25 June 2007

Random Inequality

Googling for "return to grammar schools" (with quotation marks) produces 2060 results, almost all negative - NO return to Grammar schools. Googling for "return to secondary modern schools" (again, with quotes) produces no results at all.

I know this is an imprecise survey, but it's still meaningful. We live in a society in which it is unremarkable that people should say "No more good schools", but nobody should say "No more bad schools". As it has turned out, the comprehensive system has actually ensured that now almost every English child goes to a Secondary Modern.

It seems that the "almost" in that last sentence rankles with some. Brighton Council has said it will allocate children to schools by lottery, to prevent Middle Class parents making a school outperform others in the area by moving within its catchment area. There have also been calls at the national level to force independent schools to admit a quota of disruptive pupils.

These initiatives will have a predictable effect: to make good schools worse without making bad schools better. The arrival of a handful of intelligent, well-motivated pupils in a school with disruptive pupils can have no effect whatsoever; the arrival of a few disruptive pupils in a high-performing school will ruin the education of every child on the roll.

Making schools worse does not make things equally bad for everybody. The wealthy can still hire tutors, send their children abroad or otherwise ensure they have a good education. As the rest of the population slides further behind, the gap widens even further. Thus, these initiatives designed to further equality have precisely the opposite effect.

What makes this inexcusable is that we did have a period, ending in the late 1970s, when social mobility was higher, and this was the consequence of the Grammar School system and the Direct Grant. So we actually know, experimentally, that reversing the current education policies would create greater social mobility and improve standards - for everybody: A report published through the LSE reviewed the real life laboratory experiment that the continuation of Grammar Schools (with reformed entrance arrangements) in Northern Ireland up to the present has provided. It shows that:

Using administrative data before and after the reform, we find that the open enrolment reform of 1989 (which affected the 1979 birth cohort) had a clear impact in Northern Ireland relative to England. A 15 percentage point increase in the number of pupils enabled to attend grammar school (at the age of 11) was accompanied by shifts of similar magnitude in the number achieving five or more GCSEs at A*-C and one or more A-level. This suggests a strong causal effect of expanding the more academic track on overall educational achievement.
Although this research cannot be interpreted as evaluating the overall effects of a comprehensive or selective (‘tracked’) system of education, it is an example of where widening access to the more academic track has generated positive net effects. It illustrates the high price that pupils pay for being excluded from the academic track, even when they are some way down the ability distribution within their birth cohort.

The study also provides clear evidence that selection into the more academic track really has a causal impact – the improvement in educational outcomes is not simply an artefact of the selection process.
On Radio 4 this morning, John Humphreys interviewed David Cameron about a Sutton Trust report that showed social mobility has declined. A child born in 1970 was less mobile than one born in 1958. This can be paraphrased as follows: A child born into a society with academic selection and centres of excellence open to all on merit alone had a greater chance of social mobility than one born into today's Comprehensive system.

Humphreys advocated the Brighton lottery appeal. Cameron disagreed, but said there should be "No return to the 11 plus". "A lottery is completely fair," remonstrated Humphreys.

In fact, a lottery would be (almost) completely random. Random is not the same as fair and it's strange that anybody should conflate the two.

But it's much more strange that neither man advocated a return to a system of education that we know - from experience - works better than the present one.

It's also plain that when the established media and both major parties advocate educational policies we know, from experience - from experiment - can only fail, we're in trouble.

20 June 2007

Infantilise the Adult. Children Made Adults.

I am very concerned that schoolchildren are being involved in teacher interviews.

While the government sets about infantilising the adult population, there is this perverse mentality of denying that children are children by giving them a kind of faux-adult authority. There is a worrying alarm bell that goes off in the back of my mind when I hear of such things. It is like there is a perverse and even perverted "trojan horse" at work. Frankly, it has echoes of the Red Guard in China that was used to break the authority and respect in the child-parent and child-teacher relationship, leaving only the child-State relationship in place.

The NASUWT are not keen on the idea, either. I agree with their stance that it undermines and deprofessionalises teachers. Children are not a teacher's peer-group. They are NOT the "customers" either, even though this appears to be the implication. That position is held by the school, its Governers and the wider body of parents.

The question I have, though, is where this is coming from? Who is drivng it? I cannot see that it is coming from teachers or headteachers. LEAs? It seems one body is partly responsible - Peoples School Soviets School Councils UK. This is an "independent charity", though I suspect it may receive most of its funding from the Dfes. It appears to want to make it law (oh, the Sociofascist hand at work) that all schools be required to have a School Council. Question: If it is such a good idea, why the need for law?

I feel it might be worth digging deeper into just who are these people. They may do some things right, but the way they appear to go about it - this fake independence - gives me the creeps.

13 June 2007

"Make hard work trendy" says Government

Guest author Bel on another attempt by the Labour government to enforce compatibility between what happens in schools and the il-liberal cognoscenti's latest thoughts on what's ideologically desirable. Social engineering, social engineering, social engineering. People left to themselves just will not behave in the way they ought to, so they will have to be compelled ... (First published at Bel is Thinking.)

From the Daily Mail, we learn that the Department of Education has ‘called on teachers to create an atmosphere in which it is trendy to work hard and “boffins” are not bullied for being too brainy.’

Yes, teachers and all those in authority should ensure that bullying is stamped out in any place where they have a say, whether or not it is a ‘boffin’ being bullied, so that goes without saying.

I am more interested in this new assignment to teachers to ‘create an atmosphere in which it is trendy to work hard’. For starters, if any school can achieve this, it will be the first school ever on the face of the earth to do so. Schoolchildren have never, since the beginning of time, seen hard work as ‘trendy’, and they are not about to start now. In any case, I do not think they should be encouraged to do so. They are children, after all, and it is only to be expected that there are some things (school work, etc) that they will not embrace with the same enthusiasm as they do other things (playing, etc).

In addition, the notion that something must be made ‘trendy’ before we can encourage our children to do it, is something I find baffling. What about instilling in them the idea that hard work may not be fun, but in the end, it yields the fruits of success, a sense of achievement, and respect among peers? What about the idea that applying oneself to something, whatever the difficulties, frustrations, and challenges, might be something worth doing? What about the idea that sometimes we may not feel like doing something, but that self-discipline and dedication, irrespective of the views of others, are values to be exalted in every case? These are the lessons we should be teaching our children.

By trying to get teachers to pretend that hard work is ‘trendy’, the Department of Education is sending out a message that nothing is worth doing unless one can get superficial pleasure from it. They are preaching to children, telling them that they can attain things in life on their own terms. This is grossly irresponsible. Children do not rule the world, and sooner or later, they will learn that ‘trendiness’ does not make things happen. Far better to put trendiness in its real place, as a sometimes fun, often times diverting, ineffectual concept. In the real business of life, there is very little room for trendiness. There are many issues in this life in which the views of children are irrelevant. They need to be told that some things (eg hard work) are necessary, whether or not they are trendy. And they need to be told why.

Children should be encouraged to reach out for the tray of goodies that life can offer. However, with all this ‘trendiness’ talk, what the Department of Education is doing is kneeling at the feet of children and offering them the world on their (the children’s) own terms. Instead of encouraging them to aim high, and reach for a world outside their own, the Department is reshaping the valuable things in life so that they accord with the fleeting values of children. This I find surprising, and somewhat saddening.