Over the last few weeks, London buses have been adorned with adverts for secondary schools, vying for parents’ attention. Parents and their children have until the end of this month to state their preferences for schools. The tangle of oversubscription criteria that vary by school make this, by all accounts, a stressful process and something of a strategic game.
Yet for those who miss the ride and apply after 31st October, or try to move to a new school during the year, gaining a place at the right school may be much harder. I’ve been thinking about this group since handing in my Masters dissertation last month. Although my research was not focused on in-year admissions, in the process of answering a different question I unearthed evidence regarding what happens to these pupils in the admissions merry-go-round. As a non-expert on in-year admissions, I found the results both surprising and very worrying.
This guest blog is from Dr Elizabeth McClelland, who became a Fellow in January 2014. Elizabeth has been working with RSA Education on plans to expand her programme Move4Words to many more schools in England. You can contact her at www.move4words.org.uk where you also find out more about the research evidence.
I was a research scientist in a former life – Royal Society Research fellow for 10 years at Department of Earth Sciences, Oxford University, then University Lecturer and Director of the Palaeomagnetism research laboratory at Oxford between 1997 and 2003. In 1998, I suddenly became very ill with an unknown virus which temporarily robbed me of the ability to speak coherently, to understand speech or written language or to control my muscles properly. All my facilties came back over the following couple of months, except my ability to read fluently. I could read single words, but couldn’t make sense of a paragraph. I was still lecturing at Oxford, I could do my numerical research, gave talks at conferences and even touch-typed a couple of papers (although was unable to proof-read them). It was incredibly frustrating. Eventually, I found a private physio who used a physical activity programme to help children with dyslexia, and she showed me that I’d lost the ability to control my eye movements, and had lost some cross-body muscular control. She showed me some simple physical and visual exercises, which I practised several times a day, and, remarkably, my reading started to improve after a couple of weeks, and within 2 months it was back to my original rapid reading. It was so dramatic, I vowed to find out more and to do what I could to help others in the same way.
Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural (SMSC) education is back on the political agenda. Best defined as “…the training of good human beings, purposeful and wise, themselves with a vision of what it is to be human and the kind of society that makes that possible”, politicians in a post-Govian world are waking up to the idea that churning our children through an exam factory system of schooling may not be the best way to develop well-rounded citizens. And so SMSC is now in vogue, with the Lib Dems wanting Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education to include content on mental health and sexting, Nicky Morgan’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference commenting on the need for ‘character’ education and Labour recently reiterating their long-held view that Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) should be made mandatory (and you can also read the RSA’s own recommendations on SMSC education here). Read more
In the most recent RSA Journal, I read with interest the piece on competition by Margaret Heffernan – particularly, the part that describes an experiment designed to engineer a ‘super flock’ of hens. To see whether increased competition would create higher levels of production, geneticist William Muir pulled the top egg-producing hens out of a regular flock and put them together. After just two generations of this new flock, the results were remarkable – six of the super hens had been pecked to death by the remaining three, whilst the original flock was performing better than ever.
This experiment suggests that if you only value the so-called ‘cream of the crop’ you are probably missing a trick or two. Societies need variety and balance in order to function healthily – you simply can’t have everybody doing the same thing, no matter how valuable it is deemed.
The article got me thinking about our education system and the levels of competition and selection. My own experience saw my peers divided into two camps at age 11: clever, and not so clever. Even for those who weren’t required to take the dreaded 11+, academic pressure remains a dominant feature of school life. Certainly, an element of competition can be motivating, but just as the ‘cream’ ought not to be scooped off the top and isolated at their own expense, nor should the rest feel their particular strengths have no value to society.
Many of the RSA Fellows I’ve met over the past year have been teachers, and all were unequivocally passionate about the difference a good education can have on the trajectory of a person’s life. Whatever the challenges in the classroom might be, Fellows have a wealth of ideas about where improvements can be made that will potentially transform the confidence of their students.
One such teacher is Jo Taylor FRSA, who, having participated in Teach First’s leadership programme, has gone on to co-found Wall Display – an education project which has recently applied for an RSA Catalyst grant.
“As a teacher I saw how much of a difference an engaged parent could make to their child’s aspirations. I also saw how hard it was for parents to be involved in their child’s education. I wanted to create a way for them to see the great things their children were doing.”
With children from disadvantaged schools, parental disengagement can be a big problem because if the parent had a bad experience at school themselves, they may be less inclined to encourage their children to participate. Many of these parents may have become disengaged because they did not perform well in exams, and with the continual emphasis on exams and grades, it’s increasingly important for teachers to find ways to celebrate the diversity of students’ skills and ensure they do not become disenchanted with learning altogether.
Wall Display has addressed this issue by creating an online platform for teachers to share their pupils’ work in such a way that it displays the creativity and individuality of the work whilst pushing it beyond the boundaries of the classroom.
“Students can get really demotivated producing amazing work which nobody ever sees, the idea is that Wall Display provides them with an audience for what they do in school.”
When teachers post work from students, members of the general public can give badges to work they like and other teachers can offer feedback.
I think this responsive aspect of the project is critical because if your teacher does not like your work, it might feel like theirs is the only opinion that counts. Wall Display’s strength is that it allows an array of opinions to reach the students – an experience which is far more representative of life after school.
Jo spoke about the progress of the project at a recent RSA Engage event, and asked other Fellows to get involved in the following ways:
- Do you know a teacher or school who might like to use Wall Display?
- Do you know anyone who works for Ofsted or an education body?
- Do you know any business leaders who are passionate about education?
The RSA has partnered with Teach First for seven years, and we are able to offer a reduced rate of Fellowship for all Teach First participants – contact Alex Barker for more information.
Filed under: Education Matters, Fellowship, Innovation
Many of the RSA events are live-streamed, aiming to reach those unable to make the regular trip to London. A great example of an organisation that uses this feature is the GTA University Centre, a not-for-profit training provider based in Guernsey, who regularly overcome the distance barrier and bring the RSA to their local community. Marketing Manager, Duncan Spencer, tells us about his experience.
“Guernsey may be a small island but it has a diverse economy and does business on an international scale, and we have found that there is a real desire to hear the latest ideas in business, technology and societal development.”
GTA began hosting livestream events from the RSA at the beginning of this year as a means of introducing new ideas to the Island’s community. We aim to provide opportunities for Guernsey audiences to listen to high quality, innovative and educational speakers and participate in a lively discussion on the subject, but with a local focus. RSA livestream programmes are available to all online, but we believe we can add extra value by bringing people together to share the experience and enjoy a stimulating debate and discussion prompted by the RSA speaker and the Q&As. Read more
Guest Blog Column: Vikki Heywood, chair of the RSA, argues that a strong cultural education is vital for the UK’s social and economic future. This article was originally published on the Royal Opera House website.
It should, in the UK and in this day and age, be the case that education in arts and culture is something to which every child should be entitled, and enabled to access. Who would disagree that this is a basic human right – it is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that children have a right ‘to participate fully in cultural and artistic life’. However, the fact remains that cultural education remains the privilege of some, but not all our children.
So why aren’t all children accessing great arts and culture? Research provides irrefutable evidence that the benefits of cultural education extend far beyond opening students’ eyes to the vast array of the UK’s cultural riches. Music lessons, drama groups and art classes enhance academic achievement across the curriculum. Add to that improved self-esteem and self-confidence, and you have a pretty potent and proven combination. Read more
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: 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
Anthony Gerrard is a Scottish Fellow looking to find aspiring entrepreneurs for his project, ‘Bad Idea’.
How do we encourage more young people into self-employment and entrepreneurship? That was the question posed by Glasgow City Council in January 2012. Why? Only 29% of employers will recruit a young person from education, and nearly one in every four 16 to 24 year olds are now classed as not in education, employment or training. The so-called “Lost Generation”. Read more
Filed under: Design and Society, Fellowship, Uncategorized
This blog was originally posted on the news page of the RSA Student Design Awards website on 4th August 2014.
I am pleased to announce that nine emerging Malaysian innovators have won in the inaugural RSA Genovasi Malaysia Awards, winning a range of prizes worth a total of RM260,000. In addition, the winners all receive admission into Genovasi’s Innovation Ambassador Development Programme, complementary RSA Fellowship for a year, providing the students with access to the RSA’s Catalyst Fund and Skills Bank to further develop their projects.
The RSA Student Design Awards team partnered with Genovasi, a transformative learning institution focused on cultivating innovation skills in young people to develop and deliver the RSA Genovasi Malaysia Awards, which launching in September 2013. Genovasi offers a human-centred learning experience to learn and use innovation for social inclusion, active citizenship and personal development for future transferable skills to face challenges in life. The RSA Genovasi Malaysia Awards focused on three project briefs for this pilot year: Active Citizens, Encouraging Social Entrepreneurship, and Citizenship and Communication in a Digital Age.