One great quote from the video clip: “In a system that is meant to teach and help the youth, there is no voice from the youth at all.” This is sadly very true about many education systems.

Following on from my previous post Sir Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms, the innovative and effective self-directed learning or Independent projects could be one mode of reforming education for the 21st Century.

Evidence-based practice: why number-crunching tells only part of the story

Randomised Controlled Trials are a very good research method that can help radically reform education in order to meet the needs of the individual and society today.

An excerpt from Rebecca Allen’s blog: “Social contexts change faster than evolution changes our bodies. Whilst I would guess that taking a paracetamol will still relieve a headache in 50 years’ time, I suspect that the best intervention to improve pupil motivation and engagement will look very different to those we are testing in an RCT today. This means that our knowledge base of “what works” in education will always decay and we will have to constantly find new research money to watch how policies evolve as contexts change and to re-test old programmes in new social settings.”

Evidence-based practice: why number-crunching tells only part of the story.

Sir Ken Robinson – Changing Education Paradigms

With youth unemployment at an all-time high worldwide, it is seriously time to question all education systems and practices. Unfortunately too many education systems are based on what Sir Ken calls a “production line” mentality. Where we enter a system that should produce educated, enlightened and employable young people. We can see that these production line systems are failing to achieve this: a significant increase in early school leavers, low-skilled and under-educated young people, and high youth unemployment.

Why is this production line education system failing?

I completely agree with Sir Ken, education systems are built for a particular purpose and for period of history when society was a lot less complicated and homogenous.There are thousands of new job positions today that did not exist three years ago and Millions more compared to 50-60 years ago, our schools, curriculum and standardised teaching methods evidently cannot not keep up.

We are in desperate need of an education system that both educates individuals holistically for life and in preparation for the labour market.We need radical but effective education reforms that challenges pre-conceptions of education.

Should we have profit-making schools?

An incredibly well-balanced and informative article on the topic, profit-making schools.

An excerpt from Simon Burgess: “So profit-making is pointless at best: under the current market set-up, improvements in attainment would not make money (so would not happen) with profit-making schools, and cutting costs would make money but would either reduce attainment or leave it unchanged…..Profit making in schools would either solve all schools’ problems nor signal the end of civilisation; the issue provokes strong feelings, but largely misses what should be the central policy concerns. Big gains in levels of attainment depend on raising average teacher effectiveness and big gains in equity depend on weakening the importance of proximity as an admissions rule and on changing the allocation of effective teachers across schools. None of these would be strongly or directly affected by for-profit schools. However, there are certainly merits in piloting policies that link school’s revenue per student to the progress of that student, and incentivising cost reductions through keeping the surplus in the school.”

A right is not a right unless you know about it: why we must defend citizenship education

As a generation we need to ensure that we are doing all we can to impart out knowledge onto the next generation. We should continually find ways to new and exciting ways to empower young people but the basic foundations have be right and delivered effectively, otherwise the knowledge built on top of these foundations will eventually breakdown. Citizenship education is a basic fundamental tool to educate, empower and inspire anyone and everyone! Let us go back to basics and get it right!

Free Schools are not recruiting minority and ‘disadvantaged students’*

In short? Yes. But the factors explaining why free schools are not recruiting students from these groups is not so simple to explain.

Free schools were primarily created to address the attainment gap in the UK.  They have the same legal structures as Academies, which means they are free from local authorities when it comes to the operation of the school. Although funded through public money, free schools provide parents, teachers and others interested a chance to create new schools as a way to improve the choice of schooling.

Findings from the Race on the Agenda (ROTA) paper late last year outlined that free schools do not recruit students from the most deprived backgrounds and BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) students. With the knowledge that many students from deprived background and BAME students are on the wrong side of the attainment gap, how does this specifically designed policy not enroll their ‘target’ students?  ROTA highlights several reasons for this (for the complete list check out FYI):

  • Significant portions of free schools opened in deprived urban areas are not enrolling pupils from ‘disadvantaged’ backgrounds at the same rate as other local schools.
  • There is a lack of transparency around the free schools programme. The public information provided by free schools themselves in relation to equality and inclusion is also often limited. This obscures the degree to which free schools are benefitting socio-economically disadvantaged communities. Additionally, this lack of information reduces accountability.
  • There is a lack of engagement with BAME communities in the free schools programme. BAME communities – in particular those that have been acutely disadvantaged in education, such as African Caribbean, Pakistani, Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller communities – are underrepresented as leaders within successful free school projects. Communities are largely unaware of the free schools programme and the Department for Education does not appear to have given much attention to the engagement of such underrepresented communities.

Francis Gilbert takes an interesting view on the reason for this, believing that the policy is very flawed and favours wealthier parents.  A policy that helps wealthier parents is in serious danger of exacerbating the persistent educational inequalities faced by socio-economically ‘disadvantaged’ students. In my opinion, for free schools to fail to recruit students that would most benefit from this policy negates the achievements made by free schools in their GCSE results. Of course wealthier students will achieve better results; that is not credit to the new wave of schooling! In turn, this does not persuade me to believe that greater school autonomy in admission policies is the best way forward in education.

Education in many ways is becoming more and more like a business transaction, where only the wealthy can participate effectively and thus reap all the benefits.  However, all taxpayers pay into this idea of compulsory education until 18 so all members of society should reap the benefits!

For More Information:

Race On The Agenda: http://www.rota.org.uk/webfm_send/180

London School Network: Francis Gilbert’s article: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/11/new-research-shows-that-free-schools-are-not-recruiting-minority-and-disadvantaged-students/?subscribe=success#subscribe-blog

*Disadvantage is in quotation marks because I do not completely agree with the use of this word and think it is time we come up with an alternative word.

34 Million!

Sadly on the 9th October, news broke around the world that 15 year old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by a member of the Pakistani Taliban. Her crime?  Bravely advocating girls’ right to an education in her country. Two of Malala’s class mates also suffered injuries in the attack. Malala has been in the UK for over a month receiving special treatment and is said to be making a smooth recovery.

For a 15 year old girl to be so fearless and so daring is truly inspiring! When I was Malala’s age, I was in my final year at Secondary School stressing about GCSEs. I had the ambition to be involved in politics, but advocating for Human Rights was the last thing on my mind. This event has made more appreciative of living in a country where education is free and available to all females.

There are currently 34 million girls around the world who do not have any access to basic education, secondary education, let alone an opportunity to go to University. And to think that I have exercised this fundamental human right for the majority of my life and not once thought about the alternative. Who has not complained about school? Many of us have. But to not be able to reminisce on my nursery or primary school memories is unthinkable!

Even in countries where there is a limited access to free basic education, more legal work, policies and awareness is needed to ensure that education can be reached by all despite your gender.

The Financial Times article explores the importance of female literacy, I have listed a few points I felt were important to share:

– “Female literacy improves health and enables women to assert their legal rights.”

– “Education also affects fertility rates. Literate women tend to marry later and have smaller families. There can be marked differences within countries.”

– “There appears to be a correlation, too, between educated women and a decrease in sex-selective abortions. Putting more girls in school is the single best remedy to the tragedy of millions of “missing” women, though the link breaks down in China where the one-child policy has distorted the picture.”

Former Prime Minster of the UK and now the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, declared the 10th November Global Action Day for Malala and the 34 million girls not in school. You can support girls like Malala by signing the “Our million-plus petition”.

Even though our state education system in England is far from perfect, I am genuinely grateful to those that sacrificed and campaigned for my human right to an education- young women like Malala Yousafzai.

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition!

Earlier this month Education Ministers of the European Union (EU) had an informal meeting in Cyprus to discuss education policy and economic development. The aim was to explore how investment in education can have a positive effect on economic development and help young people’s labour market prospects. Nobel Prize winner and Professor at The London School of Economics (LSE) Mr. Christopher Pissarides was also present at this informal meeting. Mr Pissarides gave a presentation on the role of education in the Europe 2020 Strategy* and how education is a way to successfully exit from the economic crisis.

But do we not know this already? These methods are as profound and innovative as someone discovering gravity today! Yet these solutions are still not followed through with tangible and consistent investments. We do not need any more meetings and time spent on repeating common knowledge. Meanwhile, Education has been hit by austerity cuts across the EU and we will see the consequences of these cuts in years to come.

To discuss good education policy and investment in the next generation is a step in the right direction, but I will be saving my applause for something more concrete.

Cyprus Presidency of the European Union 2012: Press Release – Maintaining the quality of education in every way possible is a priority 

Cyprus Presidency of the European Union 2012: Feature – “Education is an investment and should not be allowed to suffer”

*As part of delivering growth through effective investments in education, below are two policy actions agreed to by all 27 member states of the EU:

· To reduce school drop-out rates below 10%

· For at least 40% of 30-34–year-olds completing third level education.

Commonsense really is not all that common

Once again the term ‘common-sense’ has been disproven. The recent change in the GCSE English grade boundaries mid-way through the academic year seems to have produced a winner and certainly several ‘losers’.

On 23rd August, students sadly found out that their grades had been relegated due to the decision to raise grade boundaries by exam boards. There are thousands of pupils who would have received a ‘C’ grade under the January grade boundaries however, in June they were awarded a ‘D’ grade under the new system. Despite admitting that students have been treated unfairly, Michael Gove (Education Minister) refused to readjust grade boundaries.

I thought it was ‘common’-sense not to change the rules during a course of a game and definitely not implement the rule changes without informing all participants. In the case of the English GCSE exams, the exam boards obviously did not apply the same rationale. The winners and losers are easily identifiable in a game. As a result of this fiasco, the ‘losers’ are the pupils who sat this exam in June, their English teachers and parents. It is widely accepted that education has a significant influence on life chances, and the boundary downgrade has unfortunately followed suit.  Thousands of pupils needed particular GCSE grades to go onto Further Education and later on when applying to university, usually a minimum grade ‘C’ is required.

To be accepted into a good university is highly competitive as it is. How many more knock backs in education can this generation take?  First the increase in tuition fees, then EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) was abolished and now this! Many pupils now have to re-sit their English exam before going on to Further Education. This now delays pupils by a year, although, on the 31st August, the exam regulator Ofqual offered those pupils who sat the exam in June an opportunity to re-sit in November.  Nevertheless, a re-sit five months later is of no use to students who need their results now.

English teachers and teachers in general put in a lot of effort to prepare their students for exams. The downgrade does not reflect such hard work.  Additionally, teachers formulate each pupil’s predicted grade and for a large percentage of pupils not to meet their target grade reflects badly on the teachers and the school.

Opposing arguments claim that predicted results are usually higher than that of the GCSE grades achieved. This may be the case but because of the downgrade the percentage difference between predicted and actual grade achieved is a lot higher.

With funding of schools indirectly linked to how well a school performs on the league table (parents tend to make a decision on which school their child will attend from the league table and funds now follow pupils through the pupil premium scheme) this blunder has a potential to affect school funding also. Parenting is a selfless, at times thank-less and expensive role.  Financially supporting a child in education is expensive and time-consuming. To unfairly assign parents with an extra year in this role should be addressed and compensated by the government.

The winner to me seems to be Michael Gove. He wanted school exams to be more rigorous and then the grade boundary catastrophe happens. Weeks later Gove conveniently announced that the GCSE will be replaced with the Ebacc (English Baccalaureate) in 2017 (this will be monitored and discussed in future posts).

There was certainly both a lack of transparency and communication between the examination bodies, schools and the government. Unlike the English government decision, the Welsh government decided to re-grade the disputed GCSE exam papers. Could this spark the beginning of Wales having their own examining body, thus devolving further powers away from Westminster?

What can we learn from this?

It is unknown why the English GCSE exams became harder in five months. Was this due to political influence? Did exam boards react out of fear of the Gove-levels? What we definitely know and what we can learn from this mess is that a student’s education and hard work should not be treated like this again. We are in need of efficient checks and balances on examining boards as Ofqual do not seem to be doing a great job.

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