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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Being honoured

I was honoured to attend the 2017 Graduation ceremony for University of East London’s Sir John Cass School of Education and Communities on 1st November 2017. The ceremony granted UEL degrees in Early Childhood Studies, Education Studies, Social Work , Special Education and Youth and Community Work  to over 500 graduates, many of whom were former NewVIc students and some who were parents of NewVIc students. It was a real privilege to share this day with them and to see so many of our alumni complete the next phase of their education and get one step closer to achieving  their goal to work in education – the best job in the world!

I was accepting a UEL honorary doctorate and was particularly excited to be receiving it in the same year as democracy and accountability campaigner Gina Miller and the actor and disability advocate Sally Phillips.

What I said in my acceptance speech:

I need to start by saying that I’m not really that keen on honours. In fact, I didn’t attend my own graduation in 1982. At that time, I thought it was very un-cool. But after attending graduation ceremonies for some of my own children and hosting many awards evenings as a college principal over the years, I think I’ve come to value the symbolic importance of these occasions. And on this occasion, I am deeply honoured to accept this honorary doctorate.

I’m honoured for at least two reasons: first, because of where it’s coming from and second, because of what it’s for.

Firstly, it’s coming from a great East London institution. A university deeply rooted in its community which reflects and celebrates that community while also having national and global impact. A university which aims to put its human, intellectual and cultural resources at the service of the people of our diverse and cosmopolitan city and helps them to achieve wonderful things. A university which has worked in partnership with our college throughout its 25-year history; providing outstanding governors for our corporation, sponsoring our sports teams and helping to mentor our students and develop their skills in challenging hate speech, managing money and undertaking research projects amongst many other things.

So I am very proud of our association with the University of East London and very excited about the new East London Skills and Employment Federation which we are both part of.

Secondly, I think this is a recognition of the work we do and have been doing at NewVIc for 25 years: stretching, challenging, broadening horizons, raising participation, achievement and progression for 16-19 year olds in East London. A full-spectrum college which is designed to offer the full range of courses and refuses to be defined by others as either academic or vocational, either specialist or selective. I see this as a celebration of our democratic and egalitarian vision of the comprehensive college which wants to share the benefits of education as widely as possible.

I think that UEL and NewVIc share the same values and beliefs. One way of putting this is that we want to educate with purpose. At a time when we could easily become more ignorant, more fearful, more selfish more self-absorbed, we need places which build knowledge, skill, understanding, community and wisdom. So I am delighted to be able to honour our shared values and our shared purpose; to develop active, critical, inquisitive citizens rather than passive, silent, acquisitive consumers – people who do rather than simply being done to and who do what they do with a real care and respect for others. We need all our educational institutions to be ‘wisdom’s workshops’ with a common mission to share and prepare, to train and transmit, to renew and re-invent our world and make it fit for human flourishing.

This  is important work and I want to congratulate everyone here who has made a commitment to work in education.

To paraphrase Hannah Arendt, being an educator requires us to ‘love the world enough’ to take responsibility for it. I guess that means that there’s a lot of love in this place today!

You’ll forgive me for closing with something many of you will already have heard me say, because it’s what I say to all our leavers at ceremonies like this:

As you stand on the threshold of the next phase of your life and look back as well as forward –  be proud. Be proud of all you have achieved, be proud of you family, your culture, your language, your beliefs and all your achievements. You are someone and you’ve achieved something. But don’t stop there. Look forward and make sure you become what you are capable of becoming, which is so much more.

It has been a great honour to share this celebration with you. Thank you.

See also: 

NewVIc class of 2017 progress to university (October 2017)

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

Investing in East London’s future (December 2014)

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