It’s Small Business Saturday tomorrow, and small business owners will be hoping for a repeat of last year’s £468 million of sales at special events across the country. It’s a good week to be one of them – as well as the Saturday boost, George Osborne’s Autumn statement extended small business rate relief again and promised a review of business rates for 2016.
Since the turn of the century there’s been a 40% increase in the number of firms with less than 10 employees. At the RSA we argue that this growth in self-employment and microbusiness is a good thing, and a trend that should be supported by policy. The RSA’s Power of Small project has found that despite lower incomes and fewer perks, the self-employed are more satisfied and happier overall than most other groups in the wider workforce. It’s an area for high potential growth, although our latest report, Everyday Employers, highlights the need for smarter policy to encourage the self-employed to take on employees. Microbusinesses are also at the forefront of the move to a circular economy. Makerspaces such as FabLab London are providing individuals and businesses with access to sustainable design tools – makers are becoming fixers and simultaneously reducing waste.
We’re pretty complex animals us humans. And every day that complexity is distilled, frozen and separated in partisan, media and social media fuelled political debate. It’s as if, metaphorically speaking, different parts of our brain are positioned at opposite ends of the boxing ring, then set against other in mortal combat. The resulting fracas isn’t pretty viewing.
Nowhere is this process more apparent than in the debate over ‘benefit tourism’. The concept of ‘benefit tourism’ is the notion that migrants from poorer European nations (in the main) are coming to our shores to feast on the ambrosia that is our generous welfare state. In this perspective, this is seen as a significant pull factor in consistent net migration to the UK.
But wait, there is another view. There has been some number crunching activity taking place. It turns out that this is not as significant a problem as those highlighting the problem claim. Migrants are less likely to claim working-age benefits than British citizens; the overall cost is negligible compared to the economic and fiscal benefits that migration brings. There are numbers to prove it. If one looks into the emotively termed ‘benefit scrounger’ debate a similar debate is apparent. Of course, I am giving this viewpoint the ‘evidence’ label but it also expresses a set of deeper values- it is just that they are expressed through the prism of evidence.
The public realm faces significant challenges that cannot be adequately addressed by instrumental, utilitarian thinking. By public realm I mean the political economy and all the educational, commercial, civic and media institutions related to it; all of which, of course, have human beings inside them.
This is a hopeful point, not a council of despair. As thinkers like Steven Pinker are fond of reminding us, in some ways the world is not doing that badly at all; compared to much of human history, most of us live longer healthier lives in societies that are more or less functional and peaceful. Still, I’m not the only one who occassionally has the impression that, slowly but surely, we are losing our way.
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
If spirit is a name for the resistant and transcending faculties of the agent, we can spiritualize society. We can diminish the distance between who we are and what we find outside of ourselves. - Roberto Unger, The Self Awakened p38.
A few months ago I wrote an extended post about the relationship between the spiritual and the political. The pied piper of our generation, Russell Brand, momentarily adopted it as part of his ‘revolution in consciousness’, tweeted approvingly to his millions, and thousands followed his tune to our website. Happy days.
The political dimension of spirituality is exciting because it’s ‘the vision thing’, it’s about being human, about who we are and what we care about. It’s depth and values and hope and how it all fits together. Moreover, as noted above, it is intellectually safe terrain because even heavyweight philosophers like Roberto Unger take it seriously.
The elusive place where the spiritual meets the political is perhaps the experience of life many of us are looking for; a place where the possibilities for your own power and place in the world make sense. When you are living in that place, life tends to be much more rewarding. For instance, I was heavily involved in Scotland’s recent referendum and campaigning felt distinctly spiritual, a way of connecting identity with meaning and purpose. There was an intense feeling of aliveness for many weeks, which is, etymologically at least, close to the heart of the spiritual.
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
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
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.
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:
- Narrow the gap in literacy and numeracy at primary school
- Narrow the gap in GCSE attainment at secondary school
- Ensure young people develop key strengths, including resilience and wellbeing, to support high aspirations
- Narrow the gap in the proportion of young people in education, employment or training one year after compulsory education
- 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.