Fred Jarvis and ‘what the future holds’.

It was a great privilege to join with so many others this week  in a belated celebration of Fred Jarvis’ 94th birthday at the Institute of Education in London.

It was both a joyous and a serious occasion. Far from simply basking in all the affection, Fred was keen to get his many friends to think constructively about the various challenges we face, both locally and globally. He selected the theme ‘what does the future hold?’ and invited a panel of Estelle Morris, Helena Kennedy, Jackie Ashley, Sally Tomlinson, Wes Streeting and Polly Toynbee to get the discussion started.

There is plenty to be pessimistic about in our current context and the speakers’ pessimism ranged over a wide terrain including climate change, the devastation of public services caused by austerity, the likely long-term impact of Brexit divisions on British society, the rise in human rights violations and injustice around the world and the potential for new technologies to disrupt employment and deepen inequality.

This ‘pessimism of the intellect’ was tempered with some ‘optimism of the will’ and the panel identified some green shoots of hope in the people and movements capable of offering an alternative, but the overall feeling was that progress cannot be taken for granted and that things could get a lot worse.

Quite rightly, people at the event expressed great hope in our young people, who seem to represent the promise of a better future. The young clearly have a big stake in the future; after all that’s where most of their lives will be located. Investing in a better future has to include investing in our young people. But no generation has a monopoly of idealism or optimism and we are never the wrong age to consider what legacy we leave to future generations and to do something to make sure it’s better than the one we inherited. People of all ages can come up with world-changing ideas and every generation has the potential to work with others to transform things for the better.

The greatest source of hope at this birthday celebration was Fred himself. In his 95th year, he is a living embodiment of the clear-sighted, radical and practical idealism which we need. In his contribution he reminded us that we achieve nothing without collective action built on bonds of mutual understanding and friendship.

Fred; the Plaistow boy, the student leader, the teacher trade unionist, the education campaigner, the photographer, the enthusiast and the friend, reminds us, in everything he has done and does, of the life worth living. When the oldest person in the room is so focused on making a better future, the rest of us must surely put aside any despair and cynicism and recommit to life and human progress.

See also:

The best of things (July 2017)

Posted in Education | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The promise of a National Education Service

The proposed creation of a National Education Service (NES) for England offers us the possibility of a decisive break with the market model, where education is treated as a commodity and where individual and institutional competition are regarded as the drivers of improvement.

Is the advocacy of an NES an historic opportunity for English education and what might be the benefits and challenges of implementing such a proposal?

1. The need for a system and a turn away from the market

The very idea of creating a single national education system seems novel, if not utopian, in the current English context, even though such systems are commonplace in most developed countries and generally command wide political support. Education in England does not function as a coherent system capable of achieving the aspirations we have for it; whether for greater opportunities or greater equality for all. England lacks both a national vision of what education is for and the system of public education capable of fulfilling our educational aspirations. Different school types run by a bewildering range of unelected bodies compete in an unequal contest for students and results. Selection, both covert and overt is increasingly prevalent and distinct segregated pathways from age 14 are becoming the norm. Students seen as ‘less academic’ are steered towards routes with reduced opportunities for breadth and depth of learning.

I wrote about the creeping marketization of the English education system in the Spring 2015 edition of Forum1 and concluded by imagining two different futures for English education following a 2015 general election. One, (Future A) was based on an extension of marketization and the other (Future B) on the development of a National Education Service.

In this imagined Future B scenario, the demand for a National Education Service grows from dissatisfaction with the incoherence and chaos people are experiencing across all the phases of education and a sense that the solution might be found in the imagination and daily practice of the people actually concerned with education. So, following a national debate about the purpose and organisation of education in England it becomes clear that there is a real consensus that England needs a common national education system with both social and personal objectives to meet the needs of all its people. The most common expression of this is that ‘education needs to be like the NHS’. There is a groundswell of support for a comprehensive national education system based on agreed common aims, cooperation and universalism rather than competition and selection. The breadth and depth of the national debate gives people the confidence that change is possible and promotes a sense of optimism about the future. Another outcome is a celebration of the work of teachers and pride in the work of students as people learn more about what happens in our schools and universities.

The commitment to create an NES “open to all throughout their lives”2 offers solutions to many of the problems of our fragmented and divided education ‘non-system’ and a possible route to Future B. Using the NHS paradigm for education requires a major shift in the way we think about our educational institutions. The idea of mobilising all publicly funded education providers to serve the whole community could be very popular if it can be attractively fleshed out. People will need to understand what a National Education Service might look like in their area and how it might benefit them. This requires concrete examples of how a fairer and more effective system could be assembled from the somewhat dysfunctional set of elements we currently have.

In order to make the case for an NES, there also needs to be a clear critique of the marketization of education. Providers in all phases in England are operating in a market where they compete for students and are subject to a high-stakes accountability regime where any performance below average is seen as failure. This is not conducive to a high-performing and supportive system.

With at least one major party now placing the idea of an NES on the political agenda, there is the opportunity for a real debate about the extent to which we want to turn away from market mechanisms and reinvigorate public service values in education. So far, the proposal has mainly been defined in terms of resources; university tuition fees and school funding for instance, with less attention given to purpose and organisation. While the case for more investment is clear, the creation of an NES is a higher order question. A national drive to make the best of what’s on offer available to all our citizens could be the centrepiece of a winning programme and education could find its ‘NHS moment’. The idea could be a game-changer and could lead to a new consensus which could attract support from across the political spectrum.

2. What do we want from an education system?

Any attempt to construct a new system needs to be based on what we want it to achieve. At the highest level, we could start with ‘human flourishing’ as an aim; addressing both the development of fulfilled individuals and the creation of a good society. We shouldn’t have to choose between preparation for life, preparation for work, active citizenship or cultural literacy as aims. They are all indispensable and interdependent. Any definition of purpose also has to do justice to where we are and where we’ve come from; the world as it is and the world as it could be. Education has to help all citizens join the world while also opening up the possibility of challenging and changing it for the better.

Asking the question ‘what is the purpose of education?’ inevitably leads us to rethink many of our current assumptions, such as the binary thinking about people’s capacity to learn which has them being either ‘good with their brains’ or ‘good with their hands’. It should require us to challenge the received wisdom that education is essentially a private commodity to be rationed and fought over and not a social good based on co-operation. It should also blow the case for selection and segregation out of the water.

The more widely and deeply the question of purpose is discussed, the more powerful the answers will be. The debate needs to go well beyond the Westminster bubble of policy makers, think-tanks and experts and involve as many people as possible. Such a debate goes to the heart of our view of ourselves and the kind of society we want. What emerges might well surprise and delight us.

Our current ‘anti-system’ of unequal competing providers in a somewhat chaotic market is not capable of achieving any national educational aims based on equality or inclusiveness. If we want to have national educational aims, we need to give ourselves the means to ensure they can be achieved. This requires national coherence and consistency across the board, in short, a system.

3. How we got here: learning from the turn to the market

Before discussing where we go next, it’s worth briefly considering how we got where we are now. The market experiment has had many negative effects and many victims. Those who would reverse it need to highlight the problems, but also to understand what drove it in the first place and to learn the lessons.

What were the ideas and arguments which drove the gradual turn to the market from the 1980’s onwards? They started at the margins of politics with the Black Papers and the early ‘culture wars’ of the 1970’s and worked their way to the heart of policy making during the Thatcher governments, morphing into the target-driven public service reform of the Blair governments. The stages in this process are well documented by Ken Jones3 and others.

The claims about the system as it was in the 1970’s included that it tolerated low achievement and failure, discouraged ambition and achievement, was wasteful, inefficient and bureaucratic, was subject to local authority political whims, was unresponsive to parents’ wishes or the needs of the economy, offered little choice and was organised for the convenience of its workers rather than the aspirations of students and parents.

Whatever we think of these claims, they had some purchase and resonance with parts of the electorate and all contributed to justifying an incremental reform agenda which has built the new market ‘common sense’, in education as elsewhere. This was presented as benefiting the consumers; parents and students in this case, by strengthening their market power. The trend to greater marketization was in tune with the ‘choice and diversity’ and ‘freedom and autonomy’ agendas which were themselves a response to an alleged crisis of ‘standards’.

These tendencies fit within what Pasi Sahlberg4 has called the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) and connect to global pressure to ‘open’ public services to greater competition and market forces, encourage new entrants and reduce the influence of education workers and their unions.

This movement is neither monolithic nor irreversible, but we need to learn from the last 30-40 years and acknowledge the power of its arguments. We cannot ignore such key concerns as standards, choice, innovation and efficiency. These questions need to be addressed and it is not in the interest of advocates of an NES to be seen as tolerating mediocrity, inefficiency or bureaucracy.

NES advocates need to have something to say about what the benefits of institutional autonomy might be, how success and achievement should be defined, how to use performance data and research evidence to best effect, what the potential is for innovation and creativity within a national system and how to achieve a balance between system stability and competition as conditions for improvement.

An NES needs to be based on the wider public interest while also responding to the aspirations and ambitions of individuals. Rather than rejecting the language of ambition, advancement, choice and standards, it could be appropriated and broadened by finding a language of ‘self-interest plus’ with the ‘plus’ being the social or civic interest, intergenerational solidarity, pride in collective achievement, concern for community; local and global. Rather than rejecting the idea of ‘rigorous’ curricula and assessment, the case could be made for a broader kind of rigour.

To the benefits of hard work, concentration, pride in a job well done, we could be adding those of democracy, deliberation and debate, co-operation and consensus building. To the rhetoric of social mobility, we could be adding that of social equality; creating a society where the cost of failure and the spoils of success are reduced in the interest of social cohesion. To the consumer’s instinct to select, evaluate and acquire, we could add the educated citizen’s instinct to inquire, reason and critique. The market teaches us to be acquisitive, but where are we to learn to be inquisitive if not in our public education system?

4. What might a National Education Service look like?

Creating an NES will be an evolutionary process without a final destination. We have lost much of the ‘hard wiring’ which a good system needs, and it will be necessary to build on the commitment of education staff, leaders and parents, to gradually ‘re-wire’ our system based on different values. Nevertheless, even at this early stage, it is useful to sketch out some of the opportunities for change which will arise as well as some of the attractive headline ‘signature policies’ which could attract support:

  • The new system should be built from the existing one with collaboration around nationally agreed shared aims, core entitlements and funding as givens. Requiring education providers to work together in the interests of their communities would release a ‘co-operative dividend’ or ‘partnership premium’ by squeezing out much of the waste and inefficiency of market competition.
  • There needs to be a new settlement between national, regional and local levels of government about where to locate different responsibilities. This would include an equitable national funding system and admissions processes as well as a new level playing field with a single legal status for all schools which describes their degree of autonomy as well as their accountability. This will mean a shift from competing chains of schools towards local and regional collaborative networks. Strategic planning and decision-making should be transparent and subject to democratic scrutiny. A regional level will be needed for post-16 and higher education where catchments are wider and specialisation greater. There needs to be a balance between local democratic accountability and national minimum standards of service. The planning and regulation to ensure quality and equality will need to be light touch, with a minimum of bureaucracy.
  • There should be room for regional and local innovation as well as specialisation, and the regions could lead on different themes, share this work nationally and create new forums for action research, evaluation, curriculum and professional development. There should be scope for choice and diversity within this comprehensive system without the need for competition or market incentives. There could be friendly rivalry between different parts of the service as they strive to offer the best to their communities, but this should be combined with a commitment to sharing what they do best to help the whole service improve.
  • The English regions should be given the right to elect education councils to oversee the development of the system in their region using the full range of educational resources available, giving the new councils a strong mandate to develop a distinctive approach for their area compatible with the national aims.
  • The school curriculum should be redefined in terms of human flourishing as well as the fundamental knowledge and skills that everyone needs to build on to be a successful contributor to society. There should be both breadth and specialisation at upper secondary level, with no options being closed off at any age.
  • Any national curriculum will need to command widespread support, to be broad and challenging and apply to all, while allowing for some innovation and experimentation at school and regional levels. We should aim to give young people the tools and the opportunities to access the best that human culture has to offer and to develop the skills which allow them to make a difference in the world.

5. The need for compelling ‘signature’ policies and new institutions

The idea of an NES is the high-level organising principle. To gain support it will need to be exemplified through policies which appeal to people and gain popular support. As well as deciding how much additional investment can be found for education from total public spending, any government introducing an NES also needs some attractive and concrete ideas which symbolise their approach. What might such ‘signature’ policies look like, based on an ambitious, egalitarian and life-long vision of a National Education Service? Here are a few suggestions:

  • A National Baccalaureate for all young people to aim for. This would recognise and celebrate the talents and skills of the nation’s young people, including their creativity and contribution to community and cultural life. Achieving a full diploma would be recognised as a challenging and valued milestone for all young adults and a passport to further progression.
  • A broader National Citizen Service for young people which would include all volunteering and civic activity with the opportunity to ‘earn’ credit towards university or adult education based on the number of hours of activity. This would be a mutual ‘something for something’ way to move away from fees while also promoting community development and cohesion.
  • Local arts and language education hubs to guarantee access to ‘minority’ or threatened subjects not available in all schools or colleges.
  • An adult learning entitlement to free education for all non-graduates, delivered through new adult learning partnerships and driven by learner demand. This could lead to a renaissance of all sorts of adult learning with universities working with others to respond to the needs and interests of adults in their region. Study circles, reading groups, current affairs groups, cultural and health activity, community organising and volunteering could all feed in to university extramural programmes with a consequential strengthening of community solidarity.
  • Elections for new regional leadership for education across all stages, creating space for debate and discussion of educational aims and priorities.
  • A new deal to recruit and retain teachers: free training, sabbaticals and exchanges for all teachers working in the public sector

A new system will also need new institutions; responsive, inclusive and democratic ones which we have yet to invent. This will require an experimentalist culture, as described by the Brazilian philosopher and politician Roberto Unger5. Unger argues that we should not give up on the central promise of democracy which is that people’s ‘constructive genius’ can be applied to the task of achieving greater equality and a better life, democratise the market and deepen democracy itself in order to overcome what he calls the ‘dictatorship of no alternatives’ which can paralyse those who want to make real change.

6. Creating a National Education Service

Popularising the idea of a National System is just the start of a process of renewal. How might it be brought about? We need to make sure that it is informed by the best of our values while recognising that the aims and values of education are always going to be contested and subject to debate. This doesn’t mean that we should give up on striving for consensus or aiming for system stability. It will require a broad and inclusive process of policy deliberation and construction, allowing plenty of time to put together a coherent popular alternative for 2022 if not sooner. Developing the policy that could make this a reality will require considerable discussion around both values and priorities.

An NES should be grounded in equality and opportunity for all and the vision must be generous and inclusive; based on the belief that everyone can benefit from a full, broad education and everyone is entitled to access the best that our system can offer.

The architecture of such a national system could be created by a single Education Act early in the new parliament. But the work of building support for such a system, of embedding and developing it, will need to come from ongoing deliberation about the role of education in our society, both before and after the next election.

7. Objections to an National Education Service

It is also useful to anticipate some of the objections the idea will face. These include:

‘It would represent a huge centralizing ‘power grab’ by the state’

Recent years have seen a big shift of power to the national state in order to impose curricula, changes to the status of schools and to prevent local authorities from opening new schools. An NES needs to shift power back to accountable local authorities to plan provision and respond to the needs of their areas. The national state should not try to micromanage education but instead use its powers to regulate the system to ensure quality and equality and protect the interests of learners, particularly the most vulnerable. Providers receiving public funding should be publicly accountable and we are entitled to ensure that our money is being spent in the public interest. This does not require a big bureaucratic state, but can be achieved by a small, often local, smart and democratic state.

‘It would force ‘bog-standard’ uniformity and reduce choice’

The current patchwork of ‘57 varieties’ of school with different ways of sorting and segregating learners or offering curriculum specialisms creates confusion, narrows opportunity and institutionalises inequalities. A better planned system could enhance choice while aiming for a good school for everyone. Incentives which encourage some friendly competition between providers or areas to innovate and experiment would be entirely compatible with a national planning framework. A local, regional and national system based on schools with a single status working together could help to achieve excellence for all and respond to all our various educational needs much better than the chaotic market we currently have.

‘It would reduce standards’

We need to try to establish a consensus about what ‘standards’ we actually value, but clearly we would want a national system to be focused on offering the best to everyone and to promote high expectations. We know that selection does not raise standards but generally concentrates privilege. Selective admissions are all about keeping people out and we need to make the comprehensive case for opportunities and high standards for all; bringing people in.

‘It would be prohibitively expensive’

While there is a good case for spending more on education, the creation of a national education system does not in itself depend on this. Despite damaging cuts and austerity, there are plenty of examples of waste and duplication in the current landscape. Better co-ordination and collaborative planning can ensure that resources are used more efficiently rather than being wasted on competition. If people feel a real sense of ownership of the system, they will support the case for improvements and be prepared to vote for them.

8. Conclusion

The case for a National Education Service is strong and clear. It can be made by analogy with the National Health Service. If we see public education, like health care, as a social good which can benefit individuals while also benefiting society, we need to ensure that the best we can offer is available to everyone throughout life and regardless of means.

The fact that such a proposal is now on the agenda shifts the terrain of debate and has the potential to build a new consensus based on valuing education as a means of social advance as well as personal liberation rather than overemphasizing personal economic gain. The 2020’s could provide us with a historic opportunity to ‘re-set the dial’ in English education in a way which benefits everyone and transforms the lives of many, just as the creation of the NHS did for health in 1948. If such a change is to be sustained and developed, the debate about the ends and means of public service education needs to involve as broad a constituency as possible; before, during and after the creation of such a Service. If the development and implementation is well handled it could usher in a period of cross-party agreement on the broad design of the system, as there is in many other developed countries, without precluding continued lively political debate about purposes, priorities and direction.

At a time when we face major social fracture in England and a demoralised public sector, the promise of a National Education Service is the promise of social advance and personal fulfilment for all. Are we ready to grasp this historic opportunity to transform one of our most precious public services?

References:

  1. Playfair, Eddie (2015) Market madness: condition critical, Forum 57 (2) p.213
  2. Labour Party (2015) Towards a National Education Service https://labour.org.uk/manifesto/education/
  3. Jones, Ken (2016) Education in Britain 1944 to the present (2nd edition) Polity.
  4. Sahlberg, Pasi (2011) Finnish lessons: what can the world learn from educational change in Finland? Teacher’s College Press, New York.
  5. Unger, Roberto, (2009) The Left Alternative, Verso.

This post is adapted from an article written in a personal capacity and published in Forum – available here: http://doi.org/10.15730/forum.2018.60.2.159

Eddie Playfair (2018) The Promise of a National Education Service, FORUM, 60(2), 159-170.

See also:

Education is a human right (December 2017)

Reconstruction in an age of demolition (July 2017)

Education 2022: market or system? (June 2017)

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

Market madness: condition critical (June 2015)

Posted in Education, Education Futures, Education policy, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My NewVIc story: Nathan Coulson

My NewVIc story: Nathan Coulson

When I started at NewVIc , I was sixteen and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. This was probably obvious from my A-level choices: Philosophy, English Literature, Classical Civilisations, Maths and Further Maths.

At a stage in my life when I didn’t want to close any doors, NewVIc was the perfect place for me. To a prospective student this was apparent from the unrivalled array of qualifications and extra-curricular activities on offer.

Once I started my studies it became obvious that this was just an aspect of a wider culture of offering students every possible opportunity, whether it be in form of abundant advice, resources, activities (tennis, chess and debating took up much of my spare time), or college trips (visiting Athens to study Greek Democracy and Philosophy was a highlight for me).

The importance of such a fountain of opportunity in an economically deprived place like Newham cannot be overstated.

My time at NewVIc paved the path for me to study Economics & Politics at SOAS, start a social enterprise, live and work abroad, and forge a career for myself in the tech industry.

Studying at NewVIc encouraged me to explore new things and develop the confidence necessary to take risks.

Straight out of college I signed up to teach in rural India for 10 weeks, that was an unforgettable experience that inspired me to return to India but this time to help social entrepreneurs as a volunteer for UnLtd Tamil Nadu. While I was there I ended up running a successful crowd funding campaign for a livelihoods charity and showcasing UK tech start-ups with UK Trade & Investment.

Currently I work for an innovative tech start-up called Squared Up – they provide cutting edge application monitoring and IT data visualisation solutions for organisations like the Bank of England, Ford and Deloitte.

For anyone who is interested in Social Entrepreneurship I would highly recommend checking out UnLtd (www.unltd.org.uk). They provide support, funding and connections to aspiring social entrepreneurs of all ages. They have a particular focus on solving the issue of unemployment and employability, if you have an idea for a Social Enterprise let them know!

I’ll always be grateful to NewVIc for the leg up it gave me and, more generally, for the positive impact it continues to have in the place I call home.

Nathan Coulson, NewVIc class of 2008

More NewVIc stories:

My NewVIc story: Joseph Adelakun

My NewVIc story: Kabir Jagwani

My NewVIc story: Raymond Fernandez.

My NewVIc Story: Amritpal Gill.

My NewVIc story: Nazia Sultana

My NewVIc Story: Supreet Kaur

My NewVIc story: Joseph Toonga

My NewVIc story: Rumana Ali

My NewVIc story: Zakiyah Qureshi

My NewVIc story: Husnain Nasim

My NewVIc story: Airey Grant

 

Posted in Education, Guest blogs, NewVIc, Students | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

My NewVIc story: Joseph Adelakun

My NewVIc story: Joseph Adelakun

Former NewVIc student Joseph Adelakun is a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and performed in the new RSC productions of Julius Caesar, Titus Andronicus and Antony and Cleopatra. At NewVIc, Joseph studied A-level Drama, A-level English Literature, A-level Music, AS-level Philosophy, AS – level Film Studies and a BTEC National Award in Music Composing.

I’ve lived in Newham for most of my life. I went to primary school in the borough and then to Kingsford Community School before enrolling at NewVIc and I still live in Newham now.

I don’t remember a concrete moment when I decided to become an actor, I just remember enjoying performing and wanting to do more of it. By the end of primary school I knew the performing arts were my favourite subjects and in secondary school I remember thinking acting was incredible because it allowed me to be other people and do and say the things that normally I wouldn’t or couldn’t say.

Whilst I was at NewVIc, I also attended the Weekend Arts College on Sundays and there I found out more about drama schools. They provide full-time practical courses, and they have a large number of industry professionals visit their final year performances. From NewVIc I went on to study drama at Rose Bruford College and since graduating I’ve had plenty of work as an actor. I suppose the more shows I’ve been in, the more people in the industry have seen my work and called me in for auditions, and eventually I got an audition for the Royal Shakespeare Company!

Sometimes there are gaps where I’ve not done an acting job, so I’ve done non-acting jobs to keep busy. I’ve even worked with Solid Harmony Choir at NewVIc which was fun because I used to be a member of the choir when I was at college.

My first paid theatre job, before I went to drama school, was with the people behind Ramira Arts who I met through going to an extra-curricular drama club at NewVIc. When I was with Ramira Arts I actually performed at NewVIc a number of times so you never know where your next job is going to come from or where it will take you.

I’m a great music lover and I had heard that NewVIc was one of the best places for music; so actually, it was the music department that brought me to NewVIc. The performance opportunities at NewVIc were the highlights of my time at college, it was always great to have a performance to work towards and it felt like there was a real performing arts community within the college and we’d all support each other. I also remember having a good time at NewVIc because the people in your classes were like-minded, they really wanted to be there and they’d picked the subjects they wanted.The teachers at NewVIc were very supportive and it was the performance opportunities and practical elements they provided that were most useful when it came to progressing onto drama school, as I did such a practical course. Before I came to NewVIc I was enthusiastic and confident and very excited about going to sixth form, When I left, I was even more confident and ready for new challenges.

My advice to anyone who wants to go in to acting is firstly to really ask yourself why and what you hope to achieve. It’s not an easy industry to get into and sustain yourself in, so you really need something to hold onto during the hard times. It also might be that you want to learn skills from acting to help you do something else that isn’t acting, like being more confident in interviews or having better social skills when meeting new people. Or you could use acting skills as a platform to lead you to working within the arts in a different capacity, maybe as a writer, director, producer, cinematographer, movement director or dramaturge for instance. I’d then say go to as many acting/drama clubs and classes as you possibly can, and once you’ve found out about different places, get picky and go where you feel comfortable to challenge yourself the most. I’d say you want to concentrate on becoming the best actor you can be – this is a life-long-journey by the way – and connecting with as many organisations. I did projects at Stratford Circus, Theatre Royal Stratford East, WAC – but there are also places like the National Youth Theatre and NYMT.  This helps you to learn more and also to meet more people in the industry.

I’d also say; talk to as many people as you can for advice, particularly people who have more experience, like other young people who may have been doing it for longer than you.

Something I like to keep reminding myself is that human beings have an amazing capacity to learn. No matter how bad I am at something, whether it’s an artistic skill or a social skill, I can always get better.  I think what motivates me is the wonder and beauty of love and life.

Joseph Adelakun – NewVIc class of 2007

Other NewVIc stories:

My NewVIc story: Kabir Jagwani

My NewVIc story: Raymond Fernandez.

My NewVIc Story: Amritpal Gill.

My NewVIc story: Nazia Sultana

My NewVIc Story: Supreet Kaur

My NewVIc story: Joseph Toonga

My NewVIc story: Rumana Ali

My NewVIc story: Zakiyah Qureshi

My NewVIc story: Husnain Nasim

My NewVIc story: Airey Grant

Posted in Education, Guest blogs, NewVIc, Students | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Creating the conditions for a successful FE system

This week saw the launch of The FE and Skills System, a study by The Policy Consortium.

Subtitled ‘The consequences of policy decisions – lessons for policymakers and stakeholders’, this thorough survey reaches deep into the heart of FE; drawing on feedback from over 500 respondents – experienced, thoughtful and committed professionals –  around half of whom are front line staff.

The report has some clear messages for all the key agencies in post-16 education. Rather than simply acting as a transmission belt for our concerns and grievances, the study identifies 8 key themes and 23 specific root-cause issues and goes on to make constructive recommendations, all of which deserve serious consideration by our key national stakeholders.

The context for FE policy was well summarized in a report of the Commons Public Accounts Select Committee in 2015:

The departments and funding agencies sometimes make decisions without properly understanding the impact on learners, nor the impact on colleges’ ability to compete with other education providers. Colleges face a number of substantial external challenges, some of which are exacerbated by the actions of the departments and their funding agencies.

By listening to the people most affected by these challenges and most committed to the success of the sector, the Policy Consortium study is able to provide first-hand accounts of the impacts of incoherent policy. In summary, it seems that if we want to create the conditions for systemic success we need a clearer vision for the sector, more joined-up policy, performance measures which better reflect our aims, less policy volatility and more secure funding.

By focusing on ‘asks’ of other agencies, the report prompts those of us working within the sector to ask ourselves what we could do differently to help create the kind of system which can genuinely achieve our aim of a successful learning society which serves all its citizens. In his excellent presentation at the launch, Tony Davis shared some thoughts about how the sector could take the agenda forward constructively itself by choosing as its starting point the impact we have on learners. We want our students to become more independent, to be able to research and synthesise, create, adapt and grow, fuelled by curiosity and with an intrinsic understanding of value and quality; in short to be expert learners throughout their lives.

The other major focus of the report is on the policy volatility which has certainly impacted on our work. This understandably leads some to argue that we should ‘take politics of education’ or ‘leave policy to the experts’. However, rather than being a consequence of too much political interest, I think this policy turbulence is a sign of the lack of consensus, clarity and confidence from politicians about what they think society wants from its FE system.

Our representative bodies, such as the AoC, are increasingly good at describing the importance of our work and this could translate into the kind of national consensus which exists around the idea of a National Health Service free for all at the point of use. The NHS is not above politics or free of debate about means – but there is a high degree of agreement about its aims and value. Politics is how we bring about change in a democratic society and it works best when the agenda is clear and there is popular understanding and support. If anything, FE would benefit from more politics; a higher public profile and better informed public debate.

The sector itself can build on the support it already has and work in partnership with others to:

  • Build a strong consensus about the purpose and importance of FE in our society.
  • Value and develop the professional expertise of college staff.
  • Make the social case as well as the economic case for our work.
  • Offer our students coherent curricula, not just qualifications.
  • Demonstrate the benefits of collaboration rather than markets to meet the educational needs of our communities.

We should thank Tony Davis and his colleagues for this significant contribution to the discussion and each of us can do our bit in helping to create the conditions for an even more successful further education system.

See also:

A pdf version of the report can be found here and there is also a flipbook version.

Let’s tackle the causes, not the symptoms Tony Davis in the Times Education Supplement this week.

Sixth Form hopes for 2018 (January 2018)

Life in the sixth form funding canyon (October 2017)

Reconstruction in an age of demolition (July 2017)

Going beyond (October 2016)

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2017 sees further increase in sixth form student research.

The steady rise in Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) entries in England’s sixth forms suggests that student research is increasingly valued. 8% of all advanced sixth form completers in publicly funded sixth forms are entered for it, however many are studying in sixth forms where it isn’t available with 37% of all sixth forms not offering the EPQ at all.

The 39,080 EPQ entries in 2017 represent a 3% increase over the previous year and this continues the upward trend of the past 8 years. Nationally, 63% of EPQ entries come from over 1,400 school sixth forms, 24% of entries come from 175 colleges (with 81 sixth form colleges accounting for the great majority of college entries: 19% of the total) and 376 private fee-charging schools account for around 13% of entries.

The average number of EPQ entries per sixth form college is 94 which is well above the average for any other provider type (17 for state funded schools and 14 for private schools). 14 of the top 20 centres by size are sixth form colleges with the same ‘top 5’ as last year. For the fourth year running the list is headed by Hills Road Sixth Form College with 1,085 EPQ entries. Esher is 2nd with 473 entries, 3rd is Peter Symonds with 355, Barton Peveril is 4th with 350 and 5th is Bilborough with 346.

The EPQ is not the only way to accredit student research but it does offer UCAS points and is valued by universities as a sign of students’ academic curiosity as well as their research and presentation skills. A good EPQ allows a young person to investigate a question which interests them critically, analytically and in some depth. Their topic might be a deeper exploration of a theme being studied in one of their subjects, it may arise from the interaction of their subjects or the spaces between them, or it may be something entirely personal and unrelated. At its best, it can be an original contribution which involves some primary research and offers a genuinely new insight. The EPQ is an opportunity for students to produce their version of an apprentice’s ‘masterpiece’ which demonstrates their commitment and their promise and makes a tangible contribution to their community. It should be something they can proudly present to a wide audience and which provokes discussion and reflection.

At a time of continuing squeeze on public funding for sixth form education which makes a 4 A level programme unaffordable for most, an EPQ can be a good way to broaden students’ programmes and build on their wider academic interests. However, it attracts no additional funding for a 3 A level student and many providers will feel they cannot afford resource this additionality.

At its best, the product of student research projects provides evidence of initiative and skill which can hold its own in the wider world. Aiming for this should form part of everyone’s sixth form experience. For today’s visual or performing arts students, this evidence could build on their current portfolios, artefacts or student devised productions. For students of other disciplines, it might be a student-led community project, social enterprise, publication or the more traditional written essay. Digital platforms offer a great opportunity to share and discuss these products widely and sixth form teachers, university academics, professionals, employers and local residents could all play a part in supporting, assessing and celebrating student research. Universities could extend and deepen their support for developing a research culture – particularly where EPQ entries are low or non-existent. Regional partnerships could provide training and resources for sixth form staff and students across a wide area.

The London picture:

Looking at London in more detail, it is evident that despite growth overall, the availability of EPQ provision is patchy with a student in Barking nearly 5 times more likely to do an EPQ than one in Hackney. On average, 6% of the eligible second year advanced cohort across London is entered for an EPQ although this proportin varies from borough to borough (see table below).

2017 EPQ entries by London borough – publicly funded sixth forms only

No. of entries / entries as a proportion of eligible cohort

London borough 2017 %  of cohort
Lambeth 164 14%
Barking 206 14%
Sutton 269 13%
Southwark 130 12%
Croydon 242 10%
Tower Hamlets 145 9%
Newham 166 8%
Hammersmith & Fulham 106 8%
Bromley 260 8%
Ealing 144 8%
Kingston 145 7%
Lewisham 151 7%
Wandsworth 163 7%
Greenwich 90 7%
Barnet 254 7%
Hillingdon 176 6%
Harrow 136 6%
Westminster 115 6%
Merton 37 5%
Brent 88 5%
Waltham Forest 131 5%
Enfield 85 5%
Bexley 78 4%
Kensington & Chelsea 40 4%
Redbridge 120 4%
Islington 67 4%
Richmond 55 4%
Havering 81 3%
Hounslow 62 3%
Camden 100 3%
Hackney 49 3%
Haringey 32 3%
City of London 0
London total 4,087 6%

Data drawn from the underlying data in the 2017 performance tables.

Health warnings:

  • There is a margin of error in the national and London data due to the suppression of data for centres with 1-5 candidates (new this year). For centres where this occurs, their entries have been assumed to be 3 entries per centre – leading to a potential error for publicly funded providers of + or – 844 nationally and + or – 180 in London.
  • London data is for the borough where providers are based, not the borough where students live. If a borough is served by a large provider whose main campus is actually in a neighbouring borough that is where the data appears.

A few suggestions:

  • The possibilities and the benefits of expanding student research are evident but there aren’t enough incentives for more sixth forms to promote this important work: the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) should consider incentivising the EPQ in the same way that high achieving students on larger programmes attract more funding with a longer term aim of including research skills as part of national programmes of study.
  • Providers themselves should aim to increase EPQ take up overall: A target of at least 5% moving towards 10% of the cohort in every sixth form would be an achievable goal.
  • EPQ delivery lends itself to an area partnership approach and universities and employers are well placed to support this as it is very much in their interest to develop young people’s independent research skills. Local networks covering each area could be tasked with promoting and supporting EPQ provision across their patch.
  • EPQ entries shouldn’t only be targeted at A-level students who have already demonstrated good research skills and initiative: we should aim for a more inclusive and ambitious approach where the EPQ is seen as a way of developing those skills in all students including those for whom this is a steeper learning curve. The high cohort participation in some colleges are partly a reflection of the very high prior achievement of their students as well as of a strong research culture (eg: Hills Road at 98% of the cohort), but some more comprehensive providers also manage participation well above average (eg: Regent College in Leicester at 19%).
  • Promoting and expanding the use of the Foundation (level 1) and Higher (GCSE level) Project Qualifications in schools and colleges would help to build skills and confidence and put in place the stepping stones many students need to help them work their way up to a fully fledged EPQ. Sixth form providers could offer to help Year 11 students achieve a Higher Project (GCSE level standard) in order to develop their research skills and prepare for progression. [There doesn’t seem to be any data on HPQ entries in the Key Stage 4 Performance Table underlying data – I’d be grateful if anyone knows where this can be found]

See also:

Sixth Form student research continues to grow 2016 data (June 2017)

More sixth formers doing research projects 2015 data (February 2016)

Promoting a sixth form student research culture (September 2014)

EPQ chief examiner John Taylor wrote an excellent piece in the TES with 8 top success tips for teachers, 4 of which are here

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Pathologically wrong: Humours and Miasma.

Humours and Miasma: Science in Society 8.

Humoral theory and miasma theory: two long-lasting medical paradigms now consigned to the history of human error but which shaped our ideas about health and disease and the development of medical practice and public health for many centuries.

Humoral theory

The theory of humours was one of the main paradigms for understanding health and disease for many centuries going back to ancient Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic traditions but it didn’t survive the scientific and experimental approach to medicine which became dominant the 19th century.

The theory takes its name from the word ‘humours’ meaning fluids. Health was thought to come from the proper balance of four ‘humours’ or fluids in the body; black bile (also known as melancholy), yellow bile, blood, and phlegm. Anything that upset the equilibrium between these humours, such as a change in the weather, could lead to disease.

The theory was formalised by Hippocrates (ca. 460–370 BCE) and built on by Arabic doctors such as Ibn-Sinna (‘Avicenna’) and  al-Razi (‘Rhazes’) in the 9th century. It was also used to explain human temperament through four main personality types connected to the humours and caused by an excess of one or another: melancholic, sanguine, choleric, and phlegmatic.

Each humour was associated with properties of hotness, coldness, dryness, and wetness as well as one of the four seasons.

Blood: Sanguine temperament (active, energetic, robust), associated with Air and Spring.

Yellow bile: Choleric temperament (decisive, ambitious, quick to anger), associated with Fire and Summer.

Black bile: Melancholic temperament (thoughtful, reserved, suspicious), associated with Earth Autumn.

Phlegm: Phlegmatic temperament (peaceful, lazy, quiet) associated with Water and Winter.

Each individual’s humoral balance was connected with other phenomena—such as climate, diet, occupation, location, planetary alignment, sex, age, and social class. The combined holistic effect of these might differ between individuals. Humoral treatments, or regimens, were designed to restore the proper humoral balance through bloodletting, enemas or purges, diet and lifestyle changes and by individualised medications. Doctors relied on personal knowledge of their patient and the inspection of blood, urine, and other fluids produced by the body; and on the patient’s description of their symptoms.

The appeal of the humoralism which dominated medicine and formed its heritage lay in its comprehensive explanatory scheme, which drew upon bold archetypal contrasts (hot/cold, wet/dry etc.) and embraced the natural and the human, the physical and the mental, the healthy and the pathological. While reassuringly intelligible to the layman, it was a supple tool in the hands of the watchful bedside physician and open to further theoretical elaboration.

From chapter 2 ‘Doctors’ from ‘Blood and Guts’ by Roy Porter (2002).

18th century depiction of the 4 temperaments

Miasma theory

Miasma theory was the principal paradigm of the spread of disease across many parts of the world for thousands of years. Miasma was the name given to poisonous and foul-smelling ‘bad air’ or ‘night air’ arising from decomposed matter and containing ‘miasmata’ coming from soil and other non-human sources. Disease was assumed to arise from this foul air rather than passing between individuals. This belief gave priority to ventilation and exposure to ‘fresh air’ as preventative measures. For example, the war nurse, Florence Nightingale (1820–1910) based her efforts to make hospitals sanitary and fresh-smelling on miasma theory.

In the early nineteenth century, belief in miasma theory led people to fear fog which was thought to indicate the presence of miasma. Some people regarded miasma as being able to completely alter the properties of the air.

By the 19th century the medical community was split on the question of how disease was spread. Believers in miasma theory thought that disease could proliferate without physical contact while ‘contagionists’ believed that disease was transmitted through physical contact. At this time, the living conditions of Britain’s crowded cities in were very unsanitary and there were regular outbreaks of fatal diseases such as cholera. Miasma seemed to explain the spread of cholera and other diseases in places where the water was undrained and very foul-smelling, such as the banks of the river Thames with its presumed concentration of deadly miasmata.

The wide acceptance of miasma theory during the cholera outbreaks overshadowed the findings of London doctor, John Snow (1813-1858) who made the connection between cholera and typhoid epidemics and contaminated water sources, suggesting that there was some means by which the disease was spread from person to person via what he called a ‘morbid material’ in the water supply. During the cholera epidemic of 1854, Snow traced high mortality rates among the citizens of Soho to a water pump in Broad Street. Snow convinced the local authorities to remove the pump handle and this led to a marked decrease in cholera cases in the area.

Sanitary reformers wanted to reduce the spread of disease and improve public health and proposed reform on the basis of miasma theory. Their proposals contributed to major improvements in drainage and sewage systems which did lead to a reduced incidence of cholera and actually helped to support miasma theory for a while. Miasma theory was consistent with the observations that disease was associated with poor sanitation and the associated foul smells. However, it was not consistent with the findings of experimental microbiology which were to lead to the germ theory of disease.

By the late 19th century, there was enough scientific evidence to support a germ theory of disease transmission which accounts for disease proliferation by both direct and indirect physical contact. In 1876 the German microbiologist Robert Koch (1843-1910) proved beyond doubt that anthrax was caused by a bacterium and in 1884, working in Bombay (Mumbai), he was able to isolate the bacterium which causes cholera. These discoveries brought a decisive end to miasma theory.

Even though miasma theory was comprehensively disproved by the discovery of pathogenic bacteria, and later viruses, it did help to make the connection between poor sanitation and disease and led to public health reforms and encouraged good sanitation measures.

A cholera epidemic depicted as miasma

Questions:

1. Why do you think these paradigms remained dominant for so long?

2. Humoral theory is no longer the basis for our understanding of health and disease. Are there any aspects of its application which can be related to modern medical practice?

3. ‘Miasma’ theory is no longer used as an explanation for the spread of infectious disease and was overtaken by the germ theory in the late 19th century. Are there any cases of the two theories being compatible with each other?

4. Choose one of these statements to explain:

(a) Despite being wrong, miasma theory helped to promote public health.

(b) In science, every incorrect theory contains the seeds of a more accurate one.

See also:

How we do science – Science in Society 3: developing and testing scientific explanations.

Introduces the idea of paradigms or scientific belief systems and includes the story of Ignaz Semmelweis.

The germ theory of disease – Science in Society 6: Pasteur, Koch and the microbe hunters.

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My islands – by Line Mariani Playfair

I have always had a strong affinity for atlases and islands. Whether a single volcanic rock or one likely to fragment or disappear underwater, each one seems to be calling me, speaking to my imagination. I was fascinated by Thor Heyerdahl’s book on Easter Island and I was very excited when I first saw the powerful head of Hoa Hakanani’a in the British Museum.

I have lived for 60 years on one island and I was born on another; one which I think of every day and which I still feel viscerally bound to. I praise its beauty with all the pride of ownership; its sea, its mountains, its wilderness, its springs and its torrents. Corsica can charm me, annoy me, amuse me, disturb me and delight me.

I’ve travelled widely with my husband, a research immunologist. I’ve given lectures in schools and to French Circles in the United Kingdom. From Mexico to Norway, Corsica has been one of my favourite topics, with the result that many of the people I’ve met end up finding their way to my little village to look up my friend Francette Orsoni and tell her how much they love her illustrated Corsican tales. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve always received a warm welcome and have made many lasting friends. The enthusiasm others have shown for my island story has spurred my own wish to delve deeper into Corsican culture; to know more in order to share more.

I learnt all the most important things while staying in our village as a child; the language and traditions, cooking, the rituals of arrival and departure. Gifts in a basket covered by a white napkin – the basket always returned with other gifts: three fresh eggs, a bottle of wine or the first figs of the season wrapped in a large leaf. My mother and grandmother drained tomatoes in a white bag hanging over a bucket to prepare a conserve. We put the figs and prunes out to dry. We did the laundry in the river using big bars of soap. Trout would sometimes show themselves and my mother would catch them with a basin or even with her bare hands. There was also the ritual of the strapunta; restuffing a mattress by removing all the wool, washing and re-carding it. Another major event in the village was the slaughter of a pig, or for the less well-off the sharing out of wild boar meat after the hunt.

We would pick herbs for soup, made with a dash of olive oil and cubes of dry broccio cream cheese. On summer afternoons one of my uncles would take me swimming in the river with my friends and in the evenings we would play loto.

As my mother often stayed in town with my father, my grandmother would look after me. My radius was limited, I was allowed to fetch water at the village fountain for neighbours and I also helped to thread needles for those with fading eyesight. At siesta time, my grandmother expected me to do school work; I remember lots of questions about taps filling baths. This was also my opportunity to read. As it was wartime, books were in short supply and there were some very fallow times when I had to resort to the novels of Zenaide Fleuriot or back copies of the periodical Les Veillées des Chaumières.

In winter, it was roast chestnuts by the fire, beignets and polenta and lots of gossip and storytelling. Comic tales of Grossu Minutu or apocryphal stories about the ‘priest’s son’. One Christmas in the village, a neighbour who was a maga, gave me the power of signadora – to dispel the evil eye – something I still occasionally need to use.

Living in the village taught me the importance of gardens and terraces, alternate watering, good manners and never to call on people at meal times. When one did visit, there were often new dogs, cats or donkeys to make friends with and the goats would always take my chestnuts but seemed unimpressed by my efforts at milking them. I observed the power and discretion of the women in the community and learnt the value of listening, of speaking as little as possible and of keeping secrets.

When I arrived in London I was immediately fascinated by the city; its river, museums, buses and parks. No one seemed to know anything about Corsica. My host family showed some interest in it as a tourist destination and we had a fruitful exchange of Jewish and Corsican traditions. As my English improved, I started to go out more, including to the Proms at the Albert Hall where I was able to listen to some of the best orchestras in the world for a modest 2/6. One summer evening, in a Prom queue, some Italian friends introduced me to a young medical student who loved music and France and he introduced me to his mother. She had visited Corsica and had met the famous lawyer Moro ‘the lion’ Giafferi.

‘Ma’ was Jocelyn Playfair, nee Malan, a writer of Huguenot descent and ‘pa’ was a Major General, who had worked with field-marshal Montgomery, there was also a younger brother who was completing his studies at Cambridge. I was immediately adopted by this very British and somewhat eccentric family. Through Jocelyn I met writers and artists as well as people who lived outside London, giving me the opportunity to discover the English countryside. The General was writing a very weighty military history and had contributed humorous pieces to Punch about army life. He also composed military marches, waltzes and foxtrots which he performed with gusto on the piano. I married John, the medical student, and somehow fitted in very well. The contents of our parcels from Corsica were shared widely and elicited much comment. Back home, my parents started to welcome a succession of keen and sometimes very odd travellers, never sure whether to expect a diving enthusiast, an orchestral conductor, a NASA engineer or a former Russian spy. These visitors were all fascinated by the island but knew little of it beyond Napoleon. They hadn’t heard of Pasquale Paoli or the fact that Corsica had been part of Britain for a few years in the 18th century.

Later, I gained greater confidence in myself and in my origins and I was able to take pride in writing in my mother tongue. I met Dorothy Carrington (Lady Frédérica Rose) who wrote about Corsica in Granite Island. Carrington was particularly interested in the condition of women and it was she who realised the importance of the prehistoric site at Filitosa in the South West of the island. She was an inspiration.

Finding myself in a foreign country, I had to learn and understand the culture I was going to live and work in while also blending it with my own. I wanted to share the music, literature and gastronomy of my native island. We waited impatiently for my mother’s parcels and our friends learnt to appreciate Corsican honey and cheese, chestnut flour, orange wine, charcuterie and eau de vie. Before moving to England, I had never worn my national costume but, having been asked, I produced a variation which was more cheerful than the rather drab post first world war version.

We are all aware of our origins and our inheritance. We all have a family history, a cultural, linguistic and political heritage. The Corsican people have a distinctive cultural identity and Corsicans are proud of this distinctiveness. When we leave Corsica, we have to learn to think and act more freely without such strong anchors. We can define being Corsican in cultural terms but it’s also a recognition of the importance of culture to others. To be Corsican is precisely to take into account the world beyond Corsica and to benefit from what the rest of Europe and the world has to offer us.

Corsicans have character and they generally know how to express it. They have little trouble transcending their minority status, affirming their identity or making their way in the world and Pasquale Paoli demonstrated this very effectively in the Enlightenment period. They have learnt to observe with irony and humour and to cultivate the ability to listen and to know when to be silent.

Pasquale Paoli is commemorated in London annually, both at Westminster Abbey on the anniversary of his death and at St. Pancras Church on the first Sunday in February. After mass at St. Pancras, a few Corsicans and local parishioners share a traditional Corsican feast, whose recipes are included in the parish recipe book. We have planted an olive tree at the end of Paoli avenue and dedicated a park bench to mark his time at St. Pancras. There is also a plaque on the house at 77 South Audley street where he spent 3 months. These are memorial sites which serve to remind us of the link between our two islands and to document our diaspora.

My children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, all born on this island, will always have part of their inheritance on that other island where the sky is vast, the stars numerous and the mountains rich in tales to share.

Line Mariani Playfair, 2017

See also:Boswell in Corsica,  Paoli in London

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Sixth form hopes for 2018.

I’ve been posting new year’s wishes for sixth form education since January 2015. This started with 5 ‘modest, realistic and realisable’ hopes. By 2016 the list had been cut to 4 and was then further reduced to 3 a year later.

In summary, the ‘resolutions’ for 2017 were:

1. To describe our educational aspirations for 16-19 year olds and try not to be limited by narrow conceptions of ‘academic’ or ‘vocational’ education.

If anything, 2017 has seen us go backwards nationally in this respect, with a widening gulf between ‘skills’ and technical education policies and the ‘academic’ route consisting of reformed linear A-levels.

2. To try to find common ground between all 16-19 providers and make a strong case for the properly resourced high quality sixth form education that all young people deserve.

As a sector, we did this effectively this year, thanks to our representative organisations, the Association of Colleges (AoC) and the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) who worked to build new alliances and lobbied hard for an immediate and modest injection of £200 per full-time student pending the promised review of post-16 funding. MPs from all parties seem to accept the case that 16-19 education is now seriously underfunded. However, this political support did not translate into any significant spending commitment in the Autumn Spending Review and we will continue to fall further behind schools and universities in terms of the resources we invest in our students at this important stage. The development of T-levels is just beginning and may lead to some additional resource – but only for some learners. The new funding for additional in levels 3 Maths students announced by the chancellor in November has yet to be explained and it is by no means clear that it will actually result in the desired outcome.

3. To start planning for a coherent, comprehensive 16-19 system capable of offering choice and entitlement to a broad and challenging education for all young people.

The area reviews are a fading memory and although many colleges have merged, local coherence remains a distant prospect while rampant market madness continues. The lack of any local area planning or co-ordination means that ‘choice and diversity’ often means ‘fewer options and greater selection’ in practice.

So, what can we reasonably work for in 2018?

This year I am whittling my own resolutions down to just two:

1. Continue to make the case for investment in 16-19 education and a review of post-16 funding.

It’s disappointing that post-16 education has not yet found its place at the heart of social policy and it seems unlikely that the current government will start reinvesting in Further Education despite its evident economic benefits and transformative power. The best we can hope for may be some targeted new investment via T-levels and this comes at the price of a deeper academic/vocational divide and will do little to advance broad general educational aims for this age group.

In the short term, even £100 per learner on the national £4,000 rate would be welcome. Such a sum would amount to less than the annual Departmental underspend on 16-19 education, effectively loose change down the back of the sofa, but it would make a real difference to colleges which are having to make impossible choices between different cuts, all of which would be damaging to students.

In the medium term, we might hope that a genuine and objective review of post-16 funding could lead to some rebalancing of resources between learners in different phases and on different programmes. However, government FE and HE policy seems to point in the opposite direction, with more differential funding driven by economic imperatives rather than a universal educational entitlement.

In the longer term, we can take some comfort from the fact that changed priorities at the national level often follow a few years after the grassroots campaigning making the case for such change. We have no choice but to fight our corner and we owe it to our future students to keep making the case.

This rather gloomy prognosis leads me to my second resolution, which also requires planning for the future without any expectation of short term gain:

2. Start developing plans for 16-19 education as part of a National Education Service.

The idea of a National Education Service (NES) is to mobilise all our publicly funded educational resources to provide the best possible opportunities for all our people. It represents a departure from the marketised, education-as-a-commodity which we have learned to live with. It’s what many European countries take for granted and is a perfectly realistic aspiration. It has emerged from the Labour Party but has the potential to attract cross-party support in the way the NHS has and to become the common-sense of a new generation.

So far, the NES concept has mainly been linked with spending commitments such as free university tuition and more investment in early years education. Clearly, identifying and prioritising resources is essential but a successful NES will also require new ideas for allocating existing resources, new structures and new ways of doing things to support the development of a new kind of education service.

We need to take this idea seriously and help flesh out the detail and articulate what form post-16 education might take in a new NES. This work needs to begin now and it might not bear fruit until 2022.

In conclusion:

My prediction for 2018 is that the funding context for our work will not improve and we will all have some very difficult decisions to make. Our full-time students will continue to be the worst funded in the whole system and to receive fewer hours of teaching and a narrower curriculum than their peers in most developed countries. We need to continue to hold to our educational values, provide the best service we can and collaborate more where this is possible. I think our promotional, campaigning and policy development work needs to be focused on the type of medium and longer-term goals outlined above and I wouldn’t expect any quick wins in 2018.

However, with the right kind of work in the next year or two we could lay the foundations for a renaissance in public service post-16 and adult education and that is a prize worth working for.

Post-16 funding:

Life in the sixth form funding canyon (October 2017)

Previous New Year hopes:

Sixth form resolutions for 2017 (January 2017)

New Year wishes for sixth form education in 2016 (January 2016)

5 New Year wishes for post-16 education (January 2015)

A National Education Service:

Shaping an alternative education policy (April 2017)

Starting to think about a National Education Service (September 2015)

For a National Education Service (July 2015)

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Top posts of 2017.

Most popular posts of 2017

Of the posts I published on this site in 2017, the most read were:

Sixth form resolutions for 2017: 3 modest resolutions to make 2017 better than its predecessor.

10 things which could improve education: the outline of a charter for an education system based on equality and social and personal transformation.

Reconstruction in an age of demolition: post-16 education in England today is characterised by selection, marketisation, low expectations and inadequate investment. We need to develop an alternative building on the best of our capacities.

The GCSE retake challenge: we should be aiming for high standards of literacy and numeracy but the ‘comparative outcomes’ approach is hindering progress.

Education and the French presidential election: evaluating the education policies of the 5 main contenders for the French presidency.

NewVIc results 2017 and NewVIc class of 2017 progress to university: summaries of our best ever results at Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc).

The East End’s ‘engine of progression’: How the Daily Mail could have described our achievements, but didn’t.

Newham’s outstanding record of widening participation: a more general celebration of our borough’s long-standing track record of university progression despite being a ‘deprived’ area.

Design for leaning: how we set about creating a wonderful new building for our college.

The best of things: what the opening of our new building means for young people in Newham.

My NewVIc story – Kabir Jagwani: the latest in this alumni series, featuring a former NewVIc student who is now a senior leader in our neighbouring secondary school.

2. Also worth reading from 2017

A few of the other posts published last year:

From Toynbee to TELCO via Chicago and From ‘slumming’ to solidarity: a brief history of responses to urban poverty and inequality from the late 19th century university settlements to today’s community organising and social activism.

Education is a human right: a reminder that we are a long way from fulfilling the global promise of education for all and article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

A global crisis requires a global politics: conflict threatens the survival of 20 million of our fellow human beings. A challenge on this scale cannot be addressed by the politics of national interest.

Citizens of somewhere, citizens of anywhere: rejecting the false choice between inward-looking parochialism and outward facing internationalism.

Oxbridge admissions – time for action: highly selective universities cannot absolve themselves from widening participation, this post offers 4 practical proposals for immediate action.

The narrative of the ‘poor bright child’: challenging a model of social mobility which fails to address structural inequality.

Equality at the heart of our values: we need to emphasize the egalitarianism at the core of the British values which we promote.

Giving young people a stake in their future: making the case for a truly universal citizens’ service as part of a richer and more challenging education including free higher education.

Easing student debt won’t cut it: minor mitigation of the impact of university fees does nothing to challenge the harm being done by marketization of Higher Education. We need to reconsider the financialization of education.

Shaping an alternative education policy: the egalitarian vision underlying Labour’s education proposals and the need for a system.

Education 2022 Market or system? What will education in England look like in 2022? Two very different possible futures.

Learning through conflict: conflict and disagreement are essential for human progress and learning. We need to value understanding, complexity and deliberation and help our students reach beyond who they are and what they know.

The Habits of democracy: education’s role in developing the practice of democracy and the understanding and experience which support it.

Challenging IQ: questions the usefulness of ‘general intelligence’ and behavioural genetics and urges caution about behavioural, social or political claims derived from genetic data.

Life in the sixth form funding canyon: far from being ‘flat cash’, what we have experienced is a massive funding cut per student in recent years; a serious threat to what we can offer our students.

The Mathematics of survival: poems for difficult times by NewVIc students working with English PEN.

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The narrative of the ‘poor bright child’.

The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life. Jane Addams.

Earlier this month the government announced a £23m ‘future talent fund’ targeted at ‘bright’ students from poorer backgrounds. New investment in education can only be welcome and the new fund may do some good. However, without wishing to reject any gift horses, in the context of under-investment overall it seems to be taking a highly selective approach to which young people are worth investing in, based as it is on the narrative of the ‘poor bright child’.

Much of the thinking behind the rhetoric of social mobility is based on implied hierarchies. The assumption seems to be that social inequalities are inevitable and that in order to make society fairer we need to ensure that those who ‘deserve’ to move up the hierarchy get a chance. Their merit is generally established through some kind of educational proxy; ‘potential’, ‘talent’, ‘intelligence’ etc. Once we have the measure and the label, we simply need to search for those who fit the bill and help them up rather than questioning the root causes of the prior inequality.

The preferred subject of such policies is therefore the ‘poor, bright child’ as the best symbol of the possibility of meritocratic upward social mobility. They need to be identified, sought out and lifted up in a particular way as their needs are clearly different from those of the irredeemably poor and ‘not bright’. This approach acknowledges that being economically disadvantaged does have a negative impact on likely educational success. By adding the adjective ‘bright’, advocates are distinguishing between children based on some ill-defined innate property of bring ‘bright’ or intelligent, something not accessible to all and with a limited distribution. Being ‘bright’ equates to being worthy of particular interventions to overcome the obstacle of socio-economic disadvantage.

The measures used to categorise children as ‘bright’ or otherwise are very limited and very limiting. Age-related achievement in standardised tests or exams are used to categorise children from an early age and we should not be surprised when success in early assessments is the strongest predictor in continuing success with increasingly wider gaps opening up between children at different levels.

But what of the ‘not bright’ poor? If being ‘bright’ equates to being worthy, then ‘less bright’ must be less worthy. But if there are social determinants to educational achievement surely these must affect all poor children, not just ‘bright’ ones. If we can acknowledge that money and social capital can buy educational advantage for the ‘not bright’ rich, is there not a possibility that the ‘not bright’ poor could also benefit from such investment?

Educational achievement is not perfectly linear or age-defined. Inclusive, comprehensive post-16 colleges have many students who were written off as academic ‘no-hopers’ at 16 based on their GCSE results and have gone on to achieve well in conventional terms and to progress on to Higher Education. In our sixth form college in Newham for instance, around 200 of our 661 university progressors this year had worked their way up from lower level programmes, having come to us at 16 with mostly D or E grades or below at GCSE (grade 3 or below) – hardly meeting the threshold for being described as ‘bright’. Their journey may be against the expectations but on this scale it shouldn’t be seen as unlikely or against the odds.

The problem is that not everyone who advocates greater social mobility actually wants a more equal society. It is quite possible to be in favour of giving poor, ‘bright’ children a step up while also being wedded to a very unequal society with a high gradient between the poorest and the richest and all the negative implications that has for social cohesion and wellbeing.

This is why the social mobility agenda is essentially regressive and inegalitarian. It conceals its commitment to reproducing existing social inequalities and injustices in a rhetorical cloak of aspiration and fairness. By defining who is deserving of a particular focus, it sets limits on the aspirations of the majority and reinforces a structural, systemic unfairness.

The truth is that such categories as ‘bright’ or ‘not bright’ are far too crude a basis for making educational judgements. We need to understand the complex factors which contribute to educational achievement while keeping faith with the idea that all people are capable of achieving much more than they already have and that all people are worthy of the best education we can offer.

Based on our experience so far, we have some idea of the potential of education, which has already enhanced human capacities beyond anything that was thought possible just a few generations ago. We have barely started to develop the potential of what humans can achieve, individually and collectively. To limit our ambition by using categories such as ‘bright’ is to deny this potential and to reinforce the structural inequalities which hold us all back.

Let’s hope that the new Future Talent Fund can go beyond the narrative of the poor ‘bright’ child and dig more deeply into the causes of social and educational inequality across society.

See also:

The East End’s ‘engine of progression’ (November 2017)

NewVIc class of 2017 progress to university (October 2017)

Overlooked and left behind? (April 2016)

The limits of social mobility (March 2016)

Reducing London’s disadvantage gap (January 2016)

Is social mobility enough? (April 2015)

How can we reduce educational inequality? (September 2014)

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Education is a human right

We mark Human Rights Day on December 10th and this year it is 69 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted in Paris at a United Nations (UN) General Assembly in a post-conflict spirit of international solidarity and optimism. In the UK, it was the year of the founding of the National Health Service. 6 years earlier, ignorance was one of the Beveridge report’s 5 ‘giants’ afflicting British society and which needed to be tackled, together with disease, want, squalor and idleness. Scanning the current state of our planet and global trends it’s easy to be sceptical about any notion of global universal rights being realised anytime soon. Inequality, injustice, powerlessness, conflict and division seem to be in the ascendant.

Education has to be at the heart of any project to ensure human rights and promote human flourishing. If we recognise this, we cannot accept the gross disparities and injustices which still exist across the world and also within many states.

Of the 30 UDHR articles, the one which relates to education is:

Article 26. The right to education

  1. Everyone has a right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages, Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

It’s clear that we are furthest from achieving even these modest aims in parts the developing world, such as sub-Saharan Africa and the UN is right to focus its attention where the gap between aspiration and reality is widest.

However, even in a rich country like the UK, we are entitled to test the limits of Article 26 by asking:

  • Why would education not be free at all ages and stages?
  • Who decides who has enough ‘merit’ to progress to Higher Education?
  • Does our curriculum and assessment system promote the full development of the human personality?
  • Do we really value citizenship, human rights, and peace education in our system?

At the moment, the answers to these questions do not suggest that we are moving in the right direction.

Although progress has been made, we are still a long way from achieving the United Nations global aim of ‘Education for All’. Over 250 million children are not in school worldwide and around half of primary aged children who are not in education live in areas affected by conflict. 103 million young people lack basic literacy skills and over 60% of these are women.

The UN has 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Of these, goal 4 is

Quality Education: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.

Among the specific targets are:

  • Access to all levels of education
  • Early childhood development and pre-primary education,
  • Publicly funded primary and secondary education for all,
  • Literacy and numeracy skills for all,
  • Learning to live together and protect the environment,
  • Safe and inclusive learning environments,
  • Skills for work,
  • Gender equality and inclusion of marginalised groups
  • Well-trained teachers who are valued.

Until we increase our global effort to achieve these aims, and make the systemic changes which can allow them to succeed, we will not truly be honouring the promise made to future generations in 1948. This has to be one of our top priorities: globally, nationally and locally.

See also:

Education: the universal human right (May 2015)

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‘What if?’ – dystopias in fiction.

Fictional dystopias use the power of ‘what if?’ to change something or extrapolate particular social or technological trends and imagine the impact on people’s lives. The best ones are also good stories, well told, about people; their hopes, fears, feelings and relationships. They help us to imagine ourselves in a different society with different possibilities. They also remind us that change is possible, indeed inevitable; a different world is possible and things as they are can be challenged.

Dystopias can serve as a warning about our current direction of travel or the consolidation of things as they are. They can shine a light on our present reality and make us look at things with fresh eyes. Far from being purely escapism or fantasy, they make us think and discuss things which affect us in the real world. So, for instance:

What if… we lived in a society where:

  • People have survived a massively destructive event or war; a post-apocalyptic setting (Who Fears Death, Parable of the Sower, Divergent, The Handmaid’s Tale…)
  • People are bred to occupy distinct social roles or strictly categorised along racial lines (Brave New World, Never Let Me Go, Who Fears Death, The Parable of the Sower)
  • People are sharply divided on economic lines and the poor are treated as subhuman (Utopia).
  • Women have no rights and are routinely raped to provide children for the ruling class (The Handmaid’s Tale)
  • Religion is used to justify injustice and persecution (The Handmaid’s Tale)
  • Culture and heritage are deliberately destroyed and forgotten (Fahrenheit 451)
  • People are kept in a constant state of fear, hysteria and preparation for war (1984)
  • Propaganda is more important than truth (1984)
  • People are encouraged to take drugs and have casual sex (Brave New World)
  • People have no individuality or identity (We)

There are many other possible ‘what if’s’ or combinations of these and this is the raw material of dystopian fiction. Previous posts have recommended 8 great dystopian novels:

Reading Dystopias: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1984 by George Orwell, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro,

More fictional dystopias: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick, It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis.

Here are 4 more to add to these:

Utopia by Ahmed Khaled Towfik (2008) [176 pages]

In one hour, I’ve done everything, and there’s nothing left in life that interests me or that I want…This was my land and this was my world. I was born here. If my father stole these rights, then they had become my birthright, and I wouldn’t give them up to beggars and street whores.

It’s 2023. Welcome to Utopia, the US-protected colony on the north Egyptian coast to which the wealthy retreated in the first decade of the 21st century. The Others, outside Utopia have sunk into hunger, disease and violence. In this vision of an alternative future, written in Arabic, Utopia’s youth are spoiled, devoid of feeling for others. Only one thrill remains to the young who are inured to appreciation by a lifetime of instant gratification – and it lies beyond the barbed wire and security fences of Utopia. The narrator and his girlfriend are on a mission to find a suitable Other to kill, and then hack off a limb to bring back as a trophy of their hunt.

Ahmed Khaled Towfik (born in 1962) is an Egyptian medical professor and the Arab world’s best-selling author of horror and fantasy genres and has written over 500 books.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (2010) [304 pages]

The novel takes place in a post-apocalyptic future version of Sudan, where the light-skinned Nuru oppress the dark-skinned Okeke. The protagonist, Onyesonwu (Igbo for ‘who fears death’), is an Ewu, the child of an Okeke woman raped by a Nuru man. On reaching maturity, she goes on a quest to defeat her sorcerous father Daib using her magical powers.

The novel was partly inspired by an article about the ‘weaponization’ of rape by militias in the Darfur conflict. The novel includes a graphic scene in which Onyesonwu is subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM), which significantly impairs her ability to use her magical powers. When she was challenged about her criticism of FGM in the book, Okorafor commented that she is proud of her Igbo identity, but that:

“culture is alive and it is fluid. It is not made of stone nor is it absolute. Some traditions/practices will be discarded and some will be added, but the culture still remains what it is…Just because I believe that aspects of my culture are problematic does not mean I am ‘betraying’ my people by pointing out those problems…What [cutting] all boils down to … is the control and suppression of women.”

Nnedi Okorafor was born in the United States to Nigerian parents. She has a PhD in English and is a professor of creative writing at Chicago State University. She has won many awards for her short stories and young adult books. Who Fears Death was awarded the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel and Okorafor wrote a prequel, The Book of Phoenix which was published in 2015.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E Butler (1993) [299 pages]

Set in a future where society has fallen apart as a result of climate change, massive inequalities and corporate exploitation, this is the story of the ‘hyperempathic’ young woman, Lauren Oya Olamina, who has a unique ability to feel the emotions and pain of others. As a teenager growing up in a gated community she begins to develop a new belief system which she calls Earthseed. After her family are murdered, she travels north with other survivors. The world is in chaos, ethnic and religious minorities are persecuted and inter-racial relationships are discouraged. Lauren believes that humankind’s future is to travel beyond Earth and live on other planets, forcing a new kind of maturity, with Earthseed as part of the preparation…

The American author Octavia Butler (1947 – 2006) described herself as “a pessimist if I’m not careful, a feminist always, a black, a quiet egoist, a former Baptist and an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty and drive.” She consistently resisted the threat of ‘hierarchical’ thinking which she saw leading to intolerance and violence between people. In A World without Racism she wrote:

“Simple peck-order bullying is only the beginning of the kind of hierarchical behaviour that can lead to racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, classism, and all the other ‘isms’ that cause so much suffering in the world.”

Divergent by Veronica Roth (2011) [487 pages]

In a future society, people are divided into five factions based on their dispositions. Abnegation: the selfless, Amity: the peaceful, Candour: the honest, Dauntless: the brave and Erudite: the intellectual. All 16-year-olds undergo extreme initiation tests to decide which faction they belong in, with devastating consequences, while the ‘factionless’ live in poverty. The ruthless order of this society is threatened by growing conflict.

The American writer Veronica Roth was born in 1988 and Divergent is the first of a trilogy which includes Insurgent and Allegiant. Divergent was the Goodreads Favourite Book of 2011 and the of the Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction award in 2012.

Assignment: Try to come up with some original ‘what if’s’ of your own and write a brief description of the dystopian society they would generate as a setting for a story. What new dramatic possibilities does the situation offer.

See also:

Reading Dystopias (July 2015)

More Fictional Dystopias (March 2017)

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Learning through conflict.

Education, like all human endeavour, requires conflict, struggle, challenge, disagreement, argument, difference, dialectic, dialogue. If we want to learn or make anything new, we need to reach towards what we don’t know, to seek out the unknown. Education, and life itself, can be thought of as a constant struggle at the frontiers of our ignorance; a struggle to sharpen our understanding of the world in the hope of making some impact on it.

But conflict can be frightening, threatening. Many people have good reason to fear conflict because to them it is associated with real hardship, danger and even violence. A new unknown is not welcome if past unknowns have been connected with danger. So, to be a place of ‘learning risk’, the educational space has to be free of actual personal risk.

Human civilisation has been at least partly about mastering conflict and making it less threatening and more creative. As the possibilities of human action become greater and societies become more complex, it becomes more and more vital to describe, manage and codify conflict. Communication, discussion, rationality, debate, government, politics, treaties and agreements, legal systems, ideas about respect, human rights and equality can all be seen as means to contain conflict and allow human potential to flourish in ways which do not constantly jeopardise our personal safety. Even the processes of war, which are essentially about mass violence, have be subject to rules and conventions.

We have a duty of care and a responsibility to keep our students safe from violence, abuse, harassment, discrimination, physical harm or exploitation. We need to protect them and nurture them as they learn about the world, but we also have a duty to tell them the truth about the world. This is not about encouraging a sense of victimhood, grievance or fragility but caring for them as they gain the confidence and strength of mind to take on the dangers which they will undoubtedly face.

We also have a duty to explain and promote values of democracy, freedom and rights, the rule of law, respect for others and to develop the practice of those values. In other words, we need an education for full citizenship and I think that in England we’re still a long way from doing that effectively.

I think what we need is a social pedagogy of agency, a pedagogy of possibility and empowerment. I don’t think this should be a ‘you can do anything if you try hard enough’ positivity and it’s not quite the same as the promotion of ‘character’ or ‘grit’. It needs to do more than promote a resilience which means being good at dealing with what life throws at you, or a wellbeing which means being happy or satisfied with life. When faced with injustice, discrimination or inequality our students need to know that things could be better and to be able to do something about those things that something can be done about.

Everything we do in our education settings should aim to promote students’ greater autonomy and agency and their critical understanding of the world as it is, recognising its complexity and the interdependence and inter-relationship of self and others. We want our students to think and act well. We should assume that our students will be more than subjects – but that will want to be agents – out there in the world, doing things and aiming to making a difference.

Just as young children need to learn to master their raw emotions and see the world through others’ eyes in order to learn to live and work with others, we all need to learn how to be critical, sceptical, how to respectfully disagree and engage constructively with others in society. This learning has to be taken step by step with the challenge and risk of failure managed.

Where does this place us as educators in what we all agree is a time of polarisation and division in our society? I think we need to develop our students’ understanding and skill well beyond what is currently expected. Our schools and colleges need to be places where students can take a step back from the world in order to study it better and prepare to step up to a role in that world. We need to think of our education system as the workshop where people hone their rational, critical faculties and ask all the questions they have about the world and start to explore the answers.

What does this mean when we are confronted with divisive and controversial topics such as Brexit and Trump? Like any other aspect of the real world, these are legitimate subjects of study and cannot be sidestepped. They need to be understood and our approach should be to use them as an opportunity to be analytical and rational and to consider the world from different perspectives rather than pressing students to have an opinion.

We have a duty to challenge fake news and irrational beliefs and superstitions. We cannot shy away from controversy but face it head on. Our objectivity has to be reasoned and well-informed; not an ‘equal value to every opinion’ neutrality. We need to be radical rationalists and rigorous explainers, partisans of enlightenment, which of course sometimes means ‘taking sides’ when core values are challenged or threatened. We shouldn’t aim to propagandize but starting from a set of beliefs and values which we know to be necessary for society to function, we should aim to ‘activate’ our students so they can build their own agency.

Of course we cannot pretend that it’s possible to achieve absolute objectivity or academic detachment. We also need to recognize that both students and teachers bring a wide range of experiences and identities, and prejudices, to the learning process. Our identities, our histories and our feelings are important elements which will shape our approach to our studies. Nevertheless, I do think the task of educators is primarily to help learners develop a particular distinctive identity as students of the world. This need not replace their existing identities but it is what will help them reach out beyond what they know to what they could know; from what they are to what they could be.

Should we teach conflict resolution? Can conflict ever be fully resolved? We can understand it, explain it, come to terms with it and practice ways to manage it and move things forward without resorting to violence or pretending it doesn’t exist. But we absolutely need it; it is a prerequisite of human progress and learning. And so, we should value understanding, use increasingly complex analyses and model the skills needed for robust debate, productive dialogue and deliberative democracy. This is what will help us embrace and channel conflict.

Hannah Arendt’s statement that “education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to take responsibility for it” reminds us that the education is a social project which starts with  people who care about something worth caring about and want to be in a position to do something about it.

This is an extended version of my contribution to the Embracing Controversy Panel discussion at the Conflict Matters Conference in London on November 8th-10th 2017 organised by the Evens Foundation. Other members of the panel included Claudia Ruitenberg of the University of British Columbia, Raheel Mohammed of Maslaha and Justin Schlosberg of Birkbeck, University of London. It was chaired by Claire Fox (Institute of Ideas)

See also:

Giving young people a stake in their future (July 2017)

Reconstruction in an age of demolition (July 2017)

The habits of democracy (May 2017)

Going beyond (October 2016)

Crick reloaded: citizenship education and British values (September 2016)

Colleges and violent extremism (January 2015)

Post-16 citizenship in tough times (May 2014)

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The East End’s ‘engine of progression’.

The East End’s ‘engine of progression’.

In September, the Mail Online and others published articles extolling the achievements of the ‘Eton of the East End’, one of the highly selective sixth forms in Newham which have opened in recent years. In the interests of balance, here is the story of their comprehensive neighbour’s results told in a similar style:

The East End’s ‘engine of progression’.

Inner city college with some of the poorest students in the country dubbed the ‘East End Engine of Progression’ sent 96 students to top Russell Group universities this year.

  • Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) in Newham sent 661 students to university this year and nearly 7,000 over the last 10 years.
  • The college has been getting students into Russell group universities for 25 years including over 400 over the past 5 years.
  • Mughees Hassan is going to Cambridge to study Natural Sciences this year, he is the latest of 13 NewVIc students to go to Oxbridge in the last 10 years.
  • Both NewVIc students who went to Oxford University in 2014 graduated with First Class degrees this year.
  • 3 students: Bibire Baykeens, Fatima Habib and Nadia Jama are going on to study medicine.
  • NewVIc saw 28 of its A-level candidates achieving A* grades this summer and over 70 achieved at least an A grade.
  • On of the college’s A-level Biology candidates achieved the highest mark in the country in one of her papers this year.

A comprehensive inner-city college in one of London’s most deprived areas dubbed the ‘East End Engine of Progression’ sent 96 students to the country’s most prestigious Russell Group universities including one to Cambridge this year. The students all attended Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) and are starting degree courses in Medicine, Maths, Engineering, Law, Accounting, Psychology, English, History, Drama, Politics and Nursing amongst many other subjects.

Principal Eddie Playfair said: ‘NewVIc students have been progressing to university in large numbers for 25 years, including to Oxbridge and other Russell Group institutions. This year’s 98 per cent A-level pass rate is our best result to date and the proportion of high grades is also our highest ever, but, most importantly, it means that students who come to NewVIc make great progress and achieve the grades they need to help them progress to their chosen degree course at university.’

Two thirds of the college’s A-level grades are in the A*-C range.

Many of the students at NewVIc are from the London Borough of Newham, which is one of the most deprived in the city. According to census data, 46.5 per cent of the 330,000 residents describe themselves as either Asian or Asian British. Some 26.5 per cent say they are white, while 18.1 per cent are black or black British.

Clearly both sixth forms have great results to celebrate. One difference is that in a comprehensive college, these ‘top’ results are just a small part of a bigger story of success and progression across the board. And this particular comprehensive college has been doing the heavy lifting to improve the participation, achievement and progression of tens of thousands of Newham students over the last 25 years. Too long to be newsworthy perhaps!

Good luck to those who can persuade the national media to blow their trumpet for them. The rest of us will just have to blow our own!

For the full story of NewVIc’s 2017 results and progression see:

NewVIc class of 2017 progress to university (October 2017)

NewVIc results 2017 (August 2017)

And for the longer term story of success:

Newham’s outstanding record of widening participation (August 2017)

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