974.

References: for Steedman citation see here

*Hoggart, R, "The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working-Class Life". 1957. Hoggart died yesterday, 10 April 2014. His obituary is here.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 11/04/2014 - 08:22

Janet, Thank you for the data, which as ever is insightful and balanced but sadly does not provide the evidence/source upon which Francis relies for his sweeping generalisation.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 11/04/2014 - 08:46

Andy - I beg to differ. I think it does. Before comprehensive education became the norm (except in counties such as Lincolnshire) the majority of children attended secondary moderns. This meant most left at 15 until gradually secondary moderns added on an extra year which allowed the brightest to take O levels.

Socio-economic factors as well as academic ability did play a part in which children went to secondary moderns.

Those of us of a certain age will remember when most school leavers left at 15 without qualifications. This applied to most children, not just the disadvantaged. We also remember (strange as it may seem now) that when a working class child got a place in a grammar school it meant being taken from their class and being alienated from their home. This is described by Hoggart, and also eloquently by the poet Tony Harrison (Them and Uz, Book Ends). The first episode of Coronation Street tackled this - university undergrad Ken Barlow returned home pursued by middle-class girl friend.

Andy V's picture
Sat, 12/04/2014 - 07:23

Janet, I mean no offence when I say this but despite personal recollections and I've no doubt genuine personal comprehension of the situation, with the exception of Brian's reference to QCA below, there is still no hard evidence cited to back up and add rigour to Francis' statement.

Btw I too am old enough to remember the bipartite Secondary Modern and Grammar School system and like others on LSN was educated during that period.

Andy V's picture
Sat, 12/04/2014 - 07:27

PS It would surely be much easier for Francis to clarify/confirm what the source is for his statement would it not. Either he has an external source to support his case or he is relying on anecdotal sources. After all from Francis' picture he appears somewhat young to have been at school during the period in question :-)

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 12/04/2014 - 08:18

Andy - one of the links I gave above was to Fernando Calindo-Ruedia and Anna Vignoles, "The Heterongeneous Effect of Selection in Secondary Schools: Understanding the Changing Role of Ability" (2005). In the historical background the report says "Secondary moderns generally only took pupils up to the compulsory minimum school leaving age of fifteen, in place until 1973, and sixteen afterwards."

This meant the majority of sec mod children, whether disadvantaged or not, left without qualifications because exams were taken at 16.

This was certainly the case up to 1965 when CSEs were introduced.

Andy V's picture
Sat, 12/04/2014 - 10:48

Janet, Thank you for this. Apologies are in order, I did not follow-up on the links because you previous post seemed focused on Grammar Schools and their socio-economics.

I am intrigued by Francis' silence on the issue but hey ho!

I feel it is also noteworthy that a University of Warwick paper by V Brooks, 2008, indicates that whilst the Secondary Modern Schools had a weak track record at their outset by 1960 a minimum 39.4% of their pupils were sitting GCE O levels and a substantial number were taking external non-GCE qualifications. This gives a rather different picture than the sweeping generalisation that most Secondary Modern pupils left with no qualifications.

http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/444/1/WRAP_Brooks_9270464-170209-HistoryofEdar... (see p. 12)

I also find it difficult to accept Francis' implied position that the Secondary Modern Schools were for pupils from 'poor' families. This also hints at what might be referred to as looking down on these schools, pupils and their families.

50% of the pupils attending the Secondary Modern All Boys School in my home town in the two upper bands used to sit GCE O Levels with some supplemented by other qualifications e.g. metal and wood work, horticulture and engineering. These latter qualifications plus others were undertaken by the lower 2 bands.

Hence my wish to ascertain from Francis what the underlying source(s) was/were for his rather bland sweeping statement.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 12/04/2014 - 11:52

Andy - thanks to the link to the Warwick paper. It contains much about the constraining effect that exams can have on the curriculum (very topical especially in the light of the recent decision not to allow experiments to count towards science exams).

It also shows the difficulty of talking about secondary modern schools as if they never changed. As I said above many sec mods added on an extra year for potential GCE O level (then CSE from 1965) candidates. Some even developed sixth forms (can't give numbers, sorry). So it's true that as time went on the number of pupils who left sec mods with qualifications rose over time.

Francis wrote: "most children from poor backgrounds were placed in secondary moderns and left school with no qualifications." The first half is true if only because disadvantaged children are a subset of the majority of children (c 3/4) who went to sec mods. The number of all children leaving sec mods with no qualifications fell over time.

But grammar school pupils, although they took exams, often didn't get many. Adrian Elliot, writing in TES, said, "In 1959, grammar school pupils represented the brightest fifth of their age group, yet nearly 40 per cent failed to pass more than three O-levels."

Andy V's picture
Sat, 12/04/2014 - 12:01

Yes, the report chimes well with the one Brian quotes from in that they are independent of each other but corroborative. It is also interesting to note that in a financial stricken post WWII nation there was a both:

1. A vision for a tripartite education system: Grammar, Secondary Tech and Secondary Modern, that almost mirrors the present German system
2. The Government of the day deliberately skewed the transition from Secondary School Certificate to GCE O Level in such a way as to disadvantage non-Grammar pupils. But, and sadly, very few Secondary Tech's were opened.

Andy V's picture
Sun, 13/04/2014 - 12:12

Roger, It is of course true to say that just like today there is no standard consistency across authorities or regions regarding school performance. Indeed, we've seen some chains approve pulling a GCSE course half way through ...

We can all quote anecdotal data but my point was to ascertain from Francis what the evidence was upon which he relied when making his sweeping statement.

Thus far Brian, Janet and I have shared sources of external evidence. I, and I would wouldn't I, am struck by the paper by Val Brooks (see above) regarding:

1. A low GCE O Level base rising to 39.4%, which on the basis of her report was still rising
2. The majority of Secondary Modern pupils taking the pre GCE and pre CSE Secondary Certificate
3. The use of non-GCE / non-CSE but nevertheless accredited qualifications that ranged from metal and wood work crafts through engineering, nursing, Pitman to hand skills (sowing, knitting etc) and home economics.

It follows then that the claim that the majority of these pupils left with no qualifications needs clarification by the statements author, Francis. I say this because it seems to me that the term 'qualification' is being applied in a way that it means GCE O Levels only, which would be both inaccurate and unfair.

Take care when you assert that secondary modern schools in rural LEAs surrounding Birmingham, "later had ‘stay on’ streams that took CSEs, however the curriculum of such schools was often targeted at ‘rural children’ = lots of sewing and cooking for girls and woodwork for boys". I attended such a school (as did my elder brother) in the 60s that operated banding and offered a combination of GCE O Level, CSEs and other accredited courses.

I look forward to reading Francis' clarification and sources for his assertion.

Brian's picture
Fri, 11/04/2014 - 08:38

Andy 8.22 (no reply button)

' Before the introduction of the CSE (1967), the majority of those schoolchildren at secondary modern schools .... left school without any qualifications'

Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) : ' The Story the GCSE.'

Andy V's picture
Sat, 12/04/2014 - 07:18

Brian, Thank you for the lead. Sadly, my surfing is not throwing up a link for this so may I ask you what link you used please?

Brian's picture
Sat, 12/04/2014 - 09:18

Apologies Andy but I can't find the link either, although the quote I used appears in several papers. I'll keep looking ... it must be somewhere, because I found it yesterday.

I did come across this though (off topic, apologies) which I found interesting (Beloe Reprt 1960):

'As the schools gained experience, it was increasingly found that the system tended to restrict their progress. Pupils and teachers had become unduly concerned with examinations; concentration on examination syllabuses and the requirement that pupils must pass in a group of subjects had restricted the initiative of the teachers; and the artificial division between fifth and sixth form work hindered the development of a unified secondary school course. The Spens Committee, reporting in 1938, recorded that witnesses were almost unanimously of the opinion that "despite all safeguards, the School Certificate examination ... now dominates the work of the schools, controlling both the framework and the content of the curriculum."

and (Norwood Report 1943)

'The School Certificate Examination ... dictates the curriculum and cannot do otherwise; it confines experiment, limits free choice of subject, hampers treatment of subjects, encourages wrong values in the classroom. Pupils assess education in terms of success in the examination; they minimise the importance of the non-examinable and assign a utilitarian value to what they study. They absorb what it will pay them to absorb, and reproduce it as second-hand knowledge which is of value only for the moment. Teachers, recognising the importance of the parchment to the individual child, are constrained to direct their teaching to an examination which can test only a narrow field of the pupil's interest and capacities, and so necessarily neglect the qualities which they value most highly; they are forced to attend to what can be examined and to spoon-feed their weakest pupils. Originality is replaced by uniformity; the mind of the examiner supersedes that of the teacher; every effort is subservient to the examination.'

Plus ca change.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 12/04/2014 - 11:55

Andy and Brian - I found this reference to the QCA publication, "The Story of the GCSE" at the National Archives but the link went to "Page not found".

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 13/04/2014 - 10:31

My post of April 2013 covered all of this.


Nobody has taken issue with the facts that I set out. If any of it is wrong then please point out the errors, as this account is included in my forthcoming book, for which I have at last found a publisher.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 13/04/2014 - 09:55

Unfortunately, the thread's got sidetracked into a discussion re secondary modern schools (and I plead guilty to this). Only Michele addressed Francis's question about how school libraries can contribute to education.

The School Library Association mentioned by Francis has lots of info and guidance including advocacy:

And here's SHOUT ABOUT School Libraries

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