January requires new thinking even though it's halfway through the school year. I’m thinking about three unmanageable topics at once, just to keep me fresh.
First, as per, ethics. I talked to some young staff yesterday and we chewed over the values and virtues of the Framework for Ethical Leadership. The biggest ethical problems they identified – unsurprisingly – were the way we measure the value of a young person based on their academic scores, and the kinds of curricula we push them through. Wouldn’t it be better, several mused, for young people who struggle on our fearsomely overloaded GCSE courses, to be allowed to take very practical courses about looking after themselves and saving money?
Well, yes, perhaps all children need that, but the argument is multi-faceted. Why shouldn’t a child who cannot score at GCSE History be exposed to some of the stories and lessons from history? They need to be able to tell the difference between truth and revisionist lies as much as anyone else. The problem is in the qualification, which has to be the same for everyone and apparently, inexplicably, shamefully, has to have a third of below-pass grades (‘fails’ in normal person’s language). The problem isn’t with history, but the way we measure children using a qualification designed to prove some old lie about teacher slacking.
They’re not worried – and why should they be, learning to be a teacher is hard enough – about admissions. Mike Ion wrote about it in Schools Week last week and I couldn’t have put it better. He railed at the use of parental interviews, school fund requests, birth and marriage questions and the use of tests, all for y7 entry, and how the sharp-elbowed negotiate it all. The fact remains, he says, that secondary school admissions are ‘the secret scandal of our system, fostering delusions about consumer choice and reinforcing outdated perceptions of quality in education.
The outcome of covert selection practice is to produce an educational apartheid that creates vast areas of underachievement which then suck in vast amounts of public money to compensate for structural inequality.
It goes like this:
Bagpuss Comp has good provision for SEND, so increasing numbers of parents of SEND children choose Bagpuss over Rupert High. The Ruperts then say to any inquiries - we don’t have much provision for SEND, have you thought of Bagpuss? Neatly circular. Further, the money that Bagpuss gets isn’t equal to the provision specified in the Education, Health and Care Plan, and the likelihood of their meeting performance measurements is constrained. All the Bagpuss children get a worse deal, resources-wise and the clipboard brigade descend, with the usual range of results.
Some schools are really committed to inclusion. Some avoid it. How is that allowed?
You’ll recall my tedious attempts to communicate with G Williamson, late of Sanctuary Buildings, SW1. Nothing daunted, I may try afresh with Mr Zahawi who seems pretty efficient. He’s about to publish a consultation on SEND of which we Bagpie have rightly high hopes. I will report further on this.
I regret I don’t think even the SoS can help the third issue, to which all the above are stuck like glue. That’s of the retracted, restricted thinking of educators who take measurable achievement at 16 for their lodestone, inexorably drawn to it such that they don’t recognise the responsibility to map their own path so that their school makes sense as part of our national provision for all of our young. Does it increase results? No? Don’t do it, appears to be the mantra.
A colleague told me she was going to treat herself to a trolley now that the financial year is nearly up: a small pleasure. She needs a bit of help to get herself and her baggage from A to B. So do we all, but the hallmark of a good society is how fairly it distributes its goods, in both senses. I’ve told everyone who gets an email from me that I’m reading Sandel, and I often quote Rawls. There’s no better way to start a new year that with two philosophers. They say:
Those who have been favoured by nature, however and whoever, should gain for their good fortune only on terms that improve the situation of those who have lost out. Societies should be arranged so that such contingencies work for the good of the least fortunate.
The system will increasingly be built around the comprehensive school…..all schools will more and more be socially mixed; all will provide routes to the universities and to every type of occupation from the highest to the lowest….then very slowly Britain will cease to be the most class-ridden country in the world.