Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Muscle, Guts and QTS: The de-professionalisation of teachers

(Richard Burton in Look Back in Anger, 1959)

'It's no good fooling about with teaching you know. You can't fall into it like a soft job without dirtying up your hands. It takes muscle and guts. If you can't bear the thought of messing up your nice, tidy soul, you better give up the whole idea of life and become a saint, because you'll never make it as a teacher' (Jimmy Porter)

Now, those of you who've watched the brilliant Look Back in Anger will know that I've used  a little artistic licence on young Jimmy's lines. But it's true though, teaching is bloody tough; emotionally, physically and mentally. It takes resilience, patience and determination to make it in the classroom. You'll experience plenty of highs and lows. Probably on the same same day. You'll need to constantly reflect, adapt and develop as a practitioner. You'll definitely need to get your hands dirty. This may, of course, take its toll. I spent 12 years at the chalkface and the lines on my forehead are a testament to my time served. That aside, teaching is also a wonderfully creative and artistic craft. If you've had the pleasure of observing a brilliant teacher in full-flow you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. The way they move the lesson along may seem effortless but it's no accident. I know many teachers and the effort they put in on a daily/ weekly/ termly basis. Not everyone thinks this is the case mind:

Teaching is a skilled profession. It takes years to master one's craft. Not only do you need extensive subject knowledge but also a detailed understanding of how children learn. More importantly, you need to be able to form meaningful and mutually respectful relationships  with unpredictable young people. That's why we have teacher training though. It's to prepare you for what will hopefully be a long and prosperous career helping young people to fulfil their ambitions and potential. Yeah, there's quite a bit riding on initial teacher training. I currently work with trainee teachers and know the amount of effort and heartache (and financial strife) they go through in order to become qualified teachers. It's a huge and honourable commitment. But sadly one that has been undermined by government policy which seems intent of de-professionalising teachers. 

According to recent statistics, over half a million children are currently being taught in classrooms across the country by unqualified teachers. This figure has been on the rise since the government relaxed the requirements for schools to employ teachers without QTS   back in 2012. This raises worrying questions about the level of professional expertise of some teachers. I'm not suggesting that every unqualified teacher in is incapable of doing the job but, as a parent, I won't my children to be taught be trained teachers in the same way they are to be treated by trained nurses. There is also a wider concern. If we are heading towards a growth in Scripted Direct Instruction and the use of Comparative Judgement then there's no reason why this would need to be done by a highly qualified teacher. 

During these worrying times of school budget cuts there is a danger that more schools will be forced to hire unqualified teachers as a way of saving money (approximately £10,000 per member of staff on the equivalent QTS scale). Relaxing the need for QTS undermines the profession, de-skills teachers and potentially harms children's learning. It is also massively disrespectful to all the teachers who invested so much into become qualified.  Or, as Jimmy would  say, 'you're doing what? When I think of what I did! What I had to endure?!'

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Bo' Selective! A School System that Works for the Select Few.

Yesterday the Tory Government pledged a generous £320m for the building of 110 new Free Schools including the expansion of selective schools. The Tories claim that building more selective schools will ensure an educational system 'which works for everyone'. Not only is this absolute bollocks but comes at a time when  schools are facing unprecedented budget cuts which are likely to have a devastating impact on children's learning; especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds (NUT and ATL, 2016). One of the biggest concerns is that this policy is largely based on selective evidence from crudely selective anecdotal memories. This post will give a brief overview of the history of selective education and consider evidence as to why expanding academic selection will not improve social mobility but is likely further increase and entrench segregation for many years to come.  

The History

In 1944 the Education Act was passed giving access to free secondary education for all children for the first time in the country's history. The vision was built upon the idea that 'at the age of 11, secondary education of diversified types but on equal standing, will be provided for all children' (McCulloch, 1998). The relativity simplistic (and misguided) idea was to create a system that would break down social barriers and allow more able children from disadvantaged backgrounds to receive an academic education and help them to climb the social ladder. Consequently, the act created a tripartite system based on a (now disproved) theory that children were born with innate intelligence and ability and as such should receive a specific type of education...

Grammar schools to focus on academic studies.
Secondary modern schools to prepare children for trades.
Technical schools to teach mechanical, scientific and engineering skills.  

Entrance to the grammars was dependent upon children passing an 11-plus selective examination. Effectively, an IQ test. This would then allow the top 25% of pupils to attend the grammar schools while the rest were left to attend the Secondary Moderns and Technical. However, as few of the latter were built it ultimately created a bipartite system. The ideological reasoning behind Secondary Moderns was that they would provide an education for the less academic pupils who would be able to turn their hands to a growing labour market. However, as the government ploughed money into the creation of these grammar schools, many of the Secondary Moderns (serving working class communities) were allowed to fall into a state of disrepair 'without proper lighting, with inadequate heating, with primitive sanitation, with no inside water, with a single washbasin and a towel with scores of children' McCulloch, 1998, p. 68). Sound familiar? 

Another criticism of grammar schools was that they often led to cultural assimilation where 'working-class children are turned into middle-class citizens' (Jackson and Marsden, 1962, p. 15). Indeed, many of these children felt disconnected from their communities and friends as they were expected to engage in more middle class arts, sports and culture (Todd, 2014).  As a consequence many children were left feeling disconnected from their working class communities and yet unable to infiltrate the middle class cultural circles they had been tossed in to. 

Sadly, the idea of social mobility base on meritocracy was never quite achieved. In her brilliant book,  'The People; The rise and fall of the working class', Selina Todd explains how this system of selection didn't create equality of opportunity but was extremely elitist and reserved the best places for very few children. Indeed, only 10% of children from working-class families were awarded places at grammar schools (Todd, 2014). Furthermore, it created wider divisions as it implied that only the select few really deserved to get on in life. Grammar schools grew throughout the 1950s and 60s although they remained resolutely and predominately middle-class and elitist. Another problem with this bipartite system was that it not only created a two-tier system of education but a two-tier mentality amongst children; on the one hand their was the elitist 25% and on the other hand those that were deemed just not-good-enough at a very young age. 

In a 2011 documentary Melvin Bragg interviewed a number of people who sat and the 11-plus exam during the 1950s/ 60s. One of the most striking things about the documentary is how much those who didn't pass the exam felt like failures from a young age. For some, a sledgehammer to their self-confidence and a sense of guilt and shame they would carry for the rest of their lives. There were also many who spoke of the pressure they felt in having to pass the exam. To introduce yet another high-stakes exam at a time when we are seeing rising numbers of pupils' with mental ill-health is not only cruel but makes a mockery of the Tory government's claim that they want to address this worrying trend. .

During the late 1960s/ early 1970s grammar schools started to decline and by the latter part of of the decade many Local Authorities had abandoned the 11-Plus and moved to a comprehensive system of education. Throughout this period many grammar schools and secondary moderns were amalgamated to create large comprehensive schools. By the 1980s only 5% of schools in England were grammars and  in 1998 the opening of new grammar schools was completely prohibited. Fast-forward twenty years...

Schools that work for everyone

In September 2016 the Conservative government launched their consultation paper 'schools that work for everyone' in an attempt to obtain views on 'proposals to create more schools places' (DfE, 2016). The government responded to the consultation by proposing that both grammar and selective schools should be allowed to expand. The following evidence was used to support this commitment:

1. Existing wholly-selective schools produce good exam results for pupils.
2. Selective schools can be particularly beneficial for pupils on lower incomes.
3. Pupils in non-selective schools in selective areas perform worse. 

All of this selective evidence was based on three pieces of research conducted by or on behalf of the Sutton Trust. However, two studies are from 2008 and one is from 2004 which hardly makes it the cutting-edge of educational research. Based on this very selective and limited evidence the government have proposed that:

a) Existing grammar schools should be able to expand.
b) The opening of new selective schools should be permitted.
c) Non-selective schools permitted to become selective.

There are, of course, some people who think that this is not an attempt to increase social mobility but rather a crude vote-winning vanity project...

Evidence against grammar schools

A report from the Euducation Policy Institute (2016) on grammar schools and social mobility highlighted that: 

1. No overall attainment impact of grammar schools, either positive or negative.
2. Disadvantaged children are underrepresented in grammar schools. Just 2.5% are eligible for Free School Meals compared to the national average which is 15.1% (DfE, 2015).
3. No Significant impact on social mobility. 
4. Expansion of grammar schools could lead to greater loses for poorer children.
5. High achieving pupils achieve just as well in high-quality non-selective schools.
6. The academies programme has had a more positive impact on the attainment of disadvantaged pupils compared with the present grammar school system.

Then there was this report from the House of Commons Education Committee (2016) which was quite scathing of the government's plans for increased selection and were left unconvinced that the government had produced enough evidence to make a convincing argument for the expansion of selective schools in England. This can be summed up by this exchange between Nick Gibb and Neil Carmichael during the committee's review of the evidence:

Throughout the 1950s some social researchers were arguing that selection was being used as an 'insidious means of keeping most children at the bottom of the pile' (Todd, 2014). The introduction of grammar schools was intended to improve social mobility and provide equality of opportunity, however, in reality it led to greater social segregation and inequality. Let's not make the same mistake again...


Department for Education (2016), Schools that work for everyone. 

Department for Education (2015), Schools, pupils and their characteristics. 

Education Policy Institute (2016), Grammar Schools and Social Mobility.

House of Commons Education Committee (2016), Evidence Check: Grammar Schools. 

Jackson, B. and Marsden, D. (1962), Education and the Working Class. Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd. 

McCulloch, G. (1998), Failing the Ordinary Child? The theory and practice of working-class secondary education. Buckingham: Open University Press. 

Sutton Trust (2008), Evidence on the effects of selective educational systems.

Todd, S. (2014), 

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Hardship High: Seldon's Selective Schools

(Image: Sir Anthony Seldon auditioning for the Apollo Theatre's stage production of 
Saturday Night Fever)

On Friday 3rd March the iNews website published an article by ex-Master of Wellington College, Sir Anthony Seldon, on 'How we could solve education’s inequality problems with just 100 new schools' . Seldon believes that education's lack of equity could be easily solved by building 100 new  selective Free Schools. According to Seldon, these 'May Schools' would be different from grammar schools as they would only be for the 'bottom 25% of the population'. Seldon goes on to suggest that the schools would only target 'bright, disadvantaged students who the current system is failing'.  But only if you're the poorest of the poor. If you're just outside this arbitrary measure then you'll just need to get on with being let down. Throughout his article Seldon goes on to answer 'your questions' which he writes and poses to himself. Nonetheless, there's still a few things that bother me...

Why only the bottom 25%?

This seems somewhat unfair when given that 28 - 30% (CPAG, 2016) of children are now living in poverty? Is it not pretty cruel to tell a child that 'we know you're poor but you're not quite poor enough for our selective school'. I suppose there's no need to worry though as these borderline impoverished kids can always try and get into one of the new (old) types of grammar schools. However, they will of course have to compete against middle class children who's parents can afford to pay for extra tuition to get their children through the 11-plus exam.

What about Hardship High's entrance exam? 

According to Seldon, middle class children would not be able to apply unless they happen to be in the bottom 25% of the socio-economic groups. Anyhow, these tests will somehow separate those with genuine academic potential to those who have been 'drilled' to pass the 11-plus by being 'far more subtle'. What does this even mean? And will subtler be interpreted to mean easier in the eyes of parents, peers and potential employers? 

And the stigma?

There's already a huge stigma attached to children who claim Free School Meals. Thankfully, this has been reduced through the introduction of electronic payments however many pupils know which of their peers are entitled to a free meal each day. How will children feel going to Hardship High or Council Kid College? Will knowing that you're the best of the bottom 25% fill you will pride and aspiration? 

Seldon also goes on to suggest that his May Schools will eventually lead to 15,000 pupils each year looking to go on to study at university. Even if these pupils do finish Hardship High with a decent set of results doesn't mean they'll want to go to univesity to rack-up 50K worth of debts. Unless the university's he proposes are attached to these schools offer  grants and bursaries for disadvantaged students. Also, how will these schools be viewed by univeristies? After all, they only select from the bottom 25% of children. Disadvantaged children already are disproportionally represented (6%) at Russell Group Universities (Guardian, 2016). These schools could increase this segregation even more. 

How will these schools affect the disadvantaged children?

One of the criticisms of grammar schools is that they often lead to cultural assimilation where 'working-class children are turned into middle-class citizens' (Jackson and Marsden, 1962, p. 15). Historically, many of these children felt disconnected from their communities and friends as they were expected to engage in more middle class arts, sports and culture (Todd, 2014). Seldon also seems to ignore the potential harm which can be caused by Boarding School Syndrome (Schaverien, 2015) which is caused by sending children away from normal family life at a young age. 

What about those children who don't get in?

'These entrance exams would be geared towards whether the child could benefit from an academic school career'. Should every child not be afforded this opportunity? So, what happens to those children who don't get into the new grammar schools, Hardship High Schools, or any of the other schools who decide to convert to selection under the government's proposals? There's an underlying elitism and snobbery here that only grammars and May Schools can provide a rigours and academic education. Seldon might do well to visit many state schools across the country who are managing to do this within very limited budgets. 

Seriously though, where does the money come from?

Seldon claims that the 100 new schools would cost £3bn to build but attempts to justify this by arguing that the money is only for the most able and disadvantaged in society. I'm sure this will go down particularly well with teachers whose schools are facing budget cuts under the government's Unfair Funding Formula. Seldon does, however, suggest each Hardship High School will be attached to an independent school who will be able to 'provide academic enrichment in certain subjects'. I'm sure schools such as Wellington College, who charge up to £37K per year fees, will gladly help these Hardship High Schools as it will protect their charitable status which collectively reduces the public purse by about £250 million in tax each year (Independent, 2016). 

I'm sure the 13th Master of Wellington College meant well when he wrote this article on Friday but his Hardship High Schools won't help to reduce inequality but will lead to further educational segregation and a much worse deal for the majority of poorer children. 


Child Poverty Action Group, 'Child poverty facts and figures' (June 2016). 

Guardian, 'Universities told to raise number of working-class and black students', (February 2016). 

Jackson, B. and Marsden, D. (1962), Education and the Working Class. Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd. 

Todd, S (2014), The People; the rise and fall of the working class. London: John Murray. 

Schaverien, J. (2015), Boarding School Syndrome: The Psychological Trauma of the 'Privileged' Child. Abingdon: Routledge. 

This is the re-working/ writing of a post I wrote yesterday. Realised I've got much more to say about the government's expansion of selection schools. It's coming soon...