Sunday, March 08, 2009

2020: compliance techniques

Following Sam's suggestions in the comments of my previous post, I've been reading 2020 Vision: Report of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group [opens pdf].

2020 Vision

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.

Box 1

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:

UK public spending

- 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."


Blogger Mieke said...

In itself, I find this 2020 Vision Report interesting reading and I think a huge amount of school going children would benefit if it were followed. I'll read through it more in depth later, but at first glance I don't see any mention of how many more teachers they estimate would be needed to make this work. Quite a few, I'd imagine.
There is nothing wrong with these ideas, as long as it remains a legal option to educate our children outside this school system. As long as parents are still the ones to choose the kind of education they feel is suitable for their own children.
I would still choose for autonomous home education, because I feel - as you say somewhere - that we're already doing most of what it says in the report. And more. And with more freedom for 'the learner'. So 'school' would be kind of taking a step back. Because, as you say, Gill:

"...the best teaching follows the student's interest. It doesn't try to manipulate it."

And from our family's experience alone I have plenty proof of the difference it makes.

Still, if school would be more as described in this report, my children might be more keen to dip into the schooling system for certain subjects. Who knows?

10:56 am, March 08, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

I know what you mean, Mieke. It does look good on the face of it, but I don't think it will be in practice because the pupils will have no power to choose their goals, these being preselected by the major employers.

So it's paying lipservice to student choice and personalised learning: stealing the original concept (which is brilliant) but removing those aspects (like real choice) which are vital to make it work. It's no more designed to be in children's best interests than the whole ECM programme is, IMO: it's just very cleverly pretending to be.

12:35 pm, March 08, 2009  
Blogger Mieke said...

Yes, Gill, exactly. As usual you say what I mean ;).

12:43 pm, March 08, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Well, I needed to get those two links in somewhere - I'd forgotten to put them in the main post ;-)

1:49 pm, March 08, 2009  
Anonymous Firebird said...

Funny coincidence, 2020 is the most optimistic prediction for when Peak Oil will happen. When people talk about an education for the 21st Century I haven't noticed any suggestion that they understand that things are not going to be able to continue as they are.

3:23 pm, March 08, 2009  
Blogger Ruth said...

I cannot see how any of it could work in a school setting. I found it hard enough facillitating 7 children - 30 would have been impossible. Also they are not. It is still teacher led with a predetermined agenda. Like you can be autonomous so long as you are learning what we say about this subject and this theme within it.

5:12 pm, March 08, 2009  
Anonymous Renegade Parent said...

There is a huge problem in that learning is never fully acknowledged as belonging to the learner first and foremost. What really bothers me, though, is also the thorough misunderstanding about the real needs of 21st century employers - which actually are best served by acknowledging and supporting the primacy of the learner at all times.

One of the most important questions we ask potential employees is "what are examples of specialist areas or skills that you have taught yourself." I want someone who is passionate about and immersed in their area of expertise; I want someone who is intrinsically motivated to approach new areas with confidence; I want someone who knows how to learn and does not rely on being taught; I want someone who knows how to make decisions rather than relying on a manager to it for them. Ultimately, this vastly increases an organisation's capacity to grow and survive competition; it really is all about the £££s but this is entirely supported by the theory of the primacy of the learner!

Increasingly 21st century HR management is recognising this - it's lazy, misguided and business suicide to rely wholly on someone's exam results or formal educational performance in recruitment. I wish policy makers also understood this, rather than being stuck in a 20th century mindset in relation to business as well as education. If they did, HE would be rightly viewed as cutting edge pedagogy.

Rant over :-)


12:40 pm, March 09, 2009  
Blogger Augustin Moga said...

May I suggest this image for the cover of the report? :-)

6:27 pm, March 09, 2009  
Blogger Carlotta said...

Two friends of mine recently did Post-Grad Certificates of Education and both of them nearly got thrown off the courses for repeatedly pointing out the discrepancies between the references to personalised learning and to the reality of the situation in the classroom, and the other conflicting theories that were put forward almost simultaneously!

References to personalised learning in schools are still just so much window-dressing, imo. It would take a massive revolution for them to understand that PL is actually child-led learning :(

8:14 am, March 10, 2009  
Blogger Mieke said...

Maybe 'personalised teaching' would be a more appropriate term? As in teacher-led?

10:11 am, March 10, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Firebird, that's a good point - unless they know something we don't know about the energy industry ;-)

Ruth, this is very true. Child-led learning *could* be practiced in a school, but the whole element of compulsion in anything would have to be removed. Even attendance would have to be completely optional, wouldn't it?

Lisa, this is a great point and it clashes beautifully with what I think Tony Mooney meant about children without qualifications 'fending for themselves'. I think I've finally sussed out what he did mean: if you've got qualifications, they fend for you. So you don't have to be good at your job, or even particularly interested in it because those pieces of paper will get you in. I'd love to know how he rationalises that to himself from the point of view of what's actually good for people.

"I wish policy makers also understood this, rather than being stuck in a 20th century mindset in relation to business as well as education. If they did, HE would be rightly viewed as cutting edge pedagogy."

But who are the real policy makers? And what kind of a population do they really want? You can only look at what they actually do to gauge that, IMO.

Augustin, that's brilliant!

Carlotta, "References to personalised learning in schools are still just so much window-dressing, imo. It would take a massive revolution for them to understand that PL is actually child-led learning :( "

My point is that they surely must know, to be going halfway in the right direction.

Mieke, steady on! Are you suggesting teachers should be allowed to teach what they want to teach, and to follow their own initiative, as in the bad old, pre-NC days? Shock, horror! ;-)

7:34 am, March 11, 2009  
Blogger Mieke said...

"Mieke, steady on! Are you suggesting teachers should be allowed to teach what they want to teach, and to follow their own initiative, as in the bad old, pre-NC days? Shock, horror! ;-)"

Goodness, no! Shock, horror indeed!! That's not what I meant, Gill! I *will* stay away from comment boxes until my brain is back... I meant that if they'd call it that it would be closer to the truth... Never mind, I know what I meant ;)

3:18 pm, March 11, 2009  
Blogger Riaz said...

The electronic engineering industry doesn't value hobbyists or the skills and knowledge they have gained from their informal involvement with electronics. All industry is interested in are qualifications and work experience in a commercial environment. Most engineering managers are greying 50 somethings who went to school and got their O Levels, went to college and got their A levels, and went to university and got their degree. They cannot see any other alternatives.

My findings are that the engineering community are behind when it comes to home education. Professional societies such as the IET (which I refuse to join) focus their educational division for children almost entirely on the school system.

2:38 pm, March 16, 2009  
Anonymous suzyg said...

Thanks for drawing attention to this, Gill. A few comments;

First, I don't know how the 'globalisation' agenda has persisted for so long. We've known about peak oil for how long? 30 years?

Second, I remember reading a paper by a couple of labour market economists about what employers said they wanted which was cited in a Higher Education white paper few years back. The authors of the paper were typically guarded in their conclusions, but that didn't faze the author of the chapter of the relevant chapter of white paper who wrote in 'biz-speak'. The majority of businesses in the UK are small-to-medium enterprises who don't give a fig for exam results anyway.

Third point - and this really worries me - for years the expectations for children's achievements in school have been framed solely in psycho-social terms. A great many - I would say probably the majority - of 'learning difficulties', such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia etc. - are down to visual and auditory processing problems (as distinct from sight and hearing problems) and issues with cognitive development which are not even acknowledged in the introduction to this report. I read one book on inclusion where the authors basically denied their existence, even though their (the authors') knowledge of brain function left a great deal to be desired. It's very difficult to get children tested for their sensory processing function, so professionals are free to accuse children of being unmotivated and to point the finger of suspicion at the parent. Never mind the fact that parents send the children to school in order for the school to educate them, learning difficulties and all.

4:06 pm, March 16, 2009  

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