Podcast: The Permanent Revolution of Education; A Journey to the Dark Side by Dave Hall
Dave is in Education Policy Research at University of Manchester. His talk is about education policy research over the last 25 to 30 years and the wrong turn he believes it has taken. In the talk, he is looking at some of the deleterious effects of that wrong turn along with the negative impacts of these policy decisions.
The educational reforms which have taken place are not all negative, but form a complex picture. It is complex because of the huge amount of reform which has taken place over the period which he is talking about. Here he will be examining some of the darker elements of the reforms which have happened in the educational sector.
In the talk, he examines some of the effects on young people, some of the effects on institutions, and the people who work within them. The focus is not just on schools, but also on universities and colleges, adult education institutes; the whole range have been deeply affected by these changes.
He ends his talk with a look at the future and how the educational project has been so important to people’s lives in this country and in others, and asks how it can be re-enchanted and enlightened.
Geoff Aston was the striker for West Bromwich Albion football club. At an educational conference which was very early in Dave’s academic career (Professor Hall ;), and someone accused his colleagues – who were talking about educational reform in England – of being ‘Soixante-Huiters’.
The expression refers to the number 68, which is a reference to the year 1968; in particular to the events of May 1968. At this time, Dave was a child – brought up as an Everton fan – and his memories of this time were that his mood was brought down because Geoff Aston scored the winning goal in the FA Cup final between Everton and West Bromwich Albion. Everton had beaten West Bromwich 6 – 2 the very first season he had attended Goodison Park. So for Dave, May 1968 held these memories and made the references to being a ‘Soixante-Huiter’ somewhat odd. Unfortunately, Geoff Aston died of complications brought on by heading a heavy football.
Of course the term soixante huiter referred not to the May 68 FA Cup Final but to the events of 1968 that took place in Paris in France. They were largely confined to Paris – largely, although they resonated across Europe and across other parts of the world. It was a student revolt which ended up being quelled by the police in battles which took place on the French streets. The Rolling Stones song ‘Street Fighting Man’ was written about the events of May 1968:
“Street Fighting Man”
By The Rolling Stones
Ev’rywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy
Cause summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy
But what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock ‘n’ roll band
Cause in sleepy London town
There’s just no place for a street fighting man
Hey! Think the time is right for a palace revolution
But where I live the game to play is compromise solution
Well, then what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock ‘n’ roll band
‘Cause in sleepy London town
There’s no place for a street fighting man
Hey! Said my name is called disturbance
I’ll shout and scream, I’ll kill the king, I’ll rail at all his servants
Well, what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock ‘n’ roll band
Cause in sleepy London town
There’s no place for a street fighting man
The Soixante-Huiters really rocked the political establishment in Europe, which was a well established, largely Social-Democratic political establishment that emerged out of the 2nd World War. The student revolt of that time had cultural, political and social elements; it was a real challenge to that Social-Democratic establishment.
The revolt was felt across the channel, and it became apparent to Dave in the 1990’s as an educational research, that it still had a huge importance in the minds of educational reformers. What it came to represent was youth out of control. There was an attempt to reject the demands of the Soixante-Huiters, however, many of the demands which they laid out have been ceded to since then in the society which we have since created.
The establishment approach of the time was to try and reject the kind of ideas which were being proposed. The extent to which the Soixante-Huiters rocked the establishment only became apparent in the 1990s when papers relating to General de Gaulle – the French President at the time – revealed that his movements around France during the time of the revolt and uprising became revealed. It became apparent that he fled France because he was so taken aback and terrified by these events. He abandoned his palace, gathered the family jewels up (literally), got on a plane and flew to Germany without telling his colleagues what he was doing. So they were shocking events which took place.
Dave believes that the events of May 1968 had a huge effect on policy making in the UK. There were student revolts in the UK, where there were sit downs and lock-ins, in the late sixties. As there were in the eighties in the UK, which Dave was involved in. He throws this out to the floor and invites people in the room to remember if they were involved. Someone called Julian responded:
“I was a bit taken aback by the use of Social-Democrat, because Social Democracy was certainly not what we saw ourselves as wanting to speak up against. It was a concept which was around. The words which we were using were – we saw ourselves as responding to a much more right wing than what would be called Social Democracy. It was the idea that what was being imposed was much more a re-establishment of a previous order which we thought had already been challenged before and was now being put back in place again”
Dave responded by saying he agrees with what Julian had said, and what was in fact happening was a much more complex movement with a complex range of groups which were involved in it. From Communists through to Anarchists, through to International Syndicalists, through to ordinary students who wanted to see some political change.
Julian said: “It was just the thought that, I guess, we didn’t have to follow the systems which had been laid down, and that other possibilities could open up. That was the feeling that was around I think. It was exploratory rather than having a particular program.”
Dave carries on… And that feeling was very strong in the campus’ of the British universities at the time and elsewhere. Moving his slides on, he shows a photograph of students at William Tyndale Junior School in Islington in North London. The events of May 68 resonated in the field of education in a rather bizarre standoff between a group of teachers at William Tyndale in the 1970s, and a Conservative establishment that was terrified of the social changes which were being demanded by the Soixante-Huiters and their British counterparts. It lead to a quasi-judicial review inquiry which largely opposed the teachers at William Tyndale School.
The headlines in the newspapers of the time were along the lines of ‘Classroom Despots’, ‘Our Schools Have Been Taken Over’; and there was a broad sense which emerged in the 1970s in much of the political establishment of Britain, that teachers and schools were becoming the vehicles for the kind of agendas which were being pursued by the Soixante-Huiters.
These ideas were being held across – as he argues – the political spectrum and remain part of the political consensus that emerged. What we got during the 1970s, was a series of papers from the political right – the beginnings of the ‘new right’ that found voice in the Thatcher government which was elected in 1979. What we got were a series of ‘Black Papers’ which were written by a series of Conservative politicians; the most well known of which was Rhodes Boyson.
Rhodes Boyson (11 May 1925 – 28 August 2012) was a British educator, author and politician and Conservative Member of Parliament for Brent North. He was knighted and made a member of the Privy Council in 1987. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhodes_Boyson]
These ‘Black Papers’ talked about a lack of discipline in schools and they explicitly linked the lack of discipline in schools to the unrest in the universities. Hence, creating a very strong link to the events of May 1968. They talked about the dangers of progressive education, and the way in which the education project, had become captured by the producers. In other words, by teachers.
These were the arguments of the Black Papers which emerged in the 1970s. They were much discussed in the media, and gained a huge amount of publicity for their authors. If we look at the proposals which they came up with, to respond to these problems, these proposals are pretty much mainstream:
The idea of competition between schools, the idea of parental control of schools, and of educational vouchers – the idea that you can go shopping with a voucher to find a school of your choice. You can see a disconnect between the problems which they diagnosed – and these were highly contested problems that they diagnosed – and the proposals. So you have a set of problems around social order, in effect.
Progressive education leading to a breakdown of social order, teachers leading young people astray through a lack of discipline in schools; and a set of proposals around which what we now call Marketisation. That was the response of the right, and the emerging new right in the 1970s – to the so-called educational crisis which emerged in the wake of the William Tyndale events and the social atmosphere that had been at boiling point prior to that. We can look at the reaction of Labour; James Callaghan made a speech to Ruskin College in Oxford, in 1976, which has been since referred to as ‘The Great Education Debate’. (For the full text of this you can find it: http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/speeches/1976ruskin.html)
Jim Callaghan (27 March 1912 – 26 March 2005) was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1976 to 1979 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1976 to 1980 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Callaghan].
Dave suggests that most people can agree that it was not ‘great’ and it certainly was not a ‘debate’. If you look at what he had to say, he spoke of a ‘child-centred approach’, and this is what progressive teaching was associated with. The big concern was ‘child-centred teaching’ which refers to things like children talking together in groups, and dialogue between teachers and students; these were the kind of core ideas of the ‘child-centred’ approach.
This was seen as quite a threat at the time, and Jim Callaghan – at the time – was also sensing a bit of political trouble ahead and seeking to play rather populist, or what he had hoped to be, a rather populist card. Anyway, you have the CBI in there: the idea that education is not serving the interests of the economy, and the CBI complaining about the quality of education in the schools.
The Confederation of British Industry is a UK business organisation, which in total speaks for 190,000 businesses, made up of around 1500 direct and 188500 indirect members. There are 140 trade associations within the confederation who, alongside those direct members of the CBI, employ 7 million people, about one third of the UK private sector-employed workforce [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confederation_of_British_Industry].
In that speech, James Callaghan called into question the wisdom of the shift to comprehensive schooling when actually many local authorities and comprehensives had barely even got going and many had not even started. Dave’s first teaching job was in Bolton, and comprehensives did not even arrive in Bolton until the early 1980s. So already in 1976, Comprehensive Schools were having the rug pulled from underneath them before many of them had even got going.
A comprehensive school is a state school that does not select its intake on the basis of academic achievement or aptitude. This is in contrast to the selective school system, where admission is restricted on the basis of selection criteria. The term is commonly used in relation to England and Wales, where comprehensive schools were introduced from 1965 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comprehensive_school].
There was a huge perception of falling educational standards linked to progressive education. What at the time, was quite an astonishing idea was Britain’s economic decline – which was nothing to do with Britain’s removal from colonies which supported the economy for several hundred years – was actually to do with our education system. So there was an attempt to pass blame for economic decline onto the education system suggesting that if we got the education system right we could solve our economic problems.
What emerged out of these two positions was a new educational consensus. It was a rather heavy mix of Conservativism which was deeply hostile to progressive forms of education, and within that mix of Conservativism was an attempt to control schools, teachers and pupils; and to assert traditional educational values.
There was also what Dave would refer to as Neoliberalism, although at the time it would have been referred to as Economic Liberalism. The idea of market fundamentalism, markets being the prime solution to problems – certainly from the new right. From the Labour party at the time there was a kind of agnosticism in relation to these things. The Labour party had not been won over to the ideas of Neoliberalism – that was to come later.
Parental involvement – because it does seem kind of crazy that at one point you were once told which school your child went to, and you had no involvement whatsoever in that as a parent – was conceptualized as choice; a kind of consumerist idea of choice linked to the marketisation. The questioning of Comprehensive school, and calls for radical increases in the involvement of central state in education – remembering that at this point, education was pretty much run by local authorities.
Dave remembers talking to a senior official at the Department for Education who was permanent secretary at this time, and they did not know how many teachers there were in the country and the Department for Education was a relatively small department that had little involvement with other arms of the government.
So we then fast forward to 1988, the seismic shift of the Education Reform Act which Dave argues is the most important education reform act since the 1944 act which amongst other things established universal education for children up to the age of 15.
The Education Reform Act 1988 is widely regarded as the most important single piece of education legislation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland since the ‘Butler’ Education Act 1944. The main provisions of the Education Reform Act are as follows:
- Academic tenure was abolished for academics appointed on or after 20 November 1987.
- An element of choice was introduced, where parents could specify which school was their preferred choice.
- City Technology Colleges (CTCs) were introduced. This part of the Act allowed new more autonomous schools to be taken out of the direct financial control of Local Authorities. Financial control would be handed to the head teacher and governors of a school. There was also a requirement for partial private funding. There were only 15 schools that were eventually set up. The successor to this programme was the establishment of Academies.
- Controls on the use of the word ‘degree’ were introduced with respect to UK bodies.
- Grant-maintained schools (GMS) were introduced. Primary and secondary schools could, under this provision, remove themselves fully from their respective Local Education Authorities and would be completely funded by central government. Secondary schools also had limited selection powers at the age of 11.
- ‘Key Stages’ (KS) were introduced in schools. At each key stage a number of educational objectives were to be achieved.
- Local Management of Schools (LMS) was introduced. This part of the Act allowed all schools to be taken out of the direct financial control of Local Authorities. Financial control would be handed to the head teacher and governors of a school.
- The National Curriculum (NC) was introduced
Within the 1988 Education Reform Act, you can see the ideas of the Black Papers coming to fruition. You can see competition between schools becoming a standard modus operandi, schools were set up as businesses competing against one another – and in fact, those who control school finances (usually headteachers) saw a big increase in their powers as it was no longer local authorities which controlled resources. This idea of schools as individual business units – and this whole notion of consumption and choice – things which we are all now very familiar with; school league tables linked to national pupil tests.
Also often forgotten part of school diversity – so city technology colleges were created through the 1988 act (actually, they were created slightly earlier in 1986, but the 1988 act solidified their formation). So what we have here is the Neoliberal and the Neoconservative coming through with this idea of a very traditional curriculum, based around a very small number of subjects with the ‘right knowledge’ being cast between generations.
The control of school performance with national tests, and the creation of a national inspectorate called OFSTED with – at the time – a very vocal right wing educationalist who became the chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead.
Chris Woodhead (born 20 October 1946, Cockfosters, London) is a British educationalist. He was Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools in England from 1994 until 2000 and is one of the most controversial figures in debates on the direction of English education policy. He is currently the Chairman of Cognita, a company dedicated to fostering private education.
OFSTED: The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) is a non-ministerial department of the UK government. The official position of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills (HMCI) is appointed by an Order in Council and thus becomes an office holder under the Crown [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ofsted].
Then, of course, we have the centralisation of powers. So we have this strange combination of attempts to release financial powers to schools and the removal of powers over, what was probably most precious to schools – the curriculum, assessment, and the way in which they relate to other institutions.
Fast forward again to the New Labour government of 1997, and essentially what turned out to happen was that education became viewed as an area in which the Labour party couldn’t be outflanked by the Conservatives. There was an assumption of parental conservativism, of parental support for the reforms, and that they had to out-do the Conservatives in terms of their educational reforms.
The first sign that this was the case was when Tony Blair announced on the Frost politics programme on Sunday morning, that Chris Woodhead would remain as Chief Inspector of Schools. Which led to a number of teachers passing out on their living room carpets. Education, Education, Education – the famous Blairite mantra, actually translated as Standards, Standards and Standards in relation to the national curriculum; Targets, Targets and Targets in relation to teachers, pupils and schools; and Tests, Tests and Tests in terms of meeting the demands of the performance regimes which had been established.
There was a re-doubling of efforts – so there was a sense that before the 1997 election that New Labour would provide greater autonomy for schools and teachers, and enable them to regain some of the powers which had been lost through the 1988 Education Reform Act – however, quite the opposite occurred.
There was an attempt to secure greater powers over what went on in schools and classrooms to the extent that teachers in primary schools were actually told not only what to teach and how it was going to be assessed, but they were told how to teach it on a minute by minute basis through the literacy and numeracy strategies – which led to a huge number of premature retirements amongst primary teachers (amongst other effects).
We went from central school control to the micromanagement of the detail of what took place. Also, what again came as a shock, was the way in which the independent state school was pursued through academies. So the way of dealing with the alleged failure of schooling for some children in socially economically disadvantaged areas was the removal of control from those who had previously been responsible for the schools, and the creation of academies – intended to be part funded by businesses; although they never stumped up the cash as it turned out. We are beginning to understand that now – aren’t we.
What we got as a result of New Labour was Reform, Reform, and more Reform. They were absolutely determined to make their educational reforms stick and transform education, and often it is children from disadvantaged backgrounds who are used as the discursive totem to justify these types of reforms.
England became known during this era as a global educational laboratory. So when I meet colleagues around the world on my travels, and when they visit us here in Manchester, it is normally with open gaping mouths about the scale and intensity of the reforms which have taken place. Teachers had their own word for what had taken place, it was akin to a disease, it was refered to as ‘Initiativitis’. Chris Pollitt, a political scientist, came up with Dave’s favourite expression which is ‘Re-Disorganisation’ – so you just keep on reforming and reforming and reforming – and these are ideas which many teachers during the 1980s and 1990s strongly recognised.
There was an eleventh hour rethink by Labour, which is called ‘Every Child Matters’, and something astonishing happened in ‘Every Child Matters’ in that, as well as having a policy document which talks about standards, and testing, and improvement, the word ‘enjoy’ appeared in a national policy document.
This was very late in the New Labour regime, and then along comes the new secretary of state for education – and we never heard anything more about enjoyment again. Michael Gove, of course, I think perhaps unfairly in some ways, has become very strongly associated with the reforms which have taken place since 2010. Unfairly because it has been pretty much business as usual just with a Govian twist, that has since turned into an electoral liability, and is now a Morgian twist.
Michael Gove (born 26 August 1967) is a British Conservative Party politician and the Member of Parliament (MP) for Surrey Heath. He is also an author and a former journalist for The Times newspaper
Nicola Morgan (1972) is a British Conservative Party politician. Morgan has served as Member of Parliament for Loughborough since 2010 and has been the Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities since 2014.
Essentially, what we have got is far more academies (over 50% of secondary schools are now academies), and they are beginning to take root very strongly in the primary sector as well; despite there being no evidence of academies performing any better by the standards by which the politicians judge these things. The evidence is extremely mixed.
One of the most astonishing things during the Govian era is the rhetoric of teacher and school autonomy: ‘Teachers are free to do what they wish’. This is often linked into the creation of things like free schools, and if you call them free schools then they are free. But at the same time as ideas of teacher autonomy were being mentioned, we were getting ideas like – ‘Well, you’ve got to teach real British values’.
‘You cant teach any history. You have got to teach history according to these particular eras and these particular themes, and it has got to be real British history that you teach regardless of what academic historians and teachers who teach history – how they view these things’. Then there was the kind of Orwellian moment where Gove seemed to be choosing what literature children could read in classrooms, and what poetry children might be exposed to. Michael Rosen is probably the best point of reference, who has mocked Gove endlessly for his totalitarian intent in relation to this.
Michael Rosen (born 7 May 1946) is an English children’s novelist and poet, the author of 140 books. He was the fifth British Children’s Laureate from June 2007 to June 2009 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Rosen].
So again, we have this return to ‘we are handing out freedom’ – that basically means academies; ‘…and you are going to be freer but you are going to do what we tell you to do’. Dave takes it back to a cartoon which he shows in a slide… He suggests that it is all paving the way for privatization – the privatization of education is well under way now. We’ve seen enormous shifts from the public to the private sector, and indeed the entire conceptualisation of education is now largely in the manner of it being a private good as opposed to it being a public good.
The idea of teachers and other education professionals acting in the public interest is regarded as impossible because individuals are self-interested, and cannot act in the public interest. They can only act in their own interest – back to market fundamentalism and Neoliberalism, and the completion of the Neoliberal turn.
Dave also argues that what has happened is fraught with paradoxes, ironies, and downright stupidities, and that the agenda is a lot weaker than it might otherwise appear. There are plenty of opportunities to turn the tide. He does believe that the effects of this reform, whilst some young people may have benefited from them, there are a lot of things to be worried about.
He places very high on that list, the effects of high stakes testing upon children from a very young age, in particular – but also in their formative teenage years. The vulnerability of their identity formation, the vulnerability of their senses of self, to the incursions of high stakes testing into their lives; not least to develop their capacity as autonomous, free individuals. So these anxieties and stresses from a young age – of course, it is not just related to what is happening in education – but it is pretty clear that education is playing a significant role in this.
We have got environments in schools now which are incredibly data rich. This has helped schools help some youngsters to point out to them that they are not doing as well as they think they are, and that they might need some support. It has led to schools which are much more controlled environments than they once were. Dave remembers visiting a school regularly in a suburb of south Manchester, parking his car a good quarter of a mile away and keeping his head down when he walked in because he was worried about getting his car damaged, and the pupils had a reputation of attacking people on the streets nearby.
Those kind of things are less prevalent now. They still happen, if we can call that kind of thing high spirits. The controlled nature of the school environment has come on apace. Dave refers to an article from Prospect Magazine February 2015, about a school in Tower Hamlets, which sounds in many ways brilliant. The article is about a school in Tower Hamlets – one of our poorest boroughs (enigmatically one of the richest as well: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2012/nov/02/vast-wealth-divide-tower-hamlets-fairness) – which has done incredibly well with the children who attend there. And this is what the writer has to say in a very celebratory part of the article:
“…the headteacher described that her priority in designing the school was transparency. Nobody is ever out of sight here. Sliding doors lay bare the smallest and quietest of classrooms to observation. The generous windows on each side of the central sportshall turn PE lessons into a spectator sport. Even the toilets are in the open, with private cubicles opening onto public segments. Nobody can be led off into a quiet corner by the wrong crowd. Teachers can snoop to their hearts content.”
Dave continues….this is a celebratory article of a successful school. So I think that the issues of surveillance and security are a huge concern. We have the educational laboratory effect of teachers, schools, pupils experiencing such rapid levels of change, that even young people – for whom change is just a norm in their lives are left bewildered by the sheer pace of change. So for example, the new group of children which are now taking A levels without an AS level exam just happened overnight and effected them.
Currently, pupils sit AS exams at the end of the first year and A2 in the second year, with results combining to form overall A-level grades. Anyone who works with young people cannot fail to have noticed a huge dominance of the instrumental: ‘What do I need to do to get what I hear universities want ?’ – ‘what do I need to do to get a first ?’ – ‘what do I need to do to get a 2/1 ?’; the discussion is dominated by the grade, by the endproduct and not by the process.
‘What do I need to do to get an A star ?’ – ‘How do I get my two A’s and a B ?’ – If they are lucky enough to be in that position. And then education as economic performance is now completely taken for granted. All policy documents assume that there is an inextricable link between Britain’s economic performance as a globally competitive nation and our educational performance.
If you want any further evidence, go to Robert Peston’s TV news program about South Korea where the South Korean and Shanghai methods of teaching are being recommended for a British context so we can get higher up the International league tables that have been established.
Dave suggests we have a lot to be concerned about, education professionals and schools, anxiety and stress is being matched; that is particularly in schools in which raising levels of performance is a real challenge. And the whole performance challenge regime has had mixed effects. De-professionalisation, removal of autonomy – the ideas that your leagues know best, the international policy leagues know better that the professionals who have been gathering expertise on the ground for years.
The way in which teachers’ experience is often being mediated by headteachers; that we have often had this cult of leadership which has occurred within schools. Dave talks about his visiting schools where everyone is often now described as a ‘leader’ – no one is a teacher, even the kitchen staff are leaders within their unit of the kitchen. This has often had North Korean consequences for those who work within the institutions.
The permanent revolution has continued unabated, since the late 1980s. One of the most worrying parts of this is a continued undermining of the common school for al, or the Comprehensive school as we call it in the UK. The idea that a school for all is necessarily drab and second rate, and not worthy – and that only independent schools, whether they are state funded, or funded by the parents, is the only form of schooling which is viable.
The other thing which needs to be considered here is that educational reform has been a huge distraction from teaching and learning, which is about ensuring young people are good learners. That is what we are about. At this point, someone has chipped in and prompted questions from Dave asking if he himself does go to school. He offers his thoughts from his perspective, saying that he has gone to school…
Dave continues: This idea of educational reform as a huge distraction from teaching and learning, the ideas of schools as businesses – huge amounts of time of teachers, no sorry as leaders, involved in PR, marketing, and this is taking talent away from the pedagogic purposes of schools. There has been this trend towards schools becoming performance machines, confusing test preparations for learning. And of course, this has often been done against the wishes of teachers and the wishes of schools but in order to satisfy the demands of the national performance regime, this has become extremely necessary…
He continues… I remember my own daughters in their year six of primary school teaching stopped in effect so that they could be prepared for the SATs at the end of year six. If that was not sad enough, when they got to secondary school they then got re-tested because none of the secondary teachers trusted the SATs, because they believed the teachers had over prepared the pupils.
National Curriculum assessments are a series of educational assessments, colloquially known as Sats or SATs, used to assess the attainment of children attending maintained schools in England. So we have this huge problem that occurs around test preparation.
At this point, the gentleman interjects again asking “What do you think about getting the stick when you were in the school ? I used to get the stick !”
Dave responds: “I never got the stick, I was lucky enough not to…”
Gentleman: “I used to get the stick, I used to get it all the time.”
Dave asks: “What do you think of it ?”
Gentleman: “It hurts”
Someone else: “Did it work ?”
Gentleman: “Yeah, too right it did. I didn’t ****ing do it again did I ! Do I like it, no. It were lads being liberal, but it is hard to be liberal when you were a kid, because you don’t really get much done. ”
Dave: “It’s true. Corporal Punishment; I cant really remember when it was outlawed. I think it was sometime in the late 1970s. Was it the ’88 act which did it ? It has been a long time since it was outlawed”
Gentleman: “I got the stick once for having a kid on the back of me bicycle. I had me football cards in my back pocket. Norton he was called. The ******* was smacking the arse out of me. And it really hurt. And then he realised that I had me football cards in me back pocket, and I had to take ‘em out and he gave ‘em to me all again. I had six of the stick with me football cards, and then six of the stick without the football cards. But I am glad it happened, even though I wasn’t guilty. I do believe that kids should be, have punishment. Because punishment; without enlightened people we are all fools. Kids are fools, Im a fool, and I don’t believe that for one minute that kids should get away with being wrong”
Dave puts up a slide of Geoff Aston and asks: “He wasn’t in there ?”
Alex chips in: “I’ll provide a counterpoint to that. I never reacted well to any kind of punishment. It made me shy away from thinking…”
Gentleman: “But you never do anything wrong. I never done anything wrong. But I remember in junior school and not eating my food – and the food was like pig slop – it were bloody horrible, it were like Blancmange. The food was *****, it was ******* *****, and I had to go up to the headmaster, and get the strap on me wrists. I were only seven or something. Now I don’t think that was right – no – but do I think it was important – yes. I think everyone has to learn by pain. Is that wrong ?”
Two answers: “Yes”
Gentleman: “It’s a Victorian hangover, you know”
Alex: “I learn much better through pleasure”
Gentleman: “I’ve heard that the people who brought me up are the people who are bringing up kids now. I like the old crowd. I like the way that they see life…”
Dave: “I’m worried that whilst you are talking, they are thinking, when’s he going to finish ?”
Dave carries on….so, the ideas of schools as performance machines, a huge focus on structural reform, rather than reform of what goes on in classrooms because once you have decided that the traditional curriculum – traditional pedagogy is correct, there is not much to be talked about in terms of teaching and learning.
And of course, education has become a way of gaining international prestige. It’s known as Pisa, the main test of judging international performance, and it is now known as ‘Pisa envy’ on the part of ministers in terms of concerns about other countries having better educational systems.
So, 1968, going back to the beginning, doesn’t seem to me to be a very promising basis for educational reform. I believe that the educational reforms which we have experience over the last 25 to 30 years have been a reaction to events that have taken on a rather bizarre form in education. We have now reached a time where we need to move on, and that the focus upon teaching and learning needs to embrace the progressive, which it has in many classrooms up and down the country.
There has been a transformation in the relationships between teachers and pupils; the kind of disciplinary – extreme disciplinary relationship – which was just explained before is now a relic of the past. And pupil-teacher relationships are now incredibly warm and supportive. Student voice, although still in its infancy, is now taken very seriously; within many schools it can be very token but there is now real potential around the student voice movement. Social constructivism have become very mainstream pedagogically.
We need to attach national policy to the realities of practice within schools. The levels of surveillance within schools which are often referred to as target setting; we need to understand that as well as being potentially helpful to some youngsters it can be deeply counterproductive for many others.
We need a new collaboratively based teacher professionalism to emerge out of this; the idea of going back to the 1970s and the forms of teacher professionalism which existed there are now – I think – completely unthinkable. However, the idea of it being based on consumer relationships also seems to me to be completely wrong.
I think we need to lower the pressure within schools dramatically around high stakes testing in ways that provide flourishing environments to young people that enable them to work in ways that are not going to set up dangerous relationships with themselves and others later in their lives. There is a need to nationally celebrate the Common school – Comprehensive’s have proven to be remarkably resilient despite the enormous attacks that have taken place upon them over the years.
We need to watch out for privatization. I view education as a public matter, and the attempts by Neoliberals to introduce privatization are deeply dangerous. And, rather an irony in a time when we need reform – I think we need less national reform and more local reform that is driven more on a school federation level where a number of interesting things are beginning to emerge in the new environment. So there you go, you have had two of us having a rant now.
Someone asks: “So would you have a think in term so local authorities ?”
Dave: “Im not so sure if I would. Local authorities have remained relatively strong in some localities. They have been virtually removed in others. So Manchester is one such locality which their influence is secondary to being removed enormously, but I think that some local authorities would be fit for that role of the middle layer between national and local. I think others, it is unlikely it is going to emerge from the local authority, and it does not need to. It can emerge from confederations of schools. It can emerge from other organisations which can develop.”
Someone asks: “…So with a confederation of schools, is that not – in part – a return to local authorities ?”
Dave: “Yeah, I think that the middle layer is required. And I have talked about reform being needed, and you need a middle layer to assist localised reform…”
Someone: “If you have an academy in a local authority area, to an extent, is that not destabilizing ?”
Dave: “Absolutely. I was with a senior official from Tameside council recently who was talking about the way that academies within Tameside come to Tameside authority when there is a crisis. But at other times they hold Tameside authority away; and it has reminded me a little about the way that Neoliberalism works in other parts of our lives.”
Someone: “Over the past 30 or 40 years, it has been full of contradictions and promises that have been made that have not been realised, and you use the word choice there and put it in quotes. In my understanding choice means that parents choosing which secondary school to send their children to – is tantamount to expressing a preference because if you live in Stockport you have not got the choice to send your child to Bramhall; not everyone gets the chance to send their child to Bramhall. So for me it is the wrong use of the word choice.”
Dave: “I completely agree with you, and I think it is an illusion being used because it is a powerful attraction discursively…”
Someone: “…it’s marketisation and politicisation because one week politicians are praising schools and putting them down to their policies, and the following week they are rubbishing them saying that we must do better. So what is happening to the morale of the teachers ?”
Dave: “I should say that I don’t harbour any fantasies about the removal of politics from schooling. I do think that it is an intrinsically political matter that does need to be resolved. Even though we have not been well served by national politics”
Someone: “I think it is interesting to bring up a parent idea, but along with parents comes the idea of the rise of the private tutor. I had a conversation with a friend of mine who lives in Surrey and has a child who now is in primary school. She went to parents evening, and the teacher said to her ‘do you realise that your child is the only one in this class who does not have a private maths tutor. And so, almost it is the parents which are taking the privatisation to the next level with the whole rise of the private tutor. I don’t know what your thoughts are on that, on how you stop that, because parental interest is very strong in those places”
Dave: “I think it is driven by the process which is occurring; these tests are high stakes. In a high stakes system, parents are likely to behave in these kinds of bizarre ways. I’ve seen previously that private tutoring is predominantly a very privileged activity but what I am witnessing amongst teachers who I am working with is that it is creeping right across different communities at different income levels – so some real sacrifices are being made for private tutoring. This is part of the creeping privatisation. What we can’t do is return to a system where parents are denied a say within the education system. What Id argue is, that in choice – and there has been a lot of research around this – it is not appropriate. You can only choose after your child has been at school for a couple of years because prior to that you don’t know how it is going to work for your child; and by then it is often too late because they have formed a friendship group and you can’t move then. It is a bit like choice for an Emergency and Accident department; you just need a damn good Emergency and Accident department – just like we need damn good local schools”
Julien says: “I’d just like to say thanks for a really good survey of that period…”
Susan adds: “Perhaps that is a good point, can we just give you a round of applause before we move onto the questions…”
Julien continues: “…and as I have been listening, it has been helping me formulate a thought which I have never had before – that, you just mentioned the effect of politics; I start to think that it is almost delusional for educationists to think that educational issues can be resolved in educational discourse among themselves. It becomes almost masturbatory in that educational pedagogic arguments can go on and come to whatever conclusions they wish but what is going on is determined by those who are in power, and politicians do not enter politics to become Minister of Education. It is something they pass through to higher things if they can. The whole period that you describe is so ideology driven, that in systemic things – systemtic thinking – you cannot solve a problem at which you meet it. In other words, in order to deal with educational issues you have got to be meeting it at a political level; otherwise, it just goes on and on and on”
Dave: “It is not that I disagree with you. There is lots of theories as to why this has happened. I think the most convincing one is that if we go back to the 1960s and early 70s, the business of government was largely to do with the business of running the economy. But of course, states have removed themselves from the economy and that has been linked into the crises of social democracy and Neoliberalism; and states have looked for other areas in which they can have a strong influence. So education went from being a political backwater – which it unquestionably was – to being absolute centre stage; and I think that the National Health Service suffers from the same problem because it is one of the few areas which the government really can have some power over what goes on. And if we go back to the student unrests, which I believe triggered this Conservative backlash which led to the ’88 Education Act, I think ministers understood that they were never going to control student activitists – they were hopeless lost causes; but they could control children and they could ensure that the next generation of student activists doesn’t emerge. I am pretty clear that that was the upfront agenda”
Someone: “Would you prefer an interrupted revolution over a permanent revolution ?”
Dave: “Yeah. I mean, this has been a permanent revolution of the type which I struggle to support, and I don’t think it is a revolution which could have been achieved in a year or two. But it required a political consensus for it to continue for so long. It wasn’t a fait accompli (an accomplished fact), from the word go.”
Someone: “My concern is that any more of this and we are re-inventing the wheel, and we will be going back to a situation 30 or 40 years ago, which is why I asked the question about local authorities. Im just waiting, or perhaps dreading the day, that somebody says we should all club together and in effect we are reinventing the idea of local authorities where all parents want is just to send their child to a good local school – they don’t want choice; they shouldn’t have to make the choice.”
Dave: “One of the criticisms of education prior to the reforms that was very powerful and produced by two north American economists – Chubb and Moe – who argued in American schools the political process was damaging the educational opportunities, so that the local politicisation of schooling in the US, which is has different political structures to our own, was actually very damaging. This is one of those ideas which travelled the globe. I don’t think it is likely that powers will be given back to democratically elected local authorities. This raises real issues about democracy, democratisation in education in full, but taking much more seriously ideas of regional education commissions who have some of the powers which some of the local authorities previously had – but of course they would be like the so called QUANGO’s (quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation) and would only be partially independent.”
Someone: “The problem here is the fragmented system, and in a fragmented system it allows the politicians to micromanage and control things from the centre in an attempt to try and make it cohesive”
Dave: “I mean I certainly wouldn’t rule out the revitalisation of some local authorities. Some have disappeared; I mean, there is nothing there to bring back in the field of education.”
Alex: “Im interested that you describe or note education as a public good – as a merit good – and Id like to know your thoughts on what hope there is for that. So, ‘student as producer’, we have heard this, what hope is there for ‘producer as student’ ? For example, if I create lots of really nice tables, will this institution which we know and love come out, look at my tables and say ‘you have made some nice tables here’, thus we are going to say that you are a good table maker. So I have been a producer, I can demonstrate my work – the skills and knowledge I have – through the work I have produced”
Dave: “I don’t know if this is where you are coming from, but certainly the vocational agenda has been deeply troubled in England and in the rest of the UK. And the valuing of vocation and problems have occurred as a result of it, but I think you are after something more deeper than that aren’t you ?”
Alex: “Yeah, there’s tables, or if I create a thesis, what amount of evidence do I have to produce to be a part of a wider community of practice who is thinking about physics, biology, the environment; and be a part of crack these titan problems”
Dave: “How we value others, and how we value their work; it is a big issue. I worked with a group of colleagues in Europe very closely and tightly, and have done for a number of years. My Norwegian colleagues talk about a national education debate where Saturday night TV was given over to discussing what they wanted from it – because education was seen as the means by which Norway became a nation and got rid of the evil Swedes. But seeing that idea of education in England, possibly the UK seems unlikely given what has happened. As a suitable focus for a national debate, it might be a little optimistic.”
Susan Brown: “It was a breath of fresh air to hear the word enjoyment and education – that collocation was absolutely wonderful, and it struck me that I hadn’t heard those two words used together for a very long time so thank you very much.”