Birbalsingh, Adonis, and Plan B

February 16, 2011 at 12:10 am Leave a comment

On Newsnight last night, musician Ben Drew (aka Plan B) talked about his disillusionment with politicians – “no politicians have ever represented me because they have not come from the environment I have.” His relative success as a musician, with some acting, and now directing, thrown in, has occurred, he says, despite, and not because of, politicians or indeed the education system, both of which he considers failed him. His education happened outside the formal education system, because there was no place for him, or for the likes of him within it.

Continuing the piece answering questions from Jeremy Paxman were Katherine Birbalsingh, ex deputy head teacher and proponent of a return to the old ‘traditional’ ways of teaching Latin and of stronger discipline in schools, and ex labour Schools Minister Lord Adonis.

Birbalsingh’s argument for greater discipline is that ‘working class boys are the most vunerable’ when it comes to education and often lack the structure, order and discipline in their home lives that their middle and upper class peers benefit from. It is, therefore, up to the schools, she argues, to provide this. Drew, she explains, “wasn’t inspired in schools because his teachers weren’t free enough to be able to inspire him”. Her solution to this is to “instill structures and systems  to make sure the children are disciplined enough to sit tight so that their teachers are free enough to be able to inspire”.

This conjures up images for me of rows of children dutifully ‘sitting tight’ whilst their teachers strut their inspirational stuff until the period ends and the next cohort are wheeled in to be inspired in turn. We just need some security staff to deal with behaviour issues ensuring the children do indeed ‘sit tight’ and hey presto the teachers are freed up to get on with it. Simple enough!

Problem is children aren’t very good at ‘sitting tight’, goddam them. They are naturally vivacious, full of energy with lively enquiring minds, relishing experience, craving diversity. In fact children are probably the least suited to ‘sitting tight’  of all humankind.

They do love to be inspired, though. My teenage kids can tell me precisely who the good teachers (the ones who inspire) are and the bad teachers (the ones who don’t inspire) are. We all of us have tales about subjects we enjoyed because of the teacher, and subjects we didn’t for the same reason. The teacher in all this is massively important, and can have a real influence on the whole of a childs life. That is why, in my view, we should recognise bad teachers and bad teaching and outlaw both, for the sake of our children. Seriously.

What I found more disturbing about the Newsnight item was Birbalsinghs assertion that “we need absolute order and structure, school uniforms need to be perfect in school”. This honestly sends a chill down my spine. And this made worse by the fact that Lord Adonis (labour) in his own words, completely agreed with her.

I know the boundaries between conservative, labour and indeed, now liberal democrat, governments are very blurred. I would have hoped though, perhaps naively, that the extreme right wing rhetoric of Birbalsingh would at least have been somewhat tempered by Adonis. But not to be, it seems.

Lord Adonis celebrates the ‘success’ of Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney whose headmaster values ‘discipline’ and talks about a ‘no excuses’ society (no excuses meaning toe the line, or else). Of course the school is regarded as being successful on their GCSE A – C results and such measures. No account is taken, as far as I can see of the ‘achieving personal potential’ , or ‘happiness’, or ‘fulfilment’ measures, largely because such matters are not measured at all, as though irrelevant.

It would be easy to become depressed by such unenlightened thinking across the political spectrum, but despite all this I remain optimistic about our education system. This is because I know the kids are texting underneath their desks despite mobiles being banned, that they are networked and connected, that there is an unstoppable force that will out regardless.

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Entry filed under: Education, Government, Kids, Personalisation, Schools, Teaching, Young people.

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Mick Landmann on education, digital technology, and the 21st century

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