2020: compliance techniques
Led by Minister Tony McNulty's wife Christine Gilbert, the review group was:
asked to establish a clear vision of what personalised teaching and learning might look like in our schools in 2020.
My plan is to briefly work through the report in this post, pulling out anything that seems particularly relevant, and then moving onto some wider issues.
Together, schools, local and national government need to work towards a society in which:
- a child’s chances of success are not related to his or her socio-economic background, gender or ethnicity
- education services are designed around the needs of each child, with the expectation that all learners achieve high standards
- all children and young people leave school with functional skills in English and mathematics, understanding how to learn, think creatively, take risks and handle change
- teachers use their skills and knowledge to engage children and young people as partners in learning, acting quickly to adjust their teaching in response to pupils’ learning
- schools draw in parents as their child’s co-educators, engaging them and increasing their capacity to support their child’s learning.
Hmmm, home education usually does all that, doesn't it? Great principles, but they're a little bit skewed here, don't you think? For a start I don't see how such personally tailored education is transferable from the 1:1 situation at home to a school class of thirty children, working to a set curriculum, expected to achieve 'high standards'. If the government really intends "to engage children and young people as partners in learning", it will have to shake its obsession with targets, indicators and pre-set standards, because for children to engage in learning, they need to be curious, and curiosity does not run along already laid paths. "We want you to be interested in learning - about this," just won't work. It's rhetoric - or at best, a misguided concept. And the part about "drawing in parents as their child’s co-educators" is a joke, isn't it? First they take the child away from its natural learning facilitators on a full-time basis and at an increasingly early age, then they invite those same facilitators back to be 'co-educators'! The invitation, if any was made, should have come from the family in the first place, not the state.
But what has all of this got to do with Elective Home Education? Why should we concern ourselves with what's going on - or planned to go on - in schools, when we have no intention of using them? These are good questions, and I must admit that I'm struggling to summon any enthusiasm for working through this document. But one of Graham Badman's not-so-secret extra questions for the review was apparently: "What is a suitable education for the 21st century?" and the other was: "How can EHEers show that their children are receiving such an education?" - and this document appears to be the official answer to the first question.
Not that I'm remotely interested in trying to answer questions that weren't properly asked, any further than I already have done, but I'm trying to think about the direction of travel regarding this whole convolutedly underhand process.
Like so much else in this document, this is very nearly what I consider to be an effective method of education - but not quite. "Teaching enthuses pupils and engages their interest in learning.." No, the best teaching follows the student's interest. It doesn't try to manipulate it. I don't suppose anyone involved in schooling for the past twenty years can have any concept of this, because they won't have seen it in action. Even prior to the National Curriculum real student-centred learning didn't exist in school as far as I know (except perhaps in this one, though even Summerhill is less free of late, I hear.)
"It identifies, explores and corrects misconceptions." Actually, the best teaching or learning facilitation doesn't do this. It goes along with the student's misconceptions, because the natural learning process is eventually self-correcting, which is a vital part of it. You can't attach a lead and collar to a student and then still expect him to own, or be engaged in the learning process. You have to have the courage - and the freedom - to go with him on his own voyage of discovery.
The thing that disgusts me is that the people at the very top are presumably intelligent enough to know this, but they're so hidebound by the requirement to "provide employers with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century economy" that they can't allow it to happen. And looking after the interests of employers is not for the benefit of students. My son, with no qualifications whatsoever, earned £20 for an hour's work on Friday: the result him being genuinely engaged in his own learning process. You do not need qualifications in order to sell your skills in every field and I can't see how the government can ever ensure that you do, despite its best efforts. While some of Tom's friends are at university running up debts and officially learning the skills he took on board of his own volition years ago, he's out there earning, debt-free and getting a proper head start. By the time they're qualified and looking - as per their conditioning - for contracted employment, his will (we hope) be a well-established and thriving business. That counts as success by anybody's standards, although it bears absolutely no resemblance to the government's laid out and soon-to-be compulsory path to it [opens pdf]. But then, I don't think the government was ever 100% clear as to whose success it was referring there. One can only assume it was not the students'.
But if the truth behind all of this doublespeak was universally exposed, the system as we know it would cease to exist. The £82 billion currently being spent on education:
- would be mostly unnecessary, as would quite a few slices of that pie, come to think of it. People would be free to use their initiative to sell and exchange goods and skills with the fetters off, on a level playing field. The over-inflated public sector bubble that relies so much on people's dormant dependency, would be well and truly popped. Most people wouldn't opt to commute over long distances, much less to relocate at the behest of big business. Employers would have to offer a decent rate of pay: work for welfare scams wouldn't stand a chance of getting off the ground and even the utility companies would have to look to their laurels, if populations had the spare time and the nous to make their own arrangements. A utopian view? Not necessarily: I'm not saying it would be easy or even painless to get from here to there, but at least we'd be people and not cattle or slaves.
Still, according to government, 2020 Vision [opens pdf] is the future, not that, so we'd better get back to it.
Learners are active and curious: they create their own
hypotheses, ask their own questions, coach one another, set
goals for themselves...
Yes they are, and yes they do. But what if the goals they set don't fit with "the expectation that all learners achieve high standards", where those standards stem from an employer-led syllabus and performance-based targets? The rhetoric is incompatible with the reality of the situation.
I'm not going to persevere much further with this document: I think the point is made already, but I just need to quote this fascinating excerpt:
Personalisation also reflects wider changes in society, which are likely to continue at an increasing rate.
What wider changes..? Is this an actual official acknowledgement of the fact that the masses are rousing from their slumber? It must be, because the panicky solution is immediately provided:
Expectations of what all children and young people could and should achieve must be raised, along with schools’ capacity to ensure that outcomes for pupils match those expectations.
And we all know by now what those outcomes are, don't we?
The EHE review is about pulling us into line and trying to make us comply with this user unfriendly system. As Lord Adonis famously said:
"The state does not currently prescribe what form of education parents should provide, whilst all maintained and independent school provision is prescribed in legislation and subject to inspection. This anomaly is at odds with Every Child Matters reforms."
ECM takes no prisoners: the whole thing, title included, is peppered with references to every child and all children. No exceptions. No anomalies allowed.
But I don't think it will succeed, because whatever legislative tricks it recommends, those of us who understand our children's real needs will not be deterred from providing for them. And there are plenty of us And, as even the BBC admits: "There is every indication that this number is growing."