From long my experience working within the care sector, as an ex-school governor, and as a parent, one thing has become crystal clear to me. Business values do not translate directly to other sectors, and they are NOT the best, or even the most efficient values to apply to education or social care. They don't even save money.
To build a nurturing environment takes time, care, dedication and, above all, a stable structure within which to work. Take that away, by the looming threat of league tables and the type of inspections that use statistics in a selective and frankly dishonest manner, then trust, the basis of so much vocational work, will crumble. Everyone will be more interested in targets than children.
Thorough inspection is necessary, but the whole nature of it needs to change, to focus on the needs of the child or service user, not the needs of the manager. The top-down application of 'efficiency savings' is neither efficient nor effective. Contracting-out of services in my area has resulted in BOTH an increase in cost AND a major reduction of services: guess where the money went? The increase in costs in most cases is hidden, because it is shifted to another budget, or even another sector. I can give many real, heartbreaking examples of the effects, including deaths.
But while our politicians are controlled and bought and sold by business lobbyists and the hawks of the financial sector ( just look how well they managed their own books...) I can't see any change coming.
Only a seismic change in values will give those people working in education and in the care sector the stable structure that makes for the growth and nurturing of a service rather than the constant deadlines to achieve results and targets that have no relation to the pupils' or service users' well-being.
Sorry, rant over - will retreat back into my shell.
In my "ordinary life" as a Practice Manager, I and Dr David Hindmarsh (the doctor I work for) have co-authored a book, rather boringly called "Professional Development for Appraisal and Revalidation (The Dr Hairy Workbook)", which was published earlier this year by Scion Publishing (http://www.scionpublishing.com/shop/product_display.asp?productid=9781904842972). It includes a DVD with all the Dr Hairy videos on it, plus questions about the videos and lots of exercises designed to help GPs with their "reflective learning". A couple of months ago we learned that the book had been shortlisted for the Primary Care category in this year's BMA (British Medical Association) book awards.
Our first reaction was that there were probably only two or three entries in the category, so the shortlisting might not be much of an achievement; but on further inquiry we learnt that there were actually 23 entries, of which only three had been shortlisted. Rather flattering, but we still thought we hadn't got a hope of winning, because the tone of the book is very similar to the tone of the Dr Hairy videos - rude, tongue-in-cheek, and disrespectful towards the medical establishment. Hardly likely to find favour with a fuddy-duddy organisation like the BMA, we thought. But the BMA are obviously less fuddy-duddy than we gave them credit for, because last night I attended the BMA Book Awards, and we won the Primary Care category! I almost fell off my chair when they announced it.
I was the only one there, too: David's on holiday in Devon, and there was no sign of our publisher; although he must have found out about it somehow, because his website is already carrying the news. Unfortunately there isn't a big cash prize, but all the same I can't deny that I felt extremely pleased with myself, and still do. Perhaps it'll lead to a big Hollywood contract...
Words and their meanings are important, right? Satisfactory means
good enough, doesn't it? Well for years, it hasn't meant that to
Ofsted. And now, at last, they are going to change the name for
this standard in school inspections. It's going to be called
'requires improvement' instead. Is this a Good Thing or a Bad
Thing? Well, now at least it will mean what it says, and say
what it means. But it does mean that the goal posts have moved
(no surprise there, then). Statements that used to describe
teaching that was satisfactory (which means good enough,
remember) will now describe teaching that requires
improvement. Same statement. Same teaching.
More worrying is this. I was at a conference last week where an Ofsted inspector described a teacher she had observed. She was very impressed. It was a 'wow' lesson. In fact, it was outstanding, (the top category). "She can't possibly be like this all the time. No way would she be able to keep this up, to teach outstanding lessons like this all the time. It would be impossible. But then I looked at the pupils' books, at work from other lessons, and yes, she always taught like that. She was always outstanding." I found this very telling. Ofsted inspectors realise that it takes a Superhuman to be an outstanding teacher all of the time. I, for one, would rather be a human being.
Today I was helping dig one of the beds with a group of children and classroom assistants. I guess the teachers weren't allowed out.
Quite a few of the chidren were clearly new to soil. 'It's all muddy!'
Some seemed new to worms. 'What's that?'
One girl said, 'I'm frightened of worms.'
'Are you?' I asked.
'Yes, like my mum.'
'Could you just move that one for me, so we don't hurt him by mistake?'
She gleefully picked up the earthworm and showed him/her/it to her classmates. Then she gently placed him/her/it in a safe place and picked up another one.
Her friend said, 'She's frightened of worms.'
'Are you still frightened?' I asked.
Yes, like my mum,' she said, curiously stretching out the earthworm she had just picked up. 'This one's NORMOUS!'
We hear a lot, at times such as when the nation’s yoof receives its GSCE results, about the parlous state of the British education system. Results keep rising? Exams must be getting easier. Trouble on the streets? It’s the kids, innit? There have, I’m pretty sure, been blogs about it here, too, although I’m not about to search for them for fear of opening wormcans.
And to be honest, that was largely my opinion of the UK’s secondary schools; a collection of soft boiled, policy scrambled, in one ear and out the other sausage machines hell bent on statistical improvements that meant little and proved less. That is, until recently.
My daughter is ten years old. And in September and October, that can only mean one thing; it’s time to adopt the air of a forensic educationalist and go on the secondary school trail, in the hope that come mid-October we’ll have seen enough cream of the crop examples of British education that we’ll be scribbling school names on the appropriate form to be submitted to the Local Education Authority. Making what Tony Blair called choices. Making what the rest of us call empty gestures. The dog days of primary school never looked so appealing.
But you know what? It’s ok.
The much-derided system of selection, once it’s explained, makes sense. It’s not perfect, but then what is? The schools themselves trumpet valedictory results and brandish statistics like peacock feathers, but look beyond the hype and the sometimes brazen, occasionally woefully half-hearted flirting for parents’ admiration slash wallets (depending on state or private) and there are some terrific schools out there. What’s more, the schools that are remembered days afterwards and that resonate with all the family are the ones with the teachers who abound with enthusiasm, reverberate with passion, shine with optimism and excitement about the achievements of their students.
The methodologies have ranged from the private young ladies establishment seemingly hell bent on disgorging the next generation of Stepford Wives, to the Blairite new Academy that couldn’t wait to tell us about its data and its punishments for crimes so heinous as leaving a top button undone, to the schools that are charging ahead under banners of genuine inclusivity, thoughtfulness and determination to be the best, not just educationally, but to make a real difference to the citizens of their schools. And this last group are genuinely refreshing and exciting.
The amazing thing is that they are so rarely portrayed; that there are learning establishments out there who do more than it says on the tin, who constantly strive and have the results and, more importantly, the ethos and the prevailing atmosphere, to back up their claims.
And discovering that has been both a pleasure and an education.
I have a dilemma. I’m not sure whether, or not, to advise my sixteen-year-old son to go to university. Throughout his school life I portrayed university as a goal to work towards. However, since the tuition fees proposals, it is no longer an admirable aspiration, but instead becomes the most important financial decision of his life.
If the tuition fees are trebled, it is estimated that, on average, students will leave university with debts of about £53,000. I don’t believe sixteen and seventeen year-olds fully understand the repercussions of debt, so shouldn’t we be warning them of what lies in store? Certainly when I was younger my barclaycard debt of a grand seemed like a huge burden that I would never shift.
Our most recent conversation on the subject went like this:
“Son, it would be really good for you to go to university.”
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it.”
“But £53,000 is a lot of money.”
“Hmm, perhaps I shouldn’t go then.”
I’m not sure how to continue the conversation after this point. Any suggestions?
Following on from the discussions about Higher Education over the last few days, I was shocked and horrified to hear about the proposal (on Radio 2's Jeremy Vine Show) that extra places could be made available to students able to pay even larger course fees (up to £28,000) up front. In other words, buying themselves a place at Uni.
I took it all with a fairly large pinch of salt but then tracked down the original interview that sparked the debate. You can read it here:
Today, also reported in the Guardian, Downing Street have apparently distanced themselves from the idea but, and this is the significant point, I believe, "No 10 did not rule out a limited version of the idea appearing in the university white paper, due this summer, but stressed that no proposal would be backed if it reduced social mobility."
I just can't believe that they would even think about a return to the elitism of University places being available to those who can pay. How is is possible that in only 13 years, we have moved from free education to tuition fees of £1000 a year to tution fees of £9000 a year to the possibility that there will be extra places for the rich kids.
We just can't let this happen!
Higher education – the debate continues
In my previous blog, Who Needs a University Education? Who Wants it?, which can be found here:
I concluded that successive government policies, through (1) creating one-size-fits-all ‘universities’ out of existing universities, polytechnics and colleges, (2) adjusting the methods of attaining entry qualifications and thereby vastly increasing the number of eligible students, and (3) introducing student loans instead of grants to finance all this huge growth and then increasing the fees to £9000 – have virtually priced themselves out of the market. The question has to be asked, are they no longer giving value for money? Is it worth it?
This stimulated considerable comment broadly in agreement, although it was pleasing to learn of some others’ experience of the ‘new’ system which had worked out well for them. Certainly some of the polytechnics have managed the transition to university status and served their new student intake well. But at a cost? It seems there is definitely now a gap in the provision of honest-to-goodness practical training in basic skills and thousands of school leavers are being forced through the ‘academic’ sausage machine, not against their wills, necessarily, but against their best interests, because the alternatives no longer exist to the extent that they used to.
The resultant glut of ‘graduates’ on the job market has (1) made it difficult for employers to differentiate between job applicants and (2) reduced the number of job opportunities per ‘graduate’. At the same time new students are now facing starting their careers with a potential debt of around £30,000.
The previous blog outlined the steps that got us to this point. It’s now apposite to consider what may well be the next steps.
We have already seem employers starting to favour applicants with work experience over the purely academically qualified. This latest hike in fees has caused potential students seriously to reconsider their options. For these reasons, we are very likely to see student numbers starting to decline. So even with the higher fees not all universities are going to be able to make ends meet. We’ve heard, as commented on the other blog, that some converted polys have already had to close. This trend is likely to continue, but because of the unnatural uniformity that has been forced on these places of higher education it will not always be the new that will founder. We could see some long-standing and excellent universities going under through lack of students and hence, fees to keep them going.
Might we eventually end up, not just back to the number of universities we had before the polytechnics were promoted, but with rather less, some of the good ones having gone under in the battle for the reduced numbers of undergraduates who can still afford the fees? Back to where we were in the 19th century when only the rich went to a (comparatively) few universities.
And the inevitable result of fewer and smaller universities? Fewer academics, less research, fewer brilliant minds trained and let loose to invent and innovate, to make great discoveries – in medicine, in food research, energy research, environmental research. This will be a poorer place, and not just fiscally.
My last blog ended by implying that for many it no longer made sense to go to university. I am now saying that something must be done to change that scenario. The trend outlined in the previous blog cannot be allowed to continue as I’ve suggested here that it may well do. Our universities must be retained, strong and viable, to stand alongside industry and commerce to maintain, or some might say, regain our position as a world leader - to keep the country viable for future generations of school-leavers to have genuine practical and appropriate choices about the next stage of their lives and continue the process.
Who Needs a University Education? Who Wants it?
So much changed in higher education throughout the long Labour reign.
Higher education for all sounds great and egalitarian, but actually, it's crazy. Higher education is to enable people with the capacity to benefit from it to reach their full potential. 80% of the ubiquitous 'all' that Labour want to have access to this, do not have that capability. (Maybe that figure is too high. 45 years ago we were told how privileged we were to be able to go to uni. We were in the top 20%, we were told. Well maybe Labour's heart was in the right place and that 20% should have been higher, 30% or even 35% - but nothing even approaching 100%. That's just plain daft.
Everybody's different; we don't all have university minds; how could we? But plans went ahead to increase places at uni and soon that reached capacity so the old polytechnics (that did a great job, incidentally, giving exactly the right level of further education to the sort of students who benefited from attending them) were reclassified as universities to provide more places. They became neither fish not foul - looked down on by 'real' universities and their students, and no longer providing the best possible education to the students they were originally benefiting.
Now there were plenty of 'university' places, but not enough students to fill them. Answer: change the examination system. Don’t reduce the academic standards. Oh, dear me, no! Hmm… But introduce a modular system where students can gradually build up enough points to qualify for a place at Uni. And, lo and behold, suddenly lots more of our students were of a standard to gain university entrance – an amazing and very convenient coincidence, so all the newly created places could be filled.
But, oh dear, so many students; how can we cope? cried the universities and pseudo-universities. We must have more staff, more facilities. Gosh, this is all costing an awful lot more than we expected, cried the government. Answer: substitute student loans for student grants – get it all back again, eventually. Not too much; something manageable. A brief reprieve.
Costs shot up, student numbers continue to rise. If we are to maintain the standards of teaching in our government set charters, you have to allow us more resources, cry the uni’s, again. Sorry, no can do, plead the new coalition. Got to make stringent cut-backs to get us out of the hole Labour left us in. But, tell you what, you can raise your fees from £3000 to around £4500 – that should do it for most of you. And to save us having to legislate again, we’ll put in a ceiling of, say, £9000 to cover the odd case where more is needed. And it will hardly cost us anything because Labour changed grants into loans – the bastards.
Right, thanks. We can increase our fees to £4,500, say the uni’s. Great. But hang on, did you say the ceiling is £9000? You did? Terrific, we’ll have that! And, surprise, surprise, the majority of fees go up to the full £9000.
What’s the result of all these changes? A glut of ‘graduates’ on the job market – some genuine, some a bit iffy. Employers no longer knowing what they’re getting when they take on a ‘graduate’. Could be somebody in the top 20%. Could just as easily be someone from the next 30%, or maybe lower. So they are putting much more store on work experience than mere, apparent academic qualifications.
The question is, is it worth it? A 30-odd thousand pound debt, with no guarantee of a job after four years of study and a degree that half the country now holds? What’s the alternative?
Get a good general education at school. Get good A-levels, or whatever they’re called these days, to show you are of university calibre. Then find a job that gives vocational training. After four years, you’ll have four years’ worth of savings in the bank, four years’ worth of work experience and with luck, a relevant qualification. And a job!
beginning to look like a no-brainer to
In my next blog I extrapolate this trend and considered where it may lead. You can find it here, if you wish: