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.
We list below links to a variety of sources that foster a critique of the current relationship between Ofsted and the Academy Trusts.
The links and narrative samples are not ours, they are courtesy of the Reclaiming Education movement. They are telling and offer a comprehensive landscape view of a system in the throes of developmental crisis.
The first reference begins with a letter from Chris Dunne to theFinancial Times. ‘We may regret not having defended our education system…’
We commend the suite in entirety to our readers. Please share this article with colleagues.
Chris Dunne’s letter, “We will come to regret not having defended our education system”, in the Financial Times can be seen here
Henry Stewart’s piece looking at the progress of academies against maintained schools can be read here.
Ofsted condemns Academy Trusts: The Government has announced that it plans to force all schools to become academies. The major problem is going to be who will run these schools, given that Ofsted has some major criticisms of at least 8 of the large academy trusts.
Ofsted Inspections of Academy TrustsOfsted has carried out focused inspections of academies within 9 multi academy trusts. Significantly, only one, the last and smallest one, is positive. The full reports can be found on the Government website here. A map of where the academies are can be found here.
CfBT: 11 primary/8 Secondary“CfBT took on too many academies too quickly. The trust did not have a clear rationale for the selection of schools, a strategy for creating geographical clusters or a plan to meet academies’ different needs. As a result, standards are too low. The trust relied heavily on external consultants but did not ensure their accountability in securing rapid and secure improvement. Headteachers were unable to provide each other with the much needed mutual support or share available expertise. Current CST leaders openly acknowledge these errors.” Full report
Academies Enterprise Trust: 32 primary/30 secondary/5 special”After operating for nearly eight years, the Trust is failing too many pupils. Almost 40% of the pupils attend AET primary academies that do not provide a good standard of education. It is even worse in secondary, where 47% of pupils attend academies that are less than good……
“Children from poor backgrounds do particularly badly in this Trust. The attainment and progress of disadvantaged pupils, in both the primary and secondary academies, still lags behind that of other pupils, and gaps in performance are not narrowing quickly enough……
“The outcomes of the focused inspections failed to demonstrate that the Trust is consistently improving its academies. Full report
Collaborative Academies Trust: 9 schools“Collaborative Academies Trust was set up in 2012 by EdisonLearning ……
………Too many academies have not improved since joining the trust. Of the five academies that have had a full inspection since joining the trust, only one has improved its inspection grade compared with its predecessor school. Two have remained the same and two have declined. This means that, at the time of the focused inspection, there were not yet any good or outstanding academies in the trust. “ Full report
E-Act (formerly Edutrust): 23 academies (was more)“…Nevertheless, the quality of provision for too many pupils in E-ACT academies is not good enough.
……Standards in the secondary academies are too low. Previous interventions by the Trust to raise attainment and accelerate progress have not had enough impact and any improvements have been slow.
….Pupils from poor backgrounds do not do well enough. These pupils make less progress than other pupils nationally. This is an area of serious concern. “ Full report
Kemnal Academies Trust: 15 secondary/26 primary“Less than half of your academies were good or better and there are no longer any outstanding academies in your chain. ………
.. an overwhelming proportion of pupils attending one of the academies inspected are not receiving a good education. “ Full report
Oasis Community Learning Trust: 50? Schools – DfE list and Oasis website appear to disagree.The academy trust has grown rapidly, taking on 30 new academies in the last three years …
Across the trust, some groups of pupils do not achieve well. Disadvantaged pupils, particularly boys, make significantly less progress than their peers nationally………. there is no evidence of an overall strategy or plan that focuses on these particular issues. Full report
School Partnership Trust: 41 schools“The impact of the Trust’s work in bringing about improvement where it is most needed has been too slow. Where standards have been intractably low for some time, the Trust is not driving significant, sustained improvement. …
……The standard of education provided by the Trust is not good enough in around 40% of its academies inspected so far. “ Full report
The Education Fellowship: 12 schools“There is no clear record of improvement in the trust’s academies and standards across the trust are unacceptably variable. In around three quarters of the academies, standards are poor.
Standards declined in five of the eight primary academies in 2014. In the majority of the trust’s 12 academies, the gap in attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their better off peers, both within the academies and compared with pupils nationally, remains unacceptably wide.” Full Report
Wakefield City Academies Trust – the only positive one!“Two years into its development, WCAT is making a positive difference to the quality of provision and outcomes for pupils within its academies. “ Full report
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.
(Flotsam is our occasional series of educational ideas from other places…)
Linking this to live commentary/chat by Facebook sign-in, Karim’s experiment seeks to make the idea of MOOC’s more accessible and discursive. Taking out the loneliness factor from on-line educational consumption? He calls it ClassroomFM.
The early model streams YouTube videos from Stanford University, across a range of themes including enterprise, health, society, technology and education.
As the project develops we would like to see some form of timetable or forward view of upcoming talks, perhaps with ‘time available localised’ to your machine or device, along with other forms of sign-in rather than just Facebook perhaps.
This early iteration of the feed has some way to go to be a mature service, but offers an interesting idea that might be adopted by schools, universities and groups like IETT?
Our growing catalogue of filmed debate could be available on-line, looped continuously 24/7, and interested visitors could drop in and comment and discuss, in real time, with their peers the ideas being presented by the featured speaker. (An IETT tech development project for 2016 perhaps…Ed?)
You can see Karim speak at TED AmsterdamEducation below. It is perhaps a talk strong on chutzpah and less pronounced on reforming detail, but it is entertaining. Those who currently teach and lecture may find it challenging…
We had a small intake of breath when we read the headline for a web article, just published, about a state funded school in Orange County, Florida. They are intent on holding a STEM event only for boys.
No wonder some of the technically qualified, female parents began a petition to resist such a move. Which they did. In the U.S. Title IX states that…
‘No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance’.
(Title IX is a portion of the United States Education Amendments of 1972, Public Law No. 92‑318, 86 Stat. 235 (June 23, 1972), codified at 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681–1688, co-authored and introduced by Senator Birch Bayh; it was renamed the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act in 2002…Ed.)
The school have since issued statements stressing that the event was planned as a son and mother event, which still renders some parents speechless, the subject hanging, as it does, on a core branch of the curriculum tree. Stunning thinking in the twenty first century? See the original story on the pages of Jezebel.com here.
The issue of women and science education is part of an on-going debate in England too.
Saturday 21 & Sunday 22 November 2015 at the University of Nottingham – Book on-line here.
‘What is Missing in Action about? A collaboration between the Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Digital Women UK, this ‘thought space’ will allow female digital entrepreneurs, academics, creative practitioners and those interested in this field, to discuss professional challenges and concerns, share insights and learn from each other’s experiences and studies of digital entrepreneurship.
Why the title? Missing in Action reflects the fact that although female digital entrepreneurs are aspiring to start up status, or are working widely in the UK, very little is known about who they are, which communities they come from, the obstacles they face and which entrepreneurial activities they are engaged or interested in’. (Narrative source – Digital Women UK – November 2015)
Although this is a female digital entrepreneurship event, the undertow of educational neglect of women in science education is, we would argue, a clear current for discussion.
Oxford economist, Max Roser, has tested the nature of structural income inequality in England and found the arguments as to ‘inevitability’ and ‘the play of market forces’ to be wanting. In his highly detailed and closely argued article, Roser signposts other economic models, and countries, where political will and economic structures are bent to its defeat.
Roser makes some interesting and telling observations about inequality, setting his argument, as he does, across a broad swathe of economic data, by time and country.
England is interesting in that income data, defined by social group, or set out in ‘social tables’, goes back a long way. Flawed, is the Roser argument, citing the lack of scientific discipline in Gregory King’s Social Table for 1688.
However, Roser cites Milanovic, Lindert and Williamson (2008) who have graphed longitudinal data in pre-industrial societies, using the Gini Index to measure ‘inequality’ and GDP per capita to measure ‘prosperity’.
This longitudinal view of inequality, by Roser, incisively demonstrates that it is political and institutional structures which enforce inequality. It is not, he argues, the market or efficiencies of capital which promote inequality as a mechanism for distribution of income. We quote his summation at length…
‘A lesson that that we can take away from this empirical research is that political forces at work on the national level are possibly important for how incomes are distributed. If there was a universal trend towards more inequality it would be in line with the notion that inequality is determined by global market forces and technological progress where it is very hard (or for other reasons undesirable) to change the forces that lead to higher inequality. Inequality would then be inevitable. The reality of different inequality trends within countries suggests that the institutional and political framework in different countries play a role in shaping inequality of incomes‘. (Roser, 2015)
In his well illustrated and closely argued article, Roser compares and contrasts the data for non-English speaking European countries and Japan. All examined countries reached fairly low levels of income inequality in the 1970’s, with significant increases in inequality returning after that decade. With the exception of Japan, where socio-political institutions press for equality in a way that is not available in the Euro-economic matrix.
‘…we can see the correlation between increases in the income share of the top 1% and the decrease of the marginal income tax rate since 1960. The graph confirms the hypothesis that in general as tax rates decrease, the income share of the most wealthy citizens increases. The US and the UK are both extreme examples of this happening. France, Germany, Finland, Netherlands and Switzerland all contradict this trend. While the marginal income tax rate on the most wealthy has decreased, the government has implemented other means to decrease income inequality‘. (Roser, 2015)
Ths is economic analysis of a high order, which does not set out to find an answer to a pre-conceived position, rather it uses diverse, broadly sourced data across long time spans to argue for a new mode of thought, to diminish the corruscating effects of inequality.
We are most interested in educational outputs, but see how social justice outcomes and the well-being quotient of so many could also be raised by a new economic mind-set.
The Great Room at The RSA was full. Like a Calima, drawn towards the depression that is education in England, conversation and debate swept across the room.
We had assembled to hear Profesor Danny Dorling and Professor Diane Reay give their assessments of English education today, and to provide us with both data and questions of challenge in our collective pilgrimage for reform.
The short films below give you a flavour of our event and the messages delivered by our speakers…
Professor Dorling challenged his audience to imagine an education system without so much testing. His exposition included illustrations of how we value memory above problem solving and experimentation. He was delighted to see in the audience, after general questioning, that so many of us had achieved ‘A’ grades. A triumph of conformity, alas, in the Dorling assessment. The whole treatise bringing into doubt the formula that a more expensive education is a more privileged education.
Professor Reay used her allotted time to deliver a statistical analysis of the inequalities in education in our country. Highlighting the fact that in the private sector, for example, spend per pupil is 2.5 times higher than in the state sector. She also highlighted the deficiencies in access to the broad and balanced curriculum which children and young people need, along with a strong section in her presentation, on happiness and wellbeing. Often disregarded, she argued, in any assessment of educational utlilty or achievement.
Whether for learners or teaching staff, levels of distress and dissatisfaction have never been higher, Professor Reay argued. Much was also made of the increasingly low level of professional autonomy afforded teachers in England now.
This was a well attended IETT event, with very high quality engagement and telling analysis from our speakers. This prompted some very lively discussion across the room, as well as new networking and professional acquaintance for many visitors to our conference. Ed.