Monday, 20 June 2011

The Education Debate

A guest post by Edward Spalton

After reading this article in the Spectator I was motivated to write this supplementary note.

In the late Eighties/early Nineties I was co-opted to a board of school governors as a representative of local business. It was the infants' school which my own children had attended. The long-serving head teacher was nearing retirement. She was rather old-fashioned, as were the school buildings. She confided to me that reading standards were falling although that information and the test results were then, if anything, more secret than the atomic bomb. 

As quite a high proportion of the children were entitled to free school meals, she got some extra money from the Local Education Authority  (LEA) to “enrich the curriculum”. When she had worked out what she wanted to do, she then had to get approval from the area office of the LEA. She had made a most imaginative use of the money – some real poetry books of a sort which could be appreciated by children, some classical music of an easily understood story-telling kind, some prints of suitable famous pictures with historical scenes and so on.  The official threw this back at her with contempt. “It is not your business to impose your culture on these children” she was told. She was still very upset when she told me this. 

When she asked what she was supposed to do, she was told that she should teach through the medium of situations with which the children were familiar. “Going to the fish and chip shop or taking out a video are cultural experiences” she was told. The children, I should add, were nearly all native-born British. I think there were two Chinese children in the school.

She retired with relief and a new head teacher had the job of introducing “Local Management of Schools” which actually involved very close control by the LEA.

We were supposed to produce our own “Curriculum Development Statement”. Suddenly a document of this name turned up amongst the voluminous papers which were written in a style and language quite alien to normal English, sometimes called “edu-jargon”. 

I asked who had produced the statement, as it certainly was not the board of governors. I was told that the LEA had provided it “to help us”. Amongst a great deal of meaningless verbiage was this remarkable statement:

“It is the policy of the school to make students responsible for their own learning”

I protested at this and said “The children are just too little to do your job”. They were 5  to 7 years old, for heaven's sake! Nobody even smiled and this solemn nonsense was voted through. I then discovered that nearly every school of every sort and age group in the county had voted for the same thing – and this was a new system, supposed to give the individual schools more control of their own affairs!

The children were asked to produce paintings of people at their work with short captions to explain each picture. Many of them were very good. One boy had painted a dramatic picture of a fireman putting out a fire. His caption had been corrected. “Fireman” was crossed out and the politically correct, non sexist term “Fire Fighter” replaced it but the mistakes in spelling and punctuation in the rest of the caption were uncorrected. When I pointed this out, I was told it would be “too discouraging” for the children to do this. “But how can they learn to do things right, if you don't tell them?” I asked.

Needless to say, I was not invited to remain on the board when the term of my co-option ended. 

I think that the cultural Marxists of the Frankfurt School have secured a near monopoly in much of state education. That is one reason why some teachers' unions are now going on strike when schools opt for the new government scheme which will make them independent of the Local Education Authorities. 

I was fortunately able to afford to take my children out of this atmosphere and place them in private education.
Edward Spalton
Editor's note: Although Edward writes from an English perspective I think it is of interest to those of us in Scotland.


JRB said...

I do accept the argument that language is fluid and constantly developing, both in vocabulary and grammatical structure.

However, and above all else, language should be the very means of our communication one to another. What we seem to be loosing in this modern microchip era is that basic skill of communication, and that is not simply due to apparent diminishing educational standards.

The demise of the traditional family unit has much to answer for our inability to adequately communicate with each other.

Yes, it was a time long gone, but as a child, my main evening meal was at a table with at least three generations and often with additional relatives and others. There was always conversation, and if we children had anything to contribute we were allowed and encouraged to have our say.
Despite the hint of a local dialect, all at that table were able to communicate.
Today children sit alone, in front of a TV, with a pizza on their lap.
It is no wonder that in this day and age the generations no longer communicate.

Time Traveller said...

Edward - Thanks for the view from the inside. It's very refreshing to hear of a school governor (ex!) taking a stand for proper educational values.

The state system has sunk to appalling levels. We have not been able to afford private schools but with the generous aid of scholarships combined with a fearless ability to hover on the edge of bankruptcy, our children have had some private education.

It changed their lives.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

JRB -well said -you bring back memories.

Edward - codified, quantified and controlled, to suit institutions and ignores the individual.

Demetrius said...

Garbage in, garbage out.

Sheila said...

Insiders views are very important - thanks Edward.

Two notable US insiders are :

John Taylor Gatto:

For a short taster listen here:

Charlotte Iserbyt:

For a short introduction, watch here:

Don't be put off by the fact that they are American - we are headed for a global education system.

Have a look at the UNESCO site. It is diffficult to know where to start but how about here:

And then this (if you can stand it):

Scotland, I'm ashamed to say, is blazing a trail towards this brave new world...

Anon said...

LEA's should be abolished. We need lots of small schools, each independently run. And we need to reduce the school leaving age.

- Aangirfan

Anonymous said...

My daughter is teaching primary school children.

I have in my hand at this moment a book which seems to have emanated from the NUT. It is called, "The Behaviour Guru: Behaviour management solutions for teachers"

It is 222 pages long.

Edward Spalton said...

Thank you for the comments. My short, inglorious career as a school governor was a real eye opener.

With benefit of hindsight, I could probably have done as well by our children by moving house to the catchment area of one of the better state secondary schools and some private tuition. I would not have attracted the opprobrium (which I - and they -still occasionally get from some people) for having gone private and I would be much wealthier today! But having (as it were) felt the breath of the beast, I just wanted out and away from it.

At around the same time, the Conservative government introduced a City Technology College to Derby . These were direct grant schools, located in inner city areas. I was the sole supporter of the project at an indignation meeting of around 300 teachers and school governors, called by the LEA. They simply could not stand the idea of having any competition outside their system of control.

The first head teacher of the CTC had been the head of a failing, bog standard comprehensive in another part of the country which he had improved to the point that it was actually over-subscribed.

He told me that initially his LEA had been supportive of his efforts. But as the school's achievements began to overtake other schools, they wanted him to "slow down to let the others catch up". He said that his methods were simple enough though hard work: he would be pleased to show other schools what he was doing but the LEA and the other schools were not interested in that.

SO, yes, I rather agree that LEAs are probably a malign, doctrinaire influence on educational standards. At around this time, a chap called Martin Turner produced a paper which cut through all the obfuscation and demonstrated conclusively that reading standards had fallen since 1945 - a time of huge class sizes, wartime disruption etc. The Conservative government was grateful for his research but he was disciplined by the LEA for which he worked - and it was a Conservative-controlled LEA! The Conservatives back-pedalled from real reform by the appointment of Gillian Shepherd as Education Secretary and avoided much of the concentrated venom of the other partner in the low achievement culture - the teaching unions.

Edward Spalton said...

Derbyshire LEA decided to reorganise secondary education at this time, turning them into "community schools" which ended with GSCE O Levels and moving the A level teaching into Sixth Form Colleges. One effect of this was to make head teachers re-apply for their own jobs and weed out any who were politically suspect.

Several secondary schools with good sixth forms opted out to direct grant status in fierce battles with the LEA and the Labour party. Amongst them was Ecclesbourne School. The chief leader in that fight was a fiery Conservative councillor of Thatcherite reputation, called Pauline Latham.

She is now an MP and one of that tendency in the Conservative party which helped Mr. Cameron "detoxify the brand" and become "the nice party" and "the heir to Blair" - and so unable to win the general election with an open goal like Gordon Brown. I had occasion in another article to mention her present support for tree-hugging/ wind-turbine -loving policies which will impoverish us all. She was certainly on the side of the angels over Ecclesbourne School! I fear that she has simply "gone with the flow" but not to the extreme extent of Mr. Speaker Bercow!

henry said...

Thanks for taking this opportunity to discuss this, I feel fervently about this and I like learning about this subject.MBA College near the chandigarh

subrosa said...

Society is unrecognisable since we were young JRB. I would say the demise of the traditional family unit was the start. The support offered by the wider family is now replaced by government funded 'charities'.

Oh I'd better not rant.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago, I was manager of a bank branch. We all knew what we were doing. Then the bank I worked for amalgamated with another. There then ensued a constant stream of directives from the new head office. Town branches were inundated with directives about 'building relationships with farms' and country branches were inundated with directives about 'building relationships with Town Centre businesses'. Vast instruction manuals were circulated about relationships with solicitors and other business types, along with the 'the law relating to conducting banking business with these business types'. It never seemed to occur to the new Head Office that only country branches would be interested in farms, and only town branches would be interested in solicitors and such. Every branch of the bank was flooded with vast volumes of information, much of which was irrelevant to them. But all those volumes had to be studied by the manager. MASSIVE, MASSIVE OVERLOAD! Like dentists being required to know about heart surgery. Of course, these new departments in the new Head Office were just building their MAGNIFICENT EDIFICES. The effect in the branches was chaotic - no one knew what business they were supposed to be doing. Utter chaos!

It seems to me that this 'paradigm' has spread everywhere. Small businesses are being treated as though they were big businesses - required to complete 'risk assessments' etc - and God help them if they do not and anything untoward happens!

Micro-management. Is not the smoking ban micro-management?

The mind boggles.

subrosa said...

Junican, you've taken me back to the days when my father-in-law was alive. He too was a bank manager in a rural area and said exactly the same. I think he was very relieved when he retired and was upset at the way banking was going.

Have you ever tried to get even the smallest grant from Scottish Enterprise (or the equivalent in England)? They're not interested and put every conceivable barrier in the way of the small business.

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