It’s That Time of The Decade…

December 8, 2009 at 11:40 pm Leave a comment

by David Price

There’s a very interesting retrospective in today’s Education Guardian. entitled ‘The Noughties in Education’. It presents two very different perspectives. Polly Curtis provides an admirably succinct summary of 10 years of government education policy, whilst Fiona Millar looks at whether we’ve a fairer system than we had in 2000. The header for the pieces begs a somewhat irrelevant question: ‘do we end the decade with a better, fairer education system than when it began?’ I may be wrong, but there’s not much point in the system being fairer, if it’s no better. Curtis suggests that Alistair Campbell’s pronouncement that ‘the day of the bog-standard comp is over’ is now being picked up in Conservative plans for wider choice and greater variety of school governance. She also points out that though we’ve already seen some diversification, ‘rather than radical new teaching styles, a trend towards a more traditional education has emerged: rigorous approaches to behaviour, the rise of the uniform, increasing setting in schools and thorough testing’.

In other words, more choice but less innovation. Why has this happened?

Well, league tables, and the significant distortion in pedagogy that occurs for those on the wrong end of the accountability framework, doesn’t help. I was visiting a school today under such pressures. They’ve bravely decided to resist the temptation to drill and skill and teach to the test, and are genuinely trying to make learning more engaging for their students, but feel they need three years to see the effects in exam results. That’s about 18 months too long in today’s climate. Much the same pressure is being seen in US schools, where ‘turnaround’ is urgent.

‘Turning schools around’ can be done to a formula, (including stricter behaviour codes and new uniforms) and exam results will improve, but after that, what next? Are students going to be self-sufficient, adaptable, learners? Are they going to see learning as a thing of joy, or a chore?

And this goes to the heart of Fiona Millar’s piece. As she says. ‘the process of judging success is still bedevilled by the lack of clarity….about what our education system is for.’ Currently, it would seem that our system places universal literacy and numeracy at the top of the list of policy priorities. Rightly so, in my opinion, though we’re having to go about it in a way which is likely to drive a love of words and numbers out of those becoming literate and numerate. But, after that, we seem to value, as the number two goal of schooling , our students knowing just enough to pass enough exams, to get into higher education. In a week where the so-called lifetime ‘earnings gap’, between those who have had a university education and those who have not, is now estimated to be only £100,000 (a quarter of what was previously believed – that’s about three grand a year spread across a working life) shouldn’t we be thinking a little more progressively than this?

The path we’ve been on for the past decade has brought about improved exam results, but it hasn’t done much for levelling out the disparity in social mobility, nor has it kept pace with most of our international competitors. Countries like Finland and Sweden have shown that you can achieve high performance with a different set of priorities. For these countries, the Es matter: enjoyment, empowerment, equality and engagement. That’s what they mean by ‘better’.

Can we really talk about ‘fairer’ whilst we disagree about ‘better’?

Posted via email from etc : education, technology and culture

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Entry filed under: Education & Children's Services.

Should learning – and schools – be about learning skills for the employment world or knowledge for knowledge’s sake? Computer game + maths = no teacher

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