Going beyond.

Going beyond what is expected.

What do we expect from the education of 16-19 year olds in England? Judging from the funding available, the qualifications on offer and the accountability measures which inevitably steer our work, our national aspirations for this phase of education are fairly low.

Any outside observer seeking to understand how the English system prepares its older teenagers for life, citizenship, higher education and work would find it hard to explain. The lack of any common system or curriculum aims and the meagre resources available to fund 16 and 17 year olds compared to other phases of education do not suggest that the English value the education of this age group very much. And yet, this is the point in most people’s educational journey where things should really come together and make sense, where the knowledge and skills we have acquired start to connect with the big decisions we need to make about our lives and our engagement with the world.

Let’s be grateful that this age group are expected to participate in education or training at all and that we also have ‘programmes of study’ which define a full-time educational experience. But our 16-19 curriculum has no requirement of breadth or balance, no requirement to continue studying the national language beyond GCSE or any other language for that matter, no requirement to develop a basic understanding of political systems, institutions or history or to be introduced to key aspects of human culture.

Instead we have an incoherent patchwork of providers who can choose their own students by being as selective or as specialist as they want and no requirement to have a sufficiently broad offer in every part of the country. Better qualified 16 year-olds can choose between a 3 or 4 subject programme or a more specialist advanced applied general or technical course. The less successful generally have fewer options and the single biggest policy push for this age group has been to promote the technical, pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship route which is essentially work-based. While work-based learning is of great value, this does feel like giving up on general education for those young people.

We need to be more ambitious. We should be aiming to do more than the minimum. We should be making the case for the kind of education which all young people deserve, which prepares them for cultural, social and economic participation as full members of society. An education which doesn’t require binary choices at 16 between breadth and depth or general and vocational. An education which promotes the ability to question, to challenge, to disagree, to argue and persuade, to reflect, to evaluate and to change one’s mind as well as to participate actively and productively in society and at work.

In short, we need something like a National Baccalaureate for all. Sadly, many of the tools to help us construct this are being withdrawn. AS subjects such as Citizenship, Humanities and Science in Society which could help broaden students’ programmes are going. We still have the Higher and Extended Project qualifications which can help to promote depth of study and research skills. Broad and balanced programmes like the International Baccalaureate do exist but they are prohibitively expensive to run under our current funding regime.

While we need to make the case for adequate funding for this age group, we also need to be convinced of the case for the kind of expansive general education which this better funding would allow. In the meantime, we may need to be creative in developing the content which can enrich our students’ education, working beyond the minimal programmes of study and with the support of universities, schools and employers who have such a large stake in young people’s success.

One thing is certain, if we base our ambitions merely on what is expected of us we will achieve just that. And that’s really not enough.

See also:

Life in the qualification market (May 2016)

Accessing the IB diploma (February 2016)

More sixth formers doing research projects (February 2016)

Education: what’s it all for? (January 2016)

No austerity of the imagination (July 2015)

Glasto-Bacc (June 2015)

W. Kandinsky: Black and violet (1923)

wassily-kandinsky-black-and-violet-1923

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Les réfugiés francophones de Londres.

img_5416Nous nous sommes réunis au Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle le 19 Octobre pour rappeler les évènements qui ont bouleversé le monde il y un siècle. Avant d’évoquer le Londres de 1916, je me permets d’évoquer celui de 1966. C’est à mi-chemin – il y a un demi-siècle – l’année ou un petit garçon de cinq ans commence sa scolarité en classe de douzième dans une des maisons victoriennes de Queensberry place. Je passerai 12 ans dans cet établissement extraordinaire et je lui suis très reconnaissant. C’est toujours avec une certaine émotion que nous retrouvons les lieux importants de notre enfance et je me rappelle la cour de Harrington road, la distribution des prix au Royal Albert Hall, les grands couloirs du vieux lycée, les laboratoires du grand lycée et éventuellement, en section Britannique, une autre maison victorienne au No.6 Cromwell place. Ces valeurs, ces méthodes, cet apprentissage et cette formation tous bien différents de ceux qu’on connu la majorité de nos contemporains Londoniens.

Environ un autre demi-siècle avant, Londres en 1914 est la plus grande ville industrielle du monde et de loin la plus importante de l’Europe ; une ville d’immigration où les immigrés sont à la fois accueillis chaleureusement et sujets à la xénophobie et au racisme. C’est une société inégale ou plus d’un million vivent sous le seuil de pauvreté tandis que certains de leurs proches voisins sont parmi les plus riches du monde. C’est une ville ou règne l’exploitation, le travail précaire, des conditions de logement épouvantables et des loyers impossibles. C’est une ville d’agitation populaire à grande échelle; de grèves dans les chantiers, dans les transports et dans les usines, ou certaines municipalités refusent d’administrer l’assistance sociale tellement elle est insuffisante. C’est une ville qui connait une lutte militante pour le suffrage des femmes avec des manifestations, du vandalisme et des agressions. Londres était en désarroi avant même le déclenchement de la guerre en Europe.

Et puis, le 24 Juillet, l’Autriche déclare la guerre contre la Serbie. Le 27, le système financier mondial cesse de fonctionner, le 31, le ‘Stock Exchange’ (Bourse de Londres) ferme ses portes jusqu’à nouvel ordre. À travers la ville, des milliers de citoyens se rassemblent contre la guerre. Mais une fois qu’elle est déclarée par l’Allemagne contre la France et que la Belgique est envahie le 4 Août,  la fièvre belliqueuse saisit la foule et tout le monde semble soutenir l’intervention britannique.

En France, le député Socialiste Jean Jaurès avait prévenu, le 25 Juillet, dans son discours de Vaise, qu’un conflit localisé entre la Serbie et l’Autriche-Hongrie pourrait faire boule de neige à travers l’Europe:

«Citoyens, je veux vous dire ce soir que jamais nous n’avons été, que jamais depuis quarante ans l’Europe n’a été dans une situation plus menaçante et plus tragique que celle où nous sommes a l’heure où j’ai la responsabilité de vous adresser la parole. Ah ! Citoyens, je ne veux pas forcer les couleurs sombres du tableau, je ne veux pas dire que la rupture diplomatique…entre l’Autriche et la Serbie signifie nécessairement qu’une guerre…va éclater…mais je dis que nous avons contre nous, contre la paix, contre la vie des hommes a l’heure actuelle, des chances terribles.»

Jaurès prédit que :

«…si l’Autriche envahit le territoire slave…il y a a craindre que la Russie entrera dans le conflit, et si la Russie intervient pour defendre la Serbie…l’Autriche invoquera le traité d’alliance qui l’unit à l’Allemagne… »

Il y a aussi un traité secret qui lie la Russie à la France…et…

« c’est l’Europe en feu, c’est le monde en feu. »

Le 31 Juillet, Jaurès est assassiné à Paris et devient une des premières victimes du conflit. Consterné par la ruée vers la guerre l’écrivain Romain Rolland écrit Au-dessus de la mêlée en Septembre 1914:

“O jeunesse héroïque du monde, avec quelle joie prodigue elle verse son sang dans la terre affamée !”

En 1915, Rolland écrit dans son hommage à Jaurès:

«Il se livre sous nos yeux des batailles ou meurent des milliers d’hommes, sans que leur sacrifice ait parfois d’influence sur l’issue du combat. Et la mort d’un seul homme peut être, en d’autres cas, une grande bataille perdue pour toute l’humanité. Le meurtre de Jaurès fut un de ces désastres.»

Bientôt, à Londres, de nouvelles foules allaient se rassembler en silence pour témoigner du flot incessant des ambulances qui ramenaient des milliers de victimes du front aux hôpitaux de la ville. Les nouvelles technologies militaires allaient terrifier les Londoniens, bombardés de l’air par les ‘Zeppelins’ dirigeables. L’hystérie anti-allemande est courante et l’immense ‘palais des loisirs’ d’Alexandra Palace est transformé en sordide camp d’internement pour les citoyens de Londres d’origine allemande.

Il y a 100 ans, la bataille de la Somme était en cours – cette campagne qui a coûté 1 million de vies à elle seule. Un million! Il nous est difficile de concevoir un massacre à une telle échelle. La guerre s’est mondialisée avec un bilan éventuel de 17 millions de morts et 20 millions de blessés. Quand nos grands-parents nous ont parlé de ‘grande guerre’, c’est une formule qui semble bien insuffisante pour décrire cette destruction et ce traumatisme de toute une génération. Quand une paix est finalement négociée, elle n’a fait que créer de nouveaux ressentiments et de nouveaux conflits qui vont engloutir le monde une deuxième fois à peine vingt ans plus tard.

Tout cela n’est pas de l’histoire lointaine d’un intérêt abstrait. Nous avons connu cette génération. Ces événements ont façonné notre vie. Ils ont eux-mêmes été façonnés par des forces sociales que nous reconnaissons dans notre vie quotidienne. L’histoire ne se répète pas exactement dans tous ses détails, mais nous savons bien que l’inégalité extrême, l’injustice, la xénophobie, le nationalisme, le militarisme, la pauvreté, l’exploitation, les guerres et les crises de réfugiés existent encore – et comment ! On trouve aujourd’hui dans le discours public sur les réfugiés du conflit Syrien le même vocabulaire de méfiance et de racisme à peine caché. Il y a cent ans, ces mêmes préjugés ont été exprimés au sujet des réfugiés Belges et Français de Londres.

Je félicite et remercie donc le docteur Charlotte Faucher de l’université Queen Mary et le professeur Richard Grayson de l’université de Goldsmiths et les étudiants du Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle et ceux de Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) qui ont participé à ce projet pour leur excellent travail collaboratif. Ils ont fait un apprentissage de recherche avec des archives et des sources primaires issu de la communauté francophone Londonienne de l’époque afin de découvrir la vie des réfugiés français et belges qui se sont installé à Londres pendant cette période. Ce travail de mémoire est essentiel pour nous aider à comprendre le vécu de nos grands-parents et arrière-grands-parents et de comprendre les rapports avec nos problèmes contemporains.

Nous avons assisté à un premier ‘vernissage’ de cette exposition à Goldsmiths le 22 Septembre, depuis le 19 Octobre elle est au lycée Français Charles de Gaulle à South Kensington et en Janvier 2017 nous l’accueillerons dans notre nouveau bâtiment au lycée de NewVIc.

Lire aussi :

En Français

‘Au-Dessus de la Mêlée’ Romain Rolland (1914)

Egalité et solidarité dans une société diverse (Avril 2016)

10 billets en Francais

In English

WW1 French and Belgian refugees were branded ‘shirkers’ (Goldsmiths blog)

Above the battle (Au-Dessus de la Mêlée) by Romain Rolland (1916) English version

Zeppelin Nights, London in the First World War by Jerry White (2014)

Jean Jaurès: ‘What is courage?’ (August 2016)

Instinct, heart and reason – Daniel Pennac on the refugee crisis (August 2016)

Giving peace a voice (August 2016)

Seeking refuge in poetry (September 2015)

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University Gold.

With some help from the Jackson 5:

jackson-5The proposal to classify English universities as Gold, Silver or Bronze is a stroke of genius. The perfect expression of the English obsession with ranking. So obvious, one wonders why we’re not already doing it. Let’s not wait until 2018; we should get rid of all those confusing numbers and measures right now. It’s time to get down to the clear, understandable descriptors we’re all familiar with from competitive sport. It’s as simple as do re mi.

Look at any university and you know straight away whether it’s top, middle or bottom. The Gold universities are full of Gold students with Gold grades in Gold-standard qualifications in Gold subjects being taught by Gold academics on Gold courses. There’s really no need to pore over statistics on retention, employment rates and student satisfaction when it can all be summed up in a single word. People can make things so complicated. It’s as easy as A, B, C, one, two, three, baby, you and me.

classIn education as in life, there’s a top, a middle and a bottom. Just like in that sketch with John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett. There are top universities just as there are top people and we can’t all be Gold can we? We’d have nothing to aim for without a nice simple ranking where we all know our place. It’s so lovely when some of the top Silvers occasionaly move up to Gold and particularly heart-warming when a Bronze hauls themselves up to Silver. And if some of the little Bronzes sometimes get a bit chippy and say it’s all unfair, they’re just jealous because, like Ronnie Corbett, they know they’re not good enough. Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah.

But why stop with universities? Gold shines through at all stages in education. Our new selective secondary schools should be the Gold Grammars, with high performing academies and free schools becoming Silver institutions and everyone else languishing in a Bronze Age. The new grading will help us all make sense of the confusing choice and diversity of schools. A buh-buh buh buh-buh.

See also:

University for all (September 2016)

Your dogma, my principles (September 2016)

Is social mobility enough? (April 2015)

Re-imagining the university (February 2015)

‘Hindering’ subjects and ‘bad’ universities (October 2014)

Meeting the widening participation challenge (July 2014)

Unashamedly egalitarian (February 2014)

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London’s francophone refugees

We are roughly at the mid point of our commemoration of the First World War. Let’s look back just over a hundred years.

London before the outbreak of war in 1914 was the greatest industrial city in the world and by far the largest in Europe, a city of migration where new arrivals were welcomed in large numbers but were also subject to racism and xenophobia, a city of inequality and widening class divisions with great poverty; over a million living below the poverty line while their near neighbours included some of the richest people in the world. It was a city of exploitation; sweated and insecure labour, working and living in appalling conditions and overpriced slum housing. It was a city of widespread industrial unrest; with walkouts on building sites, lockouts and strikes on the trams and in the factories, with local councils refusing to administer grossly inadequate poor relief. It was also the focus of a militant struggle for women’s suffrage with assaults and demonstrations as well as the vandalism of art galleries used as tactics. London was in ferment before there was even a whiff of war in Europe.

Then, on 24th July, Austria declared war on Serbia. By the 27th, war preparations across Europe had shut down the world financial system and on the 31st the London Stock Exchange closed down indefinitely. Across the city, thousands attended anti-war rallies, but by the time Germany declared war on France and then invaded Belgium on 4th August, jingoistic war-fever took hold and the crowds were supporting British intervention.

In France, the politician Jean Jaurès had warned on 25th July, in a speech at Vaise, that a Balkan conflict between Serbia and Austro-Hungary could conceivably snowball across Europe:

“Citizens, I need to tell you this evening that never in the last 40 years has Europe been in a more menacing or more tragic position. Citizens, I do not want to paint too bleak a picture, I do not want to say that the diplomatic breakdown between Austria and Serbia will necessarily lead to war between them and I do not say that if it does, war will necessarily spread across Europe, but I do say that right now the odds are against us, against peace, against human life…”

Jaurès predicted that if the various alliances were triggered; Austria with Germany, Serbia with Russia and Russia with France, it could mean: “Europe on fire, the world on fire.” On 31st July, Jaurès was assassinated in Paris becoming one of the first ‘casualties’ of the conflict. The very escalation he had predicted had started and war was inevitable.

Appalled by the enthusiastic rush to war, the writer Romain Rolland, wrote Au-dessus de la mêlée (Above the Battle) in September 1914:

“O jeunesse héroïque du monde. Avec quelle Joie prodigue elle verse son sang dans la terre affamée.” (“Oh, heroic youth of the world. With what great joy it spills its blood in the famished soil.”)

In 1915, Rolland wrote in his tribute to Jaurès:

“The death of a single man can be, in some cases, a battle lost for the whole of humanity. The murder of Jaurès was one such disaster.”

Soon, in London, crowds were gathering in silence to watch the endless stream of ambulances bringing thousands of casualties from the front into the city’s hospitals. Terrifying new military technologies were in use and London was being bombed from the air by Zeppelins. Dangerous anti-German hysteria was rife and Alexandra Palace was transformed into a squalid internment camp for London’s citizens of German origin.

100 years ago today, the battle of the Somme was still raging. A single campaign, it cost 1 million lives. One million – it’s hard to take in killing on such a terrible scale. The war went global with a final toll of 17 million dead and 20 million wounded, destroying or traumatising a whole generation. Even the peace, when it finally came, sowed the seeds of deep resentments and further conflict which was to engulf the world in 1939.

This is not ancient history about remote conflicts of purely academic interest. These events affected people many of us have known, they have shaped our lives and were themselves shaped by forces which are still with us. History doesn’t repeat itself precisely but we know that gross inequality, injustice, xenophobia, nationalism, militarism, poverty, exploitation, war and refugee movements are still features of our world. Our governments debate whether to accept refugees from the brutal conflict in Syria and this is often framed in the language of mistrust, suspicion and thinly veiled racism. A hundred years ago, as our city’s francophone population increased tenfold during the war years, those same prejudices were being expressed about refugees, including those from Belgium and France.

We must congratulate and thank Dr. Charlotte Faucher and Professor Richard Grayson at Goldsmiths and the students they worked with from both the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle and Newham Sixth Form College for this excellent project. This research involved students using primary archival sources to uncover the lives of the French and Belgian refugees who made their home in London at this time. This type of research is vital to help us understand more about our grandparents and great-grandparents and to draw parallels with our own period.  The resulting exhibition will be on display here at Goldsmiths for a while, then at the Lycée in South Kensington and on to NewVIc in Plaistow in the New Year.

img_5416

Speech made at the launch of the ‘Francophones in London during the First World War’ exhibition at Goldsmiths on Thursday 22nd September 2016.

 

See also :

WW1 French and Belgian refugees were branded ‘shirkers’ (Goldsmiths blog)

Above the battle (Au-Dessus de la Mêlée) by Romain Rolland (1916) English version

Zeppelin Nights, London in the First World War by Jerry White (2014)

Jean Jaurès: ‘What is courage?’ (August 2016)

Instinct, heart and reason – Daniel Pennac on the refugee crisis (August 2016)

Giving peace a voice (August 2016)

Seeking refuge in poetry (September 2015)

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Crick reloaded: citizenship education and British values.

“We aim at no less than a change in the political culture of this country both nationally and locally: for people to think of themselves as active citizens, willing, able and equipped to have an influence in public life and with the critical capacities to weigh evidence before speaking and acting; to build on and to extend radically to young people the best in existing traditions of community involvement and public service, and to make them individually confident in finding new forms of involvement and action among themselves.” Citizenship for 16-19- year-olds in Education and Training (2000)

It’s hard to dispute the importance of education for citizenship or to disagree with these aims. But which sixth form provider today could confidently claim to be comprehensively fulfilling them with all their students?

1. Crick Post-16

The great step forward in the development of post-16 citizenship education was the second ‘Crick’ report, Citizenship for 16-19- year-olds in Education and Training (quoted above) which was commissioned by the Government from a committee chaired by Bernard Crick in 1999 and published in 2000. This led to a blossoming of new materials and approaches supported at the national level by an excellent co-ordination and development unit run by the Learning and Skills Network (LSN), and curriculum guidance from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Programmes in the post-16 phase were voluntary and flexible with a strong emphasis on responding to the local context. An AS and full A-level in Citizenship Studies were developed (now soon to be withdrawn) which could be used to accredit students’ achievements and there was talk of Citizenship becoming recognised as a wider key skill. Ministers were supportive and it felt like citizenship education was finding its place at the heart of post-16 education.

The Crick proposals offered a set of concepts, knowledge and skills:

Concepts:

  • Participation: becoming involved, for example, as an active member of a community group or organisation
  • Engagement: taking participation further, for example, by trying to influence the strategies or policies of the group
  • Advocacy: being able to put a case
  • Research: being able to find relevant and alternative sources of information
  • Evaluation: being able to judge the relative merits of different possibilities
  • Empathy: being able to consider an issue from the point of view of others
  • Conciliation: being able to resolve disagreements and conflicts
  • Leadership: being able to initiate and co-ordinate the agreed activities of others
  • Representation: being able to speak or act on behalf of others
  • Responsibility: thinking before one acts and accepting the consequences.

Knowledge:

  • how decisions are made at local, national, European, Commonwealth and international levels and how these decisions may or may not be influenced by citizens
  • how public and private services are delivered and what opportunities exist to access and influence them
  • how the different communities of national, religious, ethnic or cultural identity which make up the United Kingdom relate to each other
  • how equal opportunities and anti-discrimination legislation and codes of practice apply
  • how policies on taxation and economic management affect individuals and groups
  • the rights and responsibilities which individuals have in employment
  • how each particular vocation is affected by public laws, policies and events
  • the roles of individuals as family members
  • the rights and responsibilities of consumers
  • the different approaches to policy of the main political parties and pressure groups
  • how people can contribute to the life of voluntary groups and of their local communities
  • environmental issues and sustainable development.

Skills:

  • demonstrating an understanding of the rights and responsibilities associated with a particular role
  • applying a framework of moral values relevant to a particular situation
  • demonstrating an understanding of, and respect for, cultural, gender, religious, ethnic and community diversities both nationally and globally
  • combating prejudice and discrimination
  • critically appraising information sources (advertising, media, pressure group, political parties)
  • managing financial affairs
  • assessing risk and uncertainty when making a decision or choice
  • initiating, responding to, and managing change
  • selecting the appropriate mechanisms or institutions for dealing with particular issues
  • identifying the social, resource and environmental consequences of particular courses of action.

All this was linked to the different key roles of the citizen:

  • Community member
  • Consumer
  • Family member
  • Lifelong learner
  • Taxpayer
  • Voter
  • Worker

While this is all good stuff, embedding and mapping it to the post-16 curriculum was a big ask. A matrix which did justice to all these aims could potentially involve over 8,000 elements (10 x 12 x 10 x 7). Apart from being unwieldy, this approach also tends to categorise people’s identities and roles too rigidly and the framework could certainly do with streamlining and simplifying.

2. ‘Britishness’, belonging and integration

A few years after the Crick report, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, launched a debate about the concept of ‘Britishness’ and whether a shared British identity and British values should be more vigorously promoted as a uniting force in society. This led to a somewhat inconclusive debate about what constitutes ‘Britishness’ but also established that whatever it is should be based on common values. Speaking in January 2006, Gordon Brown said:

“it is to our benefit to be more explicit about what we stand for and what are our objectives and that we will meet and master all challenges best by finding shared purpose as a country in our enduring British ideals that I would summarise as—in addition to our qualities of creativity, inventiveness, enterprise and our internationalism, our central beliefs are a commitment to—liberty for all, responsibility by all and fairness to all.”

A little later, John Sentanu, the archbishop of York added:

“Our cultural identity and difference must be balanced with a clear understanding of a shared humanity and membership of one world…We need other human beings to help us be human. We are made for interdependence, for complementarity. Our commitment as communities to promote understanding and justice will create harmony longed for by all.”

In 2007, the Education Select Committee concluded that citizenship education has at its heart:

“a commitment to enabling young people to participate fully in a democracy, and ultimately, securing a cohesive and inclusive society. In particular, it has a role to play in developing the skills for effective community relations, in developing shared identities, and safe ways in which to express difference.”

The Department for Education said in written evidence to the select committee that:

“citizenship education is key to building a modern, cohesive British society. Never has it been more important for us to teach our young people about our shared values of fairness, civic responsibility, respect for democracy and respect for ethnic and cultural diversity [it] remains a dynamic subject which responds to issues concerning society and how these come about.”

3. Where we are now.

So where are we today? We no longer have any specific post-16 guidance on citizenship education and there is no post-16 National Curriculum. The post-16 landscape has changed a great deal in 16 years with key skills downgraded while the English and Maths requirement (to GCSE) has become an essential element of students’ programmes of study.

So has citizenship be simplified out of existence? Not quite. Schools and colleges do now have a duty to support, promote and exemplify British values which are defined as: “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect for and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs” and inspectors take a close interest in how well we prepare young people for life in modern Britain.

The British Values approach is still relatively new and people are coming to understand that the ‘Britishness’ of these values is not exclusive, oppressive or nationalistic. This is a British government aiming to speak for all its citizens in the way the EU or the UN might aim to speak for EU or global citizens. Instead of agonising over the impossible question of ‘what it means to be British’, the government has defined a simple overarching framework of values which each institution can explain and exemplify in its preferred way. We can argue about emphasis and omissions (eg: where is equality? where are human rights?), we can discuss some of Britain’s historic failures to uphold these values and we can warn against interpretations which might stifle debate or promote conformity. But there is nothing objectionable in explaining, advocating, defending and debating these values vigorously and living them in our day to day work.

4. Citizenship education under a new name?

Citizenship is complex and contested with different perspectives on what is most important. At its best, good citizenship education involves applying both knowledge and skill in social settings and through active participation; engaging with ideas, people and challenges. It is still worth recalling the aims and recommendations of ‘Crick post-16’ and building on them. It is certainly possible to continue developing and deepening this work within a British Values framework.

See also:

Post-16 citizenship in tough times (May 2014)

Better inspection for all? (November 2014)

Citizenship for 16-19- year-olds in Education and Training (2000)

citizenship

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‘Pick your own’ performance measure.

England’s school and college performance tables are full of fascinating information.

This information gives a profile of different providers and the idea is that this can help us make judgements and comparisons.

Any tables based on data, assuming they are accurate, represent real evidence of …well, reality. So at the level of truth they can’t be argued with. But such tables are also based on a particular view of what is worth reporting and what this means; they offer a selection from all the possible ways of trying to represent things. Data tables may give an impression of total objectivity but it’s important to understand the underlying assumptions and to be aware of their limitations. Clearly, data are reductive; they reduce things to something less than the whole in order to try to make the big picture clearer. So, while we can’t do justice to everything, it’s always worth asking about what’s been left out and why.

Let’s imagine 3 sixth forms; Colleges A, B and C, serving the hypothetical Anytown. In 2015 each of these colleges claimed to be the ‘best in Anytown’. So let’s look at their imaginary data to see if we can establish which was the highest performing or ‘best’ college.

1. College A can claim to be the highest performing college:

A level points per student
College A 840
College B 764
College C 688
Anytown overall 731
England average 764

Students at college A have achieved higher average point scores than students in the other two colleges and also well above the national average. College A is clearly top of the league for raw performance.

2. College B can claim to be the highest performing college:

% improvement since 2014
College A -10%
College B +5%
College C 0
Anytown overall 0
England average

College B has achieved exactly the national average points per student on average and this represents a big improvement on last year and it is the only college in Anytown to improve in this way. This strong improvement means that College B can claim to be the most successful in Anytown, particularly given College A’s downward slide and College C’s stagnant performance.

3. College C can claim to be the highest performing college:

A-level value added
College A -0.2
College B -0.1
College C +0.1
Anytown overall 0
England average 0

College C has a significantly positive value added score overall and is the only sixth form in Anytown with positive value added. This means that, on average, students at College C are achieving higher grades than expected based on their previous GCSE grades. College C can therefore claim to be the most successful, particularly given the significantly negative value added of the other two sixth forms.

4. So which college is right?

They’re all right. Each college is basing its claims on different measures in the performance tables but none are making any misleading claims. However, there is some further information which may add to our understanding. Interestingly the average grade per entry in each of the colleges is identical. In other words the average A-level grade achieved by students in each college is exactly the same and the only reason their points per student are different is because students in each college are entered for different numbers of A-levels on average. College A clearly enters most of its students for 4 A levels, while College C enters most of its students for 3.

A level points per entry Entries per student
College A 212 3.9
College B 212 3.6
College C 212 3.2
Anytown overall 212 3.4
England average 212 3.6

The other information which is relevant is the respective cohort size for each college:

A level students
College A 100
College B 200
College C 400
Anytown overall 700
England average

Because College C is larger than both the others put together it has a larger impact on the overall figures for Anytown. The way the different measures aggregate for Anytown also explains why an area which has 3 such successful colleges seems to be sitting pretty much on the national averages, or below them in some cases. This shows that institutional success can mask system stagnation.

Conclusion:

None of this is an argument against performance tables. It simply serves to demonstrate that we need to look behind the top level measures, evaluate all the available data and decide what we value.

Each of these colleges will have targets for improvement and could learn from the others. They would be well advised to work together to improve the Anytown system as a whole.

If you asked me to choose between the 3, I would tend towards College C which is clearly helping a more inclusive intake to achieve better than predicted grades. All things being equal, it is also turning out more well qualified students for progression than both the others put together.

See also:

Post-16 performance tables: taking the long view (January 2015)

London’s sixth forms (June 2016)

A sixth form profile for the ‘Local London’ area (February 2016)

league-table

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Your dogma, my principles.

Simplex and Sapiens are discussing the government’s plan to open more selective schools.

Simplex: Our mission is to build a country that works for everyone.

Sapiens: Sounds like a good starting point.

Sim: Yes, it’s a vision of a truly meritocratic Britain that puts the interests of ordinary working class people first.

Sap: Very egalitarian principles.

Sim: Absolutely. People worry that the changing world around them means that their children and grandchildren won’t have the same opportunities they have enjoyed in life. We need to ask some searching questions about what kind of country we want to be.

Sap: Indeed, there’s no doubt we live in a very unequal society.

Sim: We want Britain to be a country where everyone has a fair chance to go as far as their talent and their hard work will allow, a place where advantage is based on merit not privilege; where it is your talent and hard work that matter. We need to ensure that there is a good school place for every child, education provision that caters to the individual needs and abilities of every pupil.

Sap: So I guess that means investing in improving all our comprehensive schools.

Sim: Well, not exactly. Politicians have for years put their own dogma and ideology before the interests and concerns of ordinary people. In fact, we know that grammar schools are hugely popular with parents. And we know that they want to expand. They provide a stretching education for the most academically able, regardless of their background, and they deliver outstanding results.

Sap: This is starting to sound a bit like dogma. There’s no evidence that selection improves standards for all, quite the opposite in fact.

Sim: We help no one by saying to parents who want a selective education for their child that we won’t let them have it.

Sap: But ‘wanting a selective education for their child’ means denying it to the children of others. I thought we agreed on the universal, egalitarian principle of good schools for everyone.

Sim: We mustn’t be dogmatic about that. I know there are those who fear this could lead to the return of a binary system as we had in the past with secondary moderns. But this fear is unfounded; there will be no return to secondary moderns.

Sap: Sorry? How can we have grammars without secondary moderns? Selection is binary; you either pass or fail the test. This feels like a return to the 1950s.

Sim: You’re just being blinkered and dogmatic. It is not a proposal to go back to the 1950s. We don’t want to go back to a binary model of grammars and secondary moderns but to build on our increasingly diverse schools system. We should focus on the new grammars of the future.

Sap: I’m not sure it’s me being blinkered and dogmatic…

See also:

Arguments against selection

Sapiens and Simplex have also discussed:

Labour pains

Exam success boost to the economy

The ‘forgotten 50%

giulio_cesare

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