Education


I’ve been doing God a lot recently.

The reason for my conversion is a school inspection. 100 years ago people in the small village where I work wanted their kids to be educated. Passionately, desperately wanted them to be educated. And the landowners, who were exploitative patronising rentiers but not yet living in an age where they were convinced this was just because they had worked a bit harder at uni, felt they ought to help out a bit. And everyone came together under the one organisation that had united them for generations, and they founded a Church of England school for a village that chose Christianity in the same way it chose breathing. And across the country people did the same. And as a whole it was probably the greatest, most positively transformative charitable act in English history. And because of that act of charity, the Anglican Church Inspectors came, saw and reported.

Since this is education in 2014, though, they didn’t just look at whether the school delivers what those original founders would have wanted. Instead we had to show a Distinctive Christian Character ™. School needed to be saturated with that character, values and prayer boards all around.  And, evidence was needed that our DCC produced improved standards. Which is why I found myself trying to explain how it Christianity (not God, the inspection doesn’t quite demand that) had improved our maths results. And so the original breath-taking act of redemptive charity led 100 years later into a neo-liberal hell where choice and brand is key, and where performance related pay rules: if this school has the added value of being Christian and is supported by the Church, then the Church has the right to ask how that support adds value to anything and everything. (more…)

It was the lovely Mark Steele who pointed out that, when it comes to spending money, it’s the poor who have all the choices, “swanning around in charity shop cardigans and galavanting on shopping expeditions like the women in Sex and the City, squealing ‘Hey let’s go to Poundland and buy a dishcloth’, in ways the rich can barely dream of”. Meanwhile wealthy people like James “I’m not a rich person” Delingpole are scrimping and saving in order to give their offspring the same pricey schooling they received. No Poundland dishcloths, charity shop cardigans or, um, skiing holidays for him. Instead, it’s school fees all the way and what’s more, according to the chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, wonderful parents such as him are made to feel like “social lepers”.

It’s not fair, is it? As Delingpole points out,

I could have done the decent thing and used my earnings to help drive up property prices in a good state-school catchment area; or I could be splurging the same amount of dosh on an annual skiing holiday, a safari and a lease on that nice, chunky Range Rover I’ve always coveted. But instead, miserable, selfish bastard that I am, I’ve chosen to squander my money on my children’s education. What kind of monster must I be?

What kind indeed? In his view, “a loving, caring sort of monster”. In mine, just a rich one, no better nor worse than anyone else, were it not for his truly monstrous dishonestly regarding the broader inequalities in play. (more…)

I am the mother of two boys. I know I’m not perfect but I do try to be a good parent. Unfortunately it appears that for the past five years I have been remiss. I have failed to “channel” my sons’ boisterousness.

According to James Delingpole – now the Ross Kemp of posh rightwing journalism – “we seem to have forgotten that boys will be boys”.  I for one am guilty of this. I look at my boys and think “they’re boys”. But rarely do I go on to conclude “and thus they will be boys”. This might sound like a minor omission but it’s not.  What it actually means – and this is a serious fact, because the Telegraph says so – is that they’ll grow up to beat the shit out of other boys. And possibly also girls. And maybe even household pets. Basically, because my boys have not been allowed to “be boys” (as defined by the Victor Book for Boys circa 1964) they will grow up to be violent hooligans as opposed to men of courage – the kind of men who win wars, slaughter beasts and present Top Gear.
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I wrote this post in a fit of rage-fuelled inspiration. Only kidding. I am, after all, a mere woman. What I actually did was take hours, nay, days to plod diligently through several drafts, listening to the creaks and groans of the slow-moving cogs that drive the female brain. Hopefully it’s therefore an okay piece. I mean, I’ve tried my best. What more can we women do, given that pure unadulterated genius – or failing that, just the ability to think quickly – is way beyond our reach?

I am a well-educated person – possibly over-educated, given that a) I’m a woman and b) I have kids. I have lots of qualifications, partly due to my class background, partly due to luck – but mostly, it could be argued, due to fortunate timing. After all, I took my GCSEs in 1991, only shortly after the introduction of the exam. As we all know, GCSEs favour girls. Had I been born a few years earlier I’d have had to take O-levels and we all know that boys, being innately clever as opposed to innately arsed to do coursework, consistently outperformed girls when it came to these. We all know that, and yet it’s actually total bollocks.
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The Battle of Hastings, yesterday

The Battle of Hastings, yesterday

My son, currently in Year One, is studying the Norman Conquest, or “knights and castles” as it’s been sold to him. He understands the dating and knows that 1066 was nearly a thousand years ago, before even Mummy was alive. He has a basic grasp of the chronology (“Edward, Harold, William – who was a baddie ‘cause he wasn’t Anglo-Saxon, then a goodie ‘cause he won”). There are bits and bobs he still misses , but  it’s understandable at that age. For instance, he thinks women and girls didn’t exist (“because knights and princes and soldiers and kings were all men, Mummy!”). That’s okay, right? It’s perfectly possible to have a reading of the past that obliterates half of humanity, isn’t it? After all, my little boy’s only five (don’t worry, I’ll get him to read some Caitlin Moran when he’s older, then he’ll realise we women were just all busy suffering from cystitis). (more…)

There is a simple reason why some of the best private schools, and some of the best state schools too, focus on developing a young person’s whole potential. It’s because it prepares them for the future.

So says Stephen Twigg, shadow education secretary. And who can argue with that? Well, I can, for starters. I’ve nothing against developing potential in the young and preparing them for the future. Nor do I mind teachers playing a part in this. All the same, I suspect my understanding of “potential” and “preparation for the future” isn’t necessarily the same as Twigg’s. (more…)

Dear state school pupils with aspirations to go on to higher education

I am sorry, for I have failed you. You may be blaming tuition fees, or unpaid internships, or the loss of EMA for ruining your prospects, but actually it’s me and others of my ilk. For I, a fellow state school pupil, had opportunities, great opportunities, and I wasted them, and now everyone thinks you’re rubbish as a result.

We are led to believe that this country is run by a cabal of Oxbridge graduates who dominate politics, law, business and the media — and it is. All the same, I am an Oxbridge graduate. I’ve done both the Ox (BA) and the –bridge (PhD). So really I ought to be pretty damn powerful, with lots and lots of money. Alas, I’m not. I’ve always assumed it’s because, from a position of privilege, I’ve been able to make choices and money and power weren’t my priorities. Turns out I got it wrong. It’s because of the school I went to. I mean, it wasn’t a bad school. It was actually a pretty nice grammar school but still, it was hardly Cheltenham Ladies College, and that matters, you see. That’s why I lack the “soft skills” necessary to succeed. It’s also why everyone thinks that you do, too. (more…)

On New Year’s Eve my family and I sat watching the BBC’s review of the year. In between resigned mumblings about how we were all “too old for this” and my mother’s general tuttings at people having done stuff of import without having consulted her first, my partner and I noted some glaring omissions. Yes, it’s all very well to get excited about London 2012, the US elections and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. But what about my partner starting his new job? And our three-year-old getting potty trained in record time?  These – alongside our five-year-old getting a speaking part in the school nativity play – have been the key events of our year.

Media narratives are always shamefully selective, aren’t they? I’ve never forgiven Channel 4 News for not mentioning the death of Hollyoaks’ Dan Hunter in 2004, despite the fact that the headlines came on immediately after we’d watched the horror on Debbie Dean’s face as Dan’s rally car exploded. Seriously, priorities, people! If you’re wondering why viewers switch off, look no further. If we can’t see a narrative that’s relevant to us then the whole thing is pointless. (more…)

During her speech at last week’s Girls’ School Association conference, GSA president Louise Robinson criticised the government’s policy of encouraging independent schools to sponsor academies.  To her it was “beyond the pale” that those middle-class parents struggling to pay ever-increasing fees should have to witness “[her] school offer its expertise and experience to parents who could have sent their children to [her] school, but chose not to”. I find her choice of words fascinating. Isn’t it odd to view specific educational benefits as USPs sold to parents rather than ways to enrich children’s lives?  Nowhere are learners – neither Robinson’s own charges nor those in the hands of what she describes as “the local competition” – so much as mentioned. Whatever happened to at least pretending to care about the greater good? Isn’t that also a USP, and one which has served the private sector well? And yes, Robinson didn’t just come right out and say “we’re a business, not a charity”, but that’s what it sounds like. (more…)

According to James Dyson the British are turning their backs on the things that once made them wealthy by studying humanities instead of science and technology. I reckon he’s onto something. Take me, for instance. I’m British. I have a BA in languages, an MPhil in European Literature and a PhD in German and I’ve never invented a single piece of useful household equipment in my life. I haven’t even had anything accepted by Take A Break’s Brainwaves Roadshow. And yes, it’s not very scientific to draw conclusions from just one example but I’m not very scientific. That’s the whole problem.

Dyson is worried, not just about getting vacuum cleaners around troublesome corners, but about the whole future of our nation: (more…)

I am a middle-class mother of two, educated to PhD level. I work in an education industry. You’d think that when it comes to my own kids, I’d be hothousing like mad. Nonetheless, when it comes to sending them to school, I can’t help feeling I have let them down. I mean, I send them (the eldest one, at least – the other’s still too little). And I help them with their reading and whatnot. But so far I have singularly failed to do any of the following things:

  • save enough money for an emergency private school fund
  • make a tactical home purchase in a sought-after catchment area
  • pretend to be a Christian in order to get my sons into the voluntary-aided “outstanding” school down the road (which is actually closer than the school Eldest ended up in)

The last of these things is partly down to laziness, partly down to a desire not to be a hypocrite (and okay, a teeny bit down to the fear that if God does exist, namedropping Him in order to get a school place might make him rather wrathful come Judgement Day). The first two are down to money. I don’t have enough cash to play the system. So I get to keep my principles, but only because I’m too skint to sell out.
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Many feminists are very NEGATIVE about the society we live in and always see the BAD in everything. […] They want to generalise their ideas about males and females to the whole of society.

AS Sociology resource website

I am a feminist. I am also a miserable sod. Usually I assume these two things to be only loosely related, but perhaps I’m wrong. In any case, I’m blaming the menz.

I’m not a sociology teacher. I don’t know how you’d teach a Key Stage 5 sociology course. I am, however, quite surprised to learn that in some places it is being done through the medium of 1970s stereotypes (my own specialism is in languages, hence I eagerly await the day when intercultural understanding is covered by “French people wear ONIONS round their NECKS” and “TWO world wars AND one world cup” – no idea what’s going on with the capitals there, but if it’s THE latest thing in pedagogy, I’m going WITH the FLOW). (more…)

Imagine being so much of a loser that you get out a biro and write the word “winner” on your hand, in a desperate attempt to suppress the knowledge of just how how pathetic you are.  Imagine being so confused and distracted sexually that you consider watching your fave non-sexual  TV programmes – say, Holby City, or perhaps the footie – the perfect accompaniment to orgasm. Imagine taking a photo of a faceless woman giving you a blowjob and tweeting it to 23,000 laddish followers, just so they can raise a glass at your cock being sucked since that’s sure as hell not happening to them. Imagine then then following this up with random tweets offering “respect” to dead soldiers and kids in wheelchairs, just to demonstrate that deep down, you adhere to a mawkish, sentimental “I love ya, bro” code of ethics straight out of a Carlsberg ad. Imagine … Actually, I have no idea why I am asking you to imagine any of this. It’s bad enough that so many lonely male students apparently aspire to live it. (more…)

At 9am this morning I found myself in a meeting where it transpired that I was expected to have already trawled through the DfE’s Reforming Key Stage 4 Qualifications consultation document. Due to unforeseen circumstances (otherwise known as blogging about bitchy feminists) I, um, hadn’t. It didn’t matter though. I managed to wing it. After all, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what EBCs are (hell, I could do it and I don’t even have O-levels). Besides, reading the document in advance would have just been cheating, rather like using “source materials” as an “examination aid” while sitting a history paper (I do, by the way, look forward to future history questions: What does the artist in this cartoon – the one which you’re not allowed to see – wish to suggest about Disraeli’s foreign policy? Failure to happen to imagine the correct cartoon will result in no marks.) (more…)

Have you ever wanted to send your child to private school but not been able to afford the fees? Well, guess what? Now you can! Don’t worry about the cost – all you have to do is ensure you’ve spawned a fucking genius.

On Wednesdays, head teachers from 44 independent schools wrote to the Times, announcing that they would like to “admit pupils on merit alone, irrespective of whether their families can afford fees”. Way-hey! That’s big of them. I mean, they’d still want the government to match-fund the fees. And we’re still talking about “merit” here – whatever “merit” means. I suspect it doesn’t mean that just anyone can be swanning off to Dulwich College. You’ve got to be clever. How clever? I don’t know. I’m not clever enough to work it out, but I suspect it’s pretty damn clever if it makes you halfway as valuable as a rich kid. (more…)

A-level results are out and for the first time since the A* was introduced, a higher percentage of boys than girls have been awarded the top grade. Way-hey! Bring on the photos of uncommonly attractive boys whooping in celebration! Yeah! Ahem. On a more serious note, I am relieved to note that the natural order of things has finally been restored. At long last it would appear that examiners are asking the right questions and getting the correct results. (more…)

What is the point of our university system? To promote and extend research? To prepare future employees for specialist careers? To allow UK workers to compete in a global marketplace? I don’t know whether there’s a single answer to this; I suspect it depends on the institution and the discipline. Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure the purpose of any degree should not be to further social and economic inequalities. This is one of many points upon which The Telegraph and I disagree.

In an outraged piece entitled “Universities must select on merit”, the newspaper complains that some institutions “are awarding places on the basis of a system that gives points to disadvantaged students for ‘contextual’ factors, such as whether they attended a bad school or come from a poor area”. This seems reasonable to me. After all, it’s not as though A-level and GCSE results tell the whole story. University admissions tutors are interested not just in track records, but in potential. It’s not easy to work these things out – it never will be – but so far it does not appear that they’ve been getting it terribly wrong. If there was a gross discrepancy between the achievements of richer and poorer students when it came to finals, this might be a cause for concern. But there isn’t. And since all UK state schools will never, ever become Eton-style exam factories (and I don’t believe we’d want them to be), using exam results alone would be unfair. Yes, it would mean using a simple, black and white method for selection, but this is not the same as selecting “on merit”. (more…)

If you’re old enough to remember Brookside, do you recall that time when Jimmy Corkhill – crazy, lovable, thug-with-a-heart Jimmy – faked his qualifications and pretended to be a teacher? He was great, our Jimmy, nothing like his poncey, jargon-obsessed, over-trained middle-class colleagues. He might not have had letters after his name but he was from the streets (or at least the Close) and he spoke in a language that the kids understood. Like a Scouse Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society, he inspired the young scallies. When he finally got found out and lost his mind as a result, we felt for him. We were angry at The Man – in the form of the GTC – for not just throwing away the rule book and letting our Jimmy carry on. One look from Jimmy with those puppy-dog eyes – the same eyes that persuaded the long-suffering Jackie to take him back time after time – and we’d have given him anything, a PGCE, NQT status, a B.Ed, even QTS. But alas it wasn’t to be.

I wonder if Michael Gove watched those same episodes and felt our Jimmy’s pain. After all, Gove is well known for inventing education policy based on personal experience and while Brookside isn’t real life, I can attest that the emotions we felt for Jimmy were very real. Did Gove feel them too? Could this be why he’s now announcing that Qualified Teacher Status will no longer be required for those teaching in academies? After all, this is precisely the kind of thinking which would have helped your average University of Life graduate get a foot in the door and show those lefty HoDs, with their smart-arse qualifications and unions, exactly what’s what. (more…)

Like Janet Murray, five years ago, if someone had told me I’d have a child at private school, I’d have laughed. Laughed and laughed. And then, once I’d stopped laughing, I’d have asked them a) at what point over the next five years I’d have been getting this sudden windfall, and b) why future me wasn’t doing the predictable thing and frittering all the money on shoes.

Of course, no one ever said this and it hasn’t happened. I don’t send my child to private school. I don’t even send him to an “outstanding” state school. I send him to a school with a “good” Ofsted rating, and one which, according to the Guardian, has a broader social and cultural mix than is representative for the local area. I love my son’s school, and so does he. Therefore I am a great, non-hypocritical, right-on liberal parent and not a misguided snob like Janet Murray. Well, it’s either that or I’m just incredibly badly organised yet oddy lucky – and I suspect it’s closer to the latter. (more…)

The problem today is the A level is so dumbed down that for many employers A levels obtained since 1990 aren’t worth the paper there [sic] written on.

The above is a comment following a Telegraph piece on education. I took not only A-levels, but GCSEs post-1990. I have to say, I’m pretty sure the difference between “there”, “their” and “they’re” was covered way before we progressed to the higher qualification. But anyhow, what do I know? Perhaps it’s only “your” and “you’re” that employers worry about.

Anyhow, the Telegraph piece raises the possibility of funding changes which restrict state school pupils to taking only 3 A-levels. I went to a state school and took 3 A-levels (okay, I took General Studies as well. And I would count that, but what’s the point? No bugger else will). 3 A-levels were enough to get me a place at Oxford University, but things were different in 1993. It’s way more competitive now. Back then 3 good A-levels were still relatively well-respected; nowadays it’s assumed you could do them blindfold, with your arms tied behind your back, dangling over a pit of vipers. And they’d still be too easy. The young don’t know they’re born (that’s probably a question in A2 biology: Were you born? And I imagine half of them get it wrong). (more…)

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