Every child should have an education in arts and culture

September 23, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

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

Education and social mobility: how the government is getting it wrong

September 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

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

If you love Academies, set them free

September 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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

There’s no such thing as a bad idea!

September 1, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

 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

Pioneering social innovation in Malaysia

Genovasi Malaysia logoThis 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.

Read more

State or private – it’s the wrong question

July 22, 2014 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Education Matters 

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

Pupil Design Awards: The Winners!

pupil design awards_blog

“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

Admissions and segregation: an unfinished conversation at the Education Reform Summit?

July 9, 2014 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Education Matters 

While thousands of teachers strike this week, the three main parties’ Education ministers will be joined by their European counterparts to speak at the Education Reform Summit in London. The summit, running today and tomorrow in the spirit of ‘ambition’ and ‘inspiration’, will ‘celebrate England’s success in leading the world in education reform’. Members of NUT protesting around the country – and others – may well question the premise that this celebration is based on. It’s hard to argue, for instance, that England is leading in education reform where others follow; some of our structural reforms have trailed Sweden’s, a worrying omen given their recent fall from grace. It’s harder still to argue that England is a leading global player in standards, when in 2013, the country did not make the top 20 in the PISA tables for Reading, Maths, or Science.

 

So what can we expect at the Summit? With the election less than a year away, and the Westminster machine in full action, we can look forward to a showcase of manifesto policies from Gove, Laws and Hunt. The exclusively positive rhetoric of the Summit blurb suggests we might be in store for a fair amount of back-patting, and a sponsor-fuelled optimistic vision of the role of technology in education.  We can also be fairly sure, judging by the last 5 years, of frenetic announcements and recommendations; teachers hoping for a brief respite to allow schools to catch up with policy, as recommended by the RSA, look away now.

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Celebrating 100 Years FRSA

June 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

In 1754, eleven inquisitive individuals went out on a limb and decided to lend their support to a then unknown organisation that wanted to change the world.

Juan Guerra FRSA wins the Centenary Project Award for Student Funder

Juan Guerra FRSA wins the Centenary Venture Award for StudentFunder

160 years later, on 24th June 1914, those who called themselves members of the RSA, became a Fellowship, in recognition of their shared commitment and personal contribution to the RSA’s vision.

Last week, 100 years to the day, we marked the beginning of RSA Fellowship by gathering 150 of our most engaged Fellows in the Great Room to create positive social impact in real time, and award one of our most successful Catalyst ventures the RSA Fellowship Centenary Venture Award.

Prior to the event, the Catalyst panel selected three projects that had previously won Catalyst grants and had since made significant progress using the funds and support provided by Fellows. Each of the three finalists then gave a persuasive four minute pitch to the audience who was asked to vote for the project they would most like to win the award.

Whilst the votes were being counted, Charles Leadbeater, a leading authority on innovation strategy, spoke about ‘creative communities with a cause’, triggering no end of conversation around the RSA’s new, emerging world view ‘The Power to Create.’

When the results came in we were delighted to award the Centenary prize to StudentFunder, a project lead by Juan Guerra FRSA, who won over the room with his cool and convincing solution to the lack of postgraduate funding opportunities in the UK.

At present, there are no student loans available for post-graduate study or further professional education, meaning that thousands of creative individuals are unable to realise their potential and thousands of UK companies are losing this untapped talent.

The prize will give StudentFunder the benefit of a further £3,000 which will enable it to tour the UK to start new collaborations, plus it will gain extra support from RSA staff to raise its profile.

Juan was presented with the award from RSA Chair Vikki Heywood and thanked the audience for their support.

The support from the RSA fellows at the Centenary Award Ceremony is something I will never forget. I have kept the cards with their votes. And there was even more good news this week. In February, I met a 19 year old who was unemployed. He had been offered a place on a three month course after which he would be earning good money as a web developer but he couldn’t pay for the course in the first place. StudentFunder helped him pay for his course in February. Yesterday we went for breakfast and he showed me his office. He is very happy in his new job as a web developer. That’s the kind of thing that really gets me up in the morning.

StudentFunder has helped 18 people so far, but they are aiming for 100 in the next year.

The runners up for the award were Incredible Edible lead by Pam Warhurst FRSA – an idea that has grown into a nationwide movement for growing local food; and 3,2,1 Ignition* the world’s first science pop up shop that uses abandoned retail units to run workshops and change the public’s perception of science.

Fellows were asked to write a message of support for their chosen project

Fellows were asked to write a message of support for their chosen project

Although the room was filled with some truly inspirational people who have worked with and contributed to the RSA in so many different ways, the Catalyst projects stole the show.

As Oli Reichardt, Director of Fellowship asked in his recent blog, what will the next 100 years hold for the Fellowship? The answer may lie with Fellows out there on the ground, creating real world change, unafraid of the obstacles and clear in their vision. They are the future of the Fellowship and we will continue to support them in every way possible. What an exciting prospect.

 

Alex Barker is a Fellowship Development Coordinator at the RSA. If you would like to know more about any of the projects mentioned above, or about joining the Fellowship then get in touch – alexandra.barker@rsa.org.uk

 

No justice, no peace: An introduction to the Fair Education Alliance

June 21, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

The lead singer of Iron Maiden Bruce Dickinson last week claimed that the Glastonbury Festival was “the most bourgeois thing on the planet.  Anywhere Gwyneth Paltrow goes and you can live in an air-conditioned yurt is not for me.” My unsubstantiated guess is that this weekend’s Festival of Education, held at Wellington College, might smash Glastonbury in any game of bourgeois Top Trumps. However, the Festival yesterday hosted the launch of a new campaign that RSA Education is delighted to have helped initiate and excited to be playing a continued role in.

The Fair Education Alliance aims to work towards ending the persistent achievement gap between young people from our poorest communities and their wealthier peers. Our aim is hardly novel; in some ways, it’s been an implicit ambition since 1870’s Education Act, made more explicit through the birth of the comprehensive movement. This is why Gove and others’ flippant dismissals of those with different views about how to close achievement gaps as ‘enemies of promise’ can be so corrosive. In contrast, the Alliance carefully brings together partners who may have very different routemaps to a fairer education system, but are prepared to collaborate to achieve common goals.

Our five Impact Goals, all measurable statements of progress, are as follows:

  1. Narrow the gap in literacy and numeracy at primary school
  2. ​Narrow the gap in GCSE attainment at secondary school
  3. Ensure young people develop key strengths, including resilience and wellbeing, to support high aspirations
  4. Narrow the gap in the proportion of young people in education, employment or training one year after compulsory education
  5. Narrow the gap in university graduation, including from the 25 per cent most selective universities

The Alliance recognises that the “the underlying causes of educational inequality are complex and interconnected, and they need to be addressed across the education system and society. No single organisation has the knowledge, resources or expertise to bring about the changes we need to make our education system fair for everyone.”  Today’s silly Times leader column, which gave an outdated, un-evidenced view of Universities’ role in teacher training, and claimed that the best way to improve the performance of white working class pupils was to “motivate them with more vocational training”, exemplifies the kind of rhetoric we do not need. Michael Wilshaw’s speech yesterday, reclaiming the comprehensive agenda with a more nuanced account of recent progress and current predicaments, was far more balanced and helpful. For once, read the speech, not the headlines.

The Education Endowment Foundation amongst others has recognised that most interventions which successfully improve outcomes also widen gaps in outcomes. This serves as a useful precis for the last few decades of schooling in England. Leaving doubts about grade inflation aside, the performance of white working class pupils at GCSE has risen significantly, and now outperforms the average… of twenty years ago. The problem is that overall average performance has risen faster.

The Education and Employers task force’s latest publication, exemplifies this dilemma. Taken in totality, employer engagement in education reproduces social inequalities. Put simply, if all employer engagement, from informal internships to formal programmes in schools to work experience, stopped tomorrow, this would probably narrow gaps in education and labour market outcomes. This, of course, is undesirable, and does disservice to the many initiatives that are designed to work with those who most need them. Yet it chrystallises the issue: If you don’t target resources with precision, a terrible thing happens. The Pupil premium has become a powerful, helpful nudge on school spending and wider strategic planning, supported by the new accountability rules which will make sure, that, to borrow a much maligned phrase, every child matters.

Teach First has achieved a terrific job in initiating the Fair Education Alliance without hubris, pulling in favours and resources, and carefully constructing some early theories of change around each change goal. yesterday’s Telegraph article by CEO Brett Wigodrtz cogently explains the organisation’s rationale for creating this alliance. It’s now up to us, as twenty-five organisations with our own priorities, deadlines and baggage, to work collaboratively, involving thousands of others to maximise our collective impact.

Too often, alliances such as these become a half-hearted bolt-on to each individual organisation’s ethos creating inertia rather than momentum, smugness rather than anger. Agreed actions can feel a million miles away from the task at hand – (“What do we want? Mapping our activities across localities! When do we want it? Soon!”). To quote Whitley RSA Academy’s mission statement (a school which puts huge efforts into closing achievement gaps, with increasing success), we need ‘deeds, not words’.

Words may matter too, however. Effective alliances dare to speak truth to power in a way that individual alliance members (many of whom will be reliant on ‘Power’ for funding) cannot.  We should be brave enough collectively to think radically about school admissions and segregation, funding, teacher choice and allocation, and practices such as setting and streaming. We may want to challenge the current, confused orthodoxy around school autonomy, and the extent to which is a route to or a reward for successfully achieving our impact goals. Nick Clegg’s social mobility strategy seems heavy on indicators and light on everything else. I still haven’t met any of these oft-quoted academics who argue that ‘deprivation is destiny’, but as an alliance we should be prepared to question broader government approaches to poverty and regeneration, whilst remaining passionately optimistic about what schools can achieve, regardless of wider contexts.

Key to our success, as one alliance member suggested, may be to “reposition education as a public good”. In other words, am I prepared care a little less about my own children’s performance, and a lot more about the outcomes of their poorer peers? This is challenging terrain. Education has always been couched largely as a private, positional good, and the forces of consumerism and an increasingly unstable economy has reinforced and positively encouraged this attitude. As a society, we generally agree that closing class gaps in health outcomes is desirable (unless you are particularly callous, health is not seen as a positional good). In terms of education outcomes, if we’re honest with ourselves we aren’t so sure how much equality we really want, so continue to hoard advantage whenever possible (and it’s usually possible).

RSA Education has always engaged in issues relating to social justice in education – my predecessor Becky Francis’ review of social justice in education, and report on progression in further education, provide fantastic foundations. Last year’s report on in-year admissions highlighted one cause of injustice, and our Academies work daily to address educational inequality.  As a founder member of the alliance, will now make a simple commitment. We won’t engage in education programmes, whether policy research or practical innovations, unless ‘closing the gap’ is built into the design and ambition of these programmes. Our own focus will move increasingly on what we are calling ‘closing the creativity gap’ across all stages of life, always connecting this agenda with attainment and other broad outcomes. That’s for another blog. For the moment, we hope that thousands of RSA Fellows and others participate in the alliance and sign up to our goals. We don’t care how bourgeois you are, and even if you’re an Iron Maiden fan, you’re welcome.

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