In case you missed Tristram Hunt’s speech to Labour Party Conference yesterday, here’s a brief recap of the main points (and indeed much of the substance of what was a fairly brief speech). As is now a contractual requirement for Labour’s resident historian, Hunt opened with a bit of history, reminding the party of its proud historical association with the workers’ education movements that originated in civic Manchester and the industrial north. The speech also linked to wider Labour themes, notably standing up for ordinary workers, epitomised in the pledge to support the ‘hidden army’ of support staff in our schools by re-establishing a negotiating body to ensure fair pay for these low paid and lowlier status education workers.
The main substance was based around three main themes that will define Labour’s manifesto pledges on education as it goes into the next election.
Amongst the flurry of free schools, test tinkering and curriculum changes, there was at least one overarching purpose to Michael Gove’s constant battle against ‘the blob’; to turn schools into ‘engines of social mobility’, thus enabling talented young people to rise above their social background. The logic here was that raising standards in education would send a much-needed ripple effect through the stagnant waters of social mobility. This has been the government’s adopted approach in response to a society where the wealth gap between rich and poor continues to increase and parental income is intimately linked to their child’s future educational attainment. However, new research into the effect of Gove’s changes, particularly his fervent acadamisation of schools, urgently points to this approach as ‘seriously flawed’.
Education and Social Mobility: Dreams of Success by Dr Kate Hoskins and Prof Bernard Barker is a case study of two high-achieving academies, with 88 interviews conducted with students between the ages of 15-18. Breaking this government’s approach down into three proposals, the research conclusions challenge each in turn: firstly, the characterisation of the talented disadvantaged youth as overcoming inheritance of deprivation is shown to be out of step with the thoughts and feelings of young people, who acknowledge family as an important source of guidance and support; secondly, that acadamisation will work by closing the attainment gap, which in this case has proved itself untrue, with the two high-standard academies still seeing 36% of students fail to get good GCSEs; finally, that academy students will be drawn into aspirational academic routes, aiming for high-level destinations when, in reality, these students did not value social mobility and rated job satisfaction and happiness as more important.
It is not as if the Department for Education have been completely misguided – the stats on education and social mobility are indeed stark: out of 80,000 students on Free School Meals last year, only 45 got into Oxbridge and only 21% of the poorest fifth achieved 5 GCSE A*–Cs (including English and Mathematics), compared with 75% from the richest fifth. There is clearly a link to be made between narrowing the attainment gap and thus narrowing the destination gap – as such, it is right to aim to widen participation at the very top. However, it is dangerous to create from this a complete social mobility narrative. There are only so many places at Russell Group universities, only so many high-level jobs to move into afterwards and only so many students from a socially deprived background who, problems of aspiration aside, would want to follow this very particular future path.
The revised government approach must move away from its current obsession with students achieving the right grades in the right subjects to attend one of a handful of top universities; instead, it must be seen to truly value the variety of skills and interests of young people by investing in all destination routes, including the woefully neglected vocational options. Let’s hope the new Secretary of State for Education is ready to make such revisions.
Roisin Ellison is the RSA Academies Intern
Filed under: Arts and Society, Education Matters, Fellowship
The Forest of Imagination took place in Bath this summer and attracted over 2,000 visitors. It was a 4 day contemporary arts, creativity and learning event organised and led by RSA Fellows and hosted by Bath Spa University. Over the past year I’ve blogged a number of times about the ArtSpace Bath and the Forest of Imagination (from now on Forest) project and I had been involved in many meetings, discussions and communications about it. That said, when the Forest launched I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What I discovered was a creative world full of surprises and learning.
The journey to the site began in the centre of Bath with graffitied paths creating the start of the pilgrimage, when I got to the top of Sion Hill and turned the corner to see the amazing tiger gate I was already sold! Once in the site, I’ll admit it, I got a bit lost, but this was part of the Forest’s allure – discovering places for yourself and learning through uncovering different areas both visual and sensory. The Forest was made up of four action packed days of performances, workshops, installations and exhibitions. It managed to engage new and inter-generational audiences in the city whilst helping to pave the way for a permanent contemporary arts centre in Bath.
Filed under: Education Matters, Uncategorized
It is the first week of the new school year and Academy chains are already back in the news. Last week Ofsted wrote to AET (Academies Enterprise Trust) expressing concern that too many pupils were not receiving a good enough education, and yesterday the House of Commons Education Committee continued their scrutiny of Academies and Free Schools with an evidence session involving representatives of Academy sponsors and local authorities.
For all the controversy Academies are here to stay, irrespective of the outcome of next year’s General Election. And good news that is too, given the growing body of evidence that some Academy chains are making a positive difference to outcomes for pupils – see for example the Sutton Trust report Chain Effects on the impact of Academy chains on low income students. That said, yesterday’s Select Committee reminded us of concerns about the Academy programme as currently conceived that just won’t go away: limited local accountability; too much money being diverted from the classroom through top-slices; and signs that some academy chains are failing to provide sufficient support for school improvement.
A reluctance to address these issues risks damaging the Academies sector as a whole. Three simple changes could improve the system dramatically. Read more
This guest blog is from Teach First teacher Usman Mohammed who spent last week on a summer placement at the RSA
The outpourings of #Govegone sentiments from swathes of the nation’s teachers seem to have woven a rather comfortable “better her than Gove” safety net for Nicky Morgan. This much needed support should help with her primary aims ahead of the elections: to pacify the righteous medieval styled anger of the education mob and to convince them that new policies and pronouncements designed in appreciation of teachers lay just over the horizon.
She has a particular job on her hands, especially in relation to the hard-core sceptics and teachers at more challenging schools. Having completed my first year as a Teach First participant and experienced one of these challenging Inner-London schools, I feel I have seen a good example of what that scorched earth scepticism looks like.
Improving struggling schools (many of which are now located outside of major cities) essentially boils down to sourcing and relocating the best teachers to the most challenging environments. But, as educational “Twitter-garch” Sam Freedman succinctly addresses in his analysis of the hardest problems educational policy has to address, this is an extremely difficult hurdle to jump using only the tools currently within the government’s remit.
Here at the RSA, as part of work we are doing around the teacher licensing scheme and giving teachers a ‘license to create’, we are currently considering both the possibilities and pitfalls of creating a sabbatical offer for teachers in challenging schools. Whilst not an obvious vote-winner, the idea of a sabbatical might just offer a promising tributary for improving teaching and learning across the nation. Read more
It’s a rainy May Wednesday in Birmingham and two 16-year-old pupils, Kobir and Tabassum, are giving me a tour of our new RSA Academy, Holyhead School in Handsworth. With a mixture of pride and humour, they show me round buildings that are far from pristine, but ooze learning and purpose. Inventive with their questions and responses, these young people appear to have the C-factor: the power to create the lives they want for themselves and the courtesy to consider others along this journey.
Despite its enduring presence in staffrooms and classrooms, articles and RSA talks, creativity in education is in danger of becoming a toxic brand. In England, fifteen years since the publication of the seminal All Our Futures report, emerging curriculum and accountability regimes give no incentive to focus on the creative development of young people. The rhetoric driving changes in school behaviour reinforces the message that creativity is a ‘nice to have’ to be developed only after the culmination of – and never at the expense of – knowledge acquisition. As Michael Gove claimed recently, “creativity depends on mastering certain skills and acquiring a body of knowledge before being able to give expression to what’s in you…[for instance in music] you need first of all to learn your scales”.
A recent twitter spat about which of the new set of DFE Ministers are privately educated has got me thinking about whether and how far it matters where the DFE Ministers went to school. My conclusion: state or private is the wrong question.
I’m tempted to leave it there – it’s a hot day and there are other things I should be doing – but let me explain…. Read more
This is a guest blog from Chris Smith, Maths, Science and Technology Lead Practitioner, STEM and IBCC Coordinator at RSA Academy in Tipton. Chris explains how RSA Academy in Tipton have played a key role in the success of this inter-school competition.
Back in January 2013 a number of RSA Fellows met at Weston Beamor in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter to look at how 3D printing is being used by Weston Beamor in the production of their jewellery products. They wanted to find a vehicle to promote this new technology and extend its use in schools, after numerous meetings it was decided that RSA Academy in Tipton would coordinate a jewellery design competition for the RSA Family of Academies and those looking to become part of the RSA Family.
Whitley Academy, Arrow Vale RSA Academy, RSA Academy and Broadway School were invited to the launch on 21 January 2014 at the RSA Academy. The brief was to design a lapel pin/badge suitable for the Principals of the RSA Academies to wear – therefore it had to be suitable for both men and women to wear.
Filed under: Design and Society, Education Matters
“His enthusiasm is infectious and his motivation is undeniable. He has worked extremely hard to solve his chosen design problem and has produced a plausible design and concept. He has worked well with his partner and shown a range of communication skills. Ilyas has developed a confident ability to present and hook the audience or potential buyer with conviction. Above all I genuinely believe he has thoroughly enjoyed participating and being given an opportunity and chance to shine.”
If you’re a close follower of the RSA twitter account, you will have seen #PowertoCreate splashed all over your news feed this week, thanks to Matthew Taylor’s annual lecture and an ARC Directors Lunch time event.
They have been introducing us to the RSA’s new worldview: “The RSA believes that all should have the freedom and power to turn their ideas into reality”, and if the above quote isn’t an example of the Power to Create in action, I don’t know what is.
These words were written by D&T teacher, Miss Vesey, about Ilyas Mohammed, a year 10 student at Holyhead School in Birmingham, and the first ever winner of the RSA Pupil Design Awards’ Progress Prize.
Inspired by 90 hugely successful years of the RSA Student Design Awards, the programme’s baby sister, the Pupil Design Awards, has just celebrated its first birthday. The pilot project, which we ran across 3 of our RSA Academies, came to an end earlier this week with 20 finalists joining us at 8 John Adam Street for a day of presentations to our esteemed judging panel, a University tour and, most importantly, the handing out of the awards. Read more
This is a guest blog from Mark Healy, Vice Principal, Arrow Vale RSA Academy, Redditch.
Mark devised the RSA TeachMeet. This is what happened at the first one.
It was fantastic to see so many highly skilled and dedicated teachers from the RSA Family of Academies at the first RSA TeachMeet event held at Arrow Vale RSA Academy in Redditch.
A TeachMeet is a group of teachers and educators that have got together to share ideas. These are ideas that they have used in the classroom and that they want to share with a wider audience. With colleagues from Whitley Academy in Coventry and RSA Academy in Tipton negotiating motorways and traffic jams to join Arrow Vale and Ipsley Academies in Redditch, the evening was hosted by Head boy, Tom Bagley, and Head girl Carley Whittaker.
Teachers were first treated to a ‘Being a student in 2014’ presentation by three students in Year 9 (Hollie Willow, Chloe Wiley and Jake Muckle), and were told in no uncertain terms what switches them off learning, but more importantly, what inspires them to learn. The students also highlighted some of the difficulties faced by young people in 2014, particularly around social media and the internet. Read more