Learning and Home

The majority of countries face the challenge of providing adequate homes for all of their families. The home is one of the critical parameters for learning. The home can provide the key elements of security, space and support for the learner.

In the UK the problem is being exacerbated by the fragmentation of families and the shortage of affordable homes – both factors driving up demand and prices. In the background, the ‘free market’ continues to act as a dead hand. Many affordable homes are purchased as second homes or as ‘buy to let’. Cheaper homes don’t get built so often, as the profit margins for developers make them less attractive.

In the good old days we had something called ‘development land tax’ which meant that Local Authorities could always recoup funds from developers. This added to their own council house building programmes. Mrs Thatcher allowed for the majority of council homes to be sold off. They were not replaced. A classic piece of short termism for political gain.

Now, more than ever, councils need to be able to build cheaper homes themselves, which they can then let, providing much needed income. However, for some reason, Local Authorities are not deemed fit by central government to do anything and are suffering massive cuts to their budgets. This is unfortunate, as they would have a huge contribution to make in safeguarding education, facilitating housing, supporting the environment and health. All of the things that can make a country successful and in the long run, save money.

Exam Change

Changing a key pillar of the education system, such as the examination regime at 16, should only be done for strong educational reasons. The current proposed changes, appear to be based on a vote winning ploy, to appease the rose tinted spectacle wearers, who yearn for the apparent greatness of the days of yore. People who generally did well out of the system.

This appears to be another example of amnesia. GCSE evolved as an exam that offered some chance of achievement to all and could genuinely stretch minds. The first tactic was to rubbish an exam, on an annual basis, that provided unwelcome possibilities of social advancement. Then, in response, introduce an exam that is narrowly academic and demands skills that are more easily honed in the quiet, well resourced and supportive sitting rooms of the middle class.The irony is that the outcome, (unsurprisingly, as this project is not based on any advice from the core of teaching opinion), is effectively a dumbing down.

Blooms Taxonomy of intellectual skills, places knowledge and understanding at the bottom of the pyramid. The higher skills, generally tested by GCSE, of application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation, are likely to be casualties in a content heavy curriculm.
So we have a change that is unwanted, unecessary, expensive, confusing, distracting, debasing and divisive.

This government, more spectacularly than most, has not even bothered to try to recognise the 50% of the population, for whom different syllabi and different assessments are needed. Instead of forcing all through a narrow gate and favouring the minority, surely we should be keeping the gate sufficiently wide for the possibility of developing the potential of all?

The only realistic opposition to a centralised administration of education, is for groups of schools, in partnership with local employers, colleges and universities, to develop locally recognised qualifications.

Let the truth set them free

The increasing availability and reach of news and information has further reinforced the struggle for influence over what we read and what we hear. The current indignation from some newspapers, about having their right to destroy people’s lives curtailed, is interesting. Yes, we need a balance to ensure that their ability to expose corruption and injustice is not impeded. However, we also need to have an open debate and the fact of the matter is that the media, by and large, enage in forms of social and political ‘propaganda’ that further undermines their case for any form of exemption.

I notice that many radio stations and wireless internet providers are SKY News based. SKY news is ‘right’ leaning and does not give the same balance of reporting as the BBC, who are required to put both sides.

All of this makes the role of education critical. We can begin, from an early age, discussing how important it is to explain things fairly. We also need to explain that people who want to tell you things will have a motive for doing so. What is that motive?

The best way is always to find out the range of views that people have before deciding on your own. It is basically a scientific method. Gather all the facts and different poits of view before trying to make sense of it. Another argument for placing philosophy and the search for truth at the heart of the curriculum.

Moonshot: The power of collaboration

One of my favourite classroom ‘simulations’was called Moonshot. The class were given a list of 15 things that they had with them on the moon and asked to rank these in order of value. So Oxygen was handy, a compass may be not etc. Their responses were collected in and then they had to repeat the same task in groups. We then compared the scores individual v group and as you might expect, the group scores were always better than the individual.

The web offers us a unique opportunity to collaborate with problem solving. We can turn the planet into a giant brain if the people with the ideas are prepared to do so. And do we need to. Some of the challenges that we face need all the brains we can muster. Stephen Hawking has just suggested that he thinks it unlikely that we can survive on the planet for much longer.

The implications for education? Begin with the premise that everyone can make a contribution. The process of design, from ideas to manufacture, involves a host of skills that many of us possess to some extent. Some schools teach Philosophy for Children (P4C) which can give children of any age the opportunity to get to the core of an issue. Facilitate co-operative learning through web based problem solving from an early age. Embrace the full range of problems and challenges from energy, recycling, health, house building, agriculture, transport, care etc. Encourage a local community based micro model to begin with and then expand. It is the process of education that we can change most rapidly and most easily (and where teacher autonomy can be protected).
The next generation will have to deal with all the challenges, perhaps we should have the good grace to step aside and let them make a start.

Reaction and evidence- the blight for education and much else

Individual human beings tend to organise their lives around evidence driven decision making. We base decisions on the impact evidence we have accrued over our lifetimes; cause and effect, the great lessons of learning by doing. Important decisions cause us to take stock and mull over everything we know, as well as the collected wisdom of others who we might consult. Career moves, big purchase decisions, how we treat other people, the management of our health – all informed by what we know about the impact of previous activity.

This process also relies upon being able to see the wood from the trees. Sometimes we plod on without realising the truth staring us in the face. One current example concerns hospitals. Why are the ambulances stacking up outside casualty units? Not enough staff inside the hospital and  too many ‘casualties’ are the obvious answers. If we can reduce the number of ‘casualties’ we could solve the problem. We need to find ways of helping  people access  local medical care, in particular, the burgeoning population of the elderly who clog up the system because there is nowhere else for them to go.  More local ‘hospitals’ for the majority who do not need the main hospital’s specialist care, is surely one solution.

Education does not always afford such accessible, observable evidence. However, there is some. One clear piece of impact evidence that we do have is the known cost of making changes to schools and curricula in terms of money and time. Another is the current decline in the numbers of those who want to train as teachers or even take up posts as headteachers.

In this case, it is not ambulances stacking up, it is teachers leaving the building. In both cases, surely such major impacts cry out to be the places where we need to look for answers?In this time of great challenge for all of our public services and the welfare state, surely the facts should overpower the prejudices? If that doesnt suit certain newspapers, it should certainly be the duty of the politicians.

National v Local

The centralisation of control of education is leaving schools prey to even more political influence. The pendulum will swing back – this usually happens as a result of an eventual realisation that things are not working and because of a weakening of the collective amnesia as to what the merits of the old order were.

Local management of schools brings the system closer to the parents and communities which the schools serve. One of the areas of collective amnesia at the moment is about schools being an organic element of a community – if you detach the system from its immediate roots it will inevitably wither.

Schools work best when the community and the parents feel ownership. Teachers feel valued for the wider aspects of the work that they do in supporting families and community.  The curriculum can be adapted to suit local needs. The whole process is a partnership, a joint enterprise. It surely takes the proverbial village to raise the child.

The current climate is pressing schools to collaborate – the economies of scale in the current climate are too great an advantage to forgo. The threat of take over by an external asset stripping academy chain is another driver towards local networks. What we miss at the moment is local leadership. This has been exacerbated by the relentless attacks on Local Authorities and it is difficult to see where leadership will emerge. Such a need for local leadership is not confined to schooling – locally organised responses to economic hardship, energy supply and threats from a lack of planning control also stand out.

Atomised societies are difficult phenomena to change.  What we need are successful pioneers to emerge and for their achievements to be shared and understood. There must be a community somewhere in the Western world that is leading the way, but where?

Update

In common with many in the profession, I am finding it difficult to chance upon any optimism.  Industrial action in schools looms and we have yet to find a more effective approach to non co-operation and resistance.

I suspect that until we find a way to fight back and reassert the core values of our profession, we will continue to suffer through dark days. Somehow, a basic premise of the failure of schools, spurred on by the headlines of the right wing press, is allowed to prevail once again and provide legitimacy for damaging change.