Today the RSA and Arts Council England will launch Towards Plan A: A New Political Economy for Arts and Culture. This series of four papers which examine how the arts sector might play a full role in the UK’s economic and social renewal. In the papers:
- Martin Smith asks for a new industrial strategy for the arts, to make the most of ‘ the prickly, sometimes antagonistic but always necessary relationship between art and commerce’;
- Alex Jones asks for cities to be more honest about their capacity to be so-called creative hubs – not all cities can be – and more intelligent about the way they understand the impact of cultural spending on regeneration;
- Mandy Barnett and Daniel Fujiwara argue that ‘the cultural sector needs to agree a single framework within which to talk about value, whilst disentangling the social from the cultural in the process’; and
- Sue Horner (chair of RSA Academies), in calling for a ‘grand partnership’ between education and cultural sectors, suggests how both sectors need to step up to harder-edged collaborations.
John Knell’s excellent introduction also offers recommendations to inform future policy and practice. This includes the idea that: “ACE should commission, in partnership with DCMS, DfE, AHRC, key trusts and foundations, and the sector learning network, at least one ‘high burden of proof’ study – involving if appropriate randomised controlled trials – which would explore the impact of particular arts interventions in a key impact area (for instance health and well-being, education or community cohesion).”
Having spent several years leading probably the largest ever ‘high burden of proof’ study ever undertaken in the arts, the Creative Partnerships learning programme in thousands of schools across England, it would be tempting to show John my wounds and medals. As, over the years,the quality of our research, evaluation and outcomes improved, it actually became more difficult to make the case for continued investment. However, I think John is onto something, and his proposal could be even more ambitious.
Could the cultural sector create something similar to the Education Endowment Foundation – a body dedicated not just to commissioning rigorously evaluated projects, but also to improving the way that evidence is built and used across the education system? Importantly, the EEF exists and is funded through an endowment – from the DfE – which secures both its independence and its long term stability. Although it is too early to judge the impact of individual projects (and my prediction is that only a few will show statistically significant impacts on closing the attainment gap), the Foundation’s processes and toolkits are already informing school decisions. Many schools are finally moving from a culture of data use to a culture of evidence use.
A Cultural Endowment Foundation, perhaps funded through a small percentage from the recent 4G auction, should be entirely independent from Government and Arts Council England. ACE is too invested in demonstrating rather than understanding the impact of its spending. It should support programmes to be externally evaluated against cultural as well as social or economic outcomes, possibly using Mandy and Daniel’s single framework, so that the arts are not just the servants of other public policy masters. Finally, it should be prepared to go public when the cultural sector engages in poor quality, advocacy-heavy evaluation processes – I’ve got a few favourite worst evaluations, which I won’t name and shame here. Understanding value should not be a compulsory activity for all in the arts sector – some will just want to get on with making great art for everyone, to use ACE’s mission statement. A Cultural Endowment Foundation could help cultural organisations make the choice between either doing evaluation properly or not doing evaluation at all.
Joe Hallgarten Director of Education @joehallg
In last week’s inaugural lecture as chair of the RSA, Vikki Heywood called on the arts to take on a deeper, broader, more ambitious engagement with society. Building on Matthew Taylor’s ideas around place-based commissioning, Vikki proposed a fundamental shift to the arts’ relationship to society.
Interestingly, Vikki took cultural organisations’ recent shifts in their relationship with education as an inspiration for how things could change. To help move our thinking forward, I’d encourage people to read the section below from Vikki’s speech, and answer these questions:
1) Do you agree with this analysis of how cultural organisations’ overall attitudes to education have changed over the last thirty years?
2) If so, what do you think caused this shift?
3) If not, where and why has this not happened?
If you have too much to say for a meager comment box below, email me and we might be able to sort you out with a guest blog.
“So how do we make it happen – well we have done it before. Art practice has changed – it can change again.
‘We know that such a change of orientation and ambition can be achieved. Over the last thirty years our larger cultural organisations have moved from basic audience development (bums on seats) – to far more sophisticated forms of audience engagement and participation – especially through their education programmes. Many smaller organisations led the way built, as many of them were, on principles around socially engaged practice.
’If the ghost of first NT director Laurence Olivier visited the National Theatre today, his biggest surprise might not be the levels of technology involved in current productions, or even the incredible NT Live.
‘It would probably be the shock of an education department that employs twenty people and many more freelancers, is nationally broad and locally deep, with its own programme to nurture young talent. A commitment of this scale would thirty years ago have been unthinkable, unrealistic, and frankly undesired.
It’s now time for a shift that is just as fundamental to the arts and its relationship to society.”
Vikki also mentioned our emerging project to develop “a GCSE in the Arts in order to develop young people’s cultural knowledge and practice across at least two art forms. It takes Michael Gove’s passion for ‘cultural literacy’ as necessary but not sufficient to develop young people’s cultural identities and capacities to the full.” Thoughts how we approach this idea, possibly connected to my latest TES article on how schools need to occupy their curriculum. would also be really welcomed.
Joe Hallgarten, Director of Education @joehallg
Yesterday I spoke at the SOLACE conference for Local Authority Chief Executives in York. I was asked to speak on what role remains for councils in education? with DfE’s Director General for infrastructure and funding Andrew McCully and Stephen Adamson from the National Governors Association. It was a chance for me to consolidate my thinking from a number of recent related projects we’ve been involved with. The conversation with Chief Executives was far more lively, challenging and optimistic than I had feared it might be, partly thanks to a refreshingly open approach from Andrew and enthusiastic chairing from Mark Rogers, Chief Executive of Solihull MBC. They were especially taken with my ‘cantonisation of education’ idea. So, although I am guessing that ‘just blogging a speech’ is one of the seven deadly blogging sins, that’s what I am going to do.
‘First, a quick observation from this week. You’ll have seen the OECD league tables on skills for 16-24 year olds. England did very poorly in literacy and maths, prompting varying analyses of who was to blame. The skills minister Matthew Hancock called these young people ‘New Labour’s babies’, putting the blame firmly at door of the last government’s dumbing down processes. Finnish expert Pasi Sahlberg put England and the US’ poor performance down to the GERM – the Global Education Reform Movement. Some blamed the top down approach of the old National Strategies, others trendy teachers and their compliant, reactionary unions. However, so far I haven’t heard anybody blame local authorities. There is almost an acceptance that, over the last 20 years, local authorities have been irrelevant to the performance of young people. I’d question this in two ways. First, I firmly believe that our schools are better than ever, and outcomes for young people have genuinely improved in the last two decades, although it is clear that other nations have improved far faster. And second, although heroic improvements from single heroic schools are part of this success, in any part of England, from London to Gloucestershire to Greater Manchester, where areas- wide performance has improved, Local Authorities have been part of the story.
‘ So, who am I to tell you what your role should be? I guess I bring a number of perspectives to this, partly from my professional history, as a teacher who started my career in a Local Authority pool, and ended it in a Grant Maintained school. Then, when I worked at the IPPR, I remember Andrew Adonis being repeatedly shocked to visit schools in small Local Authorities which the (normally long-standing) directors of education had never visited. I worked for a national creativity project where I saw how many authorities, despite being told to ‘commission, not deliver’, were clinging on to delivery roles and often petty power relationships with schools. But I was also inspired during this time by the historic work of Alec Clegg and the way he had wielded his local power to provide incredible arts opportunities for young people, and other more modern examples, such as in Gateshead.
‘At the RSA, We’ve recently published three relevant reports: on the middle tier, our academies commission, and our report on education in Suffolk, which is leading to further work with local authorities. This week, I’ve been helping our new Chairman Vikki Heywood to write a speech, and have been delving into RSA’s history. As well as finding out that the RSA was the place where a new chimney sweep was invented so that kids didn’t have to go up them, and that we were one of the first advocates for education for girls, we also, a couple of hundred years ago, recommended that England needed a Department of Education.
Two good ideas out of three isn’t bad! And I am not going to now recommend the abolition of the DfE. But, in asking questions about the role of local government, I think we need to return to fundamental questions about the role of national government in education and what role the DfE itself should play going forward.
‘I am not trying to criticise the performance of the DfE. I think that Andrew and others do fantastic work, often in the face of meandering ministerial whims. We deal with academy brokers, and over the last few years the quality of their thinking and depth of local knowledge has improved significantly. But even when they do their job well, we can still ask whether this is an appropriate role to hold nationally. In some conversations, the old cliché about ‘hearing a bedpan falling in Whitehall’ springs to mind.
‘If we generally go with the principle of subsidiarity, or what the Learning Trust in Hackney calls ‘maximum delegation’, the burden of proof lies nationally, for the DfE to justify the power they retain, whether for intrinsic reasons of democracy, or instrumental reasons of performance. For instance, there is an intrinsic rationale for a small national curriculum which determines some of what our children learn at a national level. Similarly, I think it is crucial that there is a national admissions code, created and monitored and partly enforced centrally, but made effective through local relationship-building. Our report on in year admissions highlighted some excellent local authority-led responses to the new code.
‘ However, at the same time, there are good intrinsic reasons why some power should be held locally, mediated by local politicians. And in terms of instrumentalism, I think that the international evidence on systemic school improvement, whether from Finland, Singapore or Alberta, tells us 3 things – first that successful systems tend to be small. England is too big a unit. Second, the successful systems tend to stick with long term strategies. Our national level is too politicised and media-hungry to stick to long term plans. And third, that devolution to schools is not the answer to everything. For instance, I think that delegation of Information Advice and Guidance to schools from Local Authorities is potentially disastrous, especially for our most confused and vulnerable young people.
‘ So I wonder whether in the longer term we should look to a full Swiss-style cantonisation of education, where DfE transfers significant current powers to regions, sub regions, city-regions or individual local authorities.
‘Going back to the shorter term, what might be the first step to this? I have one specific proposal, relating to academies, which now takes up so much DfE time and resource.
Our Academies Commission was very clear on the role of Local Authorities.
Local authorities should also embrace a stronger role in education– not as providers of school improvement services but as guardians and champions of the needs and interests of all children in the area. The Commission believes that over a period of three years, local authorities should phase out all their own provision of school improvement services and devolve them to school-led partnerships.
‘The commission was also clear that they meant traded services too, as this compromises their capacity for neutral intervention. I agree with the commission, but would add the following recommendation, partly building on Robert Hill’s RSA paper on the ‘Middle Tier’.
‘Once any LA genuinely does no school improvement work itself, whether for maintained schools or academies, and also sees all schools in its patch, whether academies or not, as self-governing, then it can play a central role in the academisation process itself.
‘So the second part of my proposal is for the DfE to give up most of the powers the secretary of state has around academisation to any local authority, or group of Local Authorities, who has fully withdrawn from school improvement. At that point, they can become an effective neutral broker and should be rewarded with the power to determine which schools require the sponsored academy route, and which schools have the quality and collaborative capacity to take on a convertor status. It should be Local Authorities, or possibly sub regions, who should hold the funding agreements with Academy Trusts, and who should hold the power to replace them where justified. Such refranchising processes would come under national rules, but be determined locally.
‘ I don’t think this is going to happen soon. Generally the rule of politics is that all politicians are localists until they get into power.
‘ So finally, and in the much shorter term, I’ll turn to what might Local Authorities do around school improvement now. In our work with Suffolk we developed a framework to support discussions. We looked at the three local authority functions as described by ISOS, and combined them with the key features of school improvement identified in the London Challenge Evaluation. We then tried to plot the possible future roles of the Local Authority, and of our recommended new external trust, the ’Suffolk Partnership for Excellence in Learning’ , against this grid. See page 30 of our Suffolk Report.
‘Lots of ideas here, but if I had to summarise this all in one sentence, I’d say that the most important future role for local councils in education is to build the capacity for challenging collaborations.
‘Finally, and returning partly to the philosophical rather than the pragmatic. People talk a lot about ‘false dichotomies’ in education, for instance between knowledge and skills, collaboration and competition. I agree, but I also think real dichotomies will remain in the eternally contested space of education, and that these should be embraced rather than disguised. Looking at education in England, despite the coherence of much of what this government is doing, I feel that there are three outstanding tensions which need recognition if not resolution:
‘First, is autonomy for schools a route to or a reward for success?
‘Second, should isolation, however ‘splendid’, ever be an acceptable attitude for any school or other publicly funded institution?
‘Finally, who, if anyone, should care about broader non-attainment outcomes for young people?’
This is a Guest blog from Fran Plowright FRSA, media and youth engagement producer, who has worked with students from RSA Academies to create a series of podcasts.
What About Tomorrow? is a series of four short audio podcasts, brainstormed, researched and voiced by students from the RSA Family of Academies around the theme of uncertainty and what it means to be a young person growing up today.
As an RSA Fellow with a background in radio production, youth engagement and mentoring, I was delighted to be asked to combine my skills and experience to give a platform to some of the younger members of the RSA community to express their opinions about the world they are growing up in and to encourage them to talk about what they really think about their education, aspirations and values. What opportunities do they really think await them? How do they think they can better equip themselves to achieve successful, independent and happy futures in these rapidly changing times?
The brief was to allow their authentic voices, opinions, wishes, hopes, fears and dreams to come across, as well as give them the opportunity to be involved in the production process, learn some presenting and editing skills and gain confidence in interviewing people. Interviewees ranged from fellow students and teachers to a series of experts and professionals in the fields of education, technology, youth engagement, gaming and psychotherapy.
Leading on this project was Whitley Academy in Coventry, where I spent a morning back in March with a small group of Year 10 and Year 12 students, brainstorming how we might best create something that would allow each Academy to explore the umbrella theme of uncertainty and form a series of linked programmes.
Whitley students settled on the umbrella title What About Tomorrow? They decided that they would focus their podcast on education, creativity and identity, looking at how you encourage young people to develop high self-esteem and inner confidence, gain a good set of qualifications from school or college and simultaneously develop a wide ranging skill set that equips you to go out into the fast paced, 21st century world with a good chance of ‘success’ and ‘happiness’. Along their journey they met and interviewed Sir Ken Robinson, as well as Ian Livingstone, Life president Eidos and inventor of Lara Croft, plus Sam Conniff and Michelle Clothier, CEO and MD respectively of youth marketing and engagement agency Livity.
Whitley also came up with a brief which they sent round to all the pupils at the other schools who had been chosen to participate in this project, suggesting that under this umbrella theme of uncertainty, they consider a few of the headings that came from their brainstorm as possible themes for their podcast: work, aspirations, opportunities, education, technology, confidence and appearance. It quickly became evident that students at the other schools were equally as enthusiastic as Whitley about their brief and very keen to have their voices heard.
Interesting and sometimes heated conversations followed as I toured the Midlands and travelled the Victoria Line from Finsbury Park to Vauxhall to kick start the process in each Academy so that all schools would be working simultaneously on a shared goal.
RSA Academy Tipton decided to focus on work and aspirations. In an area where unemployment is quite high, and traditionally people left school at 16 and went to work in local industries, coal mines until the pit closures in the 1960′s and then the factories and more recently trade and retail industries or hand to mouth work, the students wanted to explore if and how things have changed over the generations and decided to interview three generations of a family, the youngest of these -a year 10 pupil at RSA Tipton – Alex Beddall being the first in his family to be planning to go to University. They also visited their local steel factory Carparo and interviewed Loic Menzies, Director of LKMco on whether he thinks it is lack of aspiration, or in fact just lack of opportunity that is preventing children from less privileged backgrounds from being encouraged to aim high and do well at school and beyond. They called their Podcast ‘The Big Unknown’.
The pupils at Arrow Vale RSA Academy and its sister school Ipsley CE RSA Academy called their podcast ‘Technology, Friend or Foe?’ Pupils ranging from Years 5 up to Year 12 from both schools joined forces to examine the pros and cons of growing up in an age of rapid technological change. Is technology making teenagers lazy and producing a generation of couch potatoes bereft of the capacity for original thought, relying on Google and social media to tell them how the world is rather than experience it first hand? Is it dangerous and uncontrollable and leaving young people much more vulnerable and strangely unsupervised?, is it detracting from a healthy more active life or do the benefits by far outweigh the possible cons, allowing for greater knowledge, access to information, education, more sophisticated ways of communication and does it intact lend itself much better to creative freedom of ideas and expression? After the initial discussions and brain storm, a couple of year 10 students from the Arrow Vale radio group, took on the challenge of creating the podcast, interviewing fellow students and staff. They also sought the expert advice via Skype of Cisco Systems’ technology and educational advisor Dr Michelle Selinger, as well as blogger, educator and teacher Ewan Mcintosh.
Back in south London, a group of Year 9 students from Lilian Baylis Technology School decided to take a closer look at whether teenagers these days have bowed to increasing pressure from the media, magazines, fashion and music industries plus non stop images of each other on social networking sites like Facebook to look a certain way and conform to stereotypes of what is deemed attractive and therefore acceptable. Do young people in particular worry about this more than they worry about their school work or their futures? As well as interviewing their fellow teachers and students they also visited the charity Kids Company in Kennington, to meet up with Director and psychotherapist Camilla Batmanghelidjh. They called their podcast ‘Individually Beautiful’.
These podcasts came together over a five month period, during which time the students really did go on a journey of discovery, watching how an idea can change and morph and take on a life of its own. They also got to understand the highs and lows of the production process. Appointments had to be re-made, timetables shuffled and re-organised, many hours were spent editing and re-recording things that had fallen foul of technical hitches or simply needed to be re-recorded as things progressed. Staff in each school- to whom I am very grateful – worked hard to ensure that interviews took place as planned. For me, an essential and rewarding part of this process is not only the satisfaction of hearing the finished result, but also when working with young people in this way. It is essential that they get a glimpse of what it’s like to have to deliver a high quality product on schedule to a deadline as if in a real work situation.
Overall, the project has been a very exciting one and many of the staff and the students who have been involved are very keen to follow up the podcast series with a debate or panel discussion bringing together the pupils and some of the experts involved to discuss some of the themes and main ideas raised during the enquiry. Watch this space!
I will leave the last words to RSA Whitley Head Boy, 17 year old Prince Chivaka who presents and signs off the series.
“Whilst we are left with more questions than definite answers, we hope that having heard these podcasts, you can form your own opinions. And more than this, we hope we have created a platform for young people to communicate how we feel about some of the issues that matter most to us to a large adult audience. Finally, we hope you enjoy listening to the podcasts as much as we have enjoyed making them.”
For more information about the podcasts and to hear the series in full please visit thersa.org/frontline-voices.
The Daily Telegraph is a surprising source of any campaign to make schools less segregated. Using research from the Fair Admissions Campaign, the paper produced a list of the ‘fifty most socially exclusive schools’, defined as the schools with the greatest discrepancy between the socio-economic make up of their intake and the demography of their local area. 17 of the top 20 and 68 of the top 100 are faith schools. Jonathan Romain’s comment piece gave a compelling argument to end any faith-based selection.
Leaving the wider arguments to one side, there is something that faith schools could do now: step up to the responsibility for taking a greater share of pupils who need to be admitted in-year.
Our recent report on this issue, Between The Cracks, used research from the National Pupil Database to show the scale and impact of in-year admissions. Although we did not recommend changes to the brand new admissions code, our report did include the recommendation that “schools and local authorities should try to share and adopt best practices in voluntary co-ordination and Fair Access Protocols to ensure that the most vulnerable undersubscribed schools are not forced to admit an excessive number of in-year movers.”
With the volume of in-year admissions possibly about to increase as a result of evictions from changes to housing benefit and an increase in the number of young people in care, our least vulnerable, oversubscribed schools need to respond appropriately. Given that church leaders have expressed concerns about the impact of benefit changes, the new Archbishop of Canterbury and others could apply some moral pressure to encourage their most popular schools to accept as many so-called ‘hard to place’ pupils in-year as they can possibly cater for. Whilst this may not have a significant impact on the overall nature of their intake, it will relieve pressure on other schools in their patch and, more importantly, help our young people who are most at risk of underachievement achieve far better outcomes.
Opposing Nick Clegg’s announcement of free school meals for all children in Infant classes in England would be about as popular as opposing Christmas. So I won’t bother. However, especially given that the announcement was made during a hooraying party conference, rather than through the proper, more testing channel of a parliamentary autumn statement, I’ll ask seven questions that might help others make their mind up.
1) How strong is the evidence that the pilot programmes have caused a rise in attainment, closing of the attainment gap, and reduction in obesity (all of which were claimed by Clegg and Leon founders Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent yesterday)? The evaluation report is less positive than advocates are claiming.
2) What percentage of benefiting parents will be be in the higher income brackets?
3) How sure are we that giving children free school meals until the age of seven leads to increased take up of paid school meals in the junior years and beyond?
4) How does this ringfenced funding align with government principles around school autonomy? If you had given this money to schools, with a soft suggestion to ‘buy’ free school meals for all, what they would have done with it?
5) How will the largely private sector companies which provide school meals benefit from this significant increase in school meals provision? Has any effort been made to negotiate with these companies to secure a better deal for schools?
6) What might be the best way to spend £600M to help close the attainment gap at age 7?
7) Alternatively, what might be the best way to spend £600M to help the families of approximately 700,00 children who face a cost of living crisis?
Patrick Butler’s blog convincingly explains the philosophical justification behind the universal extension of this benefit (ironically hypothecated with the introduction of means-tested child benefit). There may be a strong rationale for occasional gesture-based rather than evidence-based policymaking – it’s curiously similar to New Labour’s class size pledge in 1997. However welcome this new policy feels, it would still best be seen as a temporary policy on trial, rather than a permanent and irreversible new universal entitlement.
I left teaching in 1998 and, after a short and strange posting with a trade union, I joined the then-tiny ranks at the Institute for Public Policy Research. Here my first job was to help my new boss Nick Pearce edit a collection of papers on citizenship education. Thanks to the Crick Report, Citizenship had just been introduced to the national curriculum. On the publication of Tomorrow’s Citizens in 2000, our TES article asked “will the class of 2007 be true citizens?”. The Class of 2014 has, in theory, now experienced citizenship education as a statutory entitlement throughout their compulsory schooling. Although there are some ongoing longitudinal studies, it is difficult to tell whether the statutory place of citizenship in the national curriculum has made any difference to young people’s outcomes, attitudes and actions.
Since 2000 the IPPR has, to its credit, retained an ongoing interest in citizenship education, in and out of school. Their most recent project on Citizen Schools, led by Clore Social Leadership Fellow and RSA Fellow Jamie Audsley, features the RSA Academy in Tipton as an example of excellent practice. With all of our Academy teachers focused on turning their shiny new Year 7′s into shiny new citizens, I was asked to represent the school at the House of Commons launch, featuring presentations from all case studies schools, and a student-led question time panel.
Does the RSA Academy deserve recognition as a ‘citizen school’? I am probably not the best person to judge this, but if their practice is in any way exemplary, I’d offer four reasons why:
1) Our curriculum includes the Opening Minds competencies, allowing citizenship to be embedded throughout the curriculum, through both subject-based and cross curricular approaches, especially at Key Stage Three.
2) Our assessment for post-16 students (and most students stay on to our sixth form) uses the International Baccalaureate and the new career-related IBCC (for which we are a proud pilot school). These enable a strong service and citizenship element to sustain and be assessed throughout young people’s schooling.
3) Our student leadership approaches are holistic, innovative, and challenging, engaging all students, and now influence practice in all our family of academies through a student-led peer review process.
4) Our behaviour policies also enable active citizenship, through restorative practices and student tribunals.
The report has a different, but equally positive take on the RSA Academy, and I am hoping that teachers from the Academy will add their thoughts through comments on this blog. From my still-evolving knowledge about the Academy, I’d also mention three areas where, if we are to sustain and improve our citizenship focus, we could make even more progress:
1) An alignment of our citizenship goals with our ambitions around enterprise, and also around the improvement of our arts provision. The arts, in all their forms, are terrific and often under-utilised vehicles for citizenship education.
2) A refreshed approach to the way we engage our parental community, especially those ‘not yet reached’ parents, as citizens.
3) A democratic approach to curriculum design, making the most of the opportunity that a slimmed down national curriculum (which, as an Academy, we are not obliged to teach anyway) offers at Key Stage Three to involve parents, pupils and the wider community in determining the content of our curriculum.
The IPPR report and the Guardian article deserve to be read by anyone who is trying to build new, strategic approaches to citizenship education in schools. From reading the report and hearing the inspiring contributions from other schools, I’m left with a question about the next thirteen years. Will changes to education policy, the economy and broader society make it more or less likely for our Academy and all schools to become citizen schools? Will the class of 2026 be true citizens?
Joe Hallgarten Director of Education @joehallg
Contact the report’s main author at @JamieAudsley
On Monday I spoke at the launch of the RSA Open Public Services Network’s new report on Empowering Parents, Improving Accountability. The OPSN has also created a related dataset, free for anyone to use. The Guardian has already published the dataset in a way that enables the public to discover more information about any secondary school in England, on a subject by subject basis. Have a play, and tell us what you think.
Here’s my speech, partly stolen from an earlier blog, and embellished with a couple of additional post-launch reflections.
If information is power, and power corrupts, does that mean that information corrupts?
Of course not, but at the same time, information will, if it’s useful at all, change behaviours – on the producer and consumer sides. And its those behaviours which determine which children gets which outcomes. If, for instance, as Alison Wolf and others believe, young people have spent 20 years learning useless vocational qualifications, we can’t blame them, or their teachers, or even the exam boards – it’s the creation and publication of particular performance measures that caused this problem
So whenever we publish data, we do need to ask the precautionary principle – ‘will this do any harm?’ For instance the RSA/Pearson Academies Commission recently proposed that schools published data on the racial and socioeconomic nature of their intake. This might drive schools to change behaviours around admissions, but it might also support parents’ existing prejudices, and increase segregation.
I believe the dataset that OPSN has created will only do good – it broadens our perceptions of what is a good school. It enables parents and others to take a more personalised, detailed look at the subject-based strengths and weaknesses of each school. It takes its place in plethora of new initiatives that are making similar attempts to make data useful and intelligible, for instance, the FFT’s data dashboard, and and Loic Menzies’ fantastic efforts, which includes useful financial comparisons between schools.
However, the OPSN grew out of RSA’s Public Services 2020 Commission, whose final report centred on the notion of social productivity – that brilliant public services can only be created with rather than for users. This education data project, and possibly all of the other worthwhile attempts to make data more open transparent, is seeing data as a way to make parents better informed consumers of schools. Better information will lead to better choice (or at least, better ‘preferences’), and these choices might drive improved school performance.
Is this too narrow a conception of the potential power of data? Are there ways to use data that will encourage and help consumers of public services to become participants, citizens, co-creators of better outcomes, not just for themselves, but for the wider public good? Imagine a science phd student who wishes to volunteer in a local school, using data to find a school with poor science performance, where she might add most value. Or imagine an arts organisation, tired of working with willing usual suspects, who use data to find cold spots where too few young people are choosing arts GCSEs. If this dataset begins to include post-16 destination data, how might businesses use this to target their engagement with schools? We know from John Hattie’s work that the key way to improve pupil outcomes is to improve the quality of feedback, at all levels. What kinds of data might produce rigorous, productive feedback loops between schools and external stakeholders? In particular, can we use data to enable secondary schools and their feeder primaries to have far more rigorous conversations about the performance of individual children, that might change each others practices? This connects to our recommendations for education in Suffolk and my colleague Louise Bamfield’s recent blog about collaboration.
So whilst this is publication step in the right direction I think that the challenge ahead for all those number crunchers and data hackers out there is to publish data in a way that inspires voice as well as choice, engagement as well as exit, and citizenship as well as consumption.
Joe Hallgarten, Director of Education @joehallg
“Most members of my family were Nazis”. This first line of the first speech to commemorate the laying of Stumbling Stones, in the German Rhinegau town of Oestrich-Winkel, set the tone for a morning of remembrance and reflection. “I feel ashamed for the deeds of my parents”, she concluded, before introducing my uncle. In the main shopping street of the town of his birth he recounted my own family’s history.
Initiated by artist Gunter Demnig, the stumbling stones, or Stolpersteine, are emerging as an imaginative and potent way to remember those whom the Nazis persecuted – communists, homosexuals, Jews, Roma and all those who actively resisted Nazi rule. Brass plaques, each cast with an individual’s name and the facts about their plight, are set into pavements outside the house or workplace of that individual. Unlike the larger monuments in civic spaces throughout Europe, these are highly personalised artefacts, and often require detailed research. Every stone starts to tell a story. The Nazis’ bureaucratic fervour for recording the movements and injuries of those they persecuted, and the work of Yad Vashem and others, make this task easier.
Although Stolpersteine have now spread to hundreds of towns in and beyond Germany, this overall embrace of the idea has not come without some opposition and ambiguity. The stones in effect mark the homes from where families fled or were deported and others took their place, often with Government permission. Although various reparation processes have restored or repaid former homeowners, residual bitterness still exists, on both sides. In addition, a few Stolpersteine have proved easy targets for metal theft and desecration. Munich recently decided against laying the stones after opposition from the Jewish community. In Oestrich-Winkel, permission was granted for Stolpersteine after a four-year campaign led by one tenacious local politician.
Returning to my own family’s story, town records show a Hallgarten presence in Winkel from 1640. Early in the last century my great grandfather Arthur set up a wine business, assisted later by his second son Otto. His first son Fritz, my grandfather, became a lawyer in Wiesbaden. After the 1933 election, Fritz was forbidden to practice law. For his father and brother, following boycotts and violence, lootings and imprisonment, running a Jewish-owned business became increasingly unviable. By 1939, this part of my family had all fled to England. Other family members moved to wherever connections allowed, including Argentina and California. Others, including cousins from Oestrich-Winkel, were deported to concentration camps.
My family stumbled by chance on Oestrich-Winkel’s plans, and a few of us managed to make last week’s ceremony. A small exhibition in the town hall, described in the local newspaper, provided illuminating background information, but the shiny centres of attention were the stones themselves. Hovering slightly above the ground, the Stolpersteine play on an ancient German saying for when you see a friend stumble on the street – ‘we must be outside a Jew’s house’. Later that evening, we visited the house my family lived and pressed wine in, now a restaurant and winery.
Any link between my visit to Germany and my day job may feel trite and tenuous (although, in an act of empathy with millions of children returning to school this week, I’ve now spent part of my first week back writing about what I did during my holidays). However, thanks to Daisy Christodoulou’s new book on the seven myths of education, I had already been thinking about memory, and its place in our ambitions for learners. I’ll discuss Daisy’s book in a future blog. Despite its shrill certainties, selective use of evidence, and wilful misunderstanding of RSA Opening Minds, it has some useful insights and rightly challenges the sloppiness of many so-called ‘progressive’ educators. Daisy’s analysis is at its most convincing when discussing the key role of education in cultivating memory, not only as intrinsically valuable, but as a crucial foundation for problem solving and creativity. Her views on the types of knowledge that young people need to remember are stifled and stifling, but her synthesis of the psychological research on memory is nonetheless convincing.
My experience of the Stolpersteine, and observing my own children’s reaction to hearing and feeling their family histories in this way, prompted two reactions that relate to Daisy’s myths. First, when it comes to knowledge, the personal is powerful, and no national curriculum document or stark Hirsch-inspired attempt to classify ‘cultural literacy’ could ever define this form of what the Institute of Education’s Michael Young calls “powerful knowledge”.
Second, seeing the Stolpersteine for my family members set into the pavements of Oestrich Winkel was cathartic but not necessarily comfortable. I was reminded of our cities’ ghost bikes, Steve McQueen’s Queen and Country stamps for soldiers killed in Iraq, and above all Seamus Heaney’s final words in The Tollund Man – “I will feel lost, unhappy and at home”. As well as teaching children what to remember, schools need space in their curricula to teach them how to remember.
My own view is that connecting memory with emotion requires a reassertion of the place and power of the arts in schools, through its multiple forms of engagement. This is another issue for another blog, but as schools and communities search for ways to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One, let’s use the Stolpersteine as an artistic inspiration to go beyond the rote learning of WW1 facts, towards a deeper sense of reflection, discomfort, and what my colleague Jonathan Rowson has described in the latest RSA Journal as “spiritual injunction“.
Joe Hallgarten Director of Education @joehallg
The only consensus achieved during last week’s discussions about the UK’s baby boom was that yes, we are definitely having more babies. The facts can’t be denied; 813,000 babies were born in the UK last year, the highest number since 1972. With 254,000 more births than deaths over the year, and a smaller net migration gain, our population is rising faster than any other EU country.
Was It The Kate Effect? asked the Huffington Post. The data was for the year ending June 2012. So unless, post-royal wedding in 2011, people were desperately trying to have their babies before Kate did, the answer to that question is no.
Besides, this is a long term trend. After a trough at the turn of the millennium (when I remember my old boss wondering whether we needed something similar to the Swedish government’s infamous ‘f*** for the future’ campaign) the birth rate has been steadily rising since 2003. According to ONS statistics “there are 581,800 more zero to six year olds in mid-2012 than there were in mid-2001. The number of children aged 7 to 16 is 453,300 less than mid-2001.” This means that this September, secondary schools will see a further decrease in the number of Year Seven pupils, whilst the numbers starting primary school continues to rise – it’s not so much a ‘primary bulge’ as a moving feast, difficult to plan for, even if any government wanted to.
Leaving aside confused debates about possible consequences (with different pro and anti-migration lobbies drawing their own inevitable and vested conclusions), there has been almost no discussion about why more people in the UK are having more babies, and why this is happening here more than almost anywhere in the Western world. Mark Easton’s 2011 BBC report on Britain’s mysterious baby boom is the best analysis I have seen, but there is a lack of evidence or debate about the possible causes of what appears to have been a fundamental cultural shift.
Why has there been such a change in the behaviours of many adults? The rise in the percentage of births from mothers who weren’t born in the UK can only explain a small part of the growth. Was it working families tax credits? Possible, but unlikely. Defying the confused picture portrayed by statistically challenged Sadhbh Walshe, the birth rate has risen across all social groups. Recent data from the US shows that, in the last ten years, childlessness rose amongst all women, but fell for women with Advanced Degrees from 31% to 24%. My hunch, and it’s evidence free, was that the New Labour’s renewed focus on and provision for the early years has fundamentally changed the atmosphere – call it ‘mood music’ if you like- in the UK around children and society. Policies, regulations and funding probably didn’t directly change behaviour, but created a climate where becoming a parent, or having one more child than you thought you might, seemed like a more rational choice. This is not a party political point; the previous government never aimed to manufacture a baby boom, and even if this had been its intended impact, there is no agreement about whether this is good or bad news for UK plc, public services, or environmental sustainability.
Returning to certainties and the tenuous link to my tenuous title. When my own kids attempt one of their frequent pester-sessions about getting a kitten, I either respond by re-declaring my ‘one in, one out policy’ for living things in our house, or I remind them of the old cliché that ‘the trouble with kittens is they grow into cats’ (I think Charlie Brown said it first).
Yes, babies get older, so in about four years time we will be coping with a significant growth in the number of teenagers in our schools, on our streets and online. The New Scientist’s recent article on ‘youth bulges’ in developing countries shows how a rise in the number of teenagers can ‘make or break a country’, creating opportunities for both conflict and economic growth. The UK is, of course, at a different stage of development, and the growth in the youth population won’t be huge. But whatever you think of teenagers, you’d better get used to the fact there will soon be more of them around for a while.
Over the autumn, we will be working with RSA Fellow and Education Associate Barbara Hearn to scope a new project to rethink adolescence and its ‘hidden wealth’. Synthesising research from a number of disciplines, we will explore options for a longer-term Inquiry to reframe public discourse about the adolescence phase, focusing on the ‘asset-value’ of adolescence while acknowledging the inevitable fragilities. We are especially interested in talking to Fellows and others who have been working with teenagers in various contexts. Rather than telling us whether your interventions are working, we want to know what your interventions might be telling us about the changing nature of adolescence. Comment here, or email email@example.com.
Joe Hallgarten Director of Education @joehallg.