How does the sole focus on outcome measures affect our students?

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Who we are, what we do and how we behave is exclusively determined by the way which we are nurtured into world. Most of us have, at one point, studied Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. With most being involved in the debate, “nature vs nurture.” For all, including myself, this was one of the first concepts of the reason I am who I am because of the way I was raised. So who decides who I am and how I think? Do my parents have free and conscious choice over the decision they make when raising me? Or is that already predetermined?

So where do we begin when deciding? The best place is to start is by defining what education is and the outcomes we want from it? As a teacher I’m not even aware of what we want, as a society, for young individual. When I think of a good education for students educational performance springs to mind. For example 5 A*-Cs, number of A-levels, degree above a 2.1. No educational establishment is monitored for the type of students it is developing. Why not? Mainly due to difficulty (Labb & Loeb: 2010).

Some definitions of philosophical outcomes of education:

  • “An adequate education may be conceived of as one that is sufficient for someone to participate fully in both the economic and political life of a country” (Ladd & Lobe: 2010)
  • “Humans have an ability to praxis, [a process of conscious engagement and reflection on the application of knowledge to problems.]” (Freire, 2013).
  • Students have a desire for life long learning.
  • Possibly, students achieve at least 5 A*-C’s GCSE’s including maths and english.

In reality most people would like to hear that our students are receiving a diverse, culturally enriching education that prepares every individual for future success, but I think that most know this isn’t the case. I say this last one light heartedly, because this is an outcome measure not an ideology – I don’t think anyone sees having 5 A*-C inc M&E grades defining them as a person. However, the gravitas this measure has over the education of our students means that it might as well be an ideology.

This measure was originally introduced into the classroom to summarise what a pupil new academically and then translate this into a future job position (also known as a proxy). This provided useful economic data, indicative school quality information, but provides absolutely no information on the non-academic value that students are being provided with. As a result, classrooms have shifted from providing a “whole, enriching, culturally diverse etc” education to one where, inadvertently, is solely focused on pushing out results for one proxy.

If who we are is determined by how we are raised and educated, how will the inadvertent over emphasis on examinations in our lives affect us? If asked to define your education, would you discuss how culturally enriching it was or your grades and the institutions you went to?

References

Labb & Loeb: 2010 – https://cepa.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/The%20Challenges%20of%20Measuring%20School%20Quality.pdf

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Bringing meaning to the purpose of academies

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The logic behind Academies

Free Will is what most believe to be the ability to actively engage and change the world around you and for most we believe that we have a conscious ability to be so. True conscious ability, as I have written about before, is not as conscious and we have first thought. History, society and education all influence how our conscious develops and the perceptions of which we take from the world. The idea that our perceptions of the world might not be are’s, but could possibly be the influenced by the interests of someone else feels very dehumanising. Yet, how society allows others to be educated is exactly this. Forced curriculum, denial of ‘truly free’ choice and the expectations that all individuals will ultimately finish education looking identical.

The true humanist education is one where an individual is provided with the opportunity of choice, reflection and action. To exist in a society where we are free to make our own decision is one where we believe that we to play a part in influencing the community and world at large. Yet, this freedom is only given to most during their adult years. So, if you live a quarter of your life without choice, reflection and action will you ever consciously engage with these? Or will your perspective and the decisions you make reflect those that you have been given?

Progressive education, originating in the late 19th century, was developed to educate students to be prepared for the world of the future. In doing so there was a focus on developing a critically engaged individuals who was educated with the skills to, communicate, evaluate, understand, reflect and take action in response to the world around them. This supported a person to have the ability to make a free, conscious, choice.

The purpose of Academies

If we want a humanist education then we must provide opportunities for a person to develop a critical consciousness and develop their own perspective on the world. However, this can only occur if we provide a person with the opportunity to make critically informed choices. Steve Hilton argues for this type of education in his new book. To paraphrase, if we know, and want, every individual to be their own person then shouldn’t we be pushing for schools that provide a spectrum of opportunities (schools ranging from traditional forms of education to forms of highly progressive education, to everything in-between, subjects specialists etc) for students to chose from?

Primary Focus

The primary focus of academies is to remove power from central government and deliver this to the local communities. Stakeholders of the community are able to influence the people they develop in their small section of society as well as offering a greater diversity of schooling experiences, this drive genuinely empowers a community to become involved. To increase community engagement and support local industry, charities and other organisation are encouraged to invest into these schools to support their development. Yet, investments come with the reflections of interests. For example, a type of education that would support individuals working at their company. However, is it in a companies interest to provide a spectrum of opportunities? Would a management consultants really need their staff to have an understanding of art history?

The picture of private investment into academies does not reflect the ideal from which they were established on. How money moves in society is largely dependent on the interest of those who control most of it. An example of pre-academy influence is the investment into the Arts, in particular music, where a local authority spent £1.15 per child in the community during 2012. As a society we rank subjects and value them based on their relative commercial use in the future, with the arts featuring near the bottom. When thinking about the number of arts based big businesses willing to invest into schools the number is ‘surprisingly’ low. This might mean that unregulated business investment could begin to warp the spectrum of schools we want to see.

Distorting academy success

Academies are proven to enhance the educational outcomes of their students (2), but abuse of this is causing a widening gap in inequality. Under the Labour government only schools that were disadvantaged became academies. However, under new reforms any school in any community can now convert into an academy, this was typically high performing schools (5) which were not disadvantaged. In doing so the positive returns, originally identified in academies, will deliver better results for the most advantaged, reinforcing the inequality gap (2).

It is always dangerous to assume that correlation implies causation, but recent party changes now means that all underperforming schools are to become academies, this goes against the founding principle. The autonomy which we want to see in our schools will be replaced by the pressures of adhering to forced engagement where the investors and the recipients of funding have conflicting visions on what they want to achieve for their community. Therefore, supporting a very general education. (Solution for profit academies (3)). Therefore, it could be dangerous to assume that forced academisation will result in success. Previous success has only arisen after careful and thoughtful negotiations.

Academy applications

The current changes in the present economic situation in the country is financially squeezing schools to become academies, as opposed to schools selecting increased autonomy. An in-house review of the academy application process identified,

“There was no dominant main reason for conversion but the most frequently cited were: to raise educational standards; to obtain more funding for front-line education; and to gain greater freedom to use funding as you see fit.” (DoE, 2012)

This notion simply reinforces schools are experiencing funding constraints, rather than innovating, the academy system offers an opportunity to alleviate these restrictions or innovation by efficiency. This contradicts the fundamental changes we hope for. So are academies really improving by authentically innovating or are we just seeing an improvement in the efficiency of teaching methods as a result of enhanced funding? (For example, larger SEN departments, more resources, easter revision etc.)

Conclusion, but by no means the end of discussion

It is clear that the original autonomy that was envisaged for our academies, which did originally work, have been stripped away and streamlined to a one size fits all. Financial constraints and the reflection of business interests is twisting our schools to make cuts and innovations through efficiency as opposed to actually genuinely creating a 21st century education.  This started as a great vision, but we have ended up sacrificing the power of choice and free will of the next generation as a result of politics and funding restraints. Is it worth it?

References – (1) Paraphrased from Radio 4 Archive Opinions on Philosophy

(2) http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/cp325.pdf

(3) http://schoolsweek.co.uk/there-arent-enough-academy-sponsors-for-coasting-schools-so-why-not-let-for-profit-providers-try/

(4) https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/187560/DFE-32058-2012.pdf

(5) http://www.newschoolsnetwork.org/what-are-free-schools/free-school-news/education-select-committee-optimistic-about-impact-of Further reading https://www.croydon.gov.uk/sites/default/files/articles/downloads/academies.pdf

Cultural Capital in Education – What can be done in the classroom

Theory is splendid but until put into practice, it is valueless.” (James Cash Penney). An educational example, “Yes, I understand what to do sir.”

The introduction of new theories, skills and attributes is difficult because students struggle to get to grips with practicing new theories. As an educator this is where the true value is added. So, how do we move from the theory of non-cognitive development to implementing it into practice?

From Policy to Practice

The continual debating by political panels, educational theorists or interjections from third parties leaves untested theories. The classroom teacher, unknown to them, has been involved in developing new policy. They are now expected to put this policy into practice. Like the students they will struggle, but in this case there is no one on hand to support them. The theory is forgotten as true mastery has not been attained. A reactive response develops to throw together evidence of practice. (For example, marking books in my PGCE and NQT year). So how do we support the implementation of non-cognitive development into the classroom?

Simple answer, bring teachers into policy development. Over the past month I have been involved in 4 different policy networking events, where the general theme has been on non-cognitive development in students. Buzz words were flying out left, right and center. Yet, every time I found myself able to relate to strategies used in the classroom, that exemplified the non-cognitive traits. Offering a critique to proposals based on evidence shifted the direction of conversation from the “policy buzzworder’s” to myself. This demonstrates the value of those in the classroom.

Implementing non-cognitive skills?

A Head teacher from a local school told me, “the schemes of work in their school center around the kind of people that would be successful in University or vocational qualifications” and backwards plans from this vision. When I am developing a scheme of work, I think about the non-cognitive skills and learning objectives I want the students to develop. For example, I have recently planned and finished a unit of work on Metals and their Reactivity. The non-cognitive focus is to develop independence, self-reflection and choice (I’ll be blogging about this next week). This was alongside the academic learning goals. By orientating yourself to focus on the kind of students you want, the activities begin to tailor themselves.But, failures, critiques, alterations and improvements have been important to support the reflective development of this teaching strategy.

This is where the problems lies, there is no accountability for non-cognitive development in the classroom. Therefore, the risk:benefit ratio is useless, because it not worth risking progress to develop new systems of non-cognitive learning. Consequently, teachers can not relate to the policy that is trying to be implemented and their opinions become less valued. It’s easy to see the paradox we are caught in. So where does this leave us?

College of teachers…