Posts filed under ‘Government’

Let’s hear it for the yoof!!

When I woke up on the first day of 2012, woozy from the past few days of excess, turning on the news I noted that the New Year message from our religious leaders, notably the Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Benedict, laid some emphasis on youth. The Archbishop observed rightly that ‘society is letting down young people’ something I wholly agree with, although it is nothing new.

Ironically, I doubt that youth would have got this attention had it not been for the riots in the summer. Instead they would simply have been sidelined as usual, despite the disgrace of youth unemployment standing at over 1 million, the withdrawal of much needed financial support for young people to continue their studies, the daunting prospect of having to build up massive debts to continue onto university (despite it being rammed down all our throats that apparently the economy is in such dire straits because we have been living on too much debt in the first place!), and in the face of ‘good advice’ to take any job that is offered whether it is something they want to do or not.

Yes, despite the awful place young people, through absolutely no fault of their own, find themselves in we only take a little bit of notice of their plight when things get sufficiently serious that riots occur, and then castigate them for it.

Pope Benedict in his New Year message extolled the virtues of young people who ‘could become builders of peace if they were given the correct guidance‘. Quite so, although it is not so much guidance as good example that in my view is of the greatest value to them. They are all capable of living good lives, of living peaceably together, of realising their talents, of fulfilling their potential, of making the world a better place, given the opportunity.

But when they look around them what do they see.

Bickering politicians who promise one thing today and do the opposite tomorrow if it suits them best, greedy bankers doing very nicely thank you off the fruits of their failures, collapsing financial systems throughout the world, growing unemployment. This is, as Malcolm Maclaren before his untimely death observed, a karaoke society that lacks authenticity. No wonder the future looks bleak when viewed through the vital and discerning eyes of our young people.

I am not religious myself, agnosticism being as far as I wander in that direction, but I applaud the religious leaders for highlighting the plight of our youth and I implore governments to take note, and more importantly take positive action, although I fear this falls upon deaf ears.

As Edward de Bono said recently ‘politicians (and indeed economists) are good at commenting on things, but not good at designing things’. This doesn’t auger well for a world faced with the predicament of how to veer away from its current path towards self destruction. Sitting by and ‘commenting’, tinkering around the edges simply doesn’t cut it.

So where should we look for our salvation. I say to our youth. After all it is they who will inherit the mess that we have created, it is they who in the end will have to make sense of it all, the phoenix that rises out of the ashes.

So this is my New Year message. Rather than castigate our youth let’s set a better example and support them, trust them, work with them to allow them the opportunities to fulfil their potential, to set them on a path of fulfilment. Then, through them, the world will become a better place.

So, come on, join me and let’s hear it for the yoof!!

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January 3, 2012 at 2:40 pm Leave a comment

Birbalsingh, Adonis, and Plan B

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.

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

Lembit, SAT’s and picnics pot pourri

You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for Lembit Opik who so unexpectedly lost his seat in the election. But only a bit. Whilst I am sure it is no picnic for him, I have no doubt that when he has finished crying on a Cheeky Girls shoulder he will pick up some tasty work, Portillo like, in the media. He is quite high profile already, as though preparing for just this moment. He has already been on ‘Have I got news for you’ just hours after his fall and this morning on breakfast TV, not just once, but on two different slots.

Michael Portillo’s political demise all those years ago has, it seems, been voted as peoples’ third favourite moment of the 20th century. By his own admission his notoriety at the time has enabled him to reinvent himself and carve out a very nice, and no doubt lucrative, career in the media. If we’re not very careful we are in danger of even calling him a ‘national treasure’ (although on reflection perhaps a step too far).

Lembit does not have the same level of notoriety although his high profile womanising will do him no harm. He is sufficiently known, though, I think to be a prime candidate for picking up some very nice media jobbies, thank you very much, not to mention the autobiography, the diaries!!)

Whilst Lembit has been replaced as MP for Montgomeryshire, it is also no picnic for many head teachers of primary schools who are facing the ignominy of being replaced, at least temporarily, if they boycott the KS 2 SAT’s that are due to be taken this week. Those heads who are participating in the boycott are doing so for very sound, deeply felt educational reasons. The nub of this as one primary head interviewed this morning put it is that she simply did not feel that a 45 minute exam in any way reflected a child’s achievements over their previous 8 years schooling.

Any child that does not do well in their SAT’s knows it, and starts their secondary schooling with that blot on the landscape. This can’t help but affect that child’s confidence, the position they occupy in secondary school, and the view their new teachers have of them. Where there is setting at a secondary school the SAT’s results contribute to what set a child might be put in.

If they are put in top set they will probably feel quite good about themselves (as will their proud parents) although their can also be pressures on them to maintain that position. If they are put in the set below top set, well they are not quite good enough really, are they? If they are put in bottom set, then that means not up to much really, pretty worthless.

We do not literally believe those judgements, or at least we would not admit to it, but a child does. This leads to hundreds and thousands of school children starting the very scary and life changing journey into secondary education already with a chip on their shoulder, already disadvantaged, already with lowered expectations. No picnic at all.

It is in recognition of this, and of the fact that scrapping SAT’s does not mean scrapping ‘assessment’ as such (there are very many robust means of assessing a child progress) that those heads participating in the boycott are doing so. Rather than analysing the legal position of a boycott, or threatening to replace participating heads, it seems to me that the government would benefit from listening properly to the very cogent arguments being proffered.

One reason, I suspect, that the boycott appears to be somewhat patchy is that there seems to be no real political strength apparent in teachers unions. This is typified by a ‘laugh out loud’ moment when I heard on the news this morning that the NUT was holding a ‘protest picnic’ on the issue of KS2 SAT’s. Well, that will show them, won’t it!!!

So no need to worry Ed Balls, Michael Gove, or David Laws (or whatever combination of the three wins influence over the coming days) when it comes to dealing with the NUT, it is a picnic!

May 10, 2010 at 10:29 am Leave a comment

Admissions balls

As those who live in Brighton and have children will know two years ago a change was made to the schools admissions system to a system now known generally as the ‘lotto’ system (I prefer to refer to it as a ballot system which is actually what it is). Having been implemented in Brighton successfully it has since been taken up by many local authorities across the country.

Now I hear that there is a possibility that the system may be scrapped with no suggestion as to what it might be replaced with.

This is absolutely extraordinary. I was involved at the leading edge of the campaign that succeeded in getting the new system implemented. It was fiercely opposed by the Tories at the time, but now even the local Tories have admitted that the system has worked well and is certainly far fairer than the system it replaced. This was based on a ‘distance to school’ criterion and excluded large swathes of the city form their nearest schools.

The current system which took into account the new ‘admissions code’ was developed after a two year period of analysis involving much modelling of alternative systems. This also involved a newly formed parents stakeholder group with representation form around the city and which had members on the main working party established by the council to look at the issue.

Over the period of analysis there was considerable public consultation and the resulting system was scrutinised in depth by the schools adjudicator when opponents of the system raised objections with him, all of which he rejected.

After all that effort, and when the new system is just two years old, but giving results in terms of meeting parental choice significantly better than the old system considering scrapping it is not just madness, it is in my view irresponsible.

Ed Balls says the concentration of resources should be on improving schools so that all schools in all areas are equally sought after. So let’s concentrate on that rather than wasting money on the inevitable expensive processes that would be involved if the current admissions system is scrapped.

March 4, 2009 at 5:35 pm Leave a comment

Head in the cloud

In my last post I mentioned ‘cloud computing’ as the future for schools, removing the struggles with networks and other technology needs that many schools endure.

A couple of additional things about that:

Firstly a youtube video which shows what cloud computing is:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PNuQHUiV3Q

Secondly, amongst many others, a compelling reason for schools to participate in cloud computing is because of the inevitable increase, as they implement more technology,  in unstructured data. Such things as email, instant messaging, word  processing documents, web page content, audio and video files need classification, storage and retrieval conventions and standards that are difficult to arrive at, implement and manage.

This is just another layer of technical expertise and management that serves to deflect from core activities, in the case of schools, education provision.

The more I consider this the more I believ in this inevitability of schools going the cloud computing route. If I am right about this, all those involved in technology provision in the education system from central and local government to individual schools should be taking it into account in their planning.

January 23, 2009 at 1:45 pm 2 comments


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

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