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Category Archives: Education

A £78,000 Sticking Plaster to Hide the Left’s Education Screw-ups

If you want an idea of where your tax is really going (beyond the firemen, schools’n’hospitals, etc. which the unions would have us believe make up the entire public sector) have a peek at the public appointments adverts. If you can’t face handling (or contaminating your browser cache with) the Grauniad, then go to the Cabinet Office website.

There you will find such gems as this:

Vacancy Details
Director of Fair Access to Higher Education
Remuneration     Circa £130,000 pro rata for 3 days a week

The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and Universities Minister are seeking an outstanding individual to succeed Sir Martin Harris as Director of Fair Access to Higher Education.

The Government’s White Paper, Students at the Heart of the System, announced a strengthening of the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) and the role of the independent Director. The role of the Director is to promote and increase fair access to higher education for lower income and other under-represented groups, a key part of the Government’s social mobility agenda. We are seeking candidates from a wide range of backgrounds to appoint an outstanding individual who can drive rapid progress in meeting these goals.

Candidates will be able to demonstrate from previous experience that they can develop very high level cooperative working relationships with a diverse set of stakeholders.

Ahem, WAKE UP! There’s more …

The essence of the role surrounds negotiating and securing agreement to challenging plans to make progress to significantly increase access to higher education, and taking steps to enforce agreements that are not being fulfilled.

Thank god you’re here, social-engineering-enforcement-man(/woman)!

Now you may vaguely recall the Office for Fair Access. It was the latest result of the tendency for the Left to do the same thing over and over again and expecting the same result.

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Academia "Gets It" On Grammar Schools … Or Maybe Not

Here I go, banging on about grammar schools again.

Today we’re visiting The Grauniad:

Grammar schools do not improve social mobility for working-class

The study, which appears in the latest edition of the British Journal of Sociology, found children from working-class homes were no more likely to move up the social ladder if they went to a grammar school rather than a comprehensive.

Manchester Grammar School: Side View of the Ma...

A grammar school, yesterday (or probably earlier)

In other news, a study carried out by the Vatican finds the Pontiff is pretty sure that God exists.

Attending a grammar school did improve a working-class child’s chance of earning slightly more than their parents. But children from middle-class homes, who went to grammar schools, also earned slightly more than their parents had done.

So, selective schools do give an advantage to those who attend them, whether middle or working class. At last, they’ve seen the light!

Oh, wait, grammar schools are evil aren’t they? What to do … what to do …

Ah, here we go … left a bit, left a bit more, whoa! Mind you don’t lose the crossbar …

However, across the sample, the advantages of going to a grammar school were cancelled out by the social disadvantages experienced by those who went to secondary moderns. These adults did not have a different social class or earning power to their fathers.

That’s rather like saying that the rising tide lifted all boats in the harbour, but that it was cancelled out by those boats which were grounded on the other side of the country. So we should just sink all the boats, in the name of equality – then they’ll all be on the seabed together.

On a less flippant point, and putting aside the desperate goalpost shifting, oh and ignoring the highly subjective task of measuring someone’s social class; at the time when comprehensives were first introduced, I would imagine there was less distinction between the comps. and grammars, since the vicious and virtuous circles of selection by postcode or class hadn’t yet gathered pace.

As an aside, what are sociologists for? How much, say, did they contribute to the balance of trade, or to the Exchequer? Just wondering.

Why Is The Education Establishment Obsessed with Equality over Quality?

It’s secondary school admissions time, and over the weekend the Torygraph reported on the growing practice of allocating school places either by lottery or “fair banding”. Now while I wouldn’t disagree with the complaints of social engineering or damage to house values, the fact is that however loudly the middle classes moan about it, the educational establishment will remain unmoved – even encouraged. Yet those hit hardest are not the middle classes but pupils, and disadvantaged pupils at that.

The piece includes a quote from a head teacher which I think pretty well sums up the view of said establishment:

“Fair banding ensures we have a completely comprehensive intake with children of all abilities and from all ethnic backgrounds. We reflect the full range of society.

“We have an excellent and completely multicultural school. It is genuinely comprehensive.”

There’s your problem. No explanation of why a comprehensive and engineered ‘all ethnicity’ intake is a good thing in terms of the individual pupil’s education. It’s all about the veneer of equality, which seems to be an end in itself. No questioning of why schools should be proud of being a ‘jack of all trades’ rather than seeking to provide a high quality education tailored to every pupil, which a comprehensive will always have a handicap in trying to provide.

The problem with selection by lottery or banding is that it fails to address the root issues and instead tries to keep on life support the comatose body of the comprehensive education system. It rates equality over quality.

Jennie Varley, the vice-chairman of the National Grammar Schools Association, said: “This is a form of social engineering.
“It seems wrong to decide the fate of children on the roll of a dice. It means that children might end up with the wrong education which can have a damaging impact on their lives.

It’s certainly not fair that a pupils future should be decided by the roll of a dice. Indeed it is arguably far less fair than the hated 11+ or the more common system – the untended consequence of the comprehensive experiment – of selection by mortgage.

The case of fair banding is even more bizarre. It is selection by academic ability, but with out any useful end purpose – at least in the context, or to the benefit of, the pupil. It serves only the blind pursuit of Equality.

Instead of following the dogma of equality for all, we should focus on quality for all. Rather than thinly spreading the pupils from the bad schools across the whole system where they are less noticeable, concentrate on improving the bad schools; as Varley said, “The Government should be focusing instead on improving the standards of all schools.” Quite.

Alternatively, one could follow the establishment thinking: selection by lottery will work to return education to the practical end result of Sixties-style comprehensive education – having every school tend towards a level somewhere just below average. It will happen thus: average (or failing) school gets a decent head; results start to improve; school’s reputation rises; middle class parents, with their horrendously irritating values of aspiration and hard work and their children so indoctrinated, move closer to the school; such pupils further drive up results. Then, myopic Leftists started wailing at the lack of diversity in the intake and mess about with the admissions, results start to decline and so the virtuous circle inverts.

Meanwhile, the universities are then expected to rig their own admissions criteria. In the words of the chairman of independent school heads on Monday:

Trying to force universities to repair, let alone make up for, the problems of 18 years of upbringing and education is certainly not the answer …. It is approaching the issue from the wrong end and is like asking an engineer to improve the design of an aircraft after the plane has already crashed.”

(Alternatively a bad school introduces banding. Are they looking for a quick fix, or being obsessed with the social make-up of the school rather than the quality of education it’s providing, which might just hint at the real reason for the school’s problems?)

Of course there is no perfect solution. Surely, though, some schools could be allowed to run a system of selection that doesn’t hinge on the value of the parents’ house or pure luck …. Maybe some schools, whether under the academy or free school model, could select those pupils whose particular aptitude that school is best at exploiting? Some of these schools could, say, select on academic ability, regardless of social class, ethnicity or cultural bent. How could any true egalitarian object?

Farewell to the BA (M Mouse) Degree?

Today’s report into the funding of university education could mark a turning point in higher education that has been a long time coming.

Gratuitous picture of some young women (well, if the Telegraph can do it ...)

A form of grade inflation in higher education has resulted in a situation where, as James Cleverly noted recently, even a ‘Desmond’ – a 2.2 – counts for little. With the push to get 50% of school-leavers into university, regardless of the quality of the qualification they achieve, or the career that they might be heading for, it is little surprise that employers now are not so interested in ‘graduates’ as they are graduates with a First, or a degree relevant to the job, or a Masters or higher, or they place greater store by the reputation of the institution awarding the bit of paper.

And it’s the obsession with “bits of paper” that has been a recurring theme in the working world beyond higher education. If you want to do almost any job these days – even skilled manual labour that previously would have been learnt by years of apprenticeship under an experienced elder – now requires a bit of paper. One wonders these days whether, if you’re responsible for making the tea, do you need a qualification? What if you spill some on someone – where’s your bit of paper to prove you were competent?

Anyway, back to degrees. As with any market, if you increase the supply artificially then you will depress the price – the value – of the good. There has also long been much talk of so-called “Mickey Mouse” degrees, in subjects that a few years’ back wouldn’t have even been taken seriously at A-level. If the Coalition does remove the cap on tuition fees, then we might start to see the real cost and value of those degrees. The job market will decide better than any funding bureaucrat what subjects will be worthwhile, just as it now has to differentiate between institutions and grades.

Perhaps also it will spell the end of the cruel deception that is played upon too many school leavers that going to uni and getting a degree will almost guarantee you a job. I genuinely pity all those young people with their degrees in ‘animation’ now wondering if they couldn’t have spent their time getting three years solid experience on their CV instead, and thus giving themselves a real edge in these testing times.

Perhaps it will send a slow shock wave back down the educational ladder and finally prompt a serious reassessment of the grading and value of A-levels and GCSEs, which have suffered from their own problems of grade inflation. Here too, there is a cruel reality for the young people taking the exams; while a few years’ back 5 A grades would have been a stunning result, today it is the minimum expected to even make the cut for many subjects in further and higher education.

As with the public finances and the credit crunch recesssion, it is the poltiicians of yesteryear who bequeathed us these problems, and the longer we leave the job of sorting it out, the more painful it will be.

Ban [insert party, faith or views of choice]!

Teaching unions are still demanding that BNP members be banned from the teaching profession.

Teachers will be allowed to keep their membership of the BNP and the National Front after a Government review ruled that there was no justification for banning them from joining extremist organisations.

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, the largest teaching union, rejected Mr Smith’s claim that it is possible for teachers to join organisations that promote racism without being racist themselves.

It seems that the unions do not think that some of their ranks can be professional enough to leave their political views at the school gates, and will discriminate against ethnic minority pupils. They also seem to think that stopping someone paying a subscription to a particular political party will erase such non-conformist views from their minds. (Yes, I think the ban on police officers joining the BNP, while it may be well intentioned, is pointless.)

So, will they next be demanding that, say, teachers holding hardline socialist views are ejected because they will discriminate against middle class kids?

No, thought not.

Remembering Lessons From History

Mark Wallace on ConHome’s CentreRight brings our attention to this story:

A group of stunned primary schoolchildren began crying when their teacher told them during a bizarre Holocaust game that they were to be taken away from their families.

The pupils, aged 11, became upset after a number of them were segregated and told they were being sent away or might end up in an orphanage.

The ordeal was meant to give the youngsters at the Lanarkshire school an insight into the horrors faced by Jewish children during World War II.

Deputy head teacher Elizabeth McGlynn segregated nine pupils and told them they were to be sent away.

According to a parent:

Mrs McGlynn told the children they would probably have to be sent away from their families and that their parents had been informed about this and knew all about it.

When one child asked if that meant they might have to go to an orphanage, they were told that might be a possibility.

One girl said her classmates began crying when Mrs McGlynn told them she had a letter from the Scottish Executive saying nine children had to be separated from their classmates.

She told the shocked youngsters those who were born in January, February and March had lower IQs than other children, ‘due to lack of sunlight in their mother’s womb’, and that they had to put yellow hats on and be sent to the library.

The mother added: ‘When I asked why on earth they thought it was appropriate to deliver a role play situation to the children in this way, Mrs Stewart informed me that they didn’t inform the children beforehand.

‘This was because they wanted the children to experience an “accurate emotional response” to this scenario in order for it to be reflected in their story writing.

Now this was in the Daily Mail, so I have one hand on the salt cellar, but I’ll assume that there is more than a little substance in the story.

11 year olds do not have to be subjected to a “holocaust experience” in order to understand and appreciate the horror and lessons from that period of history. I was in the third or fourth year (year 9 and 10 in “new money”) when we had a school trip to the Flanders battlefields and war cemeteries. We did not have to experience simulated drowning in chlorine gas or having our faces blown off to understand the impact of the First World War on its combatants and the wider population of the UK and Europe. For my part, simply standing among acres of white headstones – especially with so many missing the names of those who lay beneath – and reading Owen and Sassoon in English lessons did the job for me.

I agree with Mark Wallace that this is not a case for yet more centralised micro-management of the school curriculum or teaching methods – there’s been enough of that over the last 40 years. What is needed is greater accountability of the school to the parents. If the teacher in question thought that parents would reject the approach she took and, critically, that those parents actually had some real influence over the school, it is doubtful that she would have subjected her class to the experience that she did.

Political Correctness Gone Vansinnig*

I think I can safely declare that when we Conservatives talk of Swedish-style schools, we are not referring to this little gem:

Toys”R”Us scolded for gender discrimination

US-based toy retailer Toys”R”Us has been reprimanded for gender discrimination following a complaint filed by a group of Swedish sixth graders about the store’s 2008 Christmas catalogue.

Last winter, a sixth grade class at Gustavslund school in Växjö in south central Sweden reported Toys”R”Us to the Reklamombudsmannen (Ro), a self-regulatory agency which polices marketing and advertising communications in Sweden ….

According to the youngsters, the Toys”R”Us Christmas catalogue featured “outdated gender roles because boys and girls were shown playing with different types of toys, whereby the boys were portrayed as active and the girls as passive”, according to a statement from Ro.

The group’s teacher explained to the local Smålandsposten newspaper that filing the complaint was the culmination of more than two years of “long-term work” by the students on gender roles.

Thumbing through the catalogue, 13-year-old Hannes Psajd explained that he and his twin sister had always shared the same toys and that he was concerned about the message sent by the Toys”R”Us publication.

“Small girls in princess stuff…and here are boys dressed as super heroes. It’s obvious that you get affected by this,” he told the newspaper.

Their work done with the next generation, I suppose our liberal Swedish cousins will be going for the monkeys next.

(* “Mad” … in case you hadn’t guessed!)

Labour May Be Dying, But the Class War Continues

Yes, the scorch marks in the earth are multiplying:

Hundreds of independent schools could lose their charitable status unless they increase fees for middle-class parents to fund more bursaries, a landmark ruling indicates today.

The two schools that did not pass the charitable test are relatively small prep schools. Both failed because they did not offer enough bursaries, even though they were praised for running initiatives which helped local children and organisations.
One, Highfield Priory School in Fulwood, Lancashire, does not provide bursaries because it keeps fees as low as possible, and does not accrue a surplus.

This is not just unfair, it is wicked and vindictive. The recession is already forcing some private schools to close – Baston School in my own ward is one (and I wonder how many of the brains behind this these changes are on final salary pensions and automatically index linked pay?)

The parents of children in private education should not be ashamed – after all, they already pay twice for education – or, to put it another way, subsidise other children through their taxes and create state school places by removing their children from the state system.

The moves by the Charity Commission do not add up by any reasonable definition of “public benefit” or indeed “social justice”.

Interestingly, there are many other “charitable bodies” which the Commission seems unconcerned about.

It’s Registration Time

And so we have chapter one in the textbook of how to create your own overbearing authoritarian state:

A review of home education in England is expected to recommend a national registration scheme for home educators.

It is also expected to say local authorities should have the right to visit any child taught at home.

The government commissioned a review to find out whether local councils were monitoring home educated children, or offering parents enough support.

But the government has also been concerned that home education could be a cover for abuse.

After all, we’ve got all the classic boxes ticked:

You have your bogeyman: in this case, paedophiles (“the government has also been concerned that home education could be a cover for abuse”). Well, I suppose “terrorism” or “climate change” wouldn’t really scan.

You also have the modern approach to the tired old principle of innocent until proven guilty, in that parents are apparently guilty of child abuse unless a state inspector has proved otherwise (or more likely, in practice, ticked a box to say so.)

Then there’s the special brand of newspeak: “The government … wants local authorities to provide better support to home educating parents.” Yep, because home-schooling parents were so enamoured of local authority support that they, errr, opted out of the local education authority’s service.

Socialism: A Children's Guide

At a dinner party recently (oh, how very Islington), we were relating our former school experiences. There, a friend told us the following true story.

At pre-school one day, the class were given some plasticine and, this being one of those hippy let-the-kids-do-whatever type of schools, let them get on with it. Our friend decided to sit and carefully rolled and moulded his plasticine into a near perfect uniform ring. Very proud of it he was too. Most of his classmates, on the other hand, had spent most of the time messing around, testing the ballistic qualities of the substance, being generally “expressive” and losing most of it.

Eventually one of the timewasters piped up to the teacher. “Miss, he’s got more plasticine than us”, addressing our young friend.

“Well, of course”, thought our hero, “I’ve been working on it and making something, not wasting it.”

Yet, far from the teacher explaining the value of this diligent behaviour, took our friend’s plasticine and divided a load of it up to distribute evenly – “fairly” no doubt – among the rest of the class. Our friend was gutted, such that the experience has stuck in his mind for the rest of his (so far) quarter-odd century of life.

Now some on the Right have had a sneaking suspicion that the teaching profession might be, on average, leaning to the left of the political spectrum. Just a teensy bit. It’s not that we all think that socialist indoctrination is a core module in the national curriculum, but that a statist ethos might run through much of the educational establishment.

Yet this story isn’t about right-on lefty teachers. As it happens, the teachers I do know personally fall pretty evenly into either the Lib Dem or (closet) Conservative camps. Not too many Labour ones showing their colours right now though. Funny that.

No, the story is a near perfect allegory of socialist thinking, from the unwarranted redistribution of carefully husbanded resources, through the failure of authority to protect the deserving, to the rewarding of sloth, imprudence and irresponsibility.

Here endeth the lesson.