Posts Tagged ‘Secondary Schools’

The Teacher’s Strike and Questionable Superiority of Independent Schools

July 5, 2016

Today teachers in some schools were going on strike in protest against Thicky Nicky’s proposed academisation of the state school system. The woman with the mad, staring eyes had originally wanted to turn all of Britain’s schools into academies, run by private education companies outside the control of the Local Education Authorities. She’s been forced to go back on this, so that not all schools will be so transformed. Nevertheless, she still wishes more schools were handed over to private sector management.

It’s another massively daft idea, which Mike has debunked several times over at Vox Political. He’s reblogged statistic after statistic and diagram after diagram showing how schools managed by the LEAs perform better and recover quicker from poor performance than either free schools or academies. But this goes by the wayside, as it contradicts over three decades of Thatcherite orthodoxy, which insists that private industry, responding to the free market, automatically knows how to run institutions and concerns better than state managers or educational professionals. As shown by the fact that Howling Mad Morgan herself has never stood in front of a chalkboard trying to teach a group of youngsters, well, just about anything. Like pretty much just about the rest of the Tory party, with the exception of Rhodes Boyson, one of Maggie’s education ministers, who had actually been a teacher.

The Tories’ and New Labour’s entire approach to education is thoroughly wrong. Rather than bringing educational standards down, LEAs and similar state regulators and inspectors in the private sector have been responsible for raising them, including in independent schools. In the 19th century, these varied massively in quality, and it was only with the foundation of the LEAs circa 1902 that standards began to improve and the very worst were forced to close. In the 1960s the numbers of independent schools were expected to decline even further. They didn’t, because the supplied a niche market for ambitious parents wishing to get their children into the elite grammar schools. This is all stated very clearly in S.J. Curtis’ and M.E.A. Boultwood’s An Introductory History of English Education Since 1800, 4th Edition (Foxton: University Tutorial Press 1970). They write:

During the last century [the 19th] schools varied greatly in efficiency. the Newcastle Commission sharply criticised a large number of them. At that time there was no legal obstacle to prevent any individual from opening a school in his own house, even if he possessed no qualification nor experience in teaching. Some of the cases singled out by the Commissioners seem almost inconceivable to a modern reader. These schools were not open to inspection, unless they asked for it, and the inefficient ones were not likely to do this. The Report of the Newcastle Commission gives numerous instances of the terrible conditions which were encountered when the Commissioners visited the worst types of private school. They reported: “When other occupations fail for a time, a private school can be opened, with no capital beyond the cost of a ticket in the window. Any room, however small and close, serves for the purpose; the children sit on the floor, and bring what books they please; whilst the closeness of the room renders fuel superfluous, and even keeps the children quiet by its narcotic effects. If the fees do not pay the rent, the school is dispersed or taken by the next tenant”. The mistresses were described as “generally advanced in life, and their school is usually their kitchen, sitting and bedroom”. The room “was often so small that the children stand in a semicircle round the teacher. Indeed, I have seen the children as closely packed as birds in a nest, and tumbling over each other like puppies in a kennel”.

The mistresses and masters would not be tolerated for one moment at the present day “None are too old, too poor, too ignorant, too feeble, too sickly, too unqualified in one or every way, to regard themselves, and to be regarded by others, as unfit for school-keeping – domestic servants out of place, discharged barmaids, vendors of toys or lollipops, keepers of small eating-houses, of mangles, or of small lodging houses, needlewomen who take on plain or slop work, milliners, consumptive patients in an advanced stage, cripples almost bedridden, persons of at least doubtful temperance, outdoor paupers, men and women of seventy and even

Evan as late as 1869, one school was described as being held “in a small low room, in aback court. There were forty-four boys of ages varying from four to fourteen. In the middle sat the master, a kindly man, but a hopeless cripple, whose lower limbs appeared to be paralysed, and who was unable to stand up. The boys formed a dense mass around him, swaying irregularly backwards and forwards, while he was feebly protesting against the noise. In a corner the wife was sitting minding the six or eight youngest children”. One wonders what kind of education the pupils received…(pp. 301-2).

The Commissioners came straight to the point when they offered an explanation for the popularity of private schools. To send a child to one of these institutions was a mark of respectability: “the children were more respectable and the teachers more inclined to fall in with the wishes of the parents. The latter, in choosing such schools for their children, stand in an independent position, and are not accepting a favour from their social superiors”. In fact, the motives of the parents could be summed up in the one word “snobbery”. (p. 302)

This was when many other countries, such as the Netherlands, Prussia and Switzerland, had a good school systems and a much higher literacy rate than in England.

Nevertheless, a sequence of reforms began in which good schools began to receive state grants and qualifications were issued to those wishing to teach. Schools also began to be inspected and the worst closed. Further reforms began with the education act of 1944, which opened up independent schools to state inspection.

The Government did not contemplate the closing of efficient private schools. The Act of 1944 directed the Minister of Education to appoint a Registrar of Independent Schools who should keep a register of them. Certain schools which were already recognised as efficient secondary schools, and some preparatory and private schools which had previously been inspected, were exempt from registration. A school found to be inefficient because of inadequate buildings, or an unqualified staff, or for some other grave reason, could be removed from the register. The proprietor was given the right of appeal to an Independent Schools’ Tribunal consisting of a chairman appointed by the Lord Chancellor from the legal profession and two other members appointed by the Lord President of the Council from persons who possessed teaching or administrative experience. No officials, either of the Ministry or of a L.E.A. are eligible for appointment.

This section of the Act could not be brought into operation at once because of the shortage of H.M.I.s and difficulties as regards building materials and labour and the lack of teachers, which made it unreasonable that schools should be required to remedy their deficiencies within a fixed time. By March 1949 the situation had eased, and the inspection of independent schools began and continued at the rate of about 150 a month. By 1957, the Ministry had recognised 1,450 independent schools as efficient, and it was considered that this section of the Act could be put into force completely. In July of that year, proprietors were notified that they would be required to register their schools by 31 March 1958. The registration was provisional, and its continuance depended upon the kind of report rendered by the inspectors after their visit. During 1957, 145 schools were closed, of which 138 were of recent origin and which had become known to the Ministry for the first time. This is a comment on the strictness with which earlier regulations had been enforced.

It was expected that the number of private schools would rapidly decrease after 1944, but this did not happen. The reason was that many middle-class parents were faced with a difficult problem. Their children could not obtain entry to a grammar school unless they were qualified through the grammar school selection test at eleven plus. The only other way open to them was through a public or direct grant school, and these had a long waiting list. Competition was so keen that few children who failed to pass the grammar school entrance test would be considered. The result was that a number of private schools which offered an education similar to that given by the grammar school came into existence. The necessity of registration and inspection guaranteed their efficiency. Moreover, some primary schools, run by private teachers who were qualified, opened their doors to young children whose parents were anxious for them to pass the selection test. (p. 304).

I’ve also heard from talking to friends of mine that many of the smaller public schools in the 19th and early 20th century, such as those depicted in the Billy Bunter comic of a certain vintage, were in a very precarious economic position. They depended very much on fee-paying parents, and could not offer any more than a mere handful of free places to pupils or risk bankruptcy.

And instead of raising standards for schools, successive right-wing administrations from Thatcher’s onwards have actually lowered them. You don’t need a teaching qualification to teach at a private school. And the impression I’ve had that in order to make privately operated schools economically viable, the government has allowed them to make pay and conditions actually worse for the teaching and ancillary staff.

So the evidence, historical and based on contemporary statistics and conditions, points to academies actually being less efficient, and providing our children with a worse education than schools managed by the LEAs. But what’s this when measured against Thatcherite orthodoxy, and the need to provide a lucrative income stream to fat cat donors in the academy chains.

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Vox Political on Nick Gibb Address to Teacher’s Conference

April 6, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political ran this story from the Groan, which reported the kind and courteous welcome Nick Gibb got when he spoke to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers at their conference in Liverpool. Of course, I’m being ironic when I say that it was ‘kind and courteous’. In fact that they jeered him. And I don’t blame them. What Gibb said was pure rubbish.

The Tories are, of course, determined to turn 17,000 primary schools in England into academies. Gibb made the usual attempt to try to justify this massive privatisation to the Tory party’s corporate backers by saying that it would lead to an improvement in quality. He told his audience of educational professionals that if they spoke to the headmasters, who had become heads of the academy chains, they would hear that academy schools were flourishing. Because they’re professionally led.

This is, of course, complete twaddle. The same could also be said of the state schools under LEA control. They’re also managed by professionals, in the sense that the Local Education Authority is staffed by people, who earn their living from managing schools. Just as the actual teaching and administrative staff in the schools themselves, the teachers, teaching assistants, school secretaries, dinner ladies and caretakers are also educational professionals. After all, the work in education.

Mike has already pointed out, along with very many other bloggers, time and again, that standards in academies and free schools are actually worse than state schools. In the comments to the article, he reproduces the following graphic, which shows how the number of academies which are rated ‘inadequate’ far outstrip LEA schools.

leaVacademyschools

In fact, 25 academies last year had to be handed back to state administration because their standards were so bad. Charlie Stayt made a valiant attempt to get Thicky Nicky Morgan to admit this, but the minister with the mad staring eyes just carried on chuntering about how terrible it was that schools were being left under the control of local authorities, which continued to inflict their low educational standards on their impressionable young charges.

The opposite is true. Of course, the government likes the idea of privatising, are part-privatising the education system, because it hands over a very lucrative state enterprise to their corporate backers. They, and their big business paymasters also like it, because it means that private industry can set the terms of pay and conditions much lower than in the state sector. For example, it was the case that to teach in a state school, you should have a teaching qualification. You either did a teaching degree, or you completed a normal degree, and then took a PGCE. I don’t know if the situation’s changed now, but a few years ago you didn’t need a teaching qualification to teach in a private school. This is, I should repeat, private schools rather than academies. But my point remains. Pay and conditions for the teaching staff are lower, and the staff themselves may not be as well qualified as their counterparts in the state sector.

So where does the money spent on academy schools actually go? The obvious answer is the pockets of the senior managers and shareholders, who are obviously looking forward to doing very well out of it, thank you very much. And this also gives the lie to the claim that private enterprise is somehow more efficient and less bureaucratic. Clearly it isn’t, as there’s a whole bureaucracy in the academy chains themselves, as well as the extra expense of giving lucrative dividends to the shareholders.

No doubt as the teaching unions continue to voice their opposition to the privatisation of England’s schools, the Tories will start to bang their usually drum about how ‘loony-lefty’ teachers are threatening their pupils’ future with their doctrinaire opposition to the government’s wonderful new policy. And here again, the truth is the precise opposite. Teachers teach because they enjoy imparting knowledge. Not always successfully, and very often not to receptive pupils. But they do it because they find it rewarding. And, in general, they are very concerned to make sure that their pupils perform to the best of their ability, and get the best available opportunities for their education. It was the teaching unions in the 1930s who kept up the pressure for compulsory state secondary education. But you are very definitely not going to hear that from the likes of Nick Gibb or Thicky Nicky Morgan.

Forget the government’s hype. The conversion of the primary schools into academies in England will lead to worse standards. It’s the teachers opposing the government’s reforms, who are really trying to maintain and improve them.

Mike’s article is at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/04/04/teachers-heckle-schools-minister-over-academy-plans/#comments. Go and see what he says.

Free Universal Secondary Education – Another Policy Originally from Labour and the Unions

March 16, 2016

Michael Sullivan in his book The Development of the British Welfare State (London: Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf 1996) gives due credit to the Conservative minister, Rab Butler, for establishing modern secondary education for all after the Second World War. But he also points out that before the War, this was a policy proposed mainly by Labour and the teaching unions. He writes

As early as 1920, attempts were being made at a parliamentary level to move beyond elementary education for all to secondary education for all. A Departmental Committee of the Board of Education, reporting in this year, argued that the sole relevant criteria for entry to secondary education should be ability (an argument to be echoed more than forty years later in relation to Higher Education by the Robbins Committee. This is of course a position which was not inconsistent with the Labour Party’s plans for secondary education, written for the minority Labour government by R.H. Tawney.

That document argued that secondary education should be provided free for all children between the ages of 11 and 16. It further claimed that an education system divided into superior secondary schools and inferior elementary schools was ‘educationally unsound and socially obnoxious’. (Pp. 44-5.)

The Inter-war movement for secondary education seems to have been driven by a de facto ‘triple alliance’ made up of the Labour party, the teaching unions and the wider trade union movement. Although individual actors in this alliance presented at particular conjunctures, policy plans differing in emphasis and recommendations, the common ground in their approaches I, as we will see below, clear. What we will see emerge is a process whereby the political and professional activities of these organisations, while failing to achieve a wider consensus on all of their gaols, accomplished agreement among opinion-formers and policy-makers on the key issue of secondary education.

Between the publication and acceptance of the Hadow Report and the commencement of the Second World War, each of these organisations acted in ways that put compulsory secondary education on the political agenda and kept it there. A critical moment in this process is represented by the publication of plans for education by the Labour party at the end of the 1920s.

In a major policy statement issued on May Day 1929, a month before the party’s election as a minority government, it had noted that the party ‘has always been committed to securing equal education opportunity for every child’. A key part of the process of achieving this goal was introduce ‘facilities for free secondary education at once’. (p.45)

He notes that free places for poor children were provided at grammar schools, but many working class parents were unable to take them up because of the expense of providing school uniforms, a point Ian Hislop also made several years ago in a programme he made on the history of British education.

A similar position had already been adopted by some of the teacher unions. In 1925, anticipating the emphasis on differentiation that the Hadow Report would subscribe to, the Association of Assistant Masters (AMA) had called for the establishment of secondary education for all. though the sort of school that the AMA had in mind was one with multiple biases catered for on one site, rather than the separation of secondary age pupils into different schools, it was in the forefront of educational and political thinking on this policy issue.

In the late 1920s both the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Labour Teachers contributed to this process of setting the policy agenda. Both of these organisations made recommendations that the provision of post-primary education should be in secondary schools for all pupils. Their preference, like that of the AMA, was for multilateral or multibias schools but the policy principle was clear. Secondary schooling should be provided as a compulsory and free part of a state education system. This principle was clear by the teacher unions in evidence they gave to government enquiries into education in the 1930s. (p.46.)

This should serve to refute at least part of the Tories’ claim that the Labour party and the unions are only interested in wrecking education. On the contrary, they wanted it free for all children, not just those of the middle and upper classes, since the 1920s. Of course, there were some radical, ‘loony-left’ teachers in the 1970s and ’80s, who should not have been let near a classroom. But in general, the vast majority of teachers join the profession not to indoctrinate their little charges with ideas about spreading the Revolution, but simply because they want to stand in front of a whiteboard and teach. And those who do it frequently talk about how immensely rewarding it is.

The Tories, however, have used it as a political football, and the teaching unions as a convenient target for the failings of their own horrendous education policies. And I can remember a time in the 1980s when a group of Tory MPs declared that schools should only teach children the very basics – reading, writing and arithmetic, before sending them out into the world. Presumably anything else was not only too expensive, but also too likely to enable children from working and lower middle class backgrounds to compete with the public school boys and girls they felt should be running the country as their right. I can even remember one very Conservative businessman on Wogan, wincing when Terry showed a clip of him as an extreme Right-wing schoolboy declaring that ‘poor people shouldn’t be educated’. Secondary schooling has shown to be too popular, necessary and successful for the Tories to get away easily with destroying it. But university education, by contrast, has been shown to be a different thing.

As for the Tory party’s attitude now towards schools, they are far less interested in giving children a good education than in packaging the education system up as another income stream for their corporate donors. Remember Nikki Morgan blustering away to breakfast TV’s Charlie Stayt and refusing to answer the question when he asked her how many academy school chains had had to be taken back into state management? She didn’t answer the question, just blabbered on about how it would be wrong to leave failing schools in state management. She also can’t answer the simple maths question of what’s six times seven.

So let’s make it clear: one of the reasons children today have a secondary school education at all is because the Labour party and the teaching unions demanded it.

Gove and 19th Century British Education Provision

March 29, 2014

The Conservative Party Annual Conference

Michael Gove contemplating the government’s destruction of British state education

Unreasoning nostalgia is a British disease,

– Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space

Earlier this week the NUT staged a one-day strike against the government’s reforms of British schools. As with the rest of Conservative policy, this essentially consists in preparing the system for further privatisation and lowering wages and conditions. They also have their sights set on lowering standards as well. Taking their cue from the assumption of ignorant bar-room bores everywhere, the Tories have the attitude that just about anyone, or almost anyone, can teach without actually needing to be taught how. They are therefore trying to pass legislation to allow graduates to teach in schools without needing to have a teaching qualification first.

I did my first degree at a teacher-training college that also took ordinary degree students. The trainee teachers I knew were conscientious and worked extremely hard, both academically on their specialist subjects, and in the class-room during teaching practice. Often they were put in front of classes that could be difficult, stopping fights between pupils and sometimes with the threat of violence from parents. While there’s a lot of debate just how much of the theory of teaching and child development is relevant – the theories of Piaget have been extensively critiqued and rejected – it is nevertheless not an easy profession by any means. Teachers certainly need good training in how to teach, as well as what. All this will be undermined by Gove’s reforms.

Modern Conservatism is based on the view that laissez-faire, private industry is always best, and so looks back with nostalgia on the 19th century, when Britain dominated the world, we had an empire and industry was expanding. It was also an age of poverty, hunger, disease and overcrowding. And rather than being great, Britain in this respect had one of the worst education systems in western Europe.

France

In France, plans had been drawn up for a national system of primary, secondary and university education as long ago as 1806 under Napoleon. In practice, the regime got only as far as founding the lycees, the boarding schools for the elite. Under the education act of !833 drawn up by the French minister, Guizot, an impressive system of primary education was established. All communes were required to set up schools, which would provide education for local boys free of charge. The communes that could not afford to do so were to be given funding from their department, or, failing, that an annual grant from the Ministry of Public Instruction. As a result, in the thirteen years from 1834 to 1847 the number of primary schools in La Patrie increased from 33,695 to 43,514. By 1849 there were 3 1/2 million children attending primary school. Girl’s schools received much less funding, but nevertheless a law 1836 extended the 1933 Act to provide for schools for girls.

The French educational system was further reformed in 1863 under Napoleon’s minister for public instruction, Victor Duruy. Duruy was the Republican son of a worker in the Gobelins tapestry factory. He proposed to Napoleon III a system for the effective abolition of illiteracy, funding increases for secondary education, and increases in teachers’ salaries. Primary education was made compulsory, and a broader curriculum introduced for secondary schools. In 1866 nearly 66,000 pupils attended secondary school. The state also spent large sums on teachers’ salaries and in establishing good school libraries. In Matthew Arnold’s words, the French education system after Guizot had

given to the lower classes, to the body of the common people, a self-respect, an enlargement of spirit, a consciousness of counting for something in their country’s action, which has raised them in the scale of humanity.

Germany

Prussia had a ministry of public instruction and a system of local school boards from 1817 onwards. By the mid-19th century throughout all the German states primary education was compulsory. In Saxony, Wurttemberg, Bavaria, Baden and Prussia after 1857 parents had to send their children to the local state school. The age when children started school varied from state to state from five to eight years. In some parts of Germany school attendance was compulsory for a further eight years, so that the school leaving age was the same a century later. Unfortunately, education suffered through the use of child labour and widespread poverty, which took children out of the class room.

By 1837 Prussia already had a system of 50 gymnasia, set up to teach the children of the elite from 16 to 19. The curriculum was broader than that in France, and included philosophy, history, geography, arithmetic and geometry, as well as drawing and playing a musical instrument.

Austria

Under the liberal prime minister Auersperg in 1869 education became compulsory for all children from six to fourteen years of age. It has been seen by Harry Hearder, in his Europe in the 19th Century, 1830-1880, as more advanced than the British educational system introduced a year later. (p. 386). The parts of Italy under Austrian rule also benefited from this increase in education. In 1856 Lombardy possessed 4, 427 primary schools.

Switzerland and the Netherlands

The best schools in Europe were those in Switzerland and the Netherlands. Primary education had been made compulsory in most Swiss cantons in the 1830s, and Matthew Arnold considered Swiss schools superior to the French, with the schools in Aargau the very best in Europe.

In the Netherlands a system of state supervision of education had been established in 1806. Dutch schools were hygienic, with well-trained teachers, industrious and happy children, complete religious toleration and no corporal punishment.

Britain

There were a number of schools giving some form of education. These included the Dame Schools, in which an old woman kept a class of children quiet while their parents worked and the charity and Sunday schools. These were essentially religious in nature, and although there were 1 1/2 million pupils in Sunday schools in the 1830s, their pupils were not taught to write or do sums. There result was that there were high rates of illiteracy. By 1851 the literacy rate for men was about 69.3 per cent, and for women 51 per cent.

Under Dr James Kay-Shuttleworth in 1840 schools receiving state grants were obliged to adhere to certain standards, and in 1856 the Department of Education was set up. Nevertheless, a national system of education did not exist until the education act of 1870.

The children of the upper classes attended the grammar and public schools. There was, however, no national system of universal secondary education until 1880, or really, before the 20th century.

University Attendance in England, France, Germany and German Austria

The English universities were intended to produce a small, educated elite, unlike those in France, Italy, German Austria and Germany, which aimed at producing a larger cultured or professional class. As a result, in the 19th century far fewer people in England had the benefit of a university education. In France 1 in 1,900 citizens attended uni. In Italy, this was 1 in 2,200. In Germany and German-speaking Austria, it was 1 in 2,600. In Britain less than half as many had a university education one in 5,800 men.

British Education Dominated by Conservative Aristocratic Bias

Hearder therefore says of the British education system that it suffered from a narrowly aristocratic attitude. If the English upper class was as well educated as that of any other in Europe, the rest of the population remained wretchedly ignorant and neglected. (p. 388).

This attitude still persists in contemporary Tory attitude to education. Cameron, Osborne and Clegg are Toffs, who seem intent on pricing higher education out of the grasp of the lower middle and working classes with their raising of tuition fees. The educational reforms seem designed to wreck state education, leaving it purely run for the profit of private companies and unable to compete with the private schools. This seems partly intended to allow the wealthy to continue to the enjoy their educational and social privileges without having to worry about competition from the poorer children of the state sector.

And supporting this assault on state education is the popular belief, at least amongst some of the electorate, that this must raise standards because private is automatically better, as demonstrated by British imperial and industrial greatness during the 19th century. Britain, however, does not compare well in the sphere of mass education during the 19th century. The state systems of many nations, especially France, appear far better. If we genuinely care about giving a good education to our children, we should be looking to them, not back to a mythical age of imperial glory that promotes an attitude of indifference or active hostility to genuine, popular, state education.