25 April 2007

Teaching the Wrong Message - The General Teaching Council

Some of you might recally the "Chaos in the Classroom" show on C4. Well, the General Teaching Council has their panties in a bunch over the supply teacher who filmed one of her classes - or should I say one of the 40 minute stretches where she shared a room with a group of disinterested, disruptive, rowdy teenagers.

Mrs Mason is charged, amongst other things, with professional misconduct because she blew the gaff "all of her attention should have been directed at the education of the children."

Are those on the GTC imbeciles or people with experience of communicating a valuable lesson to others?

Their stance appears to be about covering their position or the failings of their members, the failings of the New Labour administration, a QUANGO or two or it may well be just that their failing dogma has been exposed for the utter fraud it is.

Mrs Mason should be congratulated. Mrs Mason should receive an apology from the GTC for being expected to deal with a class in such disarray.

23 April 2007

Local authorities putting young people at risk

Whenever the state claims particular expertise or authority about children and young people, it's both instructive and depressing to see how well it discharges its responsibilities for those young people unfortunate enough to find themselves in its care.

I'm willing to accept that many of these children and young people have been badly damaged by the events that necessitated their going into local authority care in the first place and that this may well be a factor in their low educational achievements and the high danger they'll find themselves in trouble with the law at some stage, but it's not really an explanation for this kind of thing, reported in The Guardian today:

One in six young people leaving care is being placed in unsuitable or unsafe accommodation because of "poor" local authority planning, according to a report published today.

In some cases, vulnerable young people were put in danger by being placed in substandard housing where they were harassed and bullied by other tenants.

The young people's charity Rainer, which published the report (pdf) fears the wellbeing of many care leavers is being jeopardised by the problem.

Some found themselves living next to drug addicts and mental health patients after being placed in accommodation by the local authority. Others ended up miles away from work or training and effectively cut off from friends and other support, the study found.[...]

There is also evidence that young people feel they have no choice but to accept unsuitable accommodation or run the risk of being declared "intentionally homeless" and receiving no further help.

Becoming homeless is one of the top ten concerns of young people leaving care and up to one in three rough sleepers spent time in local authority care as a child.
Strikes me that it would be a good idea for the state to set about properly discharging its responsibilities to those children and young people for whom it is most directly responsible before it even thinks about taking charge of the lives of any others. I mean, if an individual treated his own children in so cavalier a fashion, he's not really the sort of person you'd consider an authority on what's best for your teenage children, is he?

Marxist support

One characteristic of a really bad idea is that it is bad to many different people, for many different types of reason. So it is with educational conscription. Chris Dillow posted on this issue recently, and with his permission I reproduce it in full. He was wrong about the thanks. This is a single issue campaign and I'm sure his support is very welcome.

Fabian Tassano and friends are rightly campaigning against educational conscription. They'll not thank me for this, but this is one area where libertarianism meets Marxism.
Louis Althusser called schools ideological state apparatuses. They're one of the means by which workers are indoctrinated into modes of thought favourable to the continuation of capitalism. There are (at least) four ways in which this happens:
1. Schools inculcate a culture of presenteeism. In bullying students to attend even unnecessary classes, schools prepare them for a world in which they'll have to attend factories and offices not  (just?) because it is technologically necessary to do so, but because presenteeism permits easy oversight by capitalists of workers.
2. Schools normalize alienation. The school uniform, and the fact that schools are sometimes a long way from home, send a message: your individuality must be suppressed.
3. Schools teach that success depends upon obeying rules, and subordinating yourself to authority.
4. Schools help legitimate authority. In well-run schools, teachers have both authority over students and superior knowledge. This coincidence inculcates the belief that authority is always to be identified with superior wisdom. It is only after you become a skilled worker that you realize this to be a fiction.
Now, the thing about these mechanisms is that they operate without the intention of any particular teachers. Indeed, I suspect their existence is a lucky accident, rather than anyone's design; some things are the result of human behaviour but not intention.
However, it's an accident that accords well with New Labour ideology. One feature of this - seen in its desire to get people into work and prepare them for the "challenges of globalization" - is the belief that government should operate as a human resources department. To New Labour, people must change to meet the needs of the economy, rather than vice versa.
The question is: are there any possible viable alternatives? I'm not at all sure.

Fabian then responded in the comments:

Let me subvert your four ways, if I may.

1. Mediocratic schools inculcate a culture of cultural "absenteeism", i.e. disaffection with bourgeois values, by showing a contrast between theory (enforced attendance, "education does you good") and practice (skiving, anarchy, soul-destroying boredom).

2. Mediocratic schools normalize pseudo-individualism. You are encouraged to regard yourself as the same as everyone else, although you can choose clothes/hairstyle to distinguish yourself.

3. Mediocratic schools teach that success depends upon playing in with phoneyness, and subordinating yourself to the dominant ideology.

4. Mediocratic schools help legitimate selective anti-authoritarianism, i.e against private authority figures, but in favour of state agents (social workers, doctors, etc.).

The "viable alternative" is to get the state out of education - there are *no* good economic arguments for the state to be involved.

21 April 2007


Over at Samizdata, Natalie Solent writes about compulsion in education:

I sometimes think that practically every problem, inefficiency and cruelty of our education system has at its root compulsion. People who are forced into each other's society tend not to behave well to each other. Wherever the doors are locked, be the locks visible or invisible, those inside seem to revert to the hierarchy of the baboon troop. There is still room for free will: most do no worse than learn a few habits of obsequiousness or sullenness that can be shaken off. Cho was not forced to become a mass-murderer. (In fact I see his own claim to the contrary in his video as a sort of twisted acknowledgement of this fact; the thought that "I don't have to do this" had to be actively denied.) No, he was not forced to pull the trigger - but force did play too large a part in his life. Imagine if the doors had been open for the bullied Cho Seung-hui to walk away, or if the adult Cho Seung-hui had been shown the door at the first sign of discourtesy. Imagine this was the case not just for Cho Seung-hui on certain pivotal occasions but for everyone on all occasions. Then, I think, he would have learned differently.

20 April 2007


An article over at Comment is Free explains the current approach to tackling school bullies:

Since 1999, by law, every school should have an anti-bullying strategy, extending to include times when the child is on their way to and from school. At its best, this comes from the children up, out of discussions with pupils, teachers, playground staff, parents and dinner supervisors. Workshops, assertiveness training, peer mentoring, mediation, counselling and training children to be buddies all helps. It's a time-consuming but effective business.
A comment from a teacher confirms just how effective this is:
Bullying is systemic - everyone is bullying everyone. It is the nature of many of our schools. Why do you think teachers are leaving in droves. How can we protect or teach the kids to have self respect; stand up for themselves; have self worth, when we, the teachers, are battling to keep our own heads above water.
But, at the time of typing, there is an elephant in the room. No, elephants can be overlooked by the genuinely absent-minded: they are docile, well-mannered creatures. This is more a vast herd of wildebeest stampeding across the Axminster.

Why is it that "we, the teachers, are battling to keep our own heads above water"? They are unable to keep discipline because they are unable to apply any sanctions. They may not use corporal punishment, although they are expected to tolerate at least low-level physical assault on their own persons, and they cannot control their own admissions policy and thereby exclude disruptive children. None of the Guardian comments have addressed this.

The greatest service to British education today would be the restoration of control and discipline in schools. Without it, disruptive children will continue to prevent meaningful learning. One can confidently predict, however, that this issue will continue to be drowned in meaningless flannel about "peer mentoring".

Oh yes, and by the introduction of new, grossly illiberal measures, that are ostensibly designed to improve educational achievement. Measures like educational conscription.

17 April 2007

Children's rights

Guest author Antoine on the bigger issue of children and compulsion.

I think the "Educational Conscription" campaign is a good idea.

I am interested in the general theme of children's rights. I also support the choice of home schooling. However, I think the problem of educational conscription is part of a greater problem of treating children like dumb animals or criminals: electronic tagging; DNA databases; food diktats; vaccination; the ban on working; the predictable consequences of a ban on alcohol, drugs, smoking and sex; surveillance cameras; the absence of (unplanned as opposed to adult-designed) play areas; the crime rate that frightens parents into not allowing childen to play outside and drive them to school in SUVs; the consequences of victim disarmament (armed gangs terrorising the other children); the contradictions inherent in two British government "priorities" (cutting exclusions and excluding bullies); and finally the actual content of the "education," including the problem of what to do about children who have no aptitude for "knowledge work" in a post-manufacturing economy (and the problem of how to teach IT skills, when these are bound to be obsolete by the time the kids leave school).

On compulsory education I am certain that there is an age at which children should decide how they receive education, if at all. However, if their parents disagree then surely they have the right to refuse to finance a child's upbringing! So a negotiation would seem to be in order, which I think would suit many families: the child gets to take more adult decisions.

However, I am also clear that negotiating with children below a certain age is utterly pointless, because one is reasoning with the unreasonable, which actually sends a very odd message out to the child. At that point we are either putting trust in parents or in the state.

The only case for the latter is to investigate claims of abuse. I got into hot water for suggesting that the sole function of the state for child protection, other than in response to a specific complaint or allegation, was to hold an annual headcount in a public square. The home-schooled children would have to appear in public and passers-by and voluntary social workers could observe evidence of chronic physical battery (cracked ribs two years in a row?) or that a child had vanished. This, some home schoolers believe, is alowing far too much intrusion. Whereas I wanted a mechanism so that if a Fred and Rosemary West-type couple occasionally murdered one of their kids, the disappearance would be noticed within a year.

Antoine Clarke

16 April 2007

How to sell conscription

Guest author Paul on what sort of propaganda might be used to promote the scheme of extending compulsory education.

So, how are they going to do it? How will this government (or indeed any similarly minded successors) convince people that coercing young people and infringing civil liberties is in fact a good thing?

Well, firstly, there will be a concerted effort on the part of the government to denigrate the alternative. Hence not forcing over-16s into training will constitute the most scandalous neglect of our children. Of course, the proponents of this scheme will refrain from using the word "children", but the implication is clear; young people of seventeen and eighteen should be regarded as minors who cannot be trusted to discern what is in their own best interest, and so the state (since apparently even their own parents cannot be trusted) must take control.

A nice example of this approach was Alan Johnson's statement:

"It should be as unacceptable to see a 16-year-old in the workplace without any education or training as it was to see a 14-year-old, which used to be quite common before the Butler education act [1944]."

Since he can't actually use the term "child", he depicts a person of sixteen as necessarily existing in a completely childlike state. In this instance, of course, he overreaches himself, scoring an own goal with amusing earnestness. The only reason why a sixteen-year-old would have no "education or training" is because eleven years of compulsory schooling has been a complete waste of time for them. This is indeed the case in the state system for a depressingly large
and apparently ever-growing number of young people. Yet Mr. Johnson's remedy is not to question why this should be, but to say that nanny knows best and to prescribe another two years of state-enforced "learning".

Note also the implication that in a civilized society it is unacceptable to see someone of fourteen in the workplace. That's another assumption which should certainly be analysed, perhaps in a future post.

15 April 2007

Am I missing something?

I've now seen two people comment (not on this blog) something to this effect:

The proposals are okay because it's reasonable to insist on education/training as a condition of receiving state support.

Two possible interpretations, both potentially important.

1) We've missed something, and they are probably intending to restrict compulsion to those who want to get state benefits. In which case, we had better know about it as it affects the campaign in a fairly fundamental way, so please comment if you think this is true. I have not seen anything in the Green Paper to suggest this.


2) There is a widespread misapprehension to this effect. Which might help to explain why there isn't more resistance to the proposals. Even if people don't think anything as definite as this, there may be an underlying feeling of the following kind: "Why shouldn't those lazy, stroppy 17-year-olds be made to do something useful. Otherwise they're just causing trouble." Unfortunately, that is how key civil liberties tend to get lost: because there is resentment against a particular social group, so that government actions which would normally be regarded as unacceptable somehow acquire an air of legitimacy.

14 April 2007

Schools in the good old days

Celia Green as guest author, commenting on the motivation of modern 'educators'.

The fact that the educational system cannot manage to teach basic skills (literacy and numeracy) by the age of sixteen is being taken to justify an even longer period of supervised incarceration (up to the age of eighteen).

Actually this demonstrates that modern ‘educators’ are not motivated to instil basic skills. It is not what ‘education’ is about, in their eyes. If it was, the objectives could be reached with far less deprivation of liberty and far less expense to the taxpayer.

My parents, for several decades of the last century from the 1920s onwards, were teachers in East London schools where the children, who would nowadays be described as ‘poor’ or ‘underprivileged’, mostly fell within an IQ range of about 85-110. I never heard of any problems with achieving literacy by the end of primary education.

On one occasion my mother, in her twenties, was sent as a supply teacher to a school in Dagenham and found herself confronted by a large class of children of primary school age who were unable to read. My mother believed in teaching children according to their ability. She divided the class into A, B and C groups and put up screens so that she could teach them separately.

A month or so later, a crowd of women were seen at the school gates. The teachers viewed the rather rough local population with some apprehension, and speculated about what they might be wanting. ‘Oh well,’ my mother said. ‘I’m going out to have my lunch anyway.’

It turned out that the crowd was a deputation of mothers who had come to thank her because quite recently their children had been unable to read, and now they all could.

There is a modern tendency to blame parents for the poor educational achievements of their children within the system.

The fact is that modern teachers, on the whole, are often more interested in social engineering, psychological manipulation, and ‘intervention’ generally, than in actually teaching anything.

My mother frequently had to teach children whose home circumstances were very bad, and I am sure there were many children in East London who owed their literacy to her. She particularly remembered one little boy, who used to fall asleep on his desk because he had spent the night at home in the broom cupboard, listening to his father beating up his mother. My mother would let him sleep until he woke up, and then call him to read to her. When he left her class, he could certainly read, as could all the other children who passed through it.

Nowadays, I suppose, he would have been taken away from his parents and put into ‘care’, to take his chance on abuse from those who get into supervisory positions in children’s homes, and perhaps from foster parents. The expense to the taxpayer would be considerable, and his chances of learning to read would very likely be worse than they were in being left with his genetic parents, from whom he would probably not have wished to be removed, and the educational attentions of my mother.

If the educational system is so bad that it cannot achieve adequate literacy and numeracy by the age of 16, there is no reason to think that two more years of it will do more good than harm.

13 April 2007

Comprehensive or Compensative Education?

A recommendation in a report by CIHE (Council for Industry and Higher Education) and LogicaCMG is that 'A'-Level students of certain subjects, in this case Maths, 'hard' Sciences should be paid to study, or so you would think judging by the focus of the BBC. I think it seriously misrepresents the report and its general thrust and by doing so, perpetuates the impression that people need bribery to do anything - that they need handouts and 'incentives' just to do what is right - as if doing anything is not possible unless the State shows its largesse. The Telegraph was not much better. Shame on them.

The role of Science, Maths and Technology in our lives and the great things done by Engineers and inventors should indeed be given more exposure at an earlier age. In that regard I believe Richard Brown of CIHE is right when he says:

"We need to inspire them with the roles they can take on after school and university and demonstrate what they will be able to achieve with a background in these important subjects."

I also think the general mixed ability environment coupled with the chav mentality (originally describing an underclass who actively opposed and crushed learning and desire for achievement in their schoolmates using bullying, social exclusion - the real sort - and intimidation) has alot to do with suppressing the inspirational messages that come from such careers. Streaming children correctly so they can share inspiration and positivism will help prevent such efforts being wasted. It certainly works for sports. It certainly works for The Arts. Let us see it for STEM subjects (and no, not just in 'specialist schools'). The classroom environment is also critical to enable interactive experimentation to re-engage boys and to enable complex subjects to be pursued without constant disruption. I am sure this would feed back into higher numbers of available and inspiring teachers.

As an aside, we should work to prevent the systematic abuse of the term "Engineer" when the correct title of "Technician" should be used.

Focus on higher earnings as highlighted in Burning Our Money would also be a benefit.
Bias in UCAS points for STEM subjects is interesting, but I think they should grasp the psychological nettle and lower the value of certain other subjects instead of inflating the value of STEM subjects. It is symptomatic of this "no losers" mindset, the welfare "hammock" and the constant focus particularly in the media of cash rewards that is eroding achievement.

I really cannot work out the Media sometimes - the focus on the bribery is either to rouse objection or to ingrain the attitude into the "lumpen illitariat".

Paying people to be educated in certain subjects one moment, then paying all except "unwanted" subjects. Demanding people are in education, stopping them working unless they study and then controlling what subjects derive income...you can see where this could lead.

12 April 2007

Conscription in Action

A fine example of educational conscription in action, displaying a considerable degree of both mean-spiritedness and confusion about what the words 'voluntary' and 'compulsory' mean. The BBC reports that

An A-grade pupil has been banned from her school prom because her parents refused to allow her to attend extra revision lessons.

Kayleigh Baker, 16, has also been thrown off the netball team at Hurworth School, near Darlington, County Durham, as punishment for the decision.
There seems to be a certain amount of confusion about the status of these extra revision classes; according to the report,
A school governor has quit in protest but the school insists the tough line on extra study benefits pupils.

It says teachers have the final decision on who attends the classes,
which makes it sound as if these sessions are reserved for those whom the teachers think really need them and who won't revise unless they're forced so to do. However, it transpires later on in the article that
The row started last June when the school asked all year 11 parents to sign a form allowing their children to attend the sessions.

Kayleigh's parents, Kay and Ellis, did not sign, saying their daughter was already a high achiever who did not need the burden of extra classes.
The Daily Telegraph explains,
The issue first arose last June when Kayleigh, a prefect, brought home a contract requiring her to attend revision classes. After a family discussion her father amended the document to allow her an element of choice, and then returned it with a covering letter.

The school's head, Dean Judson, wrote back to say the teenager would be precluded from attending all other "voluntary" activities.

These have included next month's school prom, and her role as a volunteer on a school trip to Wales for younger children. Kayleigh was, however, allowed to attend an achievement ceremony where she collected five awards.

Mr Judson, who in successive school reports has lauded Kayleigh's academic performance as "brilliant", was unavailable for comment.
So here we have a situation where the girl's parents -- who would, of course, be able to give their permission for her to get married -- don't think she needs the extra classes, not least because she's apparently over-working herself anyway, and the girl herself -- whom the school must think is pretty responsible since they've made her a prefect -- clearly doesn't want to attend them, but she's to be punished, nevertheless, for declining the opportunity.

The school's 'Chief Executive' (a post distinct from that of Head Teacher, it seems) rather lets the cat out of the bag when he explains,
the extra study sessions were made compulsory five years ago.

He said: "If we were to give the children the choice of attending the extra study sessions, what do you think the response would be? They wouldn't attend.

"At the school we have standards and we extend these to the children. They have rights but they also have responsibilities too."
Bloody funny sort of rights, if you ask me. Seems that the girl's meeting the necessary standards -- A grades, five awards, made a prefect and so on -- so what rights are these to which this Chief Executive wallah alludes, other than, perhaps, the right not to be punished if she does what the school tells her to?

The Northern Echo has further and better particulars;
A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills yesterday declined to say if the school will face action over the move.

"We don't want to discuss hypothetical situations about whether the school will be penalised or not," he said.

"It is a matter for the school, but after-school revision should be voluntary.

"If revision classes are held during school hours they can be mandatory, but if they are held after school hours, they should be voluntary."
I don't see why the school shouldn't be penalised; after all, they seem to be the ones stepping out of line by punishing the girl for not taking part in a 'voluntary' activity. Nevertheless, says the Northern Echo,
there was support for the school from [the local MP] Tony Blair's office yesterday, as the Prime Minister's constituency agent, John Burton, defended the school's stance.
On quite what grounds he defended them I do not know, since he isn't directly quoted, but here's what the Chief Executive chap had to say to The Telegraph
"We know what is best for the children, and that is why we make them go to these lessons. If one child doesn't go to them it will have a massive effect on the other children. It might affect their life chances".
It's certainly had a massive effect on this poor girl; The Northern Echo quotes her;
Yesterday, Kayleigh said: "I have only got 18 days left of school and now I can't wait to leave."

11 April 2007

Bricks in very large walls

Tim Worstall on supersize schools descending into chaos.

10 April 2007

Brutality in schools

From that despised organ, the Daily Mail.

Article by Carl Storm, who served for nine years in the British Army, including spells in Northern Ireland and the Falklands, but who says that "nothing prepared me for the violence in London's schools". His words in italics, my comments in plain.

Thanks to the complete breakdown in authority and discipline, too many of our schools are now places of naked fear, with staff left at the mercy of thugs who have neither manners nor morals. Handling aggression, foul-mouthed abuse and raw belligerence have become integral parts of classroom routine. The situation is now so bad that a teacher working in one of the worst of our urban schools may encounter as much hostility as someone serving in the Armed Forces. Now, that might sound like a wild exaggeration, and it is true, of course, that the chances of being killed or seriously injured are far smaller in teaching than in the Army. Nevertheless, today's classroom professional often has to operate in a relentlessly antagonistic environment, with the menace of sudden violence always lurking in the background.

Is it surprising that many schools have become places of “naked fear”, when you have unwilling, bored, frustrated males shut up against their will in an environment from which they feel they are deriving no benefit?

Two generations ago it would have been unthinkable for staff to be kicked, punched, sworn at, shoved or threatened. Yet that now happens all the time in our schools. ... A teenager I was trying to teach began to play with one of the computers in the unit, despite my having ordered him to switch it off. Suddenly he went berserk, swearing at me and lashing out. The last thing I remember was his arm looming over my face. After being struck by him, I must have fallen to the ground, smashing my head and back against something, and I lost consciousness immediately. When I first woke up, I found to my horror that I was blind ...

Teenagers are not only justifiably frustrated with being locked up in order to be exposed to dumbed down, ideologised learning material; they have been encouraged by the ideology pumped out on TV to express their resentment by means of stroppiness, and to direct it at immediate individual figures of authority (parents, teachers, etc.), rather than at (say) the government, or those who pull the strings within the educational establishment.

After being interviewed by the police about the incident, I was asked if I wanted to press charges. I decided that I did. ... But that was not the way the school viewed it, though. During a frosty phone call, when I was still being interviewed by the police, the head teacher, through her assistant, told me that 'it is not our policy to press charges'. I told her that I would still be going ahead. Within days, my supply contract was terminated. 'Services no longer required,' said the notice. ...

While inner city schools are gripped by chaos, the Government, councils and education experts pretend that they have never been doing better. Ever improving exam results are paraded as evidence of these rising standards, while ministers trumpet the vast sums of public money that are poured into the system. But those of us who have worked in the system know better. We see beyond the cynical spin and hollow propaganda. I was in one school, for instance, where the pupils barricaded themselves into a classroom in an act of violent rebellion, yet the school was given a top rating by inspectors only a few months later.

The main priority has become one of concealing the true state of affairs. What should we trust, horror articles in the Daily Mail (despised by the intellectual elite) or statistics from the respected educational establishment?

No one could come from a tougher background than me, yet I have to say that I would not dream of sending any children of mine to an English state school. I would rather crawl through broken glass than inflict such a punishment on them.

Let us assume that what this author implies (and what anecdotal data, rather than government reports, suggests) is true, i.e. most state schools constitute a punishment for those unfortunate enough to have to attend them. What does this say about the motivations of those responsible for creating and perpetuating this system? Do they really want to create “exciting, valuable” opportunities? Or are they not that bothered if the lives of intelligent children whose parents are unable to send them to a private school (because they have had 40 per cent of their spending power confiscated to pay for — among other things — an unworkable state education system) are messed up?


6 April 2007

Just a brief note

Fabian and I have drafted a letter which will be sent (we have, what passes in the night for, a volunteer) to the Leaders and, if we can find them (it is surprisingly difficult in some cases) the Education spokesmen or women of all of the significant UK political parties (except Labour, 'cause it is their bad idea, and the BNP, because they are simply just a bad idea) to get their views on this matter.

Specifically the letters ask:

  • If you were the party in government, would you put to Parliament a Bill including any age extension for compulsion in education?
  • If the current government puts to vote a Bill including the proposed extension in compulsion, will you encourage or require your MPs to vote for or against this?
  • Do you consider that Parliamentary and government time and resources would be better spent in improving educational opportunities and facilities rather than in forcing a particular pattern of behaviour by means of restricting the civil liberties of our young adults?
We'll see who responds and how and I will share the answers with you as they are passed through to me. If we get enough, I may play with some graphics.

Please remember the petition.


4 April 2007

Pity the poor teachers

I am as furious as the next classical liberal about Labour's plans to conscript Britain's 17 and 18-year olds. If they want to leave school and get on with their lives, that is (or should be) entirely a matter for them. Ethical considerations aside, there is also the practical wisdom of "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."

As the husband of an ex-teacher, I am also concerned about her former colleagues. Teachers are what Labour would call some of "the most vulnerable members of our society." It may be hard for you, gentle reader, having by definition derived some benefit from your schooling, to imagine what it's like to teach unwilling pupils. It is so foul that, according to the Guardian

"A key problem is that although the profession is recruiting more teachers, it has trouble keeping them in the job. An estimated 88 out of every 100 trainees pass the final examination, but only 59 are in teaching a year later. After three years the figure falls to 53."
Neither my wife, anyone she trained with, nor anyone she worked with is still teaching. Frankly she and they would rather do anything lawful than work again in a "bog standard comp."

One of them did return a couple of years ago, her family having fallen on hard times. The first words uttered to her by a pupil were:
"Jesus Christ, miss, you're an ugly old cow aren't you?"
Any attempt at discipline would have been scuppered by her "senior management team" (SMT). Having escaped the chalkface themselves, they would have smugly blamed her teaching skills. Had she pressed the matter, it could quite possibly have led to violence from the pupil's parents - to which the police would have responded with the same alacrity as the SMT.

So she swallowed her pride and continued - for exactly so long as she needed to. Then she left the profession again, hoping that this time it's for good.

Schools have regressed to this pre-civilised stage since the school-leaving age was raised to 16. My wife and her ex-colleagues believe that there is a connection. 15- and 16-year old boys with no interest in education (rather like Alan Johnson himself at their age), take pleasure in disrupting the education of others and making teachers' lives miserable. Imagine what it will be like for teachers to deal with 17- and 18-year olds with the same inclinations.

But they won't be at school you cry. They will be in training. Where, pray? Do tell! Our country is already importing better quality skilled labour than these serfs will ever make. Why put yourself in the way of abuse by taking them on for a training contract, when you can recruit a fully-trained, well-motivated and respectful worker from the new EU states?

The only way to change the attitudes of this group of young Britons would be to reform social security, end the poverty trap and impose a lifetime limit on benefits. But if the Government was prepared to do that, it would not need to devise a policy of teenage serfdom. They and, crucially, their parents would change their attitude to work.

Bear in mind that we are talking about young people who, by definition, don't WANT training. Those who do want it (at least in the current market) can get it. Our millions of "unwaged" are not currently in that position for lack of opportunities. If there were no jobs, after all, our economy would not draw in so many migrant workers.

Forcing someone to train against their will just transfers their hostile attitude from the classroom to the workplace. Must others tolerate being spoken to like my wife's friend? If not, how will the government guarantee that their serfs are trained against their will?

3 April 2007

4 things to do when you get conscripted

How will your life change as a 17-year-old, once the new rules on compulsory "education"/"training" come in? Well, if you choose the school option, these are among the range of exciting, valuable opportunities on offer.

1) Being taught how to walk more effectively. (Never discovered if this was an April Fool's. Not that I think it's beyond the capacity of the educational establishment for absurdity, even if it was a joke.)

2) Engage in online bullying. Or, alternatively, become a victim of it.

3) Risk your life by becoming involved in arson.

4) Add another language to the others you haven't learnt.

2 April 2007

And once they get to leave?

Tom Paine comments on the increasing discrimination against middle-class applicants to British universities.

You may also want to have a look at this egregious proposal. I am sure there will be a special, un-publicised, re-adjustment for the children of internationally famous lawyers and statesmen and their friends and colleagues.

And we are now talking about the rights of 18 year olds, not rights of the 16 & 17 year olds that are the core focus of this blog. At what point do the human rights (because ACAS as a government funded body is subject to HRA98) of young adults become irrevocably separate from those of their parents? Laws against smacking would suggest that this break comes early; the proposal to fit criminal sanctions to parents for 17 year olds not attending enough education suggests later.

Actually, the latter also suggests this converse - at what point in a child's or young adult's life does their parents' human rights become separate from their actions? Interesting legal issue - not one I would want to be the test case for.


1 April 2007

Extending compulsion - where to begin?

The present government of the United Kingdom are an appalling bunch. The current continuous stream of stupid ideas, many of them invasive and authoritarian, is a seminal achievement for a party that, prior to coming to power, appeared to champion individual rights against the government: the Human Rights Act and Freedom of Information Act being two examples in point.

The motivation for this blog was what is perhaps the most ridiculous idea yet — extending the compulsory school leaving age to 18. As Fabian has suggested, this is simply "conscription by another name" (hat tip to Perry de Havilland of Samizdata for the analogy).

The "Sexual Offences Act 2003" has already redefined "child" within the meaning of English, Welsh and Northern Irish law to be "under 18", admittedly within limited circumstances. (This leads to some amazing daftness. E.g. you can have a consensual one-night stand with a 16 or 17 year old — but you can be prosecuted for having a nude picture of your partner, because it isn't an "enduring family relationship". How crazy is that?) However, back to the point.

Alan Johnson, and the lackeys that advise him, have decided that the only way to address the manifest failures of the comprehensive education system to enthuse large portions of England's youth (and to provide many of those who are keen with the basics of the education they need to function in the modern workplace), is to force them to stay at the school they despise for even longer. Backed by criminal sanctions against both young adult and parents.

As a parent, I would like you to consider this:

Your son or daughter leaves home at 16, moves into a flat and marries (or enters into a civil partnership) with their significant other. Their full-time employer provides them with an hour of guided learning each working day (less than the proposed 280 hour per year minimum.) And you would still be criminally liable for ensuring they do the extra 20 minutes per day?
We need to fight this particular stupidity, as well as all the others we come across. Please help us.

Surreptitious Evil