Following the ‘Brexit’ referendum and the recent series of affrays across the political landscape, with a resultant refreshed exposition on the economy, the topography of industry is now littered with claims for an upsurge in economic flexibility, innovation, challenge and growth.
We revisit Sir Ken Robinson talking about ‘How to Change Education?’ as a consequence.
What better time in the current climate to look again at the education reform focus of the Robinson arguments about schools as Enlightenment driven, rigid, formulaic and command and control industrial systems.
The RSA Animate, featured above was a wonderful synthesis of those arguments and offers a direct challenge to some more traditional ‘informed thinking’ about the educational process for our children.
You can see the full, original RSA talk (24 mins) by Ken Robinson in July 2013 here…
With the socio-political present focus on ‘the other’, isolation and insularity – the call to arms for fresh thinking about creativity embedded in the Robinsonian education reform argument, to secure the future of all our children, becomes now doubly telling, we think.
‘…Ofsted’s chief inspector of schools, warned that there is a continuing crisis in the education of the poor white working class. Some don’t like to hear that, because they think concentration on difficulties experienced by the white working class detracts from the attention owed to disadvantaged minority students also left behind. But I have little time for that zero-sum game. I think we should address all underachievement‘.
The concept of the working class as a distinctive cohort is problematic. Whether white or dosadvantaged the label attempts t make a singular ‘mass of people’ from a bewildering variety of experience, expectation and shades of outcome.
In her recent article in The Guardian, ‘Why Class Won’t Go Away’, Lynsey Hanley powerfully reflects upon the schisms revealed by the recent referendum and the Brexit debate. The vote, she argues, was split by class and geography.The rising wave of social and economic inequality which has been tolerated for so long at last, in the referendum process, found an outlet for its harboured discontents.
In her work, we would argue, she defines a much more granular and subtle mapping of the working class experience.
Hanley declares that the epithet ‘white working class’ has been a way to define an amorphous cohort in society certainly, ‘…who sort of look like us but who don’t seem to be like us, and we can’t work out why’. ‘The idea that, in a group as heterogeneous as the British working class, it is only the white members who have been “abandoned” has proved magnetic to both columnists and politicians‘, as referenced in the opening remarks from Ofsted above.
Even the Labour Party, Hanley argues, has embraced the singular entity of the white working class as a means to aggregate reasons for the failure of the party at the polls. She nicely evidences the distance of The Labour Party from its ‘working class’ electorate with a narrative of how, pre the 2015 election, Labour Central Office had been unable to find a ‘worker on the minumum wage’ for commentary recording as no-one in the office knew any.
Perhaps it also highlights the vast distance between Party machines of all colours from their grassroots members lived experience.
‘Far more than in other western European countries, if you are born poor in Britain, in a poor area, the chances are that you will remain poor for the rest of your life. If you are born rich, in a rich area, the likelihood is that you will find a way – or will have ways come to you – to stay wealthy and privileged throughout your life, and your children will do the same’.
Hanley describes living in Solihull in the West Midlands in the 1980’s, where the term ‘working class’ was never used. Instead ‘people like us’ or ‘the likes of us’ held sway she says. This is the working class, arguably, defining itself as separate, as a methodology to protect individual and family from the depredations of ever mounting scoial and economic inequality.
‘It needs to be acknowledged that “helplessness” or “dependency” – as defined by politicians seeking to blame individuals for structural failings – is an adaptive stance rather than an innate fact of character’ Hanley says.
In a recent article in The Huffington Post, Sarah Newton argues that class persists too. The schisms defined by Hanley are securely entrenched by the use of, what Newton calls, ‘constructive cultivation’.
This is a framework of social, economic, educative and psychological processes that push middle class children to engage with and perpetuate a class based educational and expectational life landscape.
‘Until we accept in this country that the class system is having an impact on education choices later in life and face it head on and challenge it, then nothing will ever change’.
Equally important for Newton is the cultural legacy of the working class. This neatly chimes with the Hanley thesis of identity as defence. The layering of approaches to low expectation and social prejudice that condition the individual’s approach to life progress. They are, she argues, inherited from generation to generation.
Class has not gone away, it has become bound to the rocky strata of education, politics and economic behaviour. It is bound to the bedrock of inequality. It is this restraining shale which education reform should try and shatter, permanently.
To make the phrase ‘…I think we should address all underachievement’ a la Hugh Muir really mean something.
Read Lynsey Hanley’s book and explore her argument about working class culture and the enduring nature of class inequality – Respectable: The Experience of Class, Allen Lane, April 2016.
Why is class still so central to the experience of living in Britain? It is an urgent question, evaded through a kind of collective shame, but Lynsey Hanley approaches it with wit and passion.Respectable is pithy and provoking, spiced with the personal but solidly grounded in a lifetime’s experience of analysing the world around her. It is one of those valuable books that enables the reader to re-think her past and re-experience her own life. (Hilary Mantel, a review))
Thursday 22 September, 2016 7pm-8.30pm
Venue: King Solomon Academy, Penfold St, London NW1 6RX
Join us next Thursday for a gathering to show our collective support for comprehensive education and our opposition to the creation of new grammar schools.
This will be a positive rally that will involve a number of inspirational speakers, a chance to find out what happens next and the opportunity to share any ideas you have to try and win the argument in public and in parliament. It should also be great opportunity to meet others who share your concerns about the Green Paper.
Confirmed speakers include: Fiona Millar, Writer and Founder of Local Schools Network Becky Allen, Director of Education Datalab Joanne Bartley, Kent parent and chair of Kent Education Network David Weston, Founder and Chief Executive of the Teacher Development Trust Laura McInerney, Editor of Schools Week Melissa Benn, Writer and current Chair of Comprehensive Future Katrina Black, Regional Director – Europe, Teach For All Louka Travlos, Impact Strategy, National Citizens Service Ndidi Okezie, Executive Director – Delivery, Teach First
Flotsam: an occasional series of ideas from other places…
Bill Gates is in conversation with Nate Bowling, the Washington State Teacher of the Year for 2016 in the US. In the dialogue, the teacher tells Bill Gates that for many students learning ‘…is a matter of life and death’.
“If my students are not successful in school, they end up in the prison-industrial complex.”
The conversation reveals that in the US public school system, half the students enrolled live in poverty. With more than 70 percent of students qualifying for ‘…free or reduced price meals’.
In a separate publication Nate Bowling had published a blog article which has garnered a lot of attention. In it he declares that ‘…America does not care what happens to poor people and most black people‘. The article, entitled The Conversation I’m Tired of not Having, Mr. Bowling goes on to decry the lack of simple political will, in the US, to effect change and re-balance equity in educational opportunity and achievement.
‘Polite society has walled itself off and policymakers are largely indifferent. Better funding for schools is and will remain elusive, because middle class and wealthy people have been conditioned over the last 35 years to think of themselves as taxpayers, rather than citizens’.
In both the conversation with Bill Gates, and in his own article, Nate Bowling has some profoundly strong and supportive comments to make about teaching as a profession and the nature of the role his professional colleagues play, in the disenfranchised school system he works in.
The narrative has a strong resonance in the UK, with the laborious ebb and flow of educational policy, coupled to outcomes that continue to widen, not alleviate, the inequality gap for the many.
Bill Gates conversation with Nate Bowling originally appeared in Gates Notes. Nate Bowling’s reflection on teaching and the development of his profession originally appeared in natebowling.com .
Read both articles to get insights into the US public shool system from the perspective of a black teacher. It is interesting, and provocative, to those who would press for the continuance of the status-quo.
A recent parliamentary report, by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee,Digital Skills Crisis, looks at the state of IT in business, education and the development of a broader UK strategy.
The report contains not only the analysis, assessment and findings of the committee, but also looks at a variety of conclusions and recommendations for the sector.
The findings of the committee declare that there is a ‘digital divide’ in the UK, with up to 12.6 million adults lackiing basic digital skills. The report finds that there are probably still some 5.8 million people who have yet to use the internet at all.
The report identifies a recent Royal Society report into Digital Skills and notes…
‘If the workforce is to be future-proofed, education systems in the UK must be designed to equip everyone with strong literacy and numeracy skills, information literacy and a mind-set that is flexible, creative and adaptive. This will be crucial to preparing today’s young learners for a future economy in which the skills needed are not only unpredictable now, but will continue to change throughout their careers…’
In the Committee report it is concluded that Ofsted have found the impact of digital technology on education standards has been varied. The variety of outcome, Ofsted argues, is due to a lack of standard investment across the sector, access to high speed broadband geographically and suitable teacher support for the cause of Digital Skills.
The report is generally praiseful of the changes to the ICT curriculum from September 2014, with stress placed on the input of industry experts and academia. However, only a third of teachers hold the relevant qualification for ICT and cites a report from the British Computer Society, which stated that only 25% of computing teachers felt conficdent delivering the revised curriculum.
Some, but not all, of the recommendations made by the Committeee include…
‘The Government has set targets for recruiting teachers in Maths and Physics. They should also make a similar pledge for Computer Science’.
‘We recommend that the Government request Ofsted to include the computing curriculum in their inspections…’
‘The Government should encourage the uptake of existing available resources by schools, many of which are free.’
‘We recommend that the Government work with the Tech Partnership to establish a regular forum for employers to raise and discuss their priorities for ensuring the computing curriculum and its teaching stay up to date, and to help ensure that other school subject qualifications provide a foundation for a broader range of digital careers.’
We recommend this comprehensive, clear headed and detailed report from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee to all who are interested in education and the digital economy. See the full report here.
Interestingly the RSA have recently published new research, which shows how, in the North of England, enterprise in the digital sector is booming. A veritable Digital Powerhouse in the North in fact.
Reading the two reports together, it is apparent that embedded in this second report from the RSA, is a development success in digital enterprise, that, it can be argued, runs across the grain of the pessimism of the Parliamentary report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee above.
We offer the new work, Digital Powerhouse (.pdf), using as it does the digital economy of the north of England as both metaphor and research instance to examine and make suggestions for development in what is obviously a successful arena. In spite of, not because of, education if seen through the prism of the House of Commons paper.
…a succinct and user-friendly guide to help schools address prejudice, reduce bullying and promote equality holistically. Created with schools for schools, the guide is sponsored by the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union in the UK, and has won an Innovative Practice Award 2016 from the Zero Project, for a world with zero barriers.
The work sets out to engage the whole school community, with a very strong focus on placing children at the heart of the safeguarding process. The resources included offer a range of good examples, audit tools and a wealth of links to more information to suppport project development.
‘Materials can be used for teaching and learning activities, assemblies, peer mentoring, school council, staff training, equality policy and whole school development’.
Flotsam is our occasional series of ideas, from other places, that can have impact on education, learners and can support change.
This U.S. based initiative marries the generosity of donors with the needs of an under-resourced public school system in the United States.
Started by a teacher of history in 2000, the project now has heavyweight supporters and has affected the educational lives of some 18 million plus learners. They have ‘mobilised’ over 2 million ‘citizen donors’ to support the work of the project in the intervening years.
Acting as a sort of Kickstarter for a resource hungry education system, vetted schools and teachers can seek supporters through the project web pages for classroom developmental projects. The DonorsChoose team mediate all donations, purchase of resources and their transfer to the school.
Classroom projects are available on-line, with the often quite modest sums needed, and the web site flags those classrooms closest to the finish line, with the least days left to donate or who have the highest povery of resources.
This short film shows how the impact is achieved.
We liked the enthusiasm and detailed focus of the work. It allows donors to precisely target their donation. We can see that it can also build long term relationships with a school or classroom community and provide a range of enhancements and additionality to for children in an under-resourced sector. See more here…
With perhaps a slightly different angle of approach, is there space in the UK for this attraction of modest donations to local classrooms in a professional, mediated way to bring additionality to the British classroom?
Professor Trevor Marchand writes… On the evening of Tuesday March 15, I screened my new documentary film, The Intelligent Hand, at the Fab Lab in the City of London. The event was hosted by the RSA Inequality in Education Network and attracted a diverse audience of educators, university academics, practicing craftspeople, woodwork trainees, and professionals from various sectors.
See The Intelligent Hand here…
I introduced the film with a short talk on craftwork and education, and the screening was followed by a period of focussed discussion amongst audience members in small groupings. In turn, this set the scene for an open Q&A and general conversation. Our discussion was framed by the broad question: ‘What needs to change in order to make vocational education and craftwork attractive options in Britain?’
This article provides a synopsis of my introductory talk before offering a summary of the key issues raised by audience members in conversation.
I began my talk with a brief overview of the anthropological fieldwork I have carried out over the past two decades with minaret builders in Yemen, mud-brick masons in Mali, and fine woodwork trainees in Britain. Each of these studies aimed to understand the technical, social and cultural mechanics of apprenticeship systems and skill-based learning. My research has been part of a burgeoning interest among social scientists, educators, and cognitive and neuroscientists in embodied ways of learning and knowing. My ethnographic approach has endeavoured to move the study of human knowledge well beyond what people say and think to include what they actually do, in practice.
My findings robustly challenge the enduring Cartesian division made between internal mind operations and physical doing. The data demonstrates that craftspeople are thinking with tools-in-hand, and they are actively engaged with materials, other actors, and the surrounding environment in their pursuits to solve problems, enhance skills, broaden knowledge, and construct social identities and professional status.
Calculating, theorising, setting goals, imagining outcomes, and working out hypothetical pathways toward a solution are very much a part of both design and making in craftwork. But, equally, physicists, mathematicians, and philosophers engage bodily and sensorily with the world in solving the tasks and problems they set for themselves. In sum, my introductory talk demonstrated that the boundary drawn between ‘academic’ and ‘hands-on’ work is less tidy and far more porous than what is popularly assumed.
To conclude, I stressed that practical skill learning is not ‘unthinking imitation’. Rather, it involves multiple and highly complex forms (of often non-verbal) communication and, like scholarly knowledge, skilled practice is a hard-earned cognitive achievement. Britain’s education policies therefore need to be reformed around a more holistic definition of ‘knowledge’ – one that recognises the unity of mind and body and that desists from imputing hierarchy between them.
Practical know-how must be accorded the value and status that it merits: not merely for increasing economic productivity or reducing the nation’s skills gap, but more importantly craftwork should be celebrated and promoted as an attractive career path leading to satisfying work and life.
‘What needs to change in order to make vocational education and craftwork attractive options in Britain?’ This question generated our open conversation. Audience members broke into discussion groups and an individual from each volunteered to act as spokesperson, offering a summary of the key ideas, issues, and further questions that arose. A general conversation followed.
Angela launched the exchange with her group’s observation that, historically, England’s education policy has been framed by a persistent mind-body dualism. By contrast, she urged recognition of ‘the parity between using one’s brain and one’s hands’, and she drew our attention to the Steiner School example and its emphasis on learning-by-doing. Anna later noted that tuition fees for Steiner Schools were prohibitively costly for the average family, while, distressingly, state school curricula for young children includes little if any practical hands-on learning.
Cheryl, a college woodworking instructor in the audience, added that, regrettably, ‘many secondary schools no longer host woodworking courses: it’s expensive; it takes up a lot of space; the tools and machinery are expensive; and the overheads are expensive.’ As a consequence, career options in the crafts and trades are made invisible to British youth. As one audience member said, ‘there is a need to make craftspeople role models’. Like sports celebrities, artists, and renowned chefs, their names, skills, values, and contributions to society need to be made part of popular public discourse.
Both David and Sam, as spokesmen for their groups, interrogated the entrenched divide between academic and vocational education, and society’s tendency to stereotype ‘vocational education’ as ‘a cheap job-training scheme, providing a basic level of skills to get people into employment’. The ambiguity of the term ‘vocational’ and its relation to the equally woolly category ‘craft’ was raised.
Emma, a furniture maker, queried the distinction made at her college between fine woodwork as a craft and the bench joinery programme as a vocational route. It was suggested that the NVQ framework has had the effect of narrowing popular understanding of ‘vocational’ as a kind of ‘non-academic, technical training’ for tradespeople, craftspeople, and technicians. In the past, by contrast, vocational training also encompassed the education of lawyers, architects, engineers, and medical doctors. Training in these latter disciplines became firmly established within the university; and today, Sam noted, university qualifications are ‘perceived as more valuable’ and therefore ‘fetch greater remuneration in the job market’.
One participant in Wendy’s group was Swiss, and another Swedish, and together they discussed ‘the differences between Britain and other countries’ in terms of the structural relations between academic and vocational/craft pathways. It emerged that in some European countries it is easier to ‘cross from one to the other’, depending on what kinds of skills and knowledge an individual needs at different points in their professional development.
In Enna’s group, one university student described the Institute of Making at UCL, which, according to its website, is ‘a cross-disciplinary research club for those interested in the made world,’ from molecules to buildings. Group members extolled the notion that ‘doing something with your hands should not be divorced from a university education’.
Joe, as spokesman for his group, asked ‘Can computer coding be considered a craft?’ In response, I recounted my arrival at the Fab Lab earlier that evening, when a young man working there inquired about the subject of my talk. I replied, ‘The importance of craftwork’. He smiled, saying, ‘Oh great! I can relate to that.’ I asked what he did. He told me, ‘I design circuit boards’. In our brief exchange, he made no hesitation in relating his work to ‘craft’: circuit board design, like blowing glass or potting, involves a unity of hands and mind in making, experimenting, and creatively solving problems as they arise.
Another audience member added that he too viewed his work as a craft. He claimed that as a management consultant who analyses and solves business problems, his practice ‘combines art and science’. ‘It involves whole-body learning,’ he continued. ‘It’s about perception, it’s about understanding situations and being able to interpret them. I just use a different set of tools from planes and chisels.’
The subject of ‘power and inequality’ was also tabled for discussion. Graham proclaimed that, ultimately, ‘it’s all about power: about empowering people to bring about social and economic change’. He lamented craft’s second-class status and ventured, ‘If people – in education, in politics, in society – could be made to understand that craftwork can be powerful, it would move mountains. But until we achieve that realisation, we’ll carry on with the malaise that we’ve got.’ Richard highlighted the perverse fact that those most handsomely remunerated are those in the finance sector ‘who make absolutely nothing: they don’t make things, they don’t make books, they don’t make education, they don’t heal us of our ills.’
In thinking about ‘what needs to change’, Catherine pointed to the kinds of social reform advocated by William Morris, and argued for the continued relevance of his ideas. According to Rachel, the starting point for change needs to be with us, the consumers: ‘We need to stop buying cheap sh** from IKEA. We need to seriously understand the value of an object and the effort that goes into making something.’ Emma, the furniture maker, shared her story of struggle to make a living as a craftsperson and the need to find work outside her practice in order to make a living and survive. Wendy, too, told us of friends who tried to set up as woodworkers, and failed. ‘Alongside craft skills need to go business skills,’ she said, and that needs to be a core part of craft and any other kind of vocational training.
Brian underscored the need to focus on inequality, as it is made manifest in power structures, gender hierarchies, social-class privilege and, importantly, access to education, training and work within the craft sector. He felt that craft has an important role to play in counteracting inequality in its various guises. In the UK, for example, women and minority groups are patently underrepresented in carpentry, and niche practices such as fine woodwork and furniture-making are dominated by trainees and practitioners from the middle classes.
Concerning gender, Cheryl, the college instructor, noted that in some years no female trainees enrol on the fine-woodwork programme. She could not explain why this happens, especially since ‘there is not the same stigma attached to going into the carpentry trades for girls as there is for boys’. It is often perceived that boys going into the trades must have failed or performed poorly in school. Cheryl recounted her own experience:
‘I went to an all-girls’ grammar school, and my parents were both teachers. So I can’t imagine that if I were a guy I would have ended up an apprentice on a Southwark council scheme. But that was a wise move for me: I received wages to go to college and get an education, and the qualifications to eventually become a teacher and an assessor. I don’t think that could have happened if I were a boy.’
Charlotte offered some final thoughts on the original question I had posed. She invested hope in the emerging neuroscience discourse to positively change popular (mis)conceptions about the mind-body relation.
‘The neurosciences are informing us that learning is a whole-body activity: that it involves posture and rhythm; it’s about connection to tools; and it involves training vision and touch. All forms of education and work demand that our sensory capabilities are fully developed. When an individual is developed in this way, they are both craftsperson and academic, endowed with creative understanding. We need to develop people broadly.’
Thanks to the Inequality in Education Network, and especially John Bayley and Lynda Haddock for organising and mediating the event. Thanks to Fab Lab for graciously hosting us. And thanks to all those who attended and participated in what was – I hope for all – an evening of stimulating conversation and exchange.
Flotsam is our occasional series of ideas on education from other places. We discovered Savvy yesterday.
This is a platform for teachers to find students, around the world, for one to one sessions. Booking and sessions are easily accessible once signed in and the Savvy system takes care of all payments and cancellation protocols.
This short film shows how the service works…
Teachers can set up their own unique web page on the service, affording them the opportunity to layout their specialist offer, as well as setting their fees for teaching.
Learners can search for teachers by theme, across a variety of subjects. These range from the usual academic subjects, to business coaching and support and life skills.
We liked the simplicity of the process with Savvy and can see how a busy education consultant might extend their range and client base with the Savvy system.
Digital Dividends is the 2016 World Bank development report assessing the state of digital access, utility and relevance across the world.
”We find ourselves in the midst of the greatest information and communications revolution in human history. More than 40 percent of the world’s population has access to the internet, with new users coming online every day. Among the poorest 20 percent of households, nearly 7 out of 10 have a mobile phone. The poorest households are more likely to have access to mobile phones than to toilets or clean water”. Source: World Bank, Digital Dividend 2016.
The World Bank report is not solely dedicated to education, although beginning on page 258, a series of case studies and assessments take the temperature of digital content and technological availability in the educative orbit.
The news is not all good. Despite advances in distribution and utility, the report argues that lack of access to apprpriate technology remains one of the stumbling blocks of digital emancipation. Within the context of the whole report the old observation is still true, even in 2016. No technology, no equality, or rather no parity of expectation.
”If you compared our world today with the world one hundred years ago, you would encounter amazing advances in science, commerce, health care, transportation, and other areas. But if you were to compare the classroom of a hundred years ago with an average classroom today, you would recognise it immediately: students lined up in rows, paper and pencil in hand; a teacher at the blackboard jotting down facts; students furiously copying all that is written and said, expecting to memorise the facts and spit them out on an exam”. Source: Robert Hawkins (2002), World Bank, Digital Dividend 2016.
Relevant here is the World Bank general observation that despite mushrooming relative growth in device numbers, it is the lack of change, sophistication and learning in the ‘analogue’ institutions of countries in transition, government and civil institutions and, within our field of vision as a project, schools and universities that hampers effective capitalisation of the ‘digital dividend’.
Given that lack of technology is the absolute disenfranchisement in the digital age, the World Bank report offers some interesting insights and recommendations for the skills sector, of whatever shade.
It looks at and notes improvement in uptake of MOOCs (Massive Open On-line Courses) and at the web functionality of services like The Khan Academy, The report notes that even where the Khan toolkit has been applied in the classroom, it is as a supportive, supplementary element to the learning.
Taking a view of the One Laptop per Child initiatives around the globe, the report notes that despite this comprehensive and energetic programme of hardware distribution, the best recorded learning outcomes are arrived at where the laptops are accompanied by instructional support and traditional teaching skills.
This comprehensive and detailed report is not a rant by internet zealots, (…you can find anything on the internet now!). Including enlightenment we suppose. Nor is it a damning case study of the failure of digital access to change the expectations and skills of the digitally connected.
Rather, by 2016, it is understood that pedagogy and the laptop processor have yet to find their final destiny in this joint journey of discovery.